Log Pathway of Nocturnal Mammals

I don’t walk through the woods of Eliza Howell Park at night (and wouldn’t see much if I did) and I have not placed trail cameras there to try to record some of what happens nocturally. So my only information comes from evidence or signs that I might find in the daylight.

On a morning walk earlier this week, following a dusting of snow the evening before, I noted — and began to follow — a mammal pathway from the river into the heart of the woodland.

Mammals often follow the same route repeatedly and different species sometimes use the same path, so I was interested both in where the pathway led and in finding clear tracks that would help me identify what had passed this way since the snow fell.

The snow was so minimal that no tracks were discernible on the leaves, but the path led to and then on a log. As I looked ahead, it became evident that much of the parhway was on logs.

While the tracks were clearly visible on the logs, more than one mammal had recently walked here and the individual tracks were not distinct. Nocturally active mammals in the park include, at least, raccoon, oppossum, mink, skunk, mice. Squirrels are diurnal, but could have been present in the early morning before I arrived.

Coyotes are present in the park but their pathways are different enough that I was quite sure that this was not a path they traveled.

The tracks on the logs were multiple, making identification more difficult, but they definitely suggested raccoon in shape and size.

I was now following the path to see how far I could follow it and to see how extensively logs were used. They were clearly favored, with the animals descending to the forest floor only to reach the next log.

Several of the logs were traveled for 30 feet or more. The abundance of fallen trees in the heart of the woodland meant very little need to walk on the ground.

It is a well-traveled pathway, which one would not know when there is no snow. I only occasionally got a look at distinct tracks, but it was enough to confirm that one or more raccoons had recently been walking the logs.

I followed the path for a couple hundred yards. Along the way, there were indications of side paths, also mostly on logs. There was no single destination.

What became abundantly clear, however — and this was the most important observation of the day — is that raccoons, and possibly other nocturnal mammals as well, prefer to walk on logs rather than on the ground. Sitting at home at night, I can envision a raccoon, maybe several, walking the logs in Eliza Howell.

Logs without a coverong of snow show nothing about who has passed over. But when it snows again, I will take another look.

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