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Photo by Scott Snyder Photo by Scott Snyder

Winter's minor mysteries

Every so often we are presented with minor mysteries; obscure bird tracks to decode, unusual animal behavior to wonder about, oddities that pop up like mushrooms after a fall rain. One Christmas we were fortunate enough to have both a granddaughter visiting and a good old Montana winter with lots of snow. The novelty of snow wowed the Arizona kid. She ate it, rolled in it, and created messy snow angels. She helped her dad pack a walking trail up the sledding hill. Then she needed to build a snow cone stand.

Marching into the house, holding a 4-foot-long section of plastic pipe, she announced, “When grandpa goes to the dump, he brings stuff home.” The pipe proved to be a perfect holder for the wide pink Barbie umbrella that was a necessary ingredient in creating the illusion of a snow cone stand. The neighbor kids came over for an afternoon of sledding and eating snow with dry Kool-Aid sprinkled on the top.  

The following day, the most unusual tracks we had ever seen in snow were scattered here and there. Our granddaughter spotted them first and was wildly excited. To her the tracks looked like jellyfish.  We saw six long, webbed toes spreading out equally from a center. It was as if a heron had stood heel-to-heel in that awkward ballet position.  

You have got all the information. Can you, dear reader, answer the minor mystery of the six-toed track?

February ’09 brought an interesting mystery. The snow was about five feet deep; our paths to the woodshed, shop and driveway were shoulder-deep trenches. We went down to Moscow to enjoy the Jazz Festival and were gone for four days. Arriving home at dusk with a Costco shopping to unload, we noted a couple inches of fresh snow and some curious tracks next to the back door. Three and a half inches, nearly round, each of the four toes and the heel pad  were clearly embossed in the fresh snow. Backtracking we could see that the cougar had jumped down into the cleared path by the outhouse, stuck its head into the woodshed, and walked down the path to our back door. No one opened the door and invited it inside (although our house cats did seem pretty freaked out), yet the tracks ended at the doorway. 

Can you figure out where the lion went?

Out along the highway, traffic sets the table for dining birds and eagles are commonly seen. But we get our share because nearly every winter there will be an eagle or two working a carcass in our creek valley.  January 2010, after watching a bald eagle on a large spruce that grows about 100 yards from our front porch, and observing his flight pattern, I was able to find—not easily—the white tail he was cleaning up. The dead deer was in a small clearing—too small to flap a sheet—and surrounded by a tangle of alder. I was unable to visualize how that big bird landed and took off.

This winter’s mystery involves a bald eagle. Early February, we noticed a bald eagle again in the prominent spruce. The snow was too funky to search out the carcass, but we know the bones are out there because the eagle hung around for a week or so. We noticed that nearly every time one of us stepped out our big front door, which faces the spruce, the eagle called out. Often we couldn’t locate him in the spruce or any other prominent perching trees, but we could certainly hear his screech.

We couldn’t understand how the eagle could see us on the porch when we could not locate it even using binoculars. We couldn’t understand why it would screech at us anyway. 

Can you figure out why the eagle called when we came outside?

Scroll Down for Answers










The six-toed tracks were not made by dancing herons but by an upside down Barbie umbrella.

The cougar followed that foot-wide band of snowless ground next to the house. It had to follow that band around two sides of the house because the prints next appeared in the front yard and crossed the garden.

The bald eagle was responding to the squeaking of the hinge on our front door.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

Tagged as:

eagle, winter, tracks, mountain lion, mysteries, snow cones

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