I will share with you today, an observation I made the other day. I was out volunteering with some Department of Environmental Conservation employees on Friday (3/1), which deserves another post which I WILL get to, but for now I wanted to share this brief experience.
I love tracking animals. I really got into it when I was a student at Finger Lakes Community College. One of the faculty members was very into learning about what the animals were doing via their tracks. And while you can track all year long, it’s easiest when there’s a nice blanket of snow on the ground!
On Friday we were traveling around to different sites all over Region 4. We spent the majority of our time in Delaware and Otsego Counties. For more information about the Wildlife Management Units in Region 4 check out: DEC Region 4 WMUs.
As we were out checking on various things here and there, snow was falling. A nice fluffy light snow. It made for a pretty time in the woods, and it was as well a great track medium. While we were making our way through the woods, I noticed a very interested track in the snow. It was something I had never seen before, but I instantly had a clue. Some scat was left behind. I find looking at scat extremely interesting. I know, it’s poop. But these little things left behind let us know who was there! Ruffed Grouse scat is pretty interesting looking, and in my opinion, is not easily mistaked for anything else in these neck o’ the woods.
If you read the title, you’ll know that I’m talking about the Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)!
To describe these tracks, I’ll say “rodent-like” at first glance. I guess I mean the trail looked rodent-like to me, not the individual track. The individual track, or where the foot fell so to speak, was bird-like. I could count 4 toes which are anisodactylly arranged (3 toes in front, 1 in back). But this bird appeared to be shuffling! From a distance it looked like a but like a tunnel that had collapsed. Similar to what meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) make in the snow. Upon further investigation though, I found a scat.
And so ends the story of the Ruffed Grouse tracks. I know it’s not one of my more exciting tales of the wild, but interesting enough to me to want to share. If you’re interested in wildlife, check out a local nature or interpretive center and see if they ever lead tracking workshops. It’s fascinating to start learning about what animals are doing when we aren’t looking. Consequently, that’s also why I love using camera traps!