Footprints in the Snow

Allegheny National Forest at Beaver Meadows Recreation Area, 12 Jan 2022 (photo by Barb Griffith)

15 January 2022

The sun was shining and the temperature was in the mid 30s when six of us arrived at Beaver Meadows Recreation Area in the Allegheny National Forest on 12 Jan 2022. We were there to find 40 red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) reported on 29 December. Just one perched in profile would be enough for me. I had to see the beak.

There were few birds in the forest but with an inch of snow on the ground we saw plenty of tracks including the small footprints of meadow voles or white-footed mice, the species that leave most of the little tracks in winter(*).

This one dragged his tail as he bounded across the path, planting his back feet in the prints of his front feet as he hurried from one subnivean hole to the next.

Likely the footprints of a white-footed mouse, Beaver Meadows, 12 Jan 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Since meadow voles have relatively short tails my guess is that the print was made by a white-footed mouse, (Peromyscus leucopus) pictured below. Notice the long tail.

We saw many other tracks including:

  • Fox on the lake ice
  • Otters slid on lake ice near their den. A local man helped us with this ID and showed us a photo of the otters.
  • Red squirrels made small highways between trees.
  • Bobcat,
  • Snowshoe hare.

This was my first ever look at snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) tracks but I recognized the distinctive large hind feet that spread like “snowshoes” to help them walk on snow. (An optical illusion may make the footprints appear to bulge. My boot is at bottom of the photo for scale.)

Snowshoe hare track + tip of my boot, Beaver Meadow Recreation Area, Allegheny National Forest, 12 Jan 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are two sets of snowshoe hare prints, plain and marked up with notes. In the smaller track the hind feet are just less than 4″ long. In the larger the hind feet are about 6″ long.

Tracks of two snowshoe hares, Beaver Meadow Recreation Area, Allegheny National Forest, 12 Jan 2022 (photos by Kate St. John)
Tracks of two snowshoe hares, Beaver Meadow Recreation Area, Allegheny National Forest, 12 Jan 2022 (photos and markup by Kate St. John)

And here’s the mammal that makes these prints. Snowshoe hares are active at night, dusk and dawn so of course we didn’t see any.

Snowshoe hare in winter at Denali (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately we saw 10 species of birds, only 26 individuals, five of which were red crossbills. It was worth the trip for the snowshoe hares. Yes I did see a crossbill beak.

(*) Information on tracks is from Track Finder by Dorcas Miller.

(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

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