Part II: TRACKS
Now that we’ve skated through the scat section, it’s time to talk about animal tracks. Just like how scat can tell us a lot about a particular animal, tracks can tell us even more – like what the animals habitat might be, what their daily routines are, what they were doing when the track was made, etc.
Luckily, when it comes to tracking, there are certain “knowns.” For example, when an animal leaves tracks that exhibit webbing in their feet, we can probably safely say they inhabit wet areas. If tracks tend to overlap one another, or are found on a worn or weathered trail, that probably means it is a path that the animal frequents, or that the animal runs in a group or pack. Tracks can sometimes even tell us the behavior of an animal when the tracks were made, for instance, tracks that are found in close proximity of one another probably mean the animal was walking slowly, possibly even stalking something. Tracks with footprints made further apart and dig deeply into soft earth might indicate the animal was sprinting either from or to something.
Below are a few questions you might ask yourself when trying to decipher wildlife tracks (other than “what the heck am I doing out here and what was that noise?”).
1) Are there two or four feet?
2) How large are the tracks?
3) How far apart are the tracks?
4) Do the tracks show claws? Are they webbed?
5) What type of habitat was the track found in? Is this consistent with the habitat of the presumed animal?
Just as scat greatly varies within a given species, so can tracks. For instance, males often produce larger tracks than females, the age of the animal can account for a large variance in the size of tracks, and although rare, genetic mutations such as an extra toe can also serve as a cause for misidentification. There are other factors that a tracker needs to keep in mind, as well, such as the type of surface the track was found on and the slope or angle of the ground. Even soft soil, snow, and sand can exaggerate the size of a track due to the surface’s fluidity. Now I didn’t go to school for engineering or physics, so I’m sticking to the common-sense, poor man’s version of “tracking for dummies” if you know what I mean.
Like riding a bike for the first time, tracking is one of those activities best learned by doing, so let’s “dig” in and git ‘r done! In the following pictures, I’ll go through five different tracks and explain why I came to the conclusion I did.