Our enduring snow pack here in South Central Pennsylvania is finally making a serious attempt at seeping into the ground, after what some folks could hardly bear - an early March storm. I enjoy winter and especially snow, so I wasn't so desperate about it all. Spring is arriving, as it always does, so I saw no need to waste precious energy moaning and hand-wringing. The melt is a great time to see how other creatures have fared. Soft snow makes for good tracking, and here are some of my favorites from this past week's meltdown.
A fox has extremely keen hearing and can locate small rodents under the snowpack with precision. Here a fox has plunged several times for a vole or mouse. You can see that the snowpack supported his weight by looking for the small dog-like tracks that lead from one plunge hole to the next. In order to break the crust he must have jumped very high!
My boot prints are barely visible from the previous day's walk, and today the amount of melt was tremendous with temps in the 50s. Crossing my path sometime after I came through, a turkey made his way into the woods from the cornfield on the hill. You can see how large a bird this is when you compare his foot to mine!
Lots of coming and going for a pair of rabbits dashing in and out of the wood's edge to nibble on buds and grass blades exposed as the snowpack melts. With a little probing, I found two almost hidden forms in the bent grass where each had spent a few nights.
Taken just after the last storm, the melt came on fast for Muddy Creek. An otter pair bounded and slid downstream on what was fast disappearing ice and snow. Next time I see this familiar couple, they will most likely have pups. Their den is in the mud bank in the upper right corner of this picture. I like that the property owner has posted no trespass here, where there used to be hoards of people partying, swimming, and parking. It really was an eyesore and I know there were no otters there for that time. Within two years of posting (and enforcing!) this pair established a home and have stayed for over ten years. The day after I took this picture, the Muddy ran free.
Okay, not animal tracks. But they are tracks! Along with a set of cross-country ski tracks, people tracks and dogs tracks, the rails of the North Central Railroad (now the York County Rail Trail) slowly come into view as the snow melts. In a month or two the rust will be off the rails as an 1886 steam engine will make its regular excursion run from New Freedom PA to Hanover Station PA. One of my favorite rail trails, this line carried commuters and freight between Baltimore to York into the 1980s, and connecting to the sideline, took trains to Hanover PA and on to Gettysburg.. It was in operation for over a hundred years. These rails even carried the funeral train of President Lincoln, on its slow, long, sad ride home to Springfield, Illinois. In summer I can ride my bike from Glen Rock to York and back (40 miles) in a long day - with breaks at the ice cream shop of course!
Down at the Susquehanna, winter is in rapid retreat. The river had been locked in ice up until late February, but now only fragments of a foot-thick ice pack remain. Looking rather impassable today, soon the river will carry snowmelt from central, western, and northeastern Pennsylvania as well as meltwater from south-central New York State. The river will rise and rumble through this patch at Holtwood and with it will come the whitewater kayakers heading downstream, while shad head upstream to spawn. I can't wait to see the fish using the newly rebuilt fish ladder here. Only a few weeks to go before the highwater fun begins!
Like a miniature glacier, the snowpack down at the river recedes, exposing higher ridges of boulder outcrops. No worse for wear, carpets of moss and a tiny budding fern emerge from beneath their snowy blanket. I'll use this picture again in a post about ferns - some of my favorite subjects to photograph and learn about.
At the edge of winter's passing, this little stream is finally free from months of being locked in ice. Bending close to the tiny ice shelf I could hear a musical dripping from underneath. The sunlight danced on the sandy bottom and tiny snail made her way to the edge to feed on algae. Spring is nearly here!