For every creature seen or heard, at least a hundred pass by unobserved. Only when we see tracks in the snow do we begin to realize all of the activity going on.
Starting in 1970, it was my privilege to be the Hopkins School District naturalist. I took hundreds of students animal tracking each winter. Mostly we hiked the trails at Lowry Nature Center, located in Carver Park near Victoria. That job lasted more than 25 years.
On thee excursions, looking for deer signs was always a favorite act. We would often find deer tracks and beds in the snow. Fox and raccoon tracks also were exciting to fnd.
Probably the most memorable tracking experience took place on a bright morning after several inches of new snow had fallen. A class of sixth-graders was scheduled for a walk. A few managed to get the snowshoes on themselves and go off with my blessing, before returning excitedly. They said they’d seen the “best track ever.” They were anxious for me to see it and photograph it. I did, and have used the image hundreds of times in my nature talks. What was it? It was the perfect imprint of the wings and body of a Great Horned owl after it hit the snow trying to catch a mouse or other small animal. To me the best part of the whole situation was the excitement of discovery for the students, and that they wanted to preserve this outstanding track for many others to see.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.