Urban Tracking And Other Soft Local Adventures

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Raccoon track in mud along stream. Sarpy County, Nebraska. October 1996. Central Tallgrass Prairie Ecoregion. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Chris Helzer)

It seems to go hand in hand with today’s other post, so thanks to The Nature Conservancy as always for this one:

A Field Guide to Tracking in Your Neighborhood

By Matt Miller

Tracking is one of the most family-friendly wildlife activities; you can enjoy it anywhere there is a patch of open ground. As I’ve written previously, kids love deciphering the mysteries of animal tracks. Even my two-year-old son loves checking out the tracks in our yard.

Following tracks is often the best way to learn habits of undisturbed wildlife. Oftentimes, you never know many elusive animals are roaming your neighborhood – until you see their tracks. It might be difficult to catch a glimpse of a raccoon, but you may be able to follow its nightly routine via tracking.

Tracking is also an easy activity to learn. Yes, there are many nuances and some tracks are difficult to tell apart. I highly recommend Olaus Murie’s classic Peterson’s Field Guide to Animal Tracks. It contains exhaustive information on track size, patterns, scat, dens and other sign left by animals. It’s like a mystery-solving handbook. I wore mine out as a kid and still refer to it frequently.

Snow, of course, makes tracking easy. If you don’t have snow, trying searching near water like ponds, creeks or rivers. Most wild animals visit water, and leave their tracks in the mud.

This guide isn’t meant to take the place of a book or app. I’m featuring some of the interesting tracks you might find on your ramblings. These are also fun to follow. Many of them can be found in urban and suburban habitats.

1. Red Fox

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Red fox was here. Photo © Jean-François Chénier / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

The red fox’s tracks are distinctive: little round pads that are “single file” – the tracks lined up neatly behind one another. To me, they resemble a dainty dog.

As many naturalists have pointed out, dogs and coyotes are easily distracted, and their tracks wander accordingly. A red fox’s tracks give the impression of a creature that knows exactly where it’s going – and it’s not messing around.

This makes fox tracks fun and easy to follow. Track slowly, and scan ahead of you: you may catch a glimpse of the fox hunting or even resting. They are very active in winter, making them much easier to see…

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