Nature Matters: Nature's Newspaper

By KBJR News 1

January 17, 2011 Updated Jan 18, 2011 at 6:28 AM CDT

Winter weather offers a unique view into animal movement.

Nature observers who can identify the tracks left in a fresh snowfall can play the part of an investigative reporter as David Hoole learns in this week's Nature Matters.

"There is a new story out here every day."

Naturalist Larry Weber likes to keep up on nature news.

"Oh my gosh that's a long trail!!" "We have a hungry Shrew!"

A fresh snowfall has him scurrying through the woods, reading the evidence left from the previous night's activities.

"There are more and more deer tracks here."

Big game animal to small rodent, their feet, toes and hooves all leave a story in the snow.

"Who do we see right here? Wolf Tracks!"

Northland wolves continue to extend their range and Weber is not surprised to find the canine's tracks on this day.

"What you see here is you see four toes and then they have this right here, which is referred to as a pad. With all members of the dog family it is quite triangle shaped. This is a good footprint."

Weber says size is the best way to determine between wolf and coyote tracks.

"Yes! We have it! This is great!"

What's even more exciting to the tracker?

"This is deer mouse!"

The rodent plays a very important part in any ecosystem.

"Deer mouse is probably our most common mouse.... Deer mouse is a hopper and so you can see the gait of the hopping you can also see a line down the middle and that's its tail. All kinds of critters eat these mice especially in the winter."

An animal with a taste for mice is the weasel.

"The hopping is completely clear of the snow from there to there but then you have a situation like this where it hopped but the body is so small that it can't pull it completely out of the snow and it left this mark. That is known as a dumbbell. A dumbbell shape is and that is a great characteristic for a weasel. Now the weasel turns white in the winter and for that reason it's often called Ermine."

There is a slide mark going down into the river... see it? That is an otter. Now there is some snow in it which means it's probably not last night. It could have been during the day yesterday because there's not a lot of snow in it."

"A brand new snow morning? Oh gosh, it's like a brand new newspaper; I use a newspaper as an example instead of a book because a newspaper goes out of date real fast. The next day its old news, that's the way tracks are, there's a new story out here every day."

At Jay Cooke state park, I'm David Hoole for nature Matters.

Larry Weber recommends those interested in animal tracking invest in a field guide that illustrates an animal's gait as well as footprints.