Friday, February 6, 2009

Daily Dose of Tracking Trivia

It's time for the Daily Dose of Tracking Trivia.

Today was almost tropical by current temperature standards! But sadly it's been snowing (about half an inch) since early morning, so many of the cool tracks from the last couple of days have been filled in. Still, I was able to get a few new shots.

We came across this little nest today. I've been passing it all winter and it wasn't until today that I saw it...with the second group of the day! Some time between the first group passing it and the second group reaching it, something knocked a bunch of debris on the ground right underneath it, which drew all our eyes. Looking up from the debris, we saw this cute little nest.

After looking through the nest ID book, I think this might be the nest of a black-throated blue warbler. It was about three feet off the ground, and has lots of birch bark woven into it - both good clues for this warbler. I couldn't see if the inside was lined with fine black rootlets and hairs, though.

Today I went into greater detail about hare browse with the kids. This track, right near the snowshoe trail, was ideal for discussing browse: as you can see, the hare stopped and sat here (the two smaller front feet stick out in front of the larger back feet), and snipped the tip off the right-most branch of this woody plant. (I need to work on my track photography skills - what I know from using the "old-fashioned" SLR with film must now be adapted to the digital SLR. So, my apologies for having so many dark track photos.)

Rabbits and hares have very sharp incisors, and when they nip off twigs, they leave a perfectly cut 45 degree angle behind. This compares to deer (or moose), who, because they have no upper incisors, cannot make a nice clean cut. Instead, deer (and moose) cut through partway with their lower incisors and then tear off the remaining bit, leaving a ripped strand of bark behind. I'll see if I can scrounge up some shots for visual comparison.

I also "recorded on film" today the details of our mink ID from yesterday. First, we came across a series of 2x2 tracks (as noted yesterday).

After narrowing down our choices to marten or mink (otter are too big and heavy for these tracks; ditto for fisher, plus fishers tend to use a different gait more often; and the short- and long-tailed weasels are too small to have made these tracks), we continued down the trail, where we found a tunnel under the bridge and more tracks. I was leaning towards mink at this point because a) it is near water, and b) yesterday we could see toe prints here, and martens have feet that are way too furry to show much in the way of toe prints.

Then we had the lovely slide, seen here with the ruler so that you know it is too small to be an otter slide.

As Mark Elbroch wrote in his book Mammal Tracks and Signs: "Animal tracks are an animal's story." This is what I love about tracking: trying to tease out the story of the animal that left the tracks behind. What was it doing? Where was it going? What was its goal when it passed through here? Like learning the trees and birds, it makes being in the woods familiar. When you know all the neighbors, visiting is a lot more interesting.


  1. I love to come along with you on the trail (via your blog). You always find the coolest things! One of these days I hope to make it up to the VIC to enjoy a walk with you. By the way, you mentioned in a comment to one of my blogs that Vince Walsh was leading a tracking event up in Paul Smiths this March. If you want to increase attendance for that, tell all the females you know: he is really, really cute!

  2. Nice! Keep up the photo's and the details of the tracks and scat, it's putting a real-world perspective on my tracking book and what I see.

  3. Thanks for adding more of your story to your profile, It's great to learn about girls growing up to love the out-of-doors. Thanks too, for the blurb about basswood. That's another tree I find along the Hudson. When it's in bloom I can smell it before I see it -- Heavenly fragrance! I can hear it, too, just thrumming with bees.