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Life in the 'burbs

I woke up a few weeks ago, stood on my scale, and opened the vertical blinds to my master bedroom's sliding door. And this is what I saw on the step outside:

Rabbit tracks

Those are probably the tracks of an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus floridanus. They reminded me of how much is always revealed by a light dusting of snow, so I went out the front door to look, despite the cold (around -15 degrees celsius, or 5 degrees Fahrenheit). Here are some more visitors I might have been unaware of, except for the dusting of snow.

First, some wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) had obviously come right up onto our front entry deck:

Wild turkey tracks

A deer had strolled by. Around here, it was probably a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus):

Deer tracks

Some small rodent (I think) had visited. It could have been a small squirrel, but the track looks too small (I put down a key, for comparison purposes):

Rodent tracks?

I didn't see any dog tracks that morning. Most people around here seem to walk their dogs on a leash. But a lot of cats roam the neighborhood (Felis catus). Perhaps the track below was made by a cat belonging to one of our neighbors. Both Pandora and Buckwheat visit our land regularly.

Cat tracks

Cats roam freely these days at rather great risk, given the relatively recent influx of coyotes. Quite a few local cats have disappeared, likely eaten. So far, Pandora and Buckwheat have survived.

Bird tracksTo the left, the tracks of a different bird, considerably smaller than the turkey tracks. Notice that the feet have different proportions than the turkey feet, although the family resemblance is obvious. Note 1 

I'm afraid I didn't record the sizes of all the tracks shown in this entry, except for the small presumed rodent tracks above shown next to my keys, to give a rough idea of scale. So I have no way of remembering the exact scale of all of the images.

Here's a mystery track for you:

A mystery track

Can you guess what it is? The answer is at the bottom of this entry.

FootprintsTo the right, the tracks of yet another animal, homo sapiens.

Those are my footprints, plodding out to the end of my driveway in my slippers, to pick up the morning newspaper. This picture was taken after I'd blown away the snow. My footprints remained, where my weight had compressed the powdery snow into the pavement.

If you do a Google search on [ Animal Tracks ] and click on "Images", you can find all sorts of guides to these tracks, to help you become proficient at identifying local animals. What I have NOT seen are the tracks of a bear, a bobcat, a fisher cat, or a coyote, all of which have been reported in our area, but rarely. Perhaps some day. Note 2 

Shortly after moving into our current house, and still a bit nervous about our isolation in the suburbs, we heard someone walking around outside - the sounds seemed to be footsteps. We flashed lights and made a lot of noise, but the footsteps continued, which made us even more nervous. I finally got a glimpse of the interloper through a window. It was a skunk.

All the noise we made didn't frighten it one bit - nobody bothers a skunk. You can see another story about an encounter with a skunk in my blog entry Chester (the skunk story is towards the bottom). And a skunk once died under our front deck - professional help was needed to remove it. But I haven't seen any skunks around here lately.

Finally, another set of tracks left after the snow was gone:

Tire tracks in sand and salt

These are the tracks on the dry driveway of Toyotus camry - my Toyota Camry sedan. They're made in the salt and sand put down by the town to melt the snow, dragged into my driveway from the road.

Years ago, my daughter Elissa gave me a "Wildview" camera as a gift. You set it up somewhere (it comes with a strap you can use to tie it to a tree). A motion detector senses an animal going by, and takes a picture of it, firing a flash if need be. The pictures are only 640 X 480 pixels (about 0.3 megapixels), not very high resolution by modern standards, but enough to see what animal visited you. Here's one of the pictures it snapped:

A deer in the night

When I first set it up, I tested it by jumping in front of the camera to see if it would go off. It worked. I gave it my best "deer in the headlights" expression:

Larry in the night

What made the mystery track shown above? Here's the whole picture:

Mystery track, showing the newspaper that caused it

It was made by Globus bostonia - that is, my Boston Globe newspaper. The delivery man puts the papers in plastic bags, and drives along his route, throwing them out onto the driveways. Clearly, in this case, it slid along the snow, leaving a trail the entire width of the driveway. The shape of the trail shows that the paper made a half-turn as it slid along.

This is my second blog entry about tracks in the snow, the earlier one being Tracks. That also had a set of mystery tracks whose source you could guess.

Despite its title Life in the 'burbs, this entry is not about my life in the suburbs. It's about the animal life that shares this land with me. Actually, they were here first. Well, except for the Camry and the newspaper. I hope you've enjoyed our visit with the local residents revealed by a light snowfall.

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#0165   *FAMILY2

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© 2013 Lawrence J. Krakauer   Click here to send me e-mail.
Originally posted January 31, 2013

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Footnotes (click [return to text] to go back to the footnote link)

Note 1:   I don't know what bird made the prints shown. The most common birds we have around here are black capped chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, mourning doves, tufted titmice, and hairy and downy woodpeckers. We've seen blue jays, robins, sparrows, juncos, and evening and rose breasted grosbeaks.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds drink from our flowers and feeders. We've also seen starlings, goldfinches, crows, ravens, and even a pileated woodpecker. We've seen a variety of owls and hawks, the latter usually high in the sky. A pair of phoebes nested over a back door, and then on top of an entry light, several years in a row (we taped up the light switch so we wouldn't accidentally turn on the light and cook the babies).

While we used to get pheasants, we haven't seen them in years. There are a lot of Canada geese in the area, but not on our property, since they always hang out around water. But as noted above, we do get wild turkeys, sometimes ten or twenty at a time.   [return to text]

Note 2:   There are other local animals we've seen in the area whose tracks I've never seen in snow on my property: raccoons, foxes, groundhogs (also called woodchucks), and opossums (usually seen dead on the road).   [return to text]

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