Lynx Tracks in the Snow
We’re making the most of our backwoods road riding this month while we wait for winter to give up and let spring move in. The roads are still frozen and the frost hasn’t started working its way out of the ground yet. From last weekend to this, the ice has gained rather than lost area at the outlets and along moving water. It’s moving backward. Finding lynx tracks in the snow last weekend was a highlight of winter and a first for me.
Talking With the Warden
I talked with our local game warden about our trespasser and the lynx. He’s familiar with the lynx but hadn’t seen signs of him in a couple of years, and he was happy to hear he’s still around. They’re beautiful cats. I said I was 99.9% sure we’d seen lynx tracks, and he replied that they are “awesome and impressive. If you think you saw lynx tracks that’s what you saw.” On top of a heavy crust and with a little fresh snow on top, the tracks are the size of my palm.
The front foot is in front/on bottom, and the back foot steps on part of the front foot. It’s an easy size and pattern to recognize.
These lynx tracks belong to a cat in Topsfield. There are five sets of tracks near Grand Lake Stream. A few years ago lynx in the area were little more than rumors. We knew they’d move in eventually as these “endangered” (pffft No they’re not, that’s ridiculous.) animals with a small population continue to reproduce and spread out. If you’re standing on one side of the US/New Brunswick, Canada border they’re endangered. On the other side, in Canada, they are a species with a healthy and growing population. (off the soapbox now)
I learned during our conversation that lynx have hollow bones, part of what makes it easier for them to stay on top of the snow. A thick crust, huge round “snowshoe” feet, and hollow bones. How absolutely cool is that. There are two tracks below. The front foot is on the bottom, back foot partially covers the front. The scratch mark is consistent on the left side, and I think it’s the front foot scuffing the snow.
What Do Lynx Eat?
We know the lynx are around. They’re on two sides of us and have been for at least a few years. They follow the snowshoe hare population, their main diet. The hare population has recovered since the winter of 2014/15 when local hares were all but wiped out. I don’t know that they’d be a threat to the poultry or much of a threat to deer. Now that I’ve learned more, I’m less concerned about increased danger to my poultry. Interesting, the things you learn as a result of riding a backwoods road for an hour.
Backwoods roads were muddy this weekend so went to see elk instead. Elk. In Maine. Tis true. Instead of buying a side of farm-raised beef we’re considering harvesting a farm-raised elk. Thinking about it. I have pictures of course. I’ll share a couple tomorrow.
The Track Maker
I waited until it warmed up before going out this morning. Six below. -6°F, “feels like” -17°F (feels like needles on bare skin) when I went out. The ducks peeked out the door. A hen waddled out, looked around, stretched her right leg behind her, wings out straight, turned around and waddled back inside. I closed the door behind her and filled the water pans. The chickens are pecking at a pan of bacon fat I gave them a few days ago as a treat. The extra calories help them stay warm and maintain weight. We’re in the coldest part of winter now. I think I’ve already told you that. Ava snuffled enough birds to be satisfied that all was well, looked for eggs in the usual spots on the floor (she stares at them, I’m sure hoping they’ll leap into her mouth since she’s not allowed to take them) and went to the door to wait. One egg from Sweetie. The ducks aren’t laying and only three chickens are popping out eggs every couple of days.
It’s so cold the snow squeaks under foot. Ava and Zoey took off in the direction of the food plot then waited to see if I were going with them. None of us are getting enough exercise these days. I’d bundled up before leaving the house so we could go for a short walk. There were game cameras to check this morning. What left the tracks we found while walking Sunday afternoon?
Bobcat or Coyote?
Do I want to deal with an early bobcat or a coyote? Coyotes are easier when it comes to poultry but bobcats are far more interesting. I fed a starving bobcat at the end of winter 2015 to keep him alive and away from my birds. Do I want to do it again? The deer have moved on so I can set up a feeding station at the bear bait site without worrying about causing problems for the deer. Would I rather bait a coyote in the same spot? The difference between a feeding station and a bait is species. I’ll feed a bobcat to keep it away from the ducks and chickens but I’ll bait a coyote in order to shoot it. A bobcat will stay away from people if it isn’t desperate. A coyote is an opportunist waiting for one escaped bird rather it’s starving or not.
We went to all three cameras, two in the food plot and one in the wood yard, and swapped the cards. I pried the first one open with a little effort but the clasps on the second and third cameras were frozen solid. There’s nothing good about taking your gloves off when it’s -7° and breezy but I wanted those cards.
And the Pictures Show…
The pictures show nothing definite but I’m pretty sure the track maker is a coyote. Right side of the screen, a coyote head. The camera triggered two seconds too fast for a full body shot. The batteries were probably too cold to snap the second photo sooner. Normally there are three or four empty pictures before something walks into the frame. We have the head and tip of a busy tail.
Notice the lack of tracks on the snow? The coyote is light enough to stay on top of the crust. Deer break through. It’s a big advantage for the coyotes. It snowed a few times between December 28 and January 6 when the track maker returned. I hoped to find the culprit in this photo but didn’t. Cold batteries again. Look closely. There’s a snowshoe hare
Here’s what we know. Bobcats don’t come near the house unless they’re starving. We’ve had four bobcats here in 18 winters. All were starving and desperate enough to take their chances with us and the dogs. Two of them came in the winter of 2015 when we had more than 200 inches of snow. One of them killed two ducks but the other found the feeding station and didn’t come closer. We know there’s another coyote here. There aren’t any indications of a bobcat. I think the hare hopped through and the coyote followed its tracks and/or scent later. It snowed Friday night into Saturday morning. There wasn’t much of a crust on the snow for the coyote to stay on so it broke through and left the tracks that then collected snow.
Nature sleuthing. Don’t you love it? I believe the track maker is the coyote. Case dismissed.
Walking a Snowy Trail at Sunset
We went to put the poultry up for the night but the ducks were napping in the last of the sunshine. Peaceful. Bills tucked under their wings, opening an eye to take a quick look, and then back to napping. I didn’t want to disturb them so we, me and the dogs, kept going. We went walking on a snow trail as the sunset. Steve packed the snow down with a snowmobile. I can walk to the food plot and wood yard now without snowshoes.
Zoemobile raced up and down the trail, mauling Ava on each pass. Ava ambled along behind me, tolerating Zoey as she always does (“Can’t you just kick her fluffy ass once, Ave? Make her stop.”), looking up and down the trail for squirrels she could chase. Zoey stayed on top of the icy crust under a few inches of snow as she tracked snowshoe hares. Zig zagging back and forth, she always looked back to me when I called her name. That’s a big improvement over last winter when she either didn’t hear me because she was in the bunny zone or ignoring me. We hadn’t had her long last winter. She wasn’t the best at minding me. Still isn’t but she did well yesterday.
I noticed tracks in the snow, covered by the light fluff that fell Friday night. The only thing the tracks told me was that whatever the predator is, it’s full grown. The distance between steps showed me an animal that is a bobcat or coyote. Bobcat didn’t feel right. We aren’t having that hard a winter and there are plenty of snowshoe hares to keep the cats fed. Or at least I think there are enough hares. Maybe there aren’t many when you go into the woods away from the house and food plot. If winter’s going to get hard on the bobcats we shouldn’t see evidence of it until February, still three weeks away. We haven’t had a coyote around since Eryn trapped our nuisance in November. There haven’t been any signs of a coyote around. Oh we know they’re around. We do live in the woods, after all. But not close. Not backyard food plot close. Mating season for coyotes starts the end of January. They’ll be moving around more soon. Or maybe now.
The empty memory cards for the game cameras were in the house. It was cold and a bit windy and I still needed to tend to the chickens and ducks. By the time I got them settled for the night and went to the house and back to the food plot it would be dark. The idea of looking at the pics and walking back to replace the cards after dark in this cold did nothing for me. Leaving the cameras empty wasn’t a great idea. If the animal walked by again there wouldn’t be cards to catch the pictures. And it was cold. Really cold. As curious as I was, I left the cards and planned to go back this morning to get them.
In the Woods
You can see the tracks in the first picture (taken this morning). The rest of the photos were taken last evening while we were walking.
Ava, walking in front of me for a change. She was looking at snowshoe hare tracks going into the trees. We’re walking out of the food plot to get to the wood yard.
Zoemobile, racing around the wood yard.
On our way back to the food plot.
The almost full moon over the food plot. If you look closely you can see the trail stomped down by Steve on his snowshoes yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. He went out to the beaver bog to see what’s going on out there. They don’t seem to be active here right now but whatever walked through the edge of the food plot also walked out into the woods around the beaver lodge.Sunset through the trees. This is where I first noticed the tracks. I think I have the answer to what made the tracks here.