Thursday, December 25, 2014

Winter Wolf Track

Wolf track in snow (c) John Ashley
Shaggy moss revealed by a passing wolf
Worked in a foot or so of crusty snow last week, along lower McDonald Creek in Glacier Park. I cut a single trail of large canid tracks not too far from the road, so I just assumed without paying attention that someone's dog was running loose (not legal off road, by the way). The dog tracks followed two sets of deer tracks headed downstream, and I followed all three tracks for as long as time allowed.

As I looked more closely, the tracks slowly morphed into wolf prints. They were 1-2 days old, and melting tracks grow in size, but these were quite large to begin with - at least as big as my own outstretched hand. Every now and again the wolf had veered off to inspect a stump or tree, but otherwise it followed the deer tracks exactly. In one wet area the wolf tracks melted out to reveal bright green shaggy moss waiting patiently beneath the snow.

In previous winters I've seen wolf tracks in the snow along upper McDonald Creek, but not along the lower creek. Twenty-plus years ago, a healthy mountain lion triggered a remote (Park Service) camera that I'd strapped to a tree in this same area. And I remember one radio-collared lioness who denned not too far from here, many years ago, with a single kitten. What we actually witness is such a puny portion of what's happening in the woods - what I wouldn't give to have the senses and attention span of a wolf, deer or lion.