Overcast and windy for most of the day until around 2:45ish when a light rain began. 8-10°C
Waxing Crescent 44%
We began the day with an opening circle on the sidewalk across the road from some newly constructed and in the midst of constructed houses, edging on to an old sandy quarry and mixed Cedar forest. It seems sometimes like this might be the wrong place to be tracking, but life exists everywhere so off we went, and almost as soon as we stepped into the construction site we discovered some tracks.
First thing we noticed was that the claws were pretty far out in front from the toes and there appeared to be 5 toes in the tracks, at least the clear ones. Some of the tracks showed a faint rear track in front of a front track, and the stride measured in at around 16.5 cm (6 ½ in). Some thoughts were quickly thrown around and then finally we settled on Mephitis mephitis moving at an overstep walk. Can you see the hind foot landing in front of the front foot in the photo?
Nearby we also noticed a couple of potential Vulpes vulpes tracks. There was a thought to peel the top layer of mud off but it seemed like the track wouldn’t lift so it was left to it’s own to fade to time.
We took a sandy path further away from the newly built homes, passing Sylvilagus floridanus chews and Canis latrans twisted hair-filled scats and came across a hole, a deep hole, a 35.5 cm (14 in) deep hole nearly straight down into the sand right in the middle of a heavily used path. Who could it be? There were measurements and estimates, more measurements and guestimates, but no conclusions from the group, even after we saw a small track – 7.62 cm (3” in) x 6.35 cm (2.5” in ) – just off to the right of the hole. Tamias striatus, or Tamiasciurus hudsonicus.. We just couldn’t tell. Can you?
Pellets seemed to be falling from the sky today. We may have found 5 today. Big ones, little ones. Skulls, jaws, mammalian bones, bird bones, all over the Pits.
Next we moved on to look at some Odocoileus virginianus tracks, and we talked about the dew claws and how on one set, the fronts or the rears, the dew claws are closer to the two hooves in front of them. We also noted that the dew claws which were closer to the hooves were used for traction, to help the animal “steer” better. These closer dew claws also tended to be fatter yet not as splayed out or wider set than the others… Do you remember which dew claws are closer to the hooves used more often to help “steer” this animal as they move?
As we moved through the sand we noted many more animals making their ways through. More Canis latrans, more Odocoileus virginianus, but we took some time to examine the Meleagris gallopavo tracks, and especially the remaining sign. We examined the scat left behind, and how the scat will be in different forms depending on the sex; there will be longer and tubular, perhaps even slightly “J” shaped for one sex, while the other’s scat will be globular, rounded and clumpy. Whose is clumpy? Whose is tubular?
It was fun to notice how when they nip the grass they are leaving a pretty straight, flat, even cut across the top, which eventually dries, withers slightly and changes colour, from green to a pale yellowy white. Lagomorphs and rodents will bite the grass off at a 45° angle, deer will be a little ragged, and dogs and cats even more so.
We continued on, looking at gaits of domestic dog and remembering that this is a practice, a skill which will take a lifetime of practice and study. We will learn to see the tracks and the gaits the animals are using. We will learn to know these gaits by heart, and perhaps even imagine seeing the animals in our minds moving across the land as look at these tracks left behind. The science may developing into a profound intellectual knowing which may help us to develop our instinct and our gut knowing, and someday, with lots of study and practice begin to sense from seeing how the tracks land across the substrate, a deeper connection with these animals we are tracking. I look forward to a time when I know and understand the science in a deep enough way, that I can read the signs with a little more instinct and a little less intellect.
Afterwards we broke out on our own for a discovering a bird kill site, a larger rodentish skull, and some old honeycomb at the base of a Tsuga canadensis full of holes. Then, after regrouping and slowly making our way through sheltered forest of Thuja occidentalis, Populus tremuloides, Prunus serotina, and Betula alleghaniensis, we found another pile of bones! This time a bird.
We examined the carpometacarpus, the ilium, the femurs and the skull! We tried to look up the skull in Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks book “Bird Tracks and Sign” but we couldn’t decide in the end who this bird was. We had some approximations, but no certainties.. Do you know whose skull this is?
We closed out the day with a closing circle, sheltered from the wind and rain sharing our gratitude for the animals, for the forest beside the subdivision, for the skulls we found, for the comradery of our crew, for the sand pits full of tracks, and for the chance to reconnect with land. All left looking forward to next month.
Written By: Byron Murray – 2nd year Tracking Apprentice