July 20, 2019

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Who Scat Here??

Animals by nature are very elusive creatures and for the most part we only see the sign they leave behind rather than the animal itself. One of the most common signs you’ll find left by animals is their scat. Scat for the those not familiar with the term is just a nicer way to refer to their solid wastes, droppings or simply put, poop!  Some animals do their business anywhere at any time and others will use the same spot or general area over and over again to stake out their territory.

Is it possible to tell what animal left a turd here or there? Certainly it is, all you need is a basic understanding of what animals inhabit the area, what those animals eat and a general idea of what shape and size each animals scat is. In some instances it helps to know the mentality of an animal as well, or better put, the audacity of an animal. All that said I come to the simple question of , who crapped on my deck?

By process of elimination I can narrow this right down to the most probable culprit. Where I live we have the following mammals: Woodchucks, Fishers, Pine Martens, Bobcat, Gray Fox, Coyotes, Raccoons, Otter, Mink, Black Bears, Porcupines, Beaver, Muskrat, Whitetails, Moose, Snowshoe Hare and a handful of small rodents like Chipmunks and Red Squirrels.  Your thinking that’s a fairly long list to whittle down to the exact animal aren’t you?  Well, its not really that hard and here are the simple deductions with a just a little bit of knowledge mixed in.

  • Squirrels and small rodent have rice-like scat, so it’s definitely not one of those.
  • Beavers, Otters, Mink and Muskrats are aquatic animals and there is no water nearby so we can scratch them off.
  • Snowshoe Hare, Whitetail Deer and Moose, their scat is most often in a pellet form, think of Raisenettes or Malted Milkballs, definitely not them, and what would a deer be doing on my deck?   Hey… it’s happened before but just not this time.
  • Woodchuck?   Nope, Woodchucks always, 99% of the time deficate in one of their underground chambers made especially for that purpose.

OK, we eliminated a few possibilites and now were left with the choices of Pine Marten, Fisher,  Coyote, Gray Fox, Raccoon, Black Bear, Bobcat or Porcupine. If we look at the scat itself it has hair in it which means that whatever dropped a load on my deck ate another animal or in scientific terminology is a carnivore, but wait, there’s also berry seeds in the scat making our carnivore now an omnivore. Omnivore is just another fancy term for an animal that eats both plants and meat (meat= another unfortunate animal). 

  • We can immediately scratch off the Porcupine because they are herbivores and only eat plants.
  • Fishers, Bobcats and Martens are going to stick with meat so we won’t be finding seeds in their poop… drop them off the list.

Wow!! We’re getting down there in number aren’t we? We only have 4 possibilities left: Gray Fox, Coyote, Raccoon or Black Bear. All 4 are omnivores and we could go by size and shape of the scat to eliminate these four further down but were going to look at it from a different perspective. Mentality or Audacity, which animal of the four animals left would be fearless enough to come up on my deck and relieve themselves.  Definitely not a fox or coyote their just way to skitish to even think about it. So were left with Mr. Raccoon or Mr. Bear both oppurtunists by nature seeking out the easiest meal they can get. We can simply just go by size now, a Black Bears scat is from 1 1/4 inches to up to 2  inches in diameter. Or scat is clearly smaller than an 1 1/4 inches in diameter. so the question of “Who Scat Here” is unmistakably Mr. Raccoon!!

On a more serious note, NEVER, EVER touch, smell or taste animal scat!  Always wear gloves and use a stick to probe scat when identifying it. Raccoon Scat in particular may contain the larva of  parasitic roundworms which if inhaled or ingested can cause serious illness or even death!

Enjoy Nature !!

What’s More Exciting than a Moose Track?

I guess the answer to that question really depends on where you live.  If your out West I’m sure a Grizzly track would undoubtedly take your breath away.  I know that from first hand experience and I can certainly say there isn’t a track I have found that really makes you pay more attention to your surroundings like a Grizzly track does.  But where I live there isn’t anything more exciting than discovering a Moose track .   

There was a time when you would have been hard pressed to come across a Moose track in the Adirondacks but over the past decade they seem to be reestablishing themselves with a resident population. I went on 4 hikes last year within the blue line, as far as 50 miles from home to the north of me and 5 miles to the west.

On three out of those 4 hikes I found Moose Tracks, statistically that’s a HUGE percentage.  It wasn’t like I was going out of my way either looking for Moose tracks or scat, they just happened to be wherever I was going.   There is no way being in the East you can confuse a Moose track with any other animal. Measuring 5 to 6 inches in length not even the largest Whitetail Deer could come close to leaving a track that large.  If your getting into Elk country their tracks average out at 4 to 4 3/4 inches long so there’s still a fair difference in size to be able to tell the two animals apart especially if your finding tracks in the 6 inch range.

One of the best tips  for tracking is to always carry a tape measure. What I use and by far the most convenient in my opinion is a cloth or vinyl seamstress tape.  If you roll it up they take virtually no space in your pack or camera bag. I usually cut mine down at the 12 inch mark there’s no need for you to be lugging along a full 60 inch tape with you. You can just as easily step the tape off at one foot increments to measure strides. I’d be a poor salesman if I didn’t mention that the MyNature Animal Track app has a built in tape measure for just such an occasion.

Getting back to our Moose, you have a much better chance at locating a track if there is some type of water near by, a stream, creek, beaver pond, lake or river.  In the picture to the left you can actually see the difference in the size of a Moose track and a Whitetail Deer. The Whitetail tracks are heading across the image and the Moose tracks are coming out from the water.

Now that the Moose is back to stay in the Adirondacks you’ll inevitably come across a pile of scat at some point in time. Again the sheer size of Moose scat is enough to give away the animals identity. Moose scat has the same familiar shape as other deer scat.  Moose scat measures 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter and from 1 to 1- 1/2 inches long, more than twice the size of the more commonly found deer scat. Moose tracks and scat are an incredible find in the wilderness and one of the more exciting ones at that. If your lucky enough to come across either you may just get a glimpse of their owner, keep a sharp eye out and your camera at the ready.  Happy Tracking !!

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 !!

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 !!

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 !