Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Look For It Now: Tracks in the Snow

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern

One of my favorite winter activities is looking for animal signs. I relish putting on my snowshoes, breathing in that cold winter air and searching for the clues of the person or animal who was out in the
snow before me. The best part about looking for animal signs is that anybody can do it!

When I go looking for animals signs I like to take out with me a few items. My camera, a notebook and pencil, a measuring tape and Mark Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species are my tools of choice. With the appropriate winter gear (lots of layers, please!) and a backpack full of hiking essentials, I am all set to explore whatever signs have been left in the snow.

I find the best time to explore is in the morning, when signs are fresh and hopefully have not been disturbed by weather or humans. As you’re walking through an area, look for footprints, scat (poop), chew marks, tunnels, fur, pinecone remains and anything else that you think could potentially be a sign. Take the time to observe the sign and jot down notes in your notebook. Note the conditions of the day. Write a description of the sign. With the tape measure, measure the sign (so you have something for scale) and take a picture. This way you can always remember what the sign looked like and others can look at the sign as well.

Overall, though, have fun exploring what’s in your backyard, your driveway or at your local nature center. A few days ago I was on the trail here at VINS and saw signs of animals ranging from the size of a mouse to a fox. Come on out to VINS and brave the cold. You might be surprised by what you find!

Photos clockwise from top left: a tape measure next to a dog track; pine cone chewings from a red squirrel; and tooth marks from a red squirrel biting into a striped maple to drink sap.

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