I've been enjoying reading A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald W. Stokes over the last few days and spent Christmas Eve enthralled by the chapter on winter tracks in the snow. So today when C and I headed into the Adirondacks to cross country ski at Lapland Lake, I was excited about the prospect of testing my newly acquired winter nature skills.
We got off the groomed trail and "bushwacked" on our skis into the woods. The snow was kind of icy and creaked as my skis slid along the crust. As I skied along some distance behind C, I was alert for tracks. Suddenly, I was certain that I was following the trail of a ruffed grouse. The grouse likes to keep to the ground rather than fly, so it is equipped with little comb-like protrusions on its feet that appear as the days get short in the Fall and come off in the Spring when the days lengthen. The little combs act like snowshoes and allow the grouse to cruise over the snow.
I became even more excited when I realized that there wasn't just one grouse, there were two--on either side of where I skiied along in C's tracks---oops, actually, I guess it was the imprints of his ski poles not a ruffed grouse that I was tracking.
The picture above is the real thing, found on the web. The ski pole tracks looked similar but were farther apart and in addition to being on both sides of the trail had a telltale deep hole in the center.