September 22, 2020

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Muskrats

The Muskrat is one of the easiest animal tracks to identify if you know what to look for. Muskrats live in and around the water and leave their tell tail tracks and sign to let us know they are around.

Muskrats have a long thick tail that drags behind them as they walk. The tail drag will show in mud or snow and is a sure give away of a Muskrats presence.  Their front foot has four toes and will measure right around 1 1/2 inches long while their back foot measures 2 to 2 1/2 inches long and has five toes.  Any time you see a set of tracks along a waterway with a thin line between them you can be pretty certain you found a Muskrat.   

Another tell tale sign of a Muskrat is their Scat. Muskrats deposit their scat on logs, stumps or rocks in or near the waters edge. You will always find them on an elevated surface. Their scat is pellet shaped when fresh but as it ages it begins to sort of melt together to form one large mass. Muskrats will often use the same site to deposit their scat in and you will find varying ages of scat like the ones in the picture above.

If you haven’t tried out the MyNature Animal Track  app yet look us up on the Droid or iPhone we now have a free  lite version. Not as good as the pro version but there is a demo in there to see what the full version contains.

Happy Tracking !!

Identifying Skunk Tracks

Most people have smelled a skunk,  there’s no mistaking the odor but would you recognize a skunk’s track if you saw one?  Skunks have five toes on both their fore and hind foot  they actually resemble a miniature bear track.  The front track will measure from 1 to just over 1 1/2 inches long and the hind track will be just a bit longer measuring around 1 3/4 to 2 inches long. They have long sharp claws for digging and the claws will almost always register in their tracks. Skunks most often utilize a pacing gait where all four feet will register in the trail they leave.  If you happen to come upon fresh tracks and follow them just remember to keep a safe distance if they lead you to their owner, skunks can spray up to 15 feet  and can spray very accurately up to 10 feet.

                                                                      Happy Tracking !!

Interesting Animal Facts

Here’s a few animal facts that you may find interesting and useful sometime in your travels.

  • A bears big toe is on the outside of it’s foot unlike humans which is on the inside.
  • If a buck deer is injured on one side of it’s body the opposite side antler will grow abnormally.
  • Gray Fox are the only members of the Canine family that have retractable claws.
  • Frogs have a type of anti-freeze in their blood that keep them from freezing solid in the winter.
  • Male porcupines will urinate on the female before mating.
  • Groundhogs have a separate chamber in their tunnel system to defecate in. Their scat is seldom found outside of their den.
  • Beavers almost always defecate in the water.
  • Most animals deposit their scat on a raised object such as a log or rock to advertise their presence and mark their territory.
  • Raccoon scat can be deadly to humans if inhaled.
  • One Red Squirrel can eat up to 50 pine cones per day.
  • The Opossum is the only marsupial in North America
  • The favorite food of the Grizzly Bear is the White Pine Nut
  • A Grizzly Bear can go from zero to 25 MPH in 6 seconds
  • A Pronghorn Antelope can reach speeds of 60 MPH.
  • Snowshoe Hare populations peak every 10 years.  This was the 10th year of the 10 year cycle in the Adirondacks!
  • The Raccoon is the most ambidextrous animal in North America. They also dip their food in water to make it easier to swallow.

Help Gulf Coast Wildlife

Last night I had retweeded a friends post on Twitter “RE Needed:Volunteers to help save animals along Gulf coast! http://tinyurl.com/2eqh6wv by me, a VIP”  I turned to my wife and said I want to go help rescue wildlife from the oil spill. I knew her response even before I asked  “You can’t, you have to work we’ve got bills to pay”  Of course she’s right, after being out of work so long I can’t just drop everything even though it would mean a lot to me to be able to help out. Here was a chance to help Nature, to give back to something that has given me countless hours of enjoyment for so many years.

I got the idea this morning when I saw a tweet by the National WildlifeFederation, I could still do something financially. For the month of May I will personally donate $1.00 of every download of our app to NWF to help with the rescue of animals affected by the oil spill in the Gulf Coast.   It may not add up to a lot by the end of the month but it will be something and something always help.  The money will go to a very worthy cause and at the same time you’ll be learning about Nature, that seems to me like a win win situation all around.   Thanks for stopping by and as always Happy Tracking.

Raccoon Tracks

One of the easiest tracks to recognize in the field are those of a Raccoon.  The front foot pictured to the left resembles your own hand with five fingers. The claws will usually show in the track but often times they don’t register. A front track of a raccoon measures approximately 2 to 2 1/2 inches long. The toes are usually splayed or spread apart in the print.

The rear or hind track measures 3 to 4 inches long and resembles a foot but a very flat foot at that. The hind foot also has five toes and the claws usually register in the track. There are very few tracks that can be confused with those of a raccoon.  We’ll save those for a rainy day.  

Happy tracking !

Tracking Tips

 One of the best places to spend some time outdoors looking for tracks is a Beaver pond. Actually an old beaver pond which the dam has broke and left a flow is even better. Dams represent the edge in the forest, an edge is where two different ecosystems meet.  Wildlife are naturally drawn to the edge of an ecosystem and spend time feeding, bedding and hunting these areas. These edges are where the majority of animal sign can be found if you take the time to look. Elevated areas like rocks and logs  in or near the waters edge are great places to find scat left by Mink, Muskrat and Otters.

This scat left by a Muskrat is a territorial marker. You can see that there is both new and old scat where he constanly freshens this scent post. You might also find a latrine area where there are piles of different aged scat, these are usually found near their core area where they spend the majority of their time.

Sign left on the trails leading to an Edge area like a Beaver Pond are also good indicators of what animals are using the area.

     This Bobcat scat on the left was found just a few feet away from the dam itself. 

This scat on the right was left on one of the trails leading to the pond by a Black Bear.

One of the best spots to look for tracks on a active beaver pond is right on the dam itself. Dams serve as a kind of natural bridge for animals to cross on. Many times the top of the dam  consists of mud placed there by beavers to reinforce the structure.  Bears, Deer, Coyotes, Fox will all utilize the top of the dam to get from one side of the pond to the other and leave their tracks there for your identification. 

Next time your on an outing try to  find the Edge whether a beaver pond, mountain meadow, stream or agricultural field and you should have no problem finding animal sign.

                                                          Happy Tracking !!

Spring Tracks

   The last of the winter snows have disappeared and along with them went the perfect canvas for animal tracks. As I bummed as I am to lose the good tracking snow I’m very happy Spring has arrived. Along with Spring comes  mud season which not as plentiful as snow still has the ability to capture a perfect crisp outline of the animal that passed through it. I recently scouted a farm field not far from here. The great thing about the agricultural fields south of here is that they consist primarily of clay and the next best thing to Spring mud is Spring clay. I’ll probably return there tomorrow if I get a chance and do a little plaster casting of some of the tracks if the rain holds off. The best way to approach finding tracks in farm fields is to just walk the edge, there really is no need to venture any further than 10 feet from the sides of the field to find tracks. In fact most animals will be doing the same thing, just cruising the edges. Any animal that ventures out of the bordering brush will definitely leave evidence of it’s passing as long as the clay or dirt is wet. Take for instance the Weasel Tracks I found, weighing in at just under a pound this one left a very distinct track.  

    Weasels have a heel pad that is easy to recognize once you know what your looking for.  The size of the track and placement of the feet also give it away.

Farm fields really offer one of the best places to find and identify tracks. Prey animals are attracted to the crops and the carnivorous animals follow the prey so there is an abundance of sign as long as you keep your eyes to the ground.

If you don’t personally know a farmer then just stop and ask for permission if you can walk the edges of their field to do some tracking, most won’t mind as long as your respectful of the property. It’s a great way to spend some time outdoors especially with the kids and what kid wouldn’t love traipsing through the mud?    Happy Tracking !!

Mink Tracks

One of the best ways to narrow down what animal tracks you found is to study the gait pattern the animal used. Animals are categorized by Family and each family has it’s own preferred method of transportation.  Animals in the Weasel family use a bounding gait. A bound is a when the animal pushes off his hind feet and does a short leap landing on his front feet with the rear tracks registering just behind the front. All four feet are in a tight group resembling  a small rectangle.  The image of the  Mink’s gait at right shows just how this looks. 

 The members of the Weasel family that most commonly utilize this type of gait pattern are the Mink, Short-tailed Weasel, Long tailed Weasel,  Least Weasel, Otter, Fisher, Pine Marten and Badger.  Once you have identified the gait pattern you can measure the individual tracks to narrow down what animal tracks you found.  Paying attention to the habitat you found the tracks in is just as important as the tracks themselves. If you observed this type of gait pattern in the middle of a coniferous forest with no water nearby this would point more toward a Marten or a Fishers track.  Close to a stream bank or body of water would tend to be an Otter or Mink. The tracks above were following a stream bank and the individual size of the tracks gave this animal away as a Mink.

Of coarse it’s not always that easy is it?  As I mentioned members of the Weasel family prefer a bounding gait and use that most times to travel but they don’t always bound.  You may find tracks that resemble the gait of the Bear family as in the Otter image below. This Otter was utilizing the pacing gait where all four feet register separately not grouped as in a bound. Rest assured he eventually broke back into his bounding pattern a short distance away.

 If you follow a set of tracks far enough you may get a chance to see the various gait patterns used by each animal. Just remember that the most predominantly used gait will point you toward which Family the animal you found belongs to.

       Happy Tracking!!

The Elusive Moose Scat

Who would have thought it could be so hard to find Moose Scat. Of course you have to have Moose around and Moose tracks to follow in order to ever find any of those nice big piles of pellets. I haven’t given up my search quite yet and it may be possible for a short 3 day trip to Northern Maine to a place appropriately called Moosehead Lake. Ahhh, a fairy tale of a place where the Moose are as numerous as flies on a fresh scat pile, I remember it well. Moose around nearly every corner, tracks every which way, trails as wide as a country road and scat piles you dream about. Why didn’t I ever take pictures back then !!.

Moose scat in the winter resemble other deer scat but are much larger being up to 3/4 of an inch in diameter and 1 1/2 inches long. Their winter diet of Balsam and twigs leave there scat in the all to familar pellet form, much like the Whitetail scat in the picture below.  

Like Whitetail Deer Moose scat will often be dimpled at one end with a small tip at the other end or simply just in an oval shape. In the spring and summer months Moose scat as well as deer scat take on a whole different appearance when they browse on more succulent plants.   In the warmer months Moose scat may have a mushroom shape or resemble a set of dumbbells. Their scat may also just appear as a clumped mass of moist pellets compressed together.

There should never be any confusion as to whether you found the scat of a Moose as it is two to three times the size of a Whitetailed Deer. If you happen to live in an area where Elk are also roaming the woods you might get alittle confused but Elk scat are still smaller than Moose being  around 1/2 inch in diameter. If you can locate a track near the scat then identification between a Moose and an Elk will be that much easier.

Don’t forget! next time your in the woods, one mans scat is another mans treasure.  Happy Tracking !

Sign

A lot of time when your picking your way through the woods the only evidence you find of an animals presence may just be the sign they left. Animal sign can be anything from a pile of cone scales, rubbed trees, scratchings on the ground to scat as well as countless other markings left behind. I had a moment of brain freeze the other day on one of my outings when I came across 30 to 40 small piles of animal scat left around the base of a tree. Maybe it’s age catching up with me because for several short minutes I stood there looking for tracks as to whose scat this was, totally bewildered. It’s not that I didn’t know who left it or who’s scat it was after all I have seen this 100’s of times but for the life of me I couldn’t remember. I regained my composure and put the pieces of all the clues together, no tracks around, fresh and older scat in the same spot which meant the animal frequents here often and a large branch overhead.  Yes, it was a Turkey roost I had found. No tracks around meant what ever was visiting here flew in and perched on the overhead branch, the shape of the scat some in the tell tale “J” shape and the size of the piles were all pointing to Turkey.

I went on my way content in knowing that the onset of Alzheimer’s has started……..wait….. what was I writing about?  Oh yeah, Turkeys!! So I went on my way thinking there are probably a lot of people that come across sign like this and may not have a clue as to what animal left it. If you take a few minutes and study the area and the clues left you can usually narrow it down to 1 or 2 animals.  You don’t always need a track to identify an animal if you know the sign they leave and looking for animal sign can be just as rewarding as looking for the tracks they leave. The next time I have brain freeze I won’t get frustrated I’ll take it for what it is, a chance to discover things all over again.

Happy Tracking!!