Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wolf or Coyote?

My family spent a recent Sunday checking out a local lake for some ice fishing in the late afternoon. Our seventeen month old was tuckered out, so on the hike in she napped in her sled.

The hike was less than a mile to the lake. It was a gorgeous sunny day! As we walked, we came across 10 piles of scat and multiple urine marks along the trail. So, what animal was marking the trail? Was it wolf or coyote? How can we tell? I see lots of deer hair. Hmm…. that could be wolf or coyote up here. We needed to see some more sign to be able to confirm our suspicions.

As the trail ended and we emptied onto the lake we encountered track patterns. The snow was not deep, but there was enough so that the first tracks we saw were holes punched in the snow. Deer struggle in this type of environment because their pointed feet sink right through the snow. Canines like coyotes and wolves, however, have interdigital webbing between the pads of their feet which allow them to spread their toes apart. Their feet act as snowshoes, spreading their weight upon the snow, and allow them to travel easier through the winter months.

Animal tracks typically fall into four gait patterns as seen in the chart above. The tracks we saw on the lake look like diagonal walkers (i.e. ungulates, felines and canines) who move opposite limbs together, right foreleg with left back leg.

Wolves and coyotes also have flexible scapulas which allow them to walk in a straight line. Their front feet land on the ground, one in front of the other, and their back feet follow in almost the same place. Similar to the tracks we spotted on the lake. The tracks were canine, but how do you tell if they are wolves or coyotes?

We also came across some individual tracks on the packed trail across the lake that people had made. The tracks were of a healthy size. Our black lab was with us and her feet are slightly smaller than a coyote. But, these tracks were about 4.5” long. Suspicions confirmed. This was all sign from a local wolf pack.

All this excitement and we hadn’t even started fishing yet! We drilled some holes, set up our little stools and caught a few fish. To start, it was mostly northern pike and bluegill that found our lines, which we released. Madeline awoke from her slumber in the cocoon and joined us to play in the snow and investigate the fish we caught. Once the sun started to fade the crappies hit like a storm! We settled for a few crappie for dinner and headed back.

Time with family in a stunning spot doing what we love with dinner in the bag. What a great day outside. We just love living in Ely!