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Mammal Tracking in the New Year

Just when we thought we would never see the sun again, it broke over the eastern horizon and shone brightly all day for the first time in weeks. The day was last Saturday the 14th and we were hosting the Lakehead University Mammal Tracking Workshop. The weather was perfect but cold at -15C. Sixteen nature enthusiasts braved the frigid conditions to track and learn about mammals and their behaviours.

Participants preparing for workshop

Particpants out in the field

The Office of Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning offers programs and workshops to meet the needs of surrounding communities. This is just one of their many programs.

Bob Bowles, developer and instructor of the Ontario Master Naturalist Program led the way equipped with his 20 page guide for tracking and sets of callipers for measuring the size of the mammals print, stride and straddle.

The Nature Centre is home to many mammals and many of them travel through the fields and wetlands. Our wetlands are rich with life, in all seasons. During the winter months moose and deer use the wetlands for protection from strong winds and storms. Food is also easier to find with reduced snow levels. When tracking we find evidence of where they have browsed and where they bed down for the night. You have to be willing to put your detective hat on and walk (or snowshoe) into the heart of the wetland or forest looking for signs in the landscape. The most obvious sign is the footprint left by the mammal called a “track”. Other signs are animal trails, broken vegetation, tunnels made under the snow or mud, molehills, impressions made while an animal is temporarily resting, rubs on tree trunks, holes in tree trunks, bones of dead animals, scat and urine.

Our group started shortly after 10:00 AM and hardly left the parking lot when tracks were discovered in the snow. Time was spent measuring the print, its’ stride and its’ straddle. And finally the speed and step of the mammal was established. Bob uses this Five “S” approach to identify mammal tracks.

Can you determine what mammal made these tracks?

The first is the "Size" of the print. Is it small, medium or large? The second is "Stride". This is the distance between the 2 front footprints. Next "Straddle", is the distance between the inside of the left and the right footprint. "Speed", the four methods of moving, diagonal, pacers or waddlers, bounders and gallopers. And finally "Step", this is where you count two, four or five toes on the front and back feet. All of these tools make the detective work of tracking mammals a little easier.

We continued on and found fisher and weasel tracks, Eastern cottontails in the open meadows and snowshoe hare tracks in the swamp wetlands. There was evidence of many small tracks like shrews, mice and vole tunnels in the fields of weeds and around the buildings. Coyote tracks, squirrel tracks and moose and deer rubs and scat were all found. All in all we observed 12 different mammal species as well as ruffed grouse and wild turkey tracks. We finished up with a Q&A session while enjoying lunch and hot chocolate in the beautiful sunshine around the campfire.

Vole Tunnel Tracks

The Robert L. Bowles Nature Centre will be hosting another Mammal Tracking workshop on Saturday, January 28th starting at 10:00 AM. We're hoping for another beautiful, sunny day in paradise with lots of snow. Please send us an email for more information and to register.

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