Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tracking a Mystery

Yesterday seemed to be a perfect day for tracking, perhaps because even the wind was frozen. When I went to the mailbox, I found several stories written in and next to the driveway, including one little mystery.

Cottontails abound, so to speak, around here these days. One friend suggests local coyote populations have been drastically reduced, perhaps by disease; we don't hear them as often as we used to. That leaves these guys as our most ubiquitous and visible mammal. So here's a good classic bunny track, including one with even front paw marks showing.

Loosely related: Speaking of wild canids, I saw one just the day after I wrote this post. At first glance, I thought coyote, of course, but looking closer I realized it was a foothills resident I'd never encountered (alive) before: The Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Alas, no camera, but my what a stately critter! Needless to say, I was thrilled!! (Expect a post in the future.)

Next up, near the top of the drive, a small rodent (?) ran or hopped perpendicularly across the driveway, from one weedy rough over to the rabbitbrush, where the shelter was perhaps better.

Then came a set of bird tracks, or rather marks. Definitely not walking around, more like alighting, poking under the snow, and leaving with a distinctive wing burst. Hope he/she found whatever was being hunted. I like the long scratch marks on this one, suggesting a Rufous-sided Towhee (as they used to be known; now Western Towhee I believe). I was starting to be intrigued by the different colors the camera caught from the same snow.

This better bird print reminds me of the fossils from Solnhofen, Germany, with a more complete splay of wings and even a suggestion of body and tail. A nice takeoff... See more fossils at this gallery.

Okay... here comes the mystery. This little guy(?) made a neat row of tracks all along the driveway, but they ended abruptly halfway up. Hmmm. No sign of struggle, what could it be? I noted that it was traveling next to the DH's tracks as he left for work this morning.

Coming back, I traced it in the other direction, beginning to suspect the truth this last photo confirms. Even the inanimate (if snow is such) can leave traces of its existence, often more regular and predictable than those of the living. Another nature mystery solved, another track decoded!

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