Greenpoint: Winter tracks, winter rabbits

The winter woods are full of tracks -- our own, and those of deer and rabbits. 

The winter woods are full of tracks -- our own, and those of deer and rabbits. 

Our massive snowfall of last month was greatly reduced by the pre-Christmas rains. But we’ve kept our snow cover, and every few days we get at least a dusting of new snow on top of the solid, crusty base.

The path the dog and I like to take through the woods every morning has snow of varying depths — from 4 or 5 inches to nothing but an icy crust — depending on the density of the trees and canopy in different areas.

Our favorite path is about a mile loop, with some side paths and short loops we can take for variety. I like to see the way the light and the snow change how the woods look every day. The dog is mostly interested in sniffing out deer tracks and trying to roll in whatever animal scat she can find. Some days we see three or four deer running off, stopping and turning to look at us. We never see rabbits.

But the rabbit tracks are there, so many I am convinced there’s a rabbit party every night. There are the big, flat-footed marks of snowshoe hares and the smaller tracks of cottontails. Maybe it’s just a few busy rabbits, or maybe there are hundreds of them.

The fresh snow of our yard is also crossed with rabbit tracks. Unlike our ducks and chickens, who tend to stick to the official paths from one shed, coop or enclosure to another, the rabbits go everywhere, every which way.

What are they doing? And how can they be so active and never be seen?

Rabbits, clearly, are not hibernators. So mostly what they are doing in winter is looking for food, and for places to hide and snooze when they’re not eating.

Their summer foods — grasses, berries, our vegetable garden — are gone now. Winter foods include bark, twigs and the dried wild grasses that stick up out of the snow. Rabbits are also famous for eating their own poop. As inefficient digesters, there’s a lot of nutrients and vitamins left in their waste, and eating it allows for a second pass at food. It’s sort like ruminants — like our goats — chewing their cud for another try at digesting grasses.

We don’t generally see the rabbits and hares in winter because they are most active foraging just before dawn and just after it gets dark.

The woods have other tracks, too — squirrels, mice and voles. There are some fox tracks — at least I think there are, but I’m not that good at deciphering. I found our own wild cat’s tracks deep in the woods, so I know she, or he, is out there hunting.

For all the tracks we see, it’s surprising we don’t see more animals. Then again, there’s probably nothing like a noisy human and a dog, crunching through the snowy woods, to scare off the wildlife.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Jan. 31. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life & Arts

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