What You Can See on Feb. 21

Snooping on Song Dogs From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Snooping on Song Dogs Winter, when breeding increases their activity and their passage is recorded in fresh snow, is a fine time to snoop into the private lives of coyotes. Coyotes leave straighter trails than domestic dogs and their prints are less splayed. Side nails of coyotes tend not to register in the print while those of dogs usually do, and coyotes’ heel pads are farther from the toes. If you’ve seen tracks or even if you haven’t, stand at night on the edge of a meadow or lake or any place your voice will carry, and howl. You don’t have to get it anywhere near right; the coyotes probably know you’re a fake, but often they can’t stand not to comment. Soon you’ll be left out of the conversation. In the face of intense human persecution, and perhaps because of it, coyotes have extended their range from the western plains to the rest of the continental United States. Coyotes are larger and more wolflike in the East, where they were first noticed in the early 20th century. They may have hybridized with wolves on their way from the West or they may have been present all along, mistaken for small wolves by early settlers. In the West and Mid-West coyotes frequently hunt with badgers. A badger will sourly reject a coyote’s invitations to romp but will allow it to rest beside it and even touch it, and when the badger approaches a coyote the coyote will wag its tail and roll on its back in delight. The partnership is no anomaly; in fact, when some coyote researchers see a badger in spring or early summer they instinctively look for its coyote companion. Treasure from the Winter Woods Among the treasures to be collected from the winter woods are pine cones -- the reproductive structures of an ancient genus that preceded flowering plants by 50 million years and whose Devonian Age contemporaries are now coal. The cones you’ll want to pick up are the larger, seed-bearing females. Hard pines -- such as red, lodgepole, shortleaf, longleaf, slash, ponderosa, pitch, and loblolly -- generally produce woody, thick-scaled cones armored with prickers. Soft pines -- such as eastern white, western white, sugar pine, whitebark, limber, foxtail, bristlecone, and pinyon -- produce softer, smoother, more elongated cones. Even when dry and seedless the female cones of sugar pines can measure nearly two feet and weigh a pound. Ripe cones of hard pines make superb bird feeders. Fill all nooks with peanut butter, then role them in bird seed. Ripe cones of soft pine are best for fire starters. Soak them in melted paraffin or candle wax. For red flames pre-soak cones in strontium chloride, then dry; for purple, use potassium chloride; for green, copper sulfate; for orange, calcium chloride (all available at chemical supply houses). For yellow flames use salty water; for white, Epsom salts.