Making trips through the different sections of the park on snowshoes afforded an opportunity to see some very interesting animal actions as portrayed by silent drama of the forest. To my mind it is much more interesting and fascinating to follow an animal combat by the mute evidence of tracks left in fresh snow, than it would be to have a ringside seat.
The weasel, better known in the winter as the ermine, presents evidence of attempting to commit the "Perfect Crime". First he disguises his dress by substituting a pure white robe for his brown of the summer. Two beady eyes, sharp and bright enough to pierce the blackest night, are all that can be seen against a background of white snow, and he was the only animal which appeared to have deliberately tried to cover his tracks. It was only occasionally that a definite imprint of his foot could be seen while all the other animals made definite and regularly spaced tracks. He seemed to rush madly about, darting here and there, back tracking and stopping at every possible refuge for birds. Following along I found where he had gone under the snow, burrowing just beneath the surface and occasionally breaking through with his back or perhaps had raised his head to get the direction of his quarry before darting under again. His burrowing had two distinct advantages. It afforded him cover in approaching his victim and the snow being harder underneath made easier and faster going.
At the end of one of his burrows was a little spot by an old stump, trampled and beaten down so no tracks were visible and scattered about were a few feathers of the Western Winter Wren. A little to one side was about a half inch of the tip of its wing with the large wing feathers still in. The evidence was purely circumstantial but it proved without a doubt that the animal with the reputation of being one of the most ferocious fighters and ruthless killers, for its size, had taken his portion of the pound of flesh.
The marten although a killer but less ferocious, leaves a track that can be mistaken for nothing else. He always puts two feet close together and at a very uniform distance apart. His tracks led to trees, shrubs, logs, and stumps where he apparently stopped and stuck his nose in the air as a dog does when baying at the moon.
Fox and coyote tracks were most numerous, always uniform - implying a nature square and above board. Nevertheless they are both very sly animals, with the coyote having the edge for trappers claim the coyote is harder to trap than is the fox. The tracks of both are seen around Longmire and foxes are often seen but never heard while the coyotes are sometimes heard but never seen.
The Snowshoe rabbit presented the most tragic sight of all. Time and again the evidence showed that he had been pursued by coyote, fox, and marten, but only once did any of his pursuers seem to overtake him and then the end of the chapter was shown by greyish white fur scattered over the snow and signs of a desperate struggle. The rabbit although a poor helpless and defenseless animal still seems to hold his own as regards numbers. However his must be a hectic life with so many enemies hunting him day and night.
The beaver showed the greatest co-operative ability, but of course the benefits were mostly his. He climbed out of the water and went a short distance to where he cut a small alder and dragging it back to the water his tracks were covered or dragged out. At another place they had constructed a dam and spillway over it so that a runway extending down stream below was kept free of snow. The snow had piled up two feet on either side of the runway but the young alders growing an either side were weighted down so that they could be easily reached from the water in the runway. As subsequent snows fell, larger saplings would be bent down so that at no time would food be hard to get. Nature and the beavers are great allies, nature having given them the secret of causing limbs they cut for food to lie on the bottom of their pools so they can be had at any time, and in other ways working together for the good of the beaver.
- - Preston P. Macy
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