The bountiful snowfall in woods and fields this December provides ample opportunities to head outdoors looking for signs of wildlife. Snowshoers, skiers and other winter adventurers are encouraged to keep an eye on the snow for tracks this time of year.
While most wild animals are elusive and difficult to spot, fresh snow can be a rare opportunity to witness the activities of wildlife. According to a recent survey conducted by a national polling firm, 98 percent of Vermonters expressed the importance of knowing that Vermont’s native wildlife populations are healthy, even if they do not get to see them.
“Winter provides a unique chance to glimpse into the secret world of wild animals that can otherwise remain hidden,” said Alison Thomas, education coordinator for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. “I’ve taken novices out tracking in the snow and I’m always amazed at how excited they are to realize that wildlife is all around us. It makes the otherwise quiet and seemingly empty forest come alive for them.”
Thomas said that tracking wildlife can also be a great way for people to understand the importance of habitat conservation. “Seeing tracks in the snow confirms that wildlife really is out there using the landscape, even if we don’t always see it, and illustrates that it is on the move. Wildlife need healthy and connected forests and waters to weather winter successfully and move between food and shelter safely.”
Vermonters are invited to submit tracking photos on the department’s Facebook page for help identifying difficult tracks, or if they find something interesting or unusual.
“You don’t have to be an expert to start looking for tracks,” added Thomas. “Even deer or turkey are easy to spot and identify in fresh snow. And a mouse’s tail dragging through the soft snow always gives it away.”
Several resources are available for those interested in learning more about wildlife tracks. Audubon Vermont runs several tracking workshops throughout the winter. Keeping Track, Inc., in Huntington is a nonprofit that runs trainings and workshops in addition to offering books and other wildlife tracking resources for sale on its website.
Footprints of a hare hopping over fresh snow is a fairly common sight in Vermont.