What You Can See on Feb. 17

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. Bandit Redoubts Raccoons, common most everywhere in temperate North America, den in hollow trees, snoozing away cold snaps; but they don’t hibernate. By February the polygamous males are out and about even when the temperature drops to zero, visiting dens of females and, most likely, getting thrown out. A female will drive away all suitors save the one she considers her mate (or the one she chooses, if she hasn't bred before). If the mate of a captive female is taken from her, she will cry and pace almost constantly, and if he is then placed in a nearby cage, she will take comfort in reaching through the bars and touching him. Coon tracks are startlingly humanoid, with toes plainly visible. If there is fresh snow, you can trace the nightly rambles of the males, locating their dens or the dens of females they have tried to visit. Males frequently switch dens. A den inhabited by a male coon one night may be inhabited by a skunk the next. Pound on every hollow tree you encounter along the trail. Sooner or later obsidian eyes will fix you from behind a black mask. Grating Chorus From New Jersey to Florida and west to Oklahoma, an explosion of song is likely to burst forth with winter's first rains. In grassy swales, moist woodlands, and the marshy margins of ponds and streams, the upland chorus frog -- a diminutive tree frog barely larger than a spring peeper -- clasps low stems and branches with his sucker toes, balloons his throat, and carols to the world in a voice best duplicated by running your thumb over a comb's teeth. At this season, however, it is hard to be critical of the song of any creature spirited enough to make the effort. Be grateful for the grating, and search for a songster far more beautiful than the song. But finding chorus frogs is a major challenge. Stand still until they sing again, then patiently scan ground cover with a muted flashlight. The first feature you see is likely to be the light line along his upper lip, the second -- the dark strip from snout to groin.