By Amanda Laliberte, Program Manager RLHT
Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust’s conservation lands are shared spaces for our community to recreate but also more than that. They serve as habitat for a wide-variety of species such as our iconic moose, our ever present white-tailed deer, and the elusive three-toed woodpecker. Though winter doesn’t allow us to see or hear all of the animals that depend on these protected parcels, it does allow for us to investigate the inhabitants in a way that isn’t possible the rest of the year.
Maine’s animals have adapted several ways to survive the long, cold winter months. Some stay active, hibernate or torpor, and some migrate.
The animals that hibernate (a long, deep sleep brought on by sunlight shortage or temperature changes) such as woodchucks, chipmunks, turtles, bats and snakes disappear in the fall. They den underground or under leaves, their body temperatures and heart rates drop until warmer weather arrives.
Black Bears, skunks, mice and even some birds don’t exactly hibernate. Instead they fall into torpor, (a deep sleep that can last for a few hours or a few days). Their temperatures drop but these animals can still wake up when threatened. These species will appear on the warmest of winter days.
It’s the animals that continue to be active throughout the winter; the beavers, squirrels, foxes, turkeys, grouse, bobcats, and lynx which leave their stories behind with each footprint, allowing us a deeper view into their lives. The winter is a perfect time to inventory their habits and patterns; their tracks lead us to their homes, show us their range, and even reveal their diets. They adapt by growing a layer of fat and warmer fur or feathers. Some, like the snowshoe hare and short-tailed weasel, even transform to camouflage themselves against the winter landscape.
You see, in the winter the landscape presents itself as a blank canvas; with every new storm a new opportunity arises. With eyes to the ground, heading into the woods after a storm can reveal a busy world in an otherwise serene and solitary landscape.
The tracks the white-tail deer left behind could reveal that it was on the run, which may lead you to question ‘from what?' It’s a question that may never be answered but it ignites a curiosity within us to continue looking. The red squirrel is forever busy. Its tracks blurring with excitement as it races from tree to tree or leaving crisp, clear tracks behind that tell us it paused and took stock. The snowshoe hare meanders only pausing to reveal the places they dug for food. The petite track of the grouse may lead you to the snow roost they used to protect themselves during the storm.
To see these wonders one must go slow. Only the keenest of eyes and the most patient of visitors will have these mysteries revealed to them. As you head onto the trail this winter, go with time, curiosity, a camera and bring your family and friends.
If you need a suggestion on where to explore, visit Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust online at www.rlht.org. Download a copy of common Maine Animal Tracks at www.rlht.org/maine-animal-tracks that features tips and tricks on how to identify tracks.
Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust’s mission is to conserve and steward the natural and historical resources of the Rangeley Lakes Region for the benefit of the community and future generations. To date, RLHT has conserved over 12,800 acres of land including 45 miles of lake and river frontage, 15 islands and the majestic 2,443 foot Bald Mountain, all in the Rangeley Lakes Region. We offer free public access to 35 miles of recreational trails, superb recreational fishing access, hunting, hiking, and snowmobiling, as well as multiple picnic & landing sites on our 28 separate parcels.