this winter i’ve been trying to teach myself wildlife tracking. the only way to explain how this came about is that i was hit with a deep curiosity to know more about the other creatures that traverse the same lands that i routinely walk and explore. this really got started last winter. i happened upon a good set of moose tracks in the snow soon after we moved into our cabin. then, a naturalist friend of mine told me about some bobcat tracks that she had seen and all of a sudden i thought, why haven’t i seen such tracks? what have i been doing all this time spent hiking? i remember one day in particular when i became enchanted by one set of animal tracks that meandered along my hiking trail. i became so excited and wondered if they were bobcat tracks. in hindsight, i’m pretty sure they were canine and that they were probably someone’s dog that had walked the trail with its owner. but still, the spark was lit.
last summer i spent a month in Alaska and had a chance to see brown bear tracks on multiple occasions. i remember how excited i felt looking at the shape of their claws protruding from the overall great size of the track set in mud or sand. it gave me the chills to imagine that such a creature stood exactly where i was standing not long before me.
still, i’m kind of new to wildlife tracking. i feel like a really excited kid the whole time i’m following any track. i have naturalist friends who are much more experienced than i and i ask them questions every time i get back from finding tracks to help me confirm what i saw.
i had some great finds this february, though. in the photos above you can make out coyote tracks that i found on a snowmobile trail near our cabin. it was the morning after a new snow and no one had come out riding to destroy the clear, solitary, canine tracks. i was amazed! i followed the tracks off trail and through the woods. i meandered with them over logs and across another path. i went over boulders until i got to a high point looking down on our camp below. the tracks wandered away but i found some more and i couldn’t distinguish whether they were the same coyote or if they were another animal (maybe a bobcat? i couldn’t tell in the deep snow). these new tracks led to a small boulder with a clearing underneath. something had been there and recently. the night before! i couldn’t see any scat so i don’t know what had been there or if they just stopped by or spent the night. my heart was thumping.
soon after i came upon a totally different set of tracks. they were those of a waddler. they had an interesting dragging pattern in between each step. this was an animal much lower to the ground than the coyote tracks i’d just been following. i had a suspicion they were porcupine and followed them until they stopped at a little beech tree. lo and behold, the beech tree had freshly munched on branches laying on the ground around it and A LOT of the bark on this tree had been scraped off. this was definitely a porcupine and he or she had been here more than once!
on another day in february i was outside talking on my cellphone to my sister (outside is where i have to go for acceptable reception around here!) when all of a sudden i saw a snowshoe hare run across the road ahead of me! i was so surprised and excited! i hadn’t seen a snowshoe hare since last winter when we first moved to our cabin. after i said goodbye to my sister i went over to where i saw the hare bounding and found its tracks. they were very far apart because of how fast it had been running. apparently they can leap 12 feet at a time! i decided to plunge my snowshoe-less feet deep into the snow to follow the tracks and see what i could find. the hare still moved fast and light on his feet. he went under hemlocks where i almost lost the tracks and then up and over a ridge. then the snowshoe hare, who had been here so very recently, passed another intriguing set of tracks…. yes, they were bobcat tracks! my first official bobcat track ID!
^^above you can see the hare tracks on the right and a bobcat print on the left :)
the bobcat tracks were something i had been hoping to find since my curiosity first sparked last winter. i finally knew that i was in the same place that a secretive bobcat had been. i followed mr. bobcat’s tracks for a while. i could see how on a steep hill his paws had sunk deeper into the snow and he slipped and slid a little bit. i saw him climb over a dead branch. then, to my surprise, i followed the tracks as they crossed back over the road to the other side. it turns out that i had walked passed these tracks without even knowing it. if it wasn’t for the bounding snowshoe hare, i may never have found them. my experience this winter has taught me that sometimes the most exciting and interesting things are found just a few steps off the beaten path. all it takes to teach yourself tracking truly is a curious spirit and the pull of adventure to take you on a wandering path. maybe also a few friends or books to help you gain “knowledge”, but that comes in time. for me, it’s about the experience and sense of wonder.