Footprints

The wonderful thing about a fresh coat of snow is being able to appreciate how active animals really are in the winter, even though you don’t actually see them.  I ventured out on a short warm spell during a snowy, cold Thanksgiving weekend to photograph some of that activity.

meadow vole footprints

So small and lightweight, this little animal barely makes an impression in the newly fallen, fluffy snow coating.

with apologies to Robert Frost for imitating his famous “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening”…

Whose feet these are I think I know,
His toes impressed into the snow,
Leaving behind an image clear,
I wish I’d seen him jumping, though.

Actually, I did see him jumping — over my foot and burrowing between the 2-inch new snow and grassy meadow under it, creating a crazy network of spiraling tunnels. But, of course, I didn’t take my camera on that walk!

vole tunnel

Little footprints interspersed with tunnels that lead to subterranean holes give away the identity.

meadowvole-in-snow-Gerald Romanchuk

It’s a meadow vole, a house mouse-sized critter that remains active all year, feeding on grasses, roots, seeds, and bark beneath the snow layer. Photo from the St. Albert Gazette, by Gerald Romanchuk.

meadow vole and deer prints

Deer apparently scraped away snow to munch on a tuft of grass, and the meadow vole tunnel leads right up to the same spot. with its footprints tracking across the bottom of the image to the bare grass.

Meadow voles produce several litters of offspring a year, continuing to breed right through the winter in their cozy, sub-nivean nests below the insulating layer of snow.  Although they may tear up lawns and golf course fairways with their tunneling efforts, their productivity is much appreciated by the owls, foxes, coyotes, and other predators that seek them out for food during the winter.

Red_fox_hunting,_US Fish and Wildlife Service

Red foxes perform acrobatic hunting efforts, diving into the snow when they hear the meadow voles running along underneath. Coyotes supposedly can smell their presence under the snow pack.  Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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