Snow Tracking

bobcat- Lynx rufus

Animals are afoot here at Leafhopper Farm. When snow comes, tracks are out, are we’re taking full advantage of the great reveal. The biggest highlight was a bobcat zig-zaging across the back field. We know they are here, but it’s always great to see the sign and get that friendly reminder of how frequent they really are in our area. Though not our largest cat, they still pose a real threat to the livestock of our farm, so we do what we can to keep them happy in the back field, where these tracks were found, and not near the chicken coop.

This bobcat track pictured above gives you a little hit of how big the cat is. It’s a healthy size track, and about twice the size of our domestic feline friends. Its zig-zag pattern is to cover more ground as it searches for potential prey. As the predator moves across the landscape back and forth, it can more easily catch the scent of everything moving across the path. If the cat were to travel in a strait line, it would likely miss the rabbit or deer track only a few feet away by not crisscrossing around. Rabbits, deer, and other prey animals, tend to keep in a strait line from point A to B.

Here’s what the bobcat is most likely to run into as it trolls along- cotton tail rabbit. These lagamorphs like to sit and eat in one spot for a while, making a depression in the snow or sand, as seen below for comparison.

It might be hard for the untrained eye to see what’s going on in these two pictures, but you have a rabbit sitting in a spot for a while, even burming up the sand/snow in front of him/her while they eat, rest, groom, etc. A bobcat is hoping to run across one of these rabbits as they rest and relax. If the cat can catch them off guard, there’s a chance it can hunt successfully and get a great meal out of the deal. This is the reward for zig-zaging across the terrain.

One of the best places to look for tracks in the snow is along fence lines. Above you can see a lot of what i call rabbit chatter. The bunnies were going back and forth along this fence on both sides until they figured out how to get through, or not. I also saw some older, more covered up deer tracks, which I will post below. Sometimes wildlife is moving through in the snow, or between snow fall, so you are often met with subtle divots in the snow, without form. So how do I know it was a deer? Well, that’s another more advanced part of tracking; looking at the spacing between tracks and how the pattern spreads out across the landscape.

Deer have much longer legs than bobcat or rabbits, so they have a longer stride. Still, their path is narrow, so the foot falls are not widely spaces either. Deer also tend to go in a strait line, or on well used paths across the terrain. Rabbits meander around, usually in and out of thick cover, the bobcat crisscrosses, and the deer take a strait shot. These are all usual movements, but there are exceptions. So, the best way to know for sure is watch an animal making the tracks and then study them. Otherwise, you are most likely guessing, which is ok, just be aware that you are not “sure”.

A fun part of tracking involves seeing the small details. There are all kinds of tracks to discover if you take the time to look, and snow offers a rare chance to track the everyday movements of common species like birds as they flit in your garden, yard, or front step. Many species hang out right around human activity, homes, office blocks, and even grocery stores. Keep a look out around parking lots and green spaces. You’re likely to find more activity happening than you might think.

Since we’re in for several more snow blankets in the next week, lots of tracking is in store. The farm is a winter wonderland, with lots of activity happening all around. Though most of the domestic animals are snuggled up in their coops and stalls, the wild animals are moving about in search of food, water, and shelter between the storms. We’ll keep watching the fresh powder for sign of life in this thriving ecosystem. More to come from Leafhopper Farm!

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