It doesn’t snow very often here in central North Carolina. When it does snow, it usually doesn’t last long, melting within a day or two, sometimes disappearing the same day. I try to get out as early as possible when there’s a covering of snow to have a look around and see what creatures have been stirring. A dusting of snow often reveals the comings and goings of many creatures that may be easily overlooked otherwise; a squirrel hopping along the forest floor, a bird hopping up to a small weed, plucking a seed or two from the weed, then flying off, another bird taking flight, its right wing leaving marks in the soft snow (arrows indicate direction of travel in “squirrel” and “bird track 1,” arrow showing wing marks in “bird tracks 2”).
Mystery tracks. I discovered a set of tracks on a 15-18-inch diameter log lying in the water (ice) of the Wetlands. The 12-foot-long log is just below the circular platform, halfway down the boardwalk which leads into the Wetlands. The animal that left the tracks came up from a hole in the ice and onto the log, continued along the log for approximately eight feet and then headed out across the surface of the ice towards the opposite side of the Wetlands. The following morning (1/22) there were more tracks on the thin layer of snow that covered the ice closest to the boardwalk (in winter, this part of the Wetlands is in shade throughout the day). The tracks led to another log below the boardwalk, then back across the ice and directly in front of the boardwalk. The tracks were left by a River Otter (see “Mystery tracks” image at left – the tracks on the log after the otter emerged from the water).
Perhaps this otter was just investigating the Wetlands’ suitability for future habitation. It may have been a one-time visit. Otters, when present for any length of time, often leave telltale signs of their presence – they usually have a fairly well-defined “latrine” area. Perhaps the otter’s been in the Wetlands before and this “sign” has been in an area that is not easily accessible. The truth is, I don’t know if the otter had visited the Wetlands previously, or since, but if it hadn’t been for the snow, the otter’s visits during January 21-22 may never have been realized. It pays to get out and have a look around.