Saturday March 2 2013
The logging road is like a magnet, sucking me higher uphill, though the going is difficult. Traversing the snow is like wading through a giant 7-11 slurpy. Heavy, pulling back on your leg with every step that you sink to your knees. It was reasonable to walk on a few days ago but above-freezing temperatures has drastically changed it. Finding a meal - or escaping from being one - must be difficult now for the creatures who endure this winter landscape.
I was asked if I'm watching out for bears and cougars. Sure, I always look over my shoulders as I'm hiking, but here bears ought to be hibernating still (right??), and no cougar in his right mind would be lurching through this deep snow, wasting precious winter energy chasing prey. I hope so anyway, because I wouldn't escape anywhere fast. The term sitting duck comes to mind.
I come across large footprints, but they are difficult to decipher in this slush. They are larger than my feet - but the snow is now soft enough that the tracks could have been made by a deer many days ago, just denting the hard packed snow, but they have now melted to Bigfoot-sized platters a foot deep. From the distance between strides, I suspect elk; I discount cougar. But I still look over my shoulder as I struggle ever upward.
I'm ever hopeful of finding a barred owl feather, a treasure from the company I've been keeping at night; but I find something even more amazing.
The tracks in the snow are of a predator and prey - a bird of prey predator and prey.
There has been a struggle here. The yellow is where the pounce happened. The owl was facing toward 11:00 in the photo. The red are strokes from spread wingtips. An owl will often stand over its gripped prey, wings outstretched, covering it for a while before flying away. The green are toe prints where the owl turned to walk, moving with the prey in his mouth, stepping away from the battle scene, before he took off.
3 front toes and a back toe can clearly be seen in these 2 prints.
2 more bird foot prints, sunk deeper in the snow, probably from the owl pushing off to take to the air. In front of him are a few pieces of fur from the prey he held in his beak.
A closeup of the 3 front toes and hind toe, with a clear imprint of the sharp hind talon.
I'm convinced it must have been one of the owls I heard in this very area the night before.
I find the tracks in the morning; by evening even the site of the clash has melted away.
*No, I'm not in Idaho
*The light was dull, poor for showing contrast in the tracks.
* And I think I'm right. I'm really no tracker. But I have a good imagination, and… what else could it be?