Despite the cold weather, winter (and the often-snowy early spring) is a great time to get out on trails and find signs of wildlife. A lot of our local wildlife are active this time of year. When snow is on the ground, we can find evidence of wildlife we don’t normally get to see. Here are five great wildlife signs to look for on snowy trails, along with some trail recommendations for optimal sign spotting.
1. Pileated Woodpecker Sign
Our largest woodpecker, pileated woodpeckers are active all winter. They make large holes in trees to eat carpenter ants. The holes they make have a characteristic rectangular shape as they get bigger. You can also look for evidence of pileated woodpeckers on top of fresh snow – as they create those holes, they leave little chunks of wood on the ground, which often stand out quite clearly on top of the white snow. Pileated woodpeckers require large blocks of woods, so if you are looking for their sign, be sure to find a trail that passes through forests like the Meredith Community Forest.
2. Beaver Activity
Beavers are busy all winter long. They store branches under the ice in the fall, snacks for when the ice is too thick for them to make it on land. If the ice is thin enough, they will go onto land searching for young trees to eat. Beaver ponds are also excellent places to look for signs of other wildlife. Look for beaver lodges and dams for evidence of this fun creature. If you are lucky, you may even find sign of beaver nibbling on trees. You'll want to find a trail that goes along or near a beaver pond, like the dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.
3. Porcupine Activity
Porcupines are messy little creatures that leave behind a lot of sign everywhere they go. In the winter, keep an eye out for tracks and trails in the snow. You might also find a collection of hemlock twigs on top of the snow under a hemlock tree, a sign of their feeding. I always make a point to look up when I see sign of feeding, just in case the porcupine is still in the tree. At the entrance to a porcupine den, you’ll also find a large pile of porcupine scat, which has a distinctive odor. Look for porcupine sign on trails that wind through hemlock stands and rocky terrain like the Howard Swain Memorial Forest.
4. Deer and Moose Sign
Deer and moose leave all sorts of sign behind in wintertime. Besides their tracks and scat, we can also see evidence of feeding. Without lush green vegetation available, both deer and moose eat a lot of twigs and bark in the winter. They scrape bark with their bottom front teeth (or incisors). This leaves obvious marks on tree trunks that can really catch your eye in the winter. They will also browse (nibble) on the twigs of young trees. Look for signs of deer and moose feeding on trails that go through both forested and open, shrubby habitats like the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge.
5. Bobcat Tracks
Bobcats like large blocks of woods and wetlands. Winter is an active time for these wild cats as they breed in February and March. Bobcats are not seen very often, but they have become increasingly common over the past few years. When there is snow on the ground, they leave their tracks behind, which are round and slightly asymmetrical. Look for bobcat tracks when you are out on the trail on larger properties with mixed habitats like the Lyme Town Forest.