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David Bree

Tracks in the Snow

Dec 3 2013 

It was a beautiful still morning so I went for a quick walk out behind the office, through the dunes to the beach.   The snow we got last week had started to melt yesterday but was crisp this morning and excellent for seeing tracks in.   The usual were all in evidence; Black Squirrels and the identical but smaller Red Squirrels, Cottontail Rabbits, Coyote, small rodents, even a Fisher. The latter, while never common, I do see the tracks of every winter,
though I have yet to see the beast in the flesh.

Fisher Tracks

Cotton Tail and Coyote

But then I saw something that looked very strange, a track that distinctly showed the fingers on the front paw.
Racoons can show fingers quite nicely but they have an elongated foot and this was almost round, and a bit smaller.
I followed it along for a while trying to see a good back paw track, but the back foot always seemed to fall on the back half of the front track so I couldn't get a perfect look at either. Finally, a got down for a closer look and was able to make out a back print with a thumb that stuck out at a right angle to the paw!   Even stranger.

Then it hit me.   It was an Opossum!
I'd never seen the tracks of that mammal before but was not really surprised to do so now as last year saw a real increase in their numbers in the Brighton area.   The Virginia Opossum is at the north edge of its range here. They have very little fur and don't do well in winter. They can move into an area (even hitching rides on transport trucks) and survive for a while and then a hard winter will kill most, if not all of them off.   We started seeing road kill opossums on County Road 64 outside the park in October 2012 and recorded about 8 dead ones through the fall and winter.   Obviously a population was in the area, but could they survive the winter?

This summer, a couple of our night patrolling wardens saw the first opossums ever recorded for the park and they were alive, walking through the campgrounds. Obviously they made it through 1 winter here. Now I've seen my firsthand evidence of a live opossum in the park. Only time will tell if they will persist here and I'll get a chance to see one actually making tracks rather than just the tracks themselves.

Close-up of Opossum Track.
Front foot on left, hind foot on top and to right.

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