View Full Version : Wildlife Tracks

03-01-2008, 16:38
I took a hike on a snow covered, 5-mile trail near my home in northern Missouri last week. Several days prior to my hike, extremely cold temperatures throughout the Midwest were accompanied by a 4 to 6-inch snowfall. Then the temperature rose to the 40s and most of the snow melted. Along the trail, melting snow pooled in some areas, creating small ponds, which froze as the temperatures dipped again. That night, Missouri got a quick one-inch dusting of very light snow.

When I awoke the next morning to brilliant sunshine and a "Colorado" blue sky I decided to hit the trail. I was trekking along (as much as one can "trek" in Missouri) kicking up the light snow when I noticed numerous turkey tracks on and around the trail. In addition to the large footprints, there were pairs of multiple, parallel, one-inch-wide lines in the snow, sometimes 4 to 6 feet in length... a foot or so apart. At first I wondered if small deer had crossed the trail, causing these unusual lines by dragging their feet in the snow. Then, it dawned on me that the lines in the snow were actually made by the prominent feathers on the tips of the turkeys' wings.

Ah yes, a sunny "warm" day hinting at the promise of spring. Heck, who wouldn't dance after the miserable winter we've endured? No question about it... These guys were strutting their stuff. Showing off to what I'm sure must have been a completely captivated audience of adoring hens. (Don't you just bet they were SO impressed.) It occurred to me that in addition to the male birds likely deciding whose who was whose along the trail, they were also working out which bird would receive this year's designation of the flock's "big tom."

I returned to my hike, smiling, and noticed a set of turkey tracks headed down the trail, kinda 'goin' my way.' It appeared to me that this turkeys was running because its stride was as long as mine. (An escapee, I mused?) Further along I saw that the feet of this running turkey had slipped out from under it as it dashed across one of the small frozen pools, then hidden under the light snow.

As it slid, the bird quickly stretched out a wing to catch itself from falling. Remarkably, the large wing's imprint, embedded in the snow, was absolutely perfect. I could see feathers prominently outlined and even see the strands of individual feathers. The wing print sparkled as sunlight reflected off of individual frozen crystals within. I was completely mesmerized by this stunning and dazzling image displayed in the snow. Somewhat sadly though, I realized that within the hour rising temperatures would surely melt the snow causing this splendid, yet fleeting example of nature's enchantment to vanish.

That image of the turkey's wing print in the snow caused me to remember another animal track I'd seen displayed along the AT during my 2006 hike. Obviously though, this track was not imprinted in snow. Rather, it was perfectly displayed in mud.

Well east of Hawk Mt in Pennsylvania (and in and amongst the rocks) I came upon a depression of mud. The area was small and raggedy only about five feet in diameter. The upper layer of mud was wet, slick and creamy, like a potter's slip. Worm tracks criss-crossed the area in all directions. Several small, nondescript birds had landed on the mud, leaving footprints as they hopped about, perhaps grabbing a tasty treat before taking off. A raccoon had tentatively started into the muck, but, I suppose it instinctively realized the potential depth of the mud and quickly backed out. There were various other types of imprints and an assortment of sticks and leaves protruding from and on top of the mud which ultimately caused its surface to appear like a gooey, saturated mosaic. (I'm sure this mosaic-like feature became more pronounced as the mud dried.)

However, what caught my eye was the imprint of a bear's paw in the center of the muck. I think the bear may have been running because there was only the one footprint in the goo. Wet mud had squished up and out slightly from the weight of the bear, but other than that it was a pristine print. It's thick, curved claws and calloused pads left near-perfect impressions about 2 inches into the mud. The shape in the print was more oblong than round (forward motion?) and the entire print was probably in the 6 to 8-inch long range and maybe 4 inches or so wide. There was no water in the print which caused me to wonder if I'd just missed my 8th bear encounter along the trail.

Yeah, that's the stuff...

How about you? Any interesting stories about wildlife tracks along the AT, or elsewhere?

03-01-2008, 16:48
I followed bear tracks along the AT in Maine once, up Barren Mountain. They could be seen only in the mud or moss, not in the dry sections. I was rather nervous about trailing a bear, but there was not much for it, since we were going the same way. The tracks veered off and went into the woods well before the summit of Barren Mountain. I mentioned them to some other hikers who were resting at the summit-- none of them had noticed them. I felt sad about that.

03-01-2008, 17:06
Very cool.

Tracks in light snow almost make snow fun.

03-01-2008, 17:35
A post from Dec 06:

Wildlife on the AT in winter With some fresh snow here last friday night, it is prime tracking on the AT and went in to N. Crocker today under sunny skies to see whats roaming around.
It's 10 miles round trip so there was plenty of activity evident in the snow.
First off were Bobcat and rabbit tracks then fox. A moose had come galloping down a steep section of trail, slipped on snow covered ledge and went down on his arse cleaning the snow off the trail. About three miles in and 3,000' elevation the deer tracks were everywhere, this is a thick coniferous zone and they will likely 'yard up' in this area if the snow gets real deep. The summit area has 8" of snow and is caked on the trees where it is shaded. On the way back flushed 3 grouse out of trees , they are hanging out in the Mountain ash trees munchin on the red berries.Near the trail head an Owl hooted, probably a Barred Owl. One other set of tracks I wasn't certain of but was possibly a large Coyote. A great day for a hike and checkin out the wildlife activity. This is the only time of year when you can easily see all thats going on out there.:)
A Jan. 08 post
Wildlife on the AT in winter Was a prime but cold sunny day for a snowshoe into Crocker Cirque and back from Caribou Valley Road and the usual trip down to the Carrabassett River heading in the other direction.
A Downy Woodpecker (http://whiteblaze.net/forum/vbg/showimage.php?i=21357)caught my attention heading up to the Cirque with the familiar pecking woodpeckers are noted for. I have seen many of these birds in the area. The notorious ice storm of 98 has left many White Birch trees dead, damaged and rotting so this makes a great habitat for insects and woodpeckers. This was the only bird I actually saw on this short trip of about 3 miles.
Grouse tracks crossed the trail further on and left off with wing prints in the snow on top of a boulder where it took to flight.
Moose tracks (http://whiteblaze.net/forum/vbg/showimage.php?i=21358) on the trail and Striped Maple (http://whiteblaze.net/forum/vbg/showimage.php?i=21359) trees showed signs of Moose feeding on them.
A Cottontail Rabbit had crossed the trail sometime after I went in to the Cirque and saw those tracks on the return hike.
This was fairly fresh snow so the wildlife tracks were limited.
It sure is fun reading tracks on snow.
Was the wildlife in a hurry or just on a leisure stroll?
Did something spook the grouse to make it fly off or was it time to move on anyway?

Jason of the Woods
03-01-2008, 17:44
We did one better today. We went on a hike at the local hiking spot and had a fox trop carelessly by as we took a break on a boulder. He paid no attention at all to us. That's what keeps me in the woods.

03-01-2008, 20:17
How about you? Any interesting stories about wildlife tracks along the AT, or elsewhere?

Last month, I was hiking in the mountains south of Tucson. I saw a lot of birds including two flocks of wild turkeys. I also saw quite a bit of other wild life. I kept seeing small hoof prints with a split hoof but they didn't look exactly like a deer's. They weren't as big around as a deer track and the toes seemed a bit more pointy. I also observed places along the trial where it looked like something had been digging in the snow.

I didn't occur to me that what I was seeing was Javelina tracks. I rounded a turn in the trail and startled a sleeping Javalina. It jumped up and started running in my direction. I placed my hiking poles squarely in front of me and it swirved off to my left. It passed about 5 feet from me. It looked a lot bigger than I expected.

I was too busy preparing to defend myself to get a picture of that one, but here is a picture I took of another one about the same size. Neither of them had tusks.

03-01-2008, 21:25
My wife was filling the bird feeders in our yard one day when she heard a noise behind her. It was a bear! She dropped the feeder and the pole we use to lift the feeders and ran into the house. I've often seen muddy bear tracks on my driveway, patio, deck, and on my tent. I set up a tent on my deck and often sleep outside during the summer. I guess the bear must have been curious. My wife took this photo from our kitchen window:

03-01-2008, 22:10
Man, that is a big squirrel. The ones we get in our back yard are only a foot or so from nose to tail. :D

The nearest bears are up in Bruce county, a couple hundred km away. But several people claim we have a cougar or two. Some of the sightings have been of a black colouration. Maybe an escaped pet, but there aren't very many of them hereabouts, either.

03-01-2008, 22:27
Man, that is a big squirrel. The ones we get in our back yard are only a foot or so from nose to tail. :D

The nearest bears are up in Bruce county, a couple hundred km away. But several people claim we have a cougar or two. Some of the sightings have been of a black colouration. Maybe an escaped pet, but there aren't very many of them hereabouts, either.

I hadn't thought about it until your post, but for size comparison, the birdfeeeder in the photo is 15" long x 3-1/2" diameter.