After heavy rains in spring and early summer, a drought settled in in my area. Three rows of beans shriveled and died, and as the weeks of summer wore on, the water in local creeks and lakes shrank away from its banks. Fall arrived, a flurry of colors and wind, and then–the night before last–the temperature finally plummeted after weeks of temperate weather. A low of 22˚F petrified the area.
The next day found me in the woods, and when I realized that the drought had taken an especially hard toll on a local lake, I headed off trail to patrol the newly uncovered beach, hunting animal tracks. They were plentiful. The receding waterline made a perfect track trap.
I’m sure the local critters struggle with the drought. The receding shorelines means that terrestrial varmints have to walk in the open to reach water. At night the shorelines must be a veritable freak of wildlife, each waiting and seizing what it hopes will be the safest moment to emerging from the sheltering vegetation and make the dash to the water’s edge, in some cases more than one hundred feet from the last cover. Different creatures move in different fashion. The raccoons seemed focused and purposeful, making fairly direct paths to and from the water and the woods.
Various canids seemed to have patrolled the beach. The broad, splayed toes and dull claws of a domestic pooch left tracks that wove up and down the sand, likely guided by an ever-inquisitive nose. Wild canids were more purposeful and discrete. Moe compact prints with sharper claws suggested the presence of both coyote and fox, both indigenous to the area but seldom seen.
Some deer seem to have been moving in more languid fashion along the shore, too, and their tracks betrayed a wide range of sizes, from the smaller tracks of young deer to the impressive and deep impressions of an unhurried larger deer. My boots are size 12: the critter that made the tracks below was a good-sized deer!
What made this day especially interesting was the way in which the frost heaving had produced and preserved tracks in areas where shade predominated. An experienced animal tracker would likely have fun reading the pressure releases that were preserved in the chill air after the weight of a creature left its impressions in the freezing ground.
It is easy to forget just how many creatures occupy our neighborhoods, sharing habitat with us. A day on the lakeshore like this one provided a reminder of this. Later reclining in my Trek Light Gear hammock, I heard deer moving through the woods as I sipped a Pat’s Backcountry Black Hops brew, I thought about how easy it would have been to miss the tracks.
Someone without curiosity could have passed by on the woodland trail, and seen only an unlikely stretch of shore hiding the secret traverses of the night.
I’m glad I took the time to wander for a spell in the tracks of woodland critters; it enriched my day immeasurably.