Tag Archives: tracks

Roly poly sighting

Ambling along the sidewalk by the river valley, hidden from view by the snowbanks lining the walk, my dog and I came upon a short-legged, shaggy animal with a big round body, somewhat larger than a large domestic cat.

It seemed to be a uniform dark colour. Its tail was flat and angled down toward the ground from its body. The tail was about half to two-thirds the length a cat’s would be, relative to the body size.

Although it rolled from side to side in quick, waddling steps, it progressed slowly down the path – clearly not an animal that relies on speed.

Skunk tracks had criss-crossed the neighbourhood last week, so that was my first thought, but its tail and markings were different from a skunk’s. The tail wasn’t fluffy and there were no tell-tale white markings on its back or tail.

I think it was a porcupine, or possibly a woodchuck, newly emerged from hibernation. Maybe a young one, given its size.

I kept our distance, since my dog was along, so we didn’t get close enough to confirm.

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Spring Showers

Woke up this week to a winter wonderland – snowed all night and all day.
The world made new. Again.

A mouse lives near the entrance to the neighbourhood park. In the fresh snow on the remaining snowbanks she is busy tunnelling; across the bank, popping up and burrowing down again, leaving tiny holes in the snow. The fresh snow so soft and shallow her tunnel falling in behind her, leaving a path of churned up snow. Terminating at the heart of a leafless bush, stems offering protection from avidly curious snouts of canine folk passers-by.

A Blue Jay calls in the morning from the oak tree in a low buzzing rattle, ending in a middle-pitched *click* – a mating call?

 

Tracks around home

Around home, besides the plethora of bootprints, there are dog (canine accompanying bootprint); coyote (canine not accompanying bootprint!); squirrel & hare a-plenty, to my dog’s delight; magpie, chickadee and other small seed-eaters; occasional mouse; and, least commonly, so most interestingly, striped skunk.

I am still surprised when the tracks lead boldly right up a front walk, though of course, near the human-dens are where the goods are, and the scavenger-types’ reason for frequenting the area.

Last week we had a light snowfall, which made a perfect blank canvass for spying on the abundant nightlife (of the furry variety) in the neighbourhood. A night-time skunk prowler came from the central park, trotted right up a neighbour’s front walk, and came out the back into the alley. My new teacher Mark* told me that skunks — in open spaces and slow to a walk to check things out under cover, which is just what this fellow had done.

That same morning a track of a nighttime cat came up our front walk, followed along between our front snowbank and house, into the backyard. The next morning, a lone canine print followed the same path up the walk and along the snowbank, but walking over the top of the bank instead of stealthily behind it – right outside the window where I slept, oblivious to the nighttime highway the front yard had become.

*Elbroch, Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species

Tracking reinspired

One of my childhood favourites was Mark Trail’s Book of Animal Tracks, a book brought into the household collection from one of my parent’s childhood bookshelves. (As a child I often pondered the surprising appropriateness of the author’s name – a penname? Or the inevitable outdoorsman career choice with a name like that, like lawyers with the surname Law? To my disappointment I discovered recently the solution to that puzzle –  this childhood figure’s perfect name is due to his fictional status.)

It was a delight to find a track around the farm and to take its features back to Mark Trail’s little illustrated book to play the matching game. A similar joy that birdwatchers (or listeners) find in identifying a bird call.

There’s something special about encountering wild animal signs first-hand. It’s a connection, tangible proof of asynchronously shared space with these often unseen near-neighbours.

Cross country skiing around Jasper earlier this winter I encountered several intriguing trails that rekindled my interest in track mastery. On the first afternoon’s trip we cut our own fresh trail, then on the 2nd morning when we followed it again, an interesting fresh track revealed that an animal had frolicked around the base of a tree. Backtracking, I saw it had come from the direction we had come the previous day. The trail shortly disappeared into thin air. I peered to the near and far side of our ski trail – a blank slate of snow – only to discover that the cheeky creature had trotted in right up our own ski trail: hidden its tracks in ours. We also spotted some Whitetail deer feeding on grass, and, as they thoughtfully vacated on our approach, we were able to look at their digs. Some stand-offish elk studied us from behind the trees, and I was delighted to later come across the field of snow they waded through to arrive there.

Obviously, track photography is another skill I can work on! It’s tough!

In Jasper I acquired 2 remote teachers: I discovered two excellent tracking handbooks to be my lesson books – Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species, by Mark Elbroch, and Tracking & The Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign, by Paul Rezendes – carefully selected for stock at the Friends of Jasper shop. Of course, first-hand mentorship is best for these kinds of lessons, but it’s a start.

Of course I am a beginner and a dabbler yet – to really become adept I have a long road ahead. Learning the appearance of a particular kind of animal’s track is one thing, but the layer upon layer of complexity makes it a lifetime’s study! Animal behavior – what attracts and repels each species; why they move and how; what speeds do they travel and what gaits do they use – which produces variation in the track arrangement and print registry. That old book of Mark’s initiated me, but I’ve got a long way to go!