After a new snowfall at Paradise participants in the Naturalist guided snowshoe walks have an excellent chance of discovering animal tracks. The most frequent tracks found are those of the marten (Martes americana). It has several common names, but pine marten seems most apt due to its fondness for pine cone seeds and for living in pine forests.
But no matter what it is called, the marten is one of the few mammals at Mount Rainier National Park that stays active all winter long above the snow.
In winter, the marten is forced to the ground in search of the voles, shrews, and mice active under the snowpack. Its long, slender body allows the marten to tunnel under the snowpack in search of a winter meal. The marten sticks close to the trees all winter. Tracks are usually found between trees and the occasional sightings of these mustelids are quick flashes in the limbs of a tree. The marten's five-clawed toes are cushioned with a growth of fur to give a better grip on slippery trunks and boughs. The furry claws leave a distinctive track in fresh snow.
Although often spotted in summer, the marten is really the star of the winter show at Paradise. On one walk this winter, my group of snowshoers saw a dozen sets of marten tracks in less than an hour. The tracks were so fresh that we were sure we were being watched by a pair of little eyes safety hidden in the boughs of the subalpine firs. Our feelings were verified when we came upon a group of snow campers who had seen a marten just five minutes before our arrival. Maybe next time we'll be the lucky ones to spot Martes americana as it scampers through the snow-covered subalpine meadows.
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