Massif des monts Sutton BioKit: winter

Mysterious feline footprint in the snow. Photo: © Guy Langevin

Winter is an excellent season for observing footprints in the snow. Observe their shape, number of toes, direction in which the animal is travelling and its gait.

Could you guess the size of an animal from the size of its footprints?

A mysterious feline. Is it a cougar's footprint?

See the answer here
White-tailed deer and its footprints. Illustration: © Isabel Julian, Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Paul Tessier

Because they have few predators, white-tailed deer are very abundant in the region. Wintertime and hunting are the only real means of population control.

Changing Altitude

At approximately 700 m in altitude, you will notice changes in the landscape. You will go from a forest dominated by deciduous trees to one in which conifers are more abundant. A winter hike is a great way to learn about conifers.

Conifers, Show Me Who You Are!

Find two conifers. Take turns closing your eyes and touching their needles. Try to guess the type of conifer by having other members of your group ask you the following questions:

  • Do the needles roll between your fingers or are they mostly flat?
  • Are they short or long?
  • Are they prickly or soft?
  • Are they bunched together or separate from one another?
  • Do you recognize the smell?

Check your answer against the conifer descriptions listed here.

  • Balsam fir: Flat, shiny and fragrant needles with rounded tips. Two light blue lines appear under the needle.
  • White spruce: Short, square needles that are prickly and bluish green in colour. They give off a harsh smell when crushed.
  • Red spruce: Short, square needles that are prickly and yellowy green in colour.
  • Eastern hemlock: Very short and dark green flat needles with rounded tips. Two light blue lines appear under the needle.
  • White pine: Long needles grouped into bunches of five needles.

Branches of White pine, Eastern hemlock, White spruce and Balsam fir. Photo: © Isabelle Grégoire

Answer

This is a bobcat's footprint. A cougar's footprint is very similar, but it is larger, measuring between 9 and 10 cm.

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