As we settle in for what many believe will be a cold winter, I am ready for some snow.
After limited snowball fights, almost no opportunities to take the kids sledding and nary a snowman in the last couple of winters, I am hoping for some snow and frosty weather in the months ahead. Along with opportunities for some outdoor fun, I always am fascinated to walk the fields surrounding my house to look for wildlife tracks with the children.
What seem to be empty fields during daylight hours turn into wildlife highways by night around my house. I never realize how much critter traffic there really is until I pull on my boots and take a crisp winter stroll in the snow and see the vast array of tracks from opossums, raccoons, skunks, mink, fox, and coyotes (among other things) that have traveled the landscape the previous night. My son, especially, loves to find and identify the tracks, and I am always surprised about the volume of them out there.
Of course, Ohio is home to an increasingly diverse number of critters as reforestation efforts and conservation practices are being implemented. Ohio has seen rising populations of black bears, wild turkeys, bobcats, and other native species in recent years. It is no surprise that there are more close encounters with wildlife and people in Ohio that include many of the standard wildlife fare, but there are also rumblings of critter encounters of a more exotic nature.
With dreams of the long snowy nights ahead and the increased potential for spotting signs of some of Ohio’s more unique animal residents, here is a recap of some of the more unique recent wildlife stories that may inspire you to take a snowy hike this winter (or maybe not).
Rarely seen and largely unknown to most Ohioans, reports of buckeye badgers have increased over the past couple of decades, according to Suzie Prange, state carnivore specialist, furbearer biologist, and mammalogist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The badger is a vigorous, burly, strong critter that is a member of the weasel family. Weighing between 12 and 24 pounds and measuring approximately two feet long, badgers have a white stripe that extends back over the head from the nose and characteristic black cheek patches, or “badges.”
Short-legged and flat to the ground, it has powerful feet and claws that it uses for digging. A burrowing creature that is nearly as wide as it is long, the badger, as naturalist Marty Stouffer puts it, resembles a “digging doormat…it lives to dig and digs to live…Its whole existence depends on its burrowing habits. It digs for defense, shelter, food, and sometimes just for fun.”
A mink is surely among the top few creatures that roam the wilds of Ohio that you do not want to encounter in close quarters. Minks are rarely seen but widely known for their beautiful pelts. They are also cunning, ferocious and have a musky odor that almost rivals a skunk. In short, a mink is not something you hope to find in your home — which is what happened to my brother and his family last winter. Yikes!
Coyotes and the coy wolf
Of course, coyote sightings are not that uncommon. There is no shortage of them around Ohio. One winter night a few years ago, I went out to refill my outdoor wood burner about midnight and heard an unearthly sound coming from the road. It turned out to be the claws of a running pack of coyotes on the icy road as they ran by the house. I see them occasionally, but hear their unsettling howls often throughout the year.
And there has been more discussion recently about dogs crossbreeding with coyotes, resulting in larger, more fearsome versions of the woodland creatures. Have you ever had a run in with one of these?
Though wildlife officials may tell you otherwise, Ohio does not have a shortage of suspected sightings and encounters with big cats. This fall, northeast Ohioans were abuzz about a big cat in the Mahoning Valley. And, at ocj.com we have heard MANY more stories about big cats roaming the wilds of Ohio.
Bears have been found not too far from my house. In 2015, a black bear was hit on the road in the southeastern part of the county. And while they are mostly tucked in during the winter months, there are some bruins that call Ohio home.
With December almost here and Christmas just around the corner, I am really looking forward to winter and all of the outdoor recreation opportunities it can offer, including the chance to check in on some of my wildlife neighbors in rural Ohio. Happy winter ramblings.