The mystery animal is GREAT HORNED OWL.
The owl pounced through the snow to snatch a mouse that was under the
snowpack, hopped forward once, then walked away to the left, leaving the
magical gifts of tracks to tell the story. The dusting of snow & calm
air preserved the entire body print of the owl, including every fine
detail of each of its feathers.
The way to solve this mystery is: First of all, if you look at the
track from the right angle, you can see that it reveals the outline of the
body of a large bird, with its wings & tail outstretched. OK, so it’s
a large bird, but how do you tell what kind of bird?
The fact that the wings & tail made an imprint in the snow
indicates that the bird didn’t simply "land" on the snow –
it was pouncing with significant downward force. So this is a large
hunting bird, what was it hunting?
There were no tracks of prey on the dusting of snow, indicating that
the prey was under the snowpack. [Mice take shelter in the thickets
surrounding this farm and feed on old seeds in the fields. When there is a
snowpack, they will tunnel under the snowpack to travel between shelter
& food, unless they hit an area of snow that is too hard-packed to
tunnel through and have to scamper on top of the snow, in which case they
are frequently caught by raptors who perch in trees on the edge of the
field.] As far as I know, the only bird that is capable of locating prey
under a snowpack is an owl, using its exceptional sense of hearing.
The real key to confirming owl in this case was "track
aging". Two primary clues in the quiz were: (a) there was a dusting
of snow overnight, and (b) I found the tracks at dawn. Since the tracks
punch through the dusting of snow, the sequence of events had to be:
nightfall => snow => tracks => dawn. That means the tracks were
made at night, so this was a nocturnal bird, or in other words, OWL.
I didn’t see any blood spattered in the snow, but the owl’s left
footprints were larger & more indistinct than its right footprints,
leading me to believe the owl was successful at catching the mouse. There
are also some odd "swipe" looking marks where the owl walked
away to the left, possibly suggesting it almost lost its grasp & the
prey was struggling to escape. But that’s just a guess.
The reason I know that this owl was a great-horned is that I have
frequently sat still by the abandoned barn after sunset and listened to
the "hoo…hoo-hoo-hoo" call. I could have included that as a
clue in the quiz, but that would’ve made it too easy. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Hope this photograph was as inspiring to you as the scene was to me.
Ciao for now and stay tuned for the next quiz.