Well, that time is over. With February the sun is shining and the tracks are jumping out of the snow. I've been out taking photos and noticed a couple of things. We have recently had a few unusually warm days (+20 to 30F) which has caused the snow to firm up a bit. Then we had a couple inches of new snow. The fox are now traveling all over the forest and fields whereas they usually stick to the snow machine and ski trails. The firm snow beneath the new snow is supporting their weight and they are obviously taking advantage this fact.
I've also learned couple of things in the past days. I saw several locations where fox trails intersected ski trails that they really reduced their stride- so much so that it appeared about the same stride as a walking marten. I'm not sure why they were doing this but it may have been because they were approaching a trail or that they were taking gentle steps so as not to break through the firm snow?
I also got a good look at a vole trail that showed paired angled tracks similar to what a least weasel looks like. I'm not sure why vole tracks sometimes look like this when they bound. I think it happens when the snow is not deep enough to make them bound as they usually do in the powder, but it is deep enough to keep them from trotting as they normally do on firm ground. The vole trail I was looking at changed from a 2x bound to a sloppy 2x bound to a trotting trail all in the course of 20 feet. The bounding inter-group distance was constant at about 6 inches.
So there you have it. Now is the time to get out and take track picture in the snow. If you are taking them to document the tracks make sure that you use a tape measure and take the images from directly above the tracks. Otherwise you will distort the appearance of the tracks and trails. If you are not documenting the tracks do whatever you like.
At first glance this might look like a snowshoe hare trail. But upon closer inspection it becomes a fox trail. I had to take a second look to realize that this fox walked out of the woods with a very short gait. Right at the bottom of the picture it went from a walk to a bound and jumped onto the ski trail.
This is a distance shot of a porcupine trail on a steep hill. The porcupine basically plowed through the softer snow and caught a break where the snow was drifted hard. On the left you can just make out an ermine trail showing real nice dumbbell shape patterns.
Ah,the old red squirrel trails. Something easily overlooked but valuable to learn from. Whenever there are several trails in an area you can learn a lot about aging tracks as there are usually old and new tracks side by side. In the spring when the sun warms the snow you can also deduce at what time the animal was moving about. Was the snow soft or hard when the animal passed. I have seen hare tracks that sunk into the snow after the sun softened it up, and hare tracks that barely left a mark in the same area, after the snow hardened again during the night.