Sure, the city has its perks, like Instagram and Twitter. But in Ely, we get our messages from the animals around us by spotting their tracks.

(BPT) - Waking up on a winter or spring morning in Ely, it's the perfect time to pull on your coat and boots, take your first cup of coffee outside and read the messages left for you by the visitors that have passed by your cabin or lodge while you slept. You'll see that what you thought was a silent, star-filled Northwoods night was actually a superhighway of traffic for the animals that come out of their lairs when the sun goes down.

Easily spotting animal tracks in the snow (or mud!) is a truly special and exciting experience that's unique to this time of year. You can find tracks in the summer and fall, but there's nothing like the wet snow cover of spring to really highlight the goings on of our four-legged Northwoods residents.

You'll find yourself imagining the soap opera of activity when you find rabbit tracks followed by a wolf's steely footfalls, or notice both large and small moose tracks — mother and baby?

The most inexperienced track-watcher can likely identify deer and moose tracks, and you'll see a lot of those. But, can you tell the difference between wolf and big cat tracks? How about a bear? Here are a few things to look for to identify which animals have been passing by during the night.

Gait. Look at how the animal is walking. A perfect, in-line pattern of tracks means it was a deer, moose, fox, wolf or cat. A more lumbering gait means it was probably a bear, skunk, raccoon, beaver or porcupine. Animals that hop? Rabbits, squirrels and rodents.

Size. Both the width and length are of interest here. A fox's track is very similar to that of a wolf or coyote, but much smaller.

Toes. This is a dead giveaway. Bears have five toes, canines like wolves and foxes, and felines, have four toes. Deer and moose have hooves.

Pads. Pads are a great way to distinguish between a wolf's and a cat's tracks. Canines have pads with a single indented shape at the bottom. A cat's pad has three "lobes" at the bottom.

Nails. There's nothing like the snow to give you a clear picture of an animal's tracks, including the nails. If you're seeing nails, you're likely looking at a canine. Cats retract their nails when walking.

When you're getting outside first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee to spot tracks, don't forget your camera!