Fellow nature bloggers Jackie and Sue were also there, so it was a nice little reunion for us. We started off indoors with a quick overview of tracking, and then headed outside where the tracks were. There wasn't a lot of snow, but we all strapped on our snowshoes anyway. And then we were off.
The first thing Vince did when we headed out was to make a couple prints in the snow: his mitten and a snowshoe. We were to note how they looked and compare them to what they would look like later after the sun had had a chance to work on them. So, looking at them in the first photo, when they are fresh, we can see that the edges of each track are very sharp and distinct.
This is how one learns to age tracks. You make a track and record how it looks. Check it again in an hour, note the changes, and make a fresh one next to the first. Come back in another hour and check both tracks. Note the differences and make a third track. Etc. Do this in the rain, in the wind, in the cold, in the heat. At night, in the morning dew...the possibilities are endless. I've never really had the patience to do this; someday, maybe.
We found a set of mink tracks down by the bridge, where the pond drained into a small stream. Here Vince is pointing out the classic 2x2 footprints of the weasel family.
This scent post was most revealing, for now we knew we were following a female fox. How? It took some work, but we finally teased out all the clues. First, we know the fox was travelling towards the left of this picture. It stepped up on this object and squatted to make the scent post. Now, contrary to popular belief, male and females will both squat at times to pee, so the fact that the animal squatted wasn't the big clue. What was, though, was the position of the urine in relation to the feet: it is behind the feet. Had this been a male, the urine would've been squirted forward of the feet. (Isn't it amazing how simple these clues can be once you know what to look for?)
For me, this and the face plant were the highlights of our tracking adventure. It was now headed for 3:00 and the sun was already getting low in the sky. The program had run overtime (as tracking programs will do), so the group began to disperse - places to go, things to do. It would've been fun to follow this fox further, to see what else she might do, but our time was up.
Vince will be doing another tracking program on 6 March at the Paul Smiths VIC. I know I will be there - "dirt time" with an expert tracker is always a good way to spend a day. The program requires pre-registration, so if you are in the area and would like to participate, give 'em a call: 518-327-3000.