Track Makers

Beaver -Watch for freshly cut trees, wood chips on the snow and beaver slides (places where branches have been dragged). Beavers cut trees for many reasons: food, building material and to keep their teeth from getting too long. There are several active beaver lodges in the Lake McDonald area. When you find them, listen carefully. You may be able to hear the beavers inside. On very cold days it is possible to see what appears to be smoke rising from the top of an active lodge. This is actually condensation resulting from warm air escaping from the lodge. (Also, watch for muskrats. They sometimes can be seen near beaver lodges).

Coyote- Coyotes feed on small mammals and carrion. Look for tracks indicating a coyote has been “mousing”. If you locate the site of a winter killed animal, you will most likely find tracks of this scavenger as well as wing prints from ravens and magpies.

Deer -Both the whitetail and mule deer can be found in the Lake McDonald valley during winter. It is not possible to tell the difference by looking at tracks. However, mule deer have more of a tendency to bound on all four feet. Other signs to look for are: rubs on trees, scat, and places where deer have bedded.

Elk -Elk will often winter along river bottoms and south facing slopes where grasses and forbs might be more accessible. As snow depth increases, elk will browse on twigs. Look for rubs on trees- they will be higher up on the tree and appear more ragged than deer rubs; trees or shrubs where they’ve been browsing; teeth marks on aspens; scat; beds; and places where trailing has taken place.

Lynx -Lynx have large feet that are densely covered by hair in winter. These natural snowshoes help them travel over snow to pursue their main food, the snowshoe hare. Lynx are rarely seen.

Pine Marten -This member of the weasel family spends much of its time in trees. The pine marten feeds on red squirrels, insects, birds and berries. Like other members of the weasel family, its tracks are distinctly “paired”. If the tracks you are following suddenly disappear, it indicates the marten has jumped onto a tree.

Mice, Voles, Shrews -These small mammals spend much of the winter under the security of a blanket of snow which provides a relatively warm and windless environment. Tracks on the snow may indicate they have gone in search of food. As snow melts, you might find their grass nests.

Mink -This member of the weasel family is semi-aquatic. Fish, muskrats, birds, and mice are among its favorite foods. Look for its tracks close to the water’s edge. Sometimes they will slide down a bank or dive into snow and emerge a short distance away.

Moose -Moose tracks are larger and more pointed than elk tracks. Because of their long legs they are able to move through deep snow. Moose tend to spend much of their time in the forest. During winter they feed heavily on shrubs. Often, large branches are broken when moose pull them down to feed on the tips. Look for droppings, rubs, and beds.

Mountain Lion -The chances of seeing this secretive animal are slim, but watch for their tracks. Their primary food is deer. If you find “cat” tracks, look for scrapes where scat or urine has been covered. Occasionally, tail drag marks may be seen.

Red Squirrel -You’re more likely to hear their chattering call before seeing them in the forest. While they spend much of their time in the trees, tracks can be found on snow where a bounding track pattern may lead to a cache of pine and fir cones. Look for places where they have been feeding (called middens). Middens can be identified by the piles of cone scales left after the squirrel has removed and eaten the seeds.

Snowshoe Hare -These tracks are unmistakable: large snowshoe-like hind feet appear ahead of the front feet indicating the hare is moving. This forest edge dweller takes advantage of the snow in order to feed higher up on shrubs and trees where it goes after buds and tender twigs. Snowshoe hares often use the same trails to and from feeding areas creating “bunny runs”. Look for tracks leading to hiding places beneath snow-bent shrubs or snow laden branches that touch the surface of the snow.

Weasel -This animal is also known as an ermine when its coat is white (changes from brown to white for winter camouflage). They may be found in both forest and meadow habitats. Small rodents are their primary food and weasel tracks may suddenly disappear down a mouse hole and resurface a short distance away. Their movement is typically bounding. Since their legs are short a body drag may be visible in deep snow.

Grouse -Both the ruffed and spruce grouse may be found in the lower elevations in winter. Generally, the spruce grouse spend much of its time feeding and roosting up in the trees. The ruffed grouse spends more time on the ground feeding on buds of shrubs. Tracks may lead to a “snow tunnel” - a place where the grouse scratched or dove into the snow and tunneled a short distance to spend the night in a “snow roost”.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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