Find Your Place

Make Tracks this Winter

S.C.Morse

 

As you explore the outdoors this winter, keep an eye out for tracks and other signs of local wildlife. The clues you find will help give you a deeper understanding of the landscape. Here are four tips to help novice and expert alike.

By Susan C. Morse

Go where the animals go. Your ability to discover tracks and signs of even the most cryptic species will be dramatically enhanced if you search along “game trails.” These preferred routes of travel are predictably found along ridgelines, beside wetland and field-edge habitats, and alongside streams and rivers.

Find the food. Wildlife sign is more abundant near habitats that provide an abundance of food. For example, find the specific habitats that offer each season’s bounty of seeds, fruits, and nutmeats. For predator sign, look for habitats that support an abundance and diversity of prey species.

Remember that “feet make tracks.” Study the specific physical characteristics of each species' front and hind feet, then look for those features while identifying tracks. Your accuracy will be considerably improved.

Don’t just look on the ground! Wildlife scent-marking sign is easy to find on trees, shrubs, and ledge overhangs if one takes the time to study marking behaviors and media that are very predictable and unique to each species. Our mantra at Keeping Track is, “Half of tracking is knowing where to look – the other half is looking.”

Here are a few common tracks (not actual size!):

 
 
 
 
 
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Slow down in the winter woods, and you'll be surprised at what you find.

Test your tracking skills at these Trustees reservations.

Susan C. Morse is a nationally recognized wildlife ecologist and tracker. She is founder and director of KEEPING TRACK®, which offers field workshops for citizen science volunteers, biologists, land managers, transportation agency personnel, and land trust leaders. Keeping Track workshops provide hands-on experience with science-based tracking and wildlife monitoring techniques, which yield information critical to successful conservation planning and preservation of wildlife habitat.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Special Places, The Trustees' member magazine. To subscribe, join The Trustees today.