Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday - Winter Tracking

Wildlife Wednesday was a great idea of my professor and friend, John, as I've mentioned many times before in my blog. Since the Fall of 2010, I've been the President of our college's The Wildlife Society Chapter, and I've been able to do some pretty neat things. Our newest event of the semester is Wildlife Wednesdays! Almost every Wednesday will consist of a field trip to our East Hill Campus in Naples. The EHC is a field station of sorts, and has really cool hiking trails and a campground and a cross country ski to the public and connects to the Finger Lakes Trail and eventually to the Appalachian Trail!!!
Before I really get started, I wanted to share the reference books we used. Both of them are very helpful, but in different ways.

This book was required in my Intro to Fish & Wildlife class. I've kept it because it's small (pocket-sized), and has nice line drawings of track patterns. I like it because it's small, easy to bring in the field.

THIS book on the other hand is a beast of a book. It's not very ergonomic. It's heavy, awkward, large...but so so so thorough. This is a GREAT second source to refer to, once you've narrowed down your sign with a smaller, simpler guide like the Track Finder. Elbroch is a great tracker and has awesome pictures in this book!

Anyway, there is alot of opportunity for fun wildlife stuff to happen there...

Today's event was winter tracking! Thankfully we had a dusting of snow last night, in a pretty much snowless season. Even though the event was open to all of the club members and all of the conservation students, WW is held Wednesday mornings, which is a rough time for students who have class. So, there were 4 students and our "Leader" Sasha...and a dog!

Photo credit: Stacy Brockett
One of the students took the picture, so here's the rest of the group!

The following are pictures of the tracks we found!

On the way up the hill I paused to snap a picture, then ran back to see what the fuss was all about!

Striped skunk trail! They pretty much have an imperfect walk, with no discernable pattern. We described it as "willy-nilly" today. Skunk tracks look very "weasley" to me. Long and ovally- VERY discernable nails that are easy to see in the track.

Skunk track

Typical raccoon tracks. At the bottom of the picture, the raccoon's front foot is on the left, and hind on the right. They then zig-zag up the line of travel. This is a very typical track pattern that raccoons exhibit. They are plantigrade walkers, meaning their whole foot hits the ground (like humans and bears), so the foot leaves a nice print. It didn't hurt that we had nice conditions! To keep track of the tracks, the front foot is smaller than the back. They ALMOST look very human- little hands, and larger, longer hindfeet.

Can you see which is which?

Sasha, Deanna and Chief checking them out!

Next we found some beautiful canid tracks. Due to the size, we were pretty sure they belonged to a red fox, but we decided to do some reading out of Elbroch's book to confirm. We learned that many canids have larger front tracks than rear, because their so "front heavy". They take alot of their weight on their front legs and paws, so to spread that out a bit, the paws are larger. This can be seen well in the above right picture. Now, the reason we knew these were fox tracks is because of the calling card left behind in the tracks. The red foxes front track has a "bar" or sometimes a crescent shaped ridge on the metacarpal pad (BIG pad). This can be seen well in the bottom track. The rear track has a little "dot" in place of the metacarpal pad, it just doesn't seem to register as well as the front!

This track is some kind of canid. To be honest, I can't remember...and with no surrounding effects, it's hard to tell. We believe we were tracking coyote, as well as Chief's, and our red fox. So 3 sets of 'dog' tracks running around. But, it's a nice track regardless.

Check out this beautiful scat! Like I just said above, we thought we were possibly tracking coyote. We narrowed it down to canid again because the shape, texture, and location are consistent with canid. When we found this, Sasha busted out her callipers and measured away.

Our findings: on the HIGH end of red fox diameter, and pretty consistent with coyote average diameters. We could have had a red fox, but we also could've had a coyote! We were, at one point, tracking 2 sets of canid tracks running next to eachother with NOTICEABLY large differences in size. So, although we'll never know for sure, we can assume that this scat could've been left by a coyote.

I'll finish off this post with some tracks of a very common critter here in our backyards!
The gray squirrel.

A quick note about this track pattern- red/gray squirrel tracks look VERY similar to rabbit tracks, specifically Eastern cottontail tracks. But, rabbit tracks form a "Y" shape (bunnY), rather than a "U" shape (sqUirrel). Unfortunately, this little guy or gal didn't read the reference books and laid his tracks down like its lagomorph cousins!

We measured, compared to Elbroch's book...and again there was an overlap. We guessed that we measured tracks of the gray squirrel- but who knows! At least in this picture, those tracks are a nice "U" shape like they're supposed to be :)


  1. Nothing beats winter tracking.

    Good stuff!

  2. That's some great stuff right there. I enjoy tracking in the snow, we just don't have any and probably won't get any. Oh well, there is always next year.

    Thanks for sharing.


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