Archive for January, 2016

Happy new year!  Here are some tracks and sign from the last bit of 2015.


A long-tailed weasel hunts an open meadow.


The heavily furred feet of an American marten.  These guys have four “plantar” glands on each hind foot… I wish I had tried to photograph them but they look like tiny little bumps on the palm pad and they are used for scent communication.


Beautiful day in the Tetons chasing mountain lions.


A good habit that I try to adhere to, is to occasionally take a moment and look deeper for signs of life… try to see the subtle signs normally overlooked.  It doesn’t take long to notice an aphid on a leaf or some other overlooked creature.  The second step is to do some research and figure out what you’re looking at.  I believe these little clumps of stones are caddisfly casings from the genus Glossosoma.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossosomatidae Apparently, they create these tiny stone casings with silk and are an indicator of excellent water quality since they are so susceptible to pollution.


Jackrabbit on the left and red fox on the right.


Beautiful red hills of the Gros Ventre.  The jackrabbit from above was cruising around in these cliffs.


Awesome tracks of a red fox crouching and diving headfirst into the snow in hopes of catching a meal.  In one study they found that their success rate goes up to 90% when they orient north or south before their pounce.  This one was pointed west and I have no idea if they were successful.


Cool beaver tracks in the snow.


Breaking trail deep in the backcountry on a snowmobile.


The next bunch of pictures are of the often overlooked feeding sign of red squirrels.  Just like porcupines, bears, rabbits and ungulates, red squirrels eat the bark of conifer trees.  Their teeth grooves are tiny and they usually remove smaller patches of bark although I’ve also found some very large patches from several years of feeding.  Also noteworthy is that many of the trees I’ve seen this sign were weakened by the squirrel and later killed by the mountain pine beetle.




We caught a new cougar, F72.  Healthy looking first time mother.


Compare this nipple with the one below.  The brown staining is a sign of nursing.  This is F72 who has at least one kitten but likely not more than two since most of her nipples had not been nursed.



At the base of this tree was a dead porcupine.  Look closely for the black arrows pointing to quills and fur stuck to the tree.  Mountain lions don’t just kill porcupines on the ground they will even climb up and pull them out of trees!


This is the same tree showing porcupine cambium feeding.  The teeth grooves are much larger than the red squirrel feeding.


I’ve been working on recognizing individual cougars by their tracks.  Here is F72.  She has a very distinctive shape of her heel pad.  It has wings that stick out.  Also her right front foot is way larger than her left front.  I think we can recognize individual animals by their tracks more often than we realize if we really look closely at the details.


Here is M85’s foot and track.  His are pretty easy to recognize because his toes have these crazy frostbitten tips on them.


A better picture of F72 taken by Jen Feltner.


Here is the impression of an owl going after some small mammal under the snow.  There are a few clues that led me to this conclusion: 1. There are no tracks leading up to this impression so we know it is a bird.  2. The only birds that hunt by sound (since there are no tracks on top of the snow) are harriers and owls.  Harriers have left for the winter… so it must be an owl hunting a small mammal… I’m guessing its a great horned owl hunting a vole.


Cougar kitten scat.  This is one of F49’s kittens who is around 6 months old.  Cat scat is supposed to have blunt ends… which is why I like this one.


As I was searching for cougar tracks I looked up and not 4 feet from my face was this cougar kitten hiding in a tree!


I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see it but this little shrew tunnel is marked with a spot of urine right at the entrance.


An intriguing mystery… some critter was feeding on these grass seeds…


Here are the tiny seeds they were eating.  As is often the case, I had no idea who the culprit was…  A couple hours later I took a break from my hike and sat down in the snow and a huge flock of redpolls (small northern finches) surrounded me as they fed on the timothy grass seeds.  I took a video of them which you can see on the link below.  It was too cool to watch them land on the thin grass stems, riding them down into the snow and feeding on the seeds; solving the mystery from a couple hours prior.


Thanks for reading!


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