On Friday I awoke to a world that had turned entirely white overnight: white clouds roofed the sky, about an inch of white snow carpeted the ground, and white snowflakes filled the air in between. It was the last day of work before the Christmas holiday, and it had been nearly two weeks since I had last gone out birding. Because I was suffering from nature-withdrawal, because the clouds were supposed to clear by lunch-time, and because the fresh snow looked so terribly inviting, I decided I would go for a walk at Hurdman at lunch.
The weatherman was right for a change: the snow stopped by mid-morning, and the sun came out shortly after. The new-fallen snow looked fresh and pristine, and snow crystals sparkled in the sun. I was happy to discover a set of fox tracks leading out of the woods; one of the things I enjoy doing in the winter is examining animal tracks and trying to figure out who made them. These were small prints, about the size of a large house cat’s, and followed a straight line through the woods. Fox tracks are generally oval in shape, like the tracks of many wild canines. They have four triangular toes, the details of which may be obscured since red foxes’ feet are very furry. In some substrates the claw may be visible directly in front of each toe. The food pad is distinctly chevron-shaped, a useful trait in identifying this species.
The red fox may travel in a direct register trot, where the rear foot lands directly on top of the print left by the front foot, or a side trot where prints from both the front and rear feet are visible. An agile hunter, the red fox can walk on top of stone walls and logs….a feat that its close canine relatives cannot duplicate.
The tracks appeared quite fresh, and were perhaps less than an hour old given that the snow hadn’t stopped all that long ago. I keep hoping that I’ll meet him (or her) face-to-face coming down the path one day, but given its secretive nature, the fox is far more likely to melt away into the woods before I even know it’s there!
Although the fox was nowhere to be seen, the chickadees greeted me enthusiastically. There were still no feeders anywhere along the trail, so I pulled out a bag of sunflower seed and threw a couple of handfuls onto the ground for them to eat. A male cardinal flew over while I was in this process; there were no signs of any finches, nuthatches, or woodpeckers along the trail.
I decided to check one of the open areas where I had seen a lot of berries growing earlier in the fall, thinking I might find some robins or, if I was really lucky, some waxwings. The buckthorn berries were still abundant, but I encountered no birds in the area.
My last stop was the river. A few Common Goldeneyes were diving near the 417 bridge, while further upstream I found a group of mallards. Although a couple of Barrow’s Goldeneyes have been reported in Ottawa this winter, they haven’t made their way to Hurdman yet. Perhaps in the new year I’ll go looking for them.