Watching for Animal Tracks
Have you ever seen a paw print in the sand and wondered what animal made it? Was it a badger? A raccoon? An opossum? If you're curious about animals and nature, then it's time to learn a thing or two about animal tracks. As you look for all of the different tracks of the animals in your region, you will learn more about animals, wildlife, and the entire ecosystem.
Watching for animal tracks takes time, concentration, and patience. The really great thing about watching for animal tracks is that you will be learning a skill that pioneers, explorers, and native peoples had to know to survive. We don't need to be able to track and identify animals by their tracks anymore, but it is still an interesting and useful skill.
The first step in watching for animal tracks is to find a book that has pictures of the tracks of the animals in your region. You should try to become familiar with some of these tracks, so that when you begin looking in nature you have an idea of what you are looking for. It is also a good idea to see if you can find a book that identifies bird tracks.
Every different region has some areas where you are most likely to spot tracks. Wet ground (including beach sand) is much more likely to hold an animal track than dry ground. If you think about where you leave tracks when you walk, you'll have a leg up, since those are the places where animals will also leave tracks. The shores of oceans, lakes, ponds and water holes are good places to start looking. Most animals need to drink water, so places that have water are common destinations for many animals.
Very dry and dusty dirt is also a good place to look for tracks. If you live in the desert, you are likely to spot snake and lizard tracks in the sand. When you first start looking for animal tracks, you may find it difficult to spot them since most areas are inhabited by small animals, not large ones. The most common animals and birds are often small and leave small tracks, so you need to look closely at the ground. Always be careful not to disturb the fresh ground where you may find tracks. You won't be able to spot animal tracks if you walk over them and leave your own behind.
As you become experienced at recognizing animal tracks, you may even be able to determine where the animals were headed. You may be able to follow the path of the animal whose tracks you spotted. These are the types of skills the original settlers in our country needed to have. Also, as you become more experienced, you may go out farther into nature to find more diverse animal tracks. Always remember to avoid larger animals -- if you spot bear tracks, use your tracking skills to leave the area where the bear went. Larger animals are dangerous and it is wise to avoid them, so if you find those types of tracks simply identify them and move on.
Watching for animal tracks is a great way to become more involved with the outdoors. You may notice all sorts of things you hadn't seen before. This year, try seeing which types of tracks you spot. If you see one that you don't recognize, see if you can draw it on some paper so you'll remember it when you're with your track book.