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Field Note- Spring 2022

By David Brown

Many people think that wildlife tracking is mainly a winter occupation in which animal activity is clearly printed in tracks and trails on the clean surface of snow. But what to do with the other nine snowless months of the year? Spring, summer and fall are what I call the ‘subtle seasons’ that require a sharpening of the senses to perceive sign of animal presence and activity hidden in plain sight against a more confusing background than clean, white snow.

Snow conceals as much as it reveals. Even a fresh light snowfall covers up animal evidence, cleaning the slate for newer writing. With spring thaw, however, this evidence that has been hiding in the snowpack all winter devolves to the single plane of bare ground to be detected and read by the observant tracker, who can reconstruct a whole winter season of activity that had previously been hidden from view.

This was brought home to me early in my tracking experience by two incidents. On the White Ledge trail on a spur of Mt. Chocorua one spring day I found a fresh bear scat composed of what appeared to be skunk cabbage fiber and, puzzlingly, beech nut husks. Since it was months since the beech nut drop, why were they mixed in with the fiber of spring plants?

I stored the incident away for later pondering and found the answer a few years later on a Christmas bird count. I decided to follow the course of Lucy’s Brook, on the back side of Mt. Attitash on two feet of snow. There I came upon the trail of a black bear that was walking along using its phenomenal sense of smell to dig out single beech nuts that had fallen after the first snow and remained nicely refrigerated in the snow pack. It became obvious that the White Ledge scat of a few years earlier was the result of similar activity. As the snow melted these late-dropped nuts, along with the skunk cabbage, were fresh spring food for bears emerging from hibernation.

Photo by David Brown
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