Weasel ‘Madness’ and other Tracking Adventures

 In mammals, Mentoring, naturalist, nature connection, nature education, tracking, Weasels, wildlife tracking
Mother Nature had gifted us with more than foot of snow, and the Year 2 apprentices were excited to see what animals had left tracks for us this weekend in Mono Cliffs. Our theme was trailing, and we were curious to see how our animal friends had reacted to so much snow on the ground.
After a quick opening circle to set our intentions, we struck out east across the top edge of the old farmer’s field. Diamond strands of silk encased in ice dazzled us; deer tracks in the trees challenged us. How different those tracks looked in snow! How many deer were there? Which way were they going? When were the tracks made? We decided to follow them for a while to see where they were going.
Their gait changed suddenly from a walk to a gallop — or was it a bound? The tracks led to the southern edge of the field, where we were distracted by the discovery of a new trail. Alexis stopped us and used this as a warm-up question for the Track and Sign Evaluation some of us would be taking in January. He circled one section and asked, who made these tracks? Which direction was it travelling in? What gait? Our energy surged as we stooped to examine tracks inside and outside the circle. Was it a canine? Yes. Was it going west? Yes. Was it walking or trotting? Not sure. After a few minutes, Alexis asked us what we thought. Tamara said she thought the coyote was walking. She had gone a little farther ahead in the trail and seen where it had emerged into a more open area; subsequently, the stride had lengthened and narrowed. It made sense: The section that had been circled was winding through stalks of grasses and under a tree. It would have been hard to navigate at speed.
Did we want to keep following the deer or switch to the coyote? It was unanimous: Coyote. The group continued walking west. Along the way we saw tiny mouse tracks circling the tree trunks. At the southern tree line, we found more of the same, mixed in with skunk and Short-Tailed Weasel. Excited, we followed the skunk and the weasel for some time before settling down to have lunch.
Tamara and Alex wanted to see where the skunk went, so we split up: They followed the skunk while we followed the weasel — which was easier said than done! I couldn’t help but think of the movie Flubber. The weasel seemed to be bouncing everywhere, above and below the snow. The mouse trail seemed much more straightforward in comparison!
Short TailWeasel
At the southwest corner of the field, Alexis and Lee found a mysterious hunk of flesh hanging from the branch of a tiny shrub. Thinking something so red could only be berries, Lee even picked it up with her bare hand! A quick sniff proved it was something entirely different, and after holding it, she knew it hadn’t been left there long.
Small Rodent Remains
Alex and Tamara joined us shortly. They had also had some success: The trail had led to a burrow! They too examined the fleshy weasel offering, then we returned to the coyote trail and continued on. We saw bird tracks and vole scats — and a vole trail? A peculiarly-spaced set of tiny tracks led us away from the coyote to the road. They were the same width as a vole’s, and seemed the right size for a vole, but why was it in a 2-by-2 lope?
Short Tail and Least Weasel trails

“I think this is a Least Weasel,” Alexis said finally. Our first one! Rulers materialized almost as quickly as questions. How could he tell? Were they really that small? Why wasn’t it a vole? We opened up our guides and did some quick field research. Typically, the trail had gone from a walk to a lope, then back again. Voles like to trot, and generally don’t stay above the snowpack for very long distances.

It was fascinating to see so many small mammal tracks in such a short space of time. In one area, we saw mouse, Short-Tailed Weasel and Least Weasel trails running side by side and over one another, an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast their tracks, their gaits and their strides.
Vole Feeding Sign
The road marked the edge of crown land, so we turned around and went back into the trees. Soon we found ourselves hiking uphill, passing the work of a hungry vole who had completely devoured the seeds of a milkweed pod. Then we came across another small mammal trail: a cinereus shrew, whose tracks were the tiniest of all!
Eventually, we made our way into the valley next to Mono Cliffs. The group stopped to examine three fresh deer beds; we had likely pushed the deer out of them as we made our way down. Lots of scat and urine to look at here. Alexis pointed to one patch of urine in the snow. Was this left by a male or a female? How could you tell?
Least Weasel and Vole Trails
At the top of the cliffs, the six of us had circled up when the sky suddenly darkened, as though a veil had been pulled over the sun. It was time to head out. We went back to the coyote trail once again, and it led us up to the southern edge of the field, right to the skunk burrow Tamara and Alex had found at lunch. We took the most direct route and hiked across the field to our cars. Several Short-Tailed Weasel trails raced among the grasses around us. We even found a burrow and some scat!
Porcupine Trail
As we ended the day with our closing circle, our thanksgivings came quickly and sounded much the same: gratitude for the snow to track in, gratitude for the tiny tracks we came across, gratitude for new knowledge of our animal friends, who are always there, but whose tracks we don’t often get to see. Last, but not least, Alexis announced that Christina, one of his first-year apprentices, had handed in her completed homework. With smiles and applause, he presented her with the first Earth Tracks Advanced Level Tracking Certificate.

Hopefully, we’ll have some more graduations to report in the months to come! But for now, that’s the news from Day 1.

This Post was written by Christina Yu – 2nd Year Earth Tracks Tracking Apprentice

  • Mike Normandeau

    Wish I was closer to you folks! Out in Montreal and just a little too far…


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