01-10-11 Field Note: Ermine, Hare, Elk, Coyote Tracks, and Forest Thinning

Beau Larkin's field note recounts wildlife movements frozen in time and a recent forest thinning project on the adjacent U.S. Forest Service land.

Wi The thermometer read –14° F as we crossed the Rumble Creek bridge and entered MPG North. Bright sunshine and brisk travel on cross- country skis kept us warm as we investigated the fresh snow for evidence of wildlife and other activity.nter Activity in the Swan Valley MPG North Field Note, 10 January 2011 Beau Larkin, Lorinda Hunt
How do ungulates survive the extreme cold and deep snow? Deer and Elk must eat continuously to make it through the cold of winter. A recent warm spell melted the surface of deep snow, but when the temperature dropped again, this wet layer froze solid. Ungulates strug- gle to paw through the ice and access forage, so they must consume tree lichens and whatever shrub browse they can find instead. Elk pulled lichen off larch branches and trunks near the west property boundary (image 2 and inset map), then...
Rodent and Lagomorph activity Like deer and elk, rabbits, mice, squirrels, and other small mammals also must eat continually during cold temperatures to survive. These animals lack the physiology to hibernate, but they will enter prolonged tor- pid spells in the winter. When the temperature drops below zero, they wake up and forage to avoid freez- ing.
Weasels and Canines on MPG North  9 BL This ermine (short-tailed weasel, image 9) track shows the bounding movement these small predators use to negotiate deep snow. Front followed by hind feet land in each impression, and the weasel leaps through the air between tracks. Ermine hunt small rodents like mice, voles, and squirrels, so they must explore above and below the snow for their prey.
These tracks show where two canines cruised up the road into MPG North (image 12). One walked (yellow arrow) and the other galloped from behind (red arrow) to catch up. Later, we found their tracks in the northeast clearcut (map inset and images), but they skirted cameras on the property. The tracks’ size indi- cates the presence of coyotes, but domestic dogs leave similar tracks.
Crews thinned forest service land to the northwest of MPG North last summer (image 13 and inset map). The project reduced fuels in wildland-urban-interface habitat. When the snow melts off, we will look a lit- tle more closely at the impacts of this project.
 Cattails in winter Male cattail flowers grow on the tip of flower stalks (yellow ar- row) and pollinate female flowers below. Wind dispersed seeds erupt from this seed head, possibly due to freeze and thaw of trapped moisture (red arrow).
Posted on 1/9/2011 by Beau Larkin

Habitat Types: 


Field Guide Entries: 

Short-tailed Weasel
Red Fox
White-tailed Deer
Snowshoe Hare
Meadow Vole
Red Squirrel
Broadleaf Cattail