When the kids were little and ventured out to play in freshly fallen snow, the yard became happy with boot prints, snow angels, and winding tracks left from rolling snowman parts. Nowadays the yard is more often made ‘happy’ by hooves, and there are no snow angels in sight.
One clear advantage of winter is snow cover, which gives us humans the chance to track the movement of mammals living close by. Nothing can traverse through snow without leaving tracks, so I like to use this time of year to study the favored paths of my neighbors – the long-legged, four-footed, fur-coated type. The most obvious of these are left by the largest of the neighborhood vegetarians … deer. In the photos here it’s pretty clear just how often and freely these hoofed neighbors visit all the unfenced areas surrounding our home. The shot to the right is typical of the snow-blanketed woods – and yes, these are deer tracks – all of them – left within the last few days.
The photos below were all taken from the front walkway, the front porch, or along the fenced in back yard from a vantage point near the house.
Fencing added before the ground freezes is good for the health of the rhododendron bushes …
The only area not trodden by deer is the small acreage inside the back yard fence where I keep the deer candy shrubs like holly and hydrangea. But just outside the fence, deer have been busy. The tiny red-twig dogwood (under the chicken-wire cage to the left below) would be gone had I refrained from caging.
Each winter, when light snow covers the ground, I check out the most active deer paths in and around the yard. The one above is not a problem, in fact I encourage deer to use perimeter areas, such as this one where they often paw for acorns. I’ve even taken to raking mounds of autumn-dropped acorns back into the woods just to minimize this activity in my more cultivated areas. This year I’ve noticed a lot of deer traffic (left photo) between two fenced areas. Deer obviously find this a convenient way to access the side lawn and planted beds from the woods. This path may need some defensive alterations such as winter-only fencing to prevent future through traffic, particularly if I want to keep any persistent deer from trying to reach through the black fence to get at the new Ilex. The left photo shows at least one has already checked out the Ilex from outside the fence. Too bad installing a deer-toll wouldn’t work. It would be nice to retrieve some of the dough I’ve spent feeding them over the years.
I refer to the Field Guide to New England by the National Audubon Society or A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide, the Southern New England version, when I find an animal track I’m not familiar with. I also found a cool animal tracks poster online, plus more animal track info you can check out if you’re unsure of the tracks left by visitors to your snow-covered yard. Take advantage of the winter snows in your yard … you may be surprised at what you learn about your mammal neighbors.