I should first clarify that incredible photo of animal tracks in the snow was (unfortunately) not taken by me. It was taken by a friend, who with his sons, was visiting northern Alberta earlier this month. They saw these marks in the snow and were completely stumped as to what could have made them. They mentioned their sightings to a local man, and he said he had seen similar tracks earlier in the week and was equally stumped. Then he walked around a bend in the road and saw the culprits – a pair of Northern River Otters.
Thse playful little animals are active year round, even when water freezes in winter. They are mainly nocturnal, with some activity at dusk and dawn, and you have to be incredibly lucky to see one in the wild.
North American River Otters typically travel in water and are able to swim long distances under ice during the winter. Family groups may travel long distances over land from one watershed to another. When traveling on land, they often slide instead of bounding, especially if snow is present, or when going downhill on slippery ground. When snow sliding, they push forward with their back legs, while the front feet are tucked under the belly.
I managed to find this video on YouTube that gives a clear picture of how those tracks were made in the Jan 6 photo. How cool are these animals?!