Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 13, 2010

A Dusty Road Tells All

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:53 pm

Most of the posts originating from my Dollar Lake cottage have focused on the lake side of the yard.  This is a perfectly natural thing given that this is the view that brought my wife and I there in the first place. This also happens to be the view which denies the presence of my neighbors or of the road that brings us there. In lakefront cottage lingo, this is the front yard.

The back yard faces a scattering of small cottages and a few long forgotten trailers distributed within a thin oak/heather woodland. I do occasionally go on early morning rambles along the “streets” of my northern Michigan neighborhood since this is the so-called sunrise side of the place. To call them streets is, of course, a wide stretch of the imagination because they are really nothing more than sandy strips of earth. In some places, they are mere two tracks which only feel the imprint of few passing vehicles daily. Because there is no night traffic on these roads, they act as faithful recorders of the animal activity of the “hood.” Every night creature that passes over the dusty strip is recorded in the powdery medium. Although often these tracks are subtle, the hard angled light of the rising sun acts to highlight these traces. This is why I take those early morning rambles – to read what nocturnal nature has written.

Probably the most frequently encountered sign is that of the lowly American Toad. Because their gait is rather short, individual toads are required to leave a lot of toe pad prints over any given stretch of road bed. When hopping, something that toads are not very good at but will attempt, they leave clustered prints clearly showing toe pads and the distinct toe-marks of the hard inward curled front feet (see here). In reality, Toads walk most of the time so their tracks exhibit the measured gait of a four-legged creature (see above).

At one location, a toad tossled with an insect and in so doing left a whole patch of toad marks (see above). This location looked more like a dance floor than a road bed (I understand toads can do a mean Tango). The trail of the ill-fated partner in this dance, an insect, was barely detectable in the upper right hand corner of this “kill site” as a set of parallel commas. Needless to say, the insect trial stopped at the center of the dance floor and only those of the warty amphibian left it.

Further down the road, the distinctive tracings of an unmolested beetle (see above) were in evidence where it crossed the dusty stretch. A snake, likely a Garter, produced a linear trace adjacent to the beetle tracks (see here). Since tracks of this nature do not leave a time signature, it was impossible to say whether the snake was in pursuit of the insect or just sharing some temporal space. It was relatively certain that the combination of cat and mouse tracks (see below) were laid down at vastly different hours. The white-tailed Mice that laid the set of tracks crossing the image from left to right cross the pad marks of the passing feral cat. The cat eventually ended up in my yard feeding on the fish remains down by the dock at 3 am (thanks to a capture on my trail cam).

The paired impressions of a cottontail rabbit (see below) clearly show where the front feet landed (to the left) and the longer hind feet eventually struck ground at the right. The creature was in fast mode at the time and was probably uncomfortable crossing the open sand in the moonlight. Oddly enough, I saw no raccoon tracks after several consecutive morning searches, but did see ample opossum tracks, deer, and even the singular pads of a coyote (see here).

As early as I rose to meet the sun each day, there were plenty of day shift workers that beat me to it. Their marks were already beginning to add a new layer over the previous night’s tracks. As evidence of this, a clear set of evenly paced Mourning Dove tracks (see below), some Turkey tracks (see here) and even a Grey Squirrel made their presence known.

The road slate was wiped clean by the end of each day – ready for the telling of new stories.

There was one track maker that was still in the road as I passed on one of the mornings. This fellow left a set of quizzical flailing marks in the morning dust. They were like those of a wounded snake only much smaller (see above). Fortunately, the solution to the origin of these marks was only a few inches away and in the process of making similar tracings.  I’d like to see if you can figure it out, before I reveal the identity of the maker. It is a squirming linear beast of moist soils. Let’s just say that this creature, unlike those I recorded earlier, was not well suited to crossing dusty roads. He was dragging much of the road with him by the time he struggled to the other side. Give up? O.K., click here and read the title of this photo. You could call this a dirty trick, but I prefer to call it a dusty one.

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