A Wolf and the Crows

Today is beautiful and sunny, though the temperatures are more winter-like than spring. According to the calendar, the Spring Equinox is on March 20. It's true that winter doesn't really end here in the Northwoods as soon as that. But we can still see the beginning signs of the seasonal change. Most noticeable is the length of day. Sunrise today was 6:12, and sunset is 6:08. The dark days of winter are but a memory.
We dipped down to five above last night, so our morning walk felt brisk. Instead of travelling on the road, we took to the frozen lake, where travel was easy. The snow on the ice is very hard, thanks to weather changes in the last week. It was easy walking as we trekked down the eastern shore to check on our neighbor's cabin. On the ice, we saw tufts of fur, evidence of a recent deer kill by the wolves. It was directly in front of the lodge, and we could see many, many wolf tracks, as well as the trail that indicated that the wolves had pulled the deer from the shore to the lake. It looked like it was probably just last night that this occurred. Our window was open all night, but we never heard a thing. I imagine that the hunt is fairly silent, but if the wolves had howled, we surely would have heard them. Further down the lake, we came across the spinal column and ribcage of a doe. The skull was still attached, as was one pelvic bone. The lower jaw lay adjacent to the other bones. It was all picked clean. Again, there were several wolf tracks, and also bird tracks, most likely from ravens. It seems that most often what we see are all the leftover pieces of the story that unfolded earlier.
But last Saturday, Greg and Paul had the opportunity to see some of the story in action. A neighbor stopped in shortly after nine a.m., to get his fishing license. He casually mentioned that he had just seen a deer run across the road in front of his car, followed by a wolf. He said that it was right out in our parking lot. Usually, I am looking out at the lake, hoping to see the wolves. In this case, I was at the computer screen, and I should have been in the kitchen looking out the back windows. Drat! I put my jacket on, and headed outside to see if I could catch a glimpse of anything interesting. I saw Greg just leaving the donkey yard, so I waited for him to come down. Then I casually asked him, "So, did you happen to see a deer and a wolf run by here recently?" Lucky guy, he had seen it, from up on top of the hill by the barn. I told him what Ron, our neighbor had seen, and we decided that we would walk the road to the point, and some of the deer trails, to see what we might find.
I noticed that the deer we saw were very tense. They were definitely on high alert, and would run at the slightest unusual sound. Greg and I paused often, hoping to see something, but we weren't able to. We headed back towards the lodge, stopping to see the latest developments at Cedar Point. We got back to the lodge about 45 minutes after I had first left. Paul greeted us at the door, and inquired about our venture. When we reported that there was nothing to report, he smiled a sad smile. He said, "I feel really bad for you guys. I saw you start to walk on the road to the Point, and just before you cleared the big woodpile, I saw the wolf come running back this way, chasing two deer right through the parking lot!" So while we were tracking him to the east, the wolf had turned the chase and headed west, the direction from which he had originally come. Paul said that it was so exciting to see the wolf. He was trotting at a fast pace, his tongue hanging from his mouth, and he turned his head long enough to look right at Paul, standing in the window.
We headed back outside, this time to the west. Again, I noticed how alert the deer were, but nothing else. I figured that the chase had continued off to who knows where, and that I had really better get myself back to the lodge and do some work for the day. Later, we heard that one of our fishermen had seen the wolf, too--first while it was chasing the deer, and then a second time when it was alone and headed to Canada.
Recently we had a conversation about predators and prey. On the one hand, it would seem to be a very hard job if you were in the prey category. Being chased up out of spot where you might be sleeping or eating, suddenly in the run, literally, for your life, seems like a pretty tough thing. But then we talked about the predator, and how difficult it must be for him. To have to work so hard for your food can't be a picnic, either. (Sorry about that!) As was probably the case on Saturday, there must be many times when the predator is very hungry, but isn't getting the food he needs when the hunt goes awry. At that hour of the morning, several people were out and about, tending to chores or recreation, and unknowingly, interrupting the nature of things for some other forest dwellers. It's an interesting thing to think about.
March and April in past years have been fairly active months for spotting wolf activity. We'll keep the window open at night, and our eyes on the woods and lake in the daytime, to see what else we can learn about the wolves.
The recent snowstorms in southern Minnesota have missed us, so we still have only our original snow. We did get a slight dusting on Tuesday, but that was it. Some of the trails have been recently groomed, making use of that new snow, but the conditions still should be classified as spring skiing. A couple that skied yesterday told me that the snow was crusty in places, but then when going through areas that were both sunny and shady, one could feel the differences. This usually amounts to some good speed in the shady spots, and then a big slowdown in the sunny spots. It can get interesting on the hills, especially if you have some pretty good speed going down.
Our anticipated harbinger of spring has come along: The crows have returned! The folks in California wait for their swallows to return to Capistrano, while we wait for our crows. I've heard tell that these birds only go as far away as Grand Marais for the winter. It is rare for me to see or hear them in the winter, until they return sometime in mid-March. It was March 11 this year. So now, each morning I wake up to their noisy banter and know that the season really is a-changing!