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Wildlife Intersections

The recent snowfall has extended PEI’s winter tracking season a bit longer. It’s always fun to come across a wildlife intersection: a spot where the combination of food, water, and cover attracts a variety of animals. Often intersections are associated with a stream, spring or - as was the case here - pond. I found this hotspot within Charlottetown.

Photo 1: A wildlife intersection on a frozen pond in Charlottetown, PEI.

You can see an assortment of tracks in Photo 1, but what does this tell us about who was there and what they were doing? The labels in Photo 2 help sort it out.

The Red Fox came through first. Its tracks are the oldest and underneath those made by the dog. If you look carefully, you can see the Fox tracks are in linear groups of four (examples circled), which tells us this animal was using a loping gait. It was in a hurry, but not panicked. Walking, trotting, and galloping gaits all leave very different tracks from these. (You can find more information on canine gaits here in my searchable blog).

Photo 2: The 'who's who' of that wildlife intersection.

Next came a human on snowshoes and a dog (not me and my Boys!). I can’t say for sure they were together, but it’s a reasonable guess and both tracks were made in roughly the same timeframe. Lastly came two Mink: their tracks are on top of all the others, and both are heading in the same direction: towards the upper left of the photo, then circling right towards the Muskrat lodge.

Mink have a distinctive 2x2 gait when moving across open areas. Their front feet move together, landing slightly offset. Hind feet follow, landing in the tracks made by the front feet. A tail drag is often visible, as seen here. The result is this pattern of regular, paired imprints on the same diagonal along the trail. (Weasels leave the same pattern, but their tracks are much smaller, and it would be unusual to see them crossing a pond).

The final part of the story is: what makes this area so attractive? In the background is an active Muskrat lodge; Mink are major predators of Muskrat (Mink food: check). Just out of the photo to the right is open freshwater (water: check). And this small pond is within an area of fields (and Meadow Voles - Fox and Mink food: check), a forested streamside zone (Mink cover: check) and a suburban landscape with Fox denning sites (Fox cover: check). And all this food, water, and cover are along a neighbourhood snowshoe trail, hence the human and dog.

It's the perfect time to learn what your neighbours of other species are up to, whether you’re in the city, suburbs, or country. Another part of PEI untamed!

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