Photo by Dan Tallman
While it is tempting to think that all animals have the good sense to curl up and sleep through Minnesota’s harsh winters, there are a number of hardy residents that brave the cold and inhabit the Arb year round. For example, you will inevitably encounter a Downy Woodpecker chiseling away the bark of a dead tree limb, a Black-capped Chickadee boldly chanting, chikadee dee dee dee, or a fiery Red Squirrel defending its food cache against intruders (both real and imaginary) during a quick stroll through the Arb.
However, for a more complete account of who sticks around during the winter months, it is best to look down. A network of heavily traveled deer trails crisscross the Arb exposing the movements of these shy ungulates as they march single file, nibbling on tender buds or twigs not concealed by the snow. The tracks of Red Foxes wind across snowy fields tracing the elaborate maze of tunnels just beneath the snow excavated by industrious Meadow Voles. Along the river, you might even find evidence of a mink bounding through the snow with hopes of discovering the den of a hibernating muskrat and enjoying a furry winter buffet.
Although it is rare to catch more than a glimpse of these stealthy critters in the Arb, a fresh snowfall makes it easy to track their movements and get a sense of what they are up to. So next time you are out in the Arb try following a set of tracks and see where they take you!
– Jared Beck ’14 for the Cole Student Naturalists