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KNOWING NATURE 
By Bill Church 

March 2008 - Follow That Footprint

Follow that footprint, paw print, hoof print...Have you ever tracked someone's footprints in the sand or snow? It can be kind of a mystery figuring out where someone was going and what they were doing. By looking carefully at animal tracks you can learn more about their comings and goings too.

Winter is the perfect time to learn and follow some animal tracks. You can do this in your yard, at a local city park, or for a real adventure, head out to a state park or forest. Pick a day right after a snowfall and see how many different types of tracks you can find.

Here are some things to get you started.

1) Think about what kind of animals live in the area. This will help you narrow the field of identification. It's a pretty good bet that if you're looking in your backyard you'll find squirrel, bird, and maybe rabbit tracks.

2) Four toes on each of the front and hind feet means you're looking at a track from the dog family (fox, wolf, coyote, neighborhood dog), the cat family (bobcat, lynx, neighborhood cat) or the rabbit family (cottontail or snowshoe hare). Does the paw print have small triangular marks in front of it? If yes, those are claw marks. Raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes, and dogs will often leave claw marks. Cats, on the other hand, retract their claws when they walk or run. So, you won't usually find claw marks with bobcats, lynx, or house cats.

3) Four toes on the front foot and five toes on the hind foot means it's a rodent (mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks).

4) If the track has five toes each on the front and back feet it's from the raccoon and weasel families (weasel, badger, mink, skunk, otter, bear, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, opossum).

5) If you find a two-toe track, it's probably a deer.

6) Is the track made by a "hopper?" Squirrels leave interesting tracks. As they bound along, their larger hind feet land ahead of their smaller front feet. It looks like the front feet are side by side. Rabbit tracks look a little different. The hind feet still land ahead of the front feet, but the front feet are not found right next to each other.

7) What direction is your animal going? How can you tell? If your animal has claws it's pretty easy...claw marks point in the direction the animal was going. If there aren't any claw marks, see if you can see where the snow is pushed back by the animal's feet. The pushed back areas shows the direction the animal came from.

You'll also need a good tracking guide to help you identify the tracks you see. Here is a list of a few good books to help you identify tracks:

Stokes 'Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior' by Donald & Lillian Stokes. ISBN #0-316-81734-1.

'Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior' by Louise R. Forrest. ISBN #0-8117-2240-6

Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks: Third Edition (Peterson Field Guides) by Olaus J. Murie. ISBN #0-395-91094-3

'Animal Tracking Basics' by Jon Young & Tiffany Morgan. ISBN #978-0-8117-3326-7

'Tom Brown's Science and Art of Tracking' by Tom Brown Jr. ISBN #0-425-15772-5

A good book on Bird Tracking is: 'Bird Tracks & Sign : A Guide to North American Species' by Mark Elbroch & Eleanor Marks. ISBN #0-8117-2696-7

To learn be a great tracker you have to put in your "dirt time," by spending time out in the fields looking at and identifying tracks. Next time we will look at aging tracks.

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

 

 

Bill Church is a certified WV Master Naturalist; certified herbalist; has trained with Tom Brown (world renown tracker); has published a book called "Medicinal Plants, Trees, & Shrubs of Appalachia"; and is a network and computer specialist at Glenville State College.

Bill has trained for many years with as a tracker, botanist, birder, learning about animals, herbal medicine and other things about nature. He works full time as a Network and Computer Specialist for Glenville State College. He has taken classes from some of the countries most famous Herbalists; (David Winston, Rosemary Gladstar). He is of Cherokee and English descent.

In 2005 Bill wrote and published “Medicinal Plants, Trees, & Shrubs of Appalachia”, which lists 107 plants from the Appalachian region, especially Gilmer and the surrounding counties. He is also Co-coordinator for the Gilmer County Master Naturalist Association and has taught classes on herbal medicine. Bill has also taken training by the world reknown tracker Tom Brown in tracking and wilderness survival.

Bill also setup and maintains the website for the Gilmer County Master Naturalist Association and helped with the website for the WV Herb Association.
  

   
 

ALSO BY THIS AUTHOR:

Edible Paw Paws
Edible Cat Tails
Making Rope
American Kestrel
Concentric Rings
Identifying Birds
Wild Ginger
Bloodroot
Follow That Footprint
Attracting Birds
Wilderness Survival
Great Blue Heron
Spear Fishing
The Debris Hut
Aging Tracks
Barn Owl
Nature's Sounds
Using A Bow Drill
Identifying Plants