Tracks or Tricks in Mud Season

Tracks or Tricks in Mud Season

In many native cultural stories, Coyote is represented as a Trickster.  If you have ever had the chance to hear 2 or 3 yip and howl, you know it can sound like there are many more.  I’ve heard many a woods story of 2 or more coyotes moving around each side of a campfire  and ‘throwing’ their voices to sound like many have circled the fire.  I was walking out of the woods one night well after dark.  After I reached the road, I heard the voice of coyote back in the woods behind me.  The shivers went up my spine and I thought for a moment the spooks were following me.  Ha Ha Ha, it was just coyote playing tricks.

I think of these stories when I am out tracking.  I see and observe far more than I am able to identify.  The myth of coyote reminds me never to be too sure of myself, in my certainty there is always room for error and I am forever humbled from his lessons.  One day while out, I lost my iPhone, case and all.  Luckily I was able to back track and found it hanging on a balsam fir bough.  The tree apparently had snatched it off my pocket where I had it clipped with an otterbox case.  All I could do was laugh at coyote’s trick and was pleased to get it back.

Other times I think of the myth of coyote when I am certain about a track, but then that question rises up in the back of my mind.  Is what I saw, really what I think I saw?  One day an animal was crossing a field and I immediately went out to look at the tracks.  When I got there I realized the track didn’t match what I thought the animal had been.  The mind can have fun playing tricks and the excuse of metaphysics could be used, but in truth tracks and sign of wild creatures can be confusing.

The next few weeks will be an opportunity to look for tracks in snow and mud.  The picture below shows two feet, side by side in mud.  Look at it closely and try to answer the questions below without looking back at the picture, then check yourself.

Tracks in mud

How many toe pads on each foot?
Which foot is the front foot or are they both front feet, or hind feet?
Was the animal walking or did it stop to stand still?
Are both tracks the same size?
Were there any claws?

Looking closely at each foot is just one step toward deciding what creature was there before you.  Next think about the size of the animal.  Depending on the substrate (mud, snow, sand) how much might the animal have weighed to leave the imprint.  Consider the weather and temperature.  If the track above had been made in the night, the animal might not have left an imprint that could be seen because the ground was frozen.  The afternoon sun warmed the surface of the road enough to make it muddy.

A next logical question would be to wonder what size the track is.  I usually carry a 6 foot carpenter’s measure so that I can check the length and width of the track and the trail pattern.  Other times I use my foot or hand to make an approximate guess.

How about the overall pattern of the creatures track.  Some animals leave very distinctive patterns, such as the snowshoe hare shown below.

Are there similarities in the above track in the mud and the track below in the snow?

Snowshe Hare Bound

Hmmm, well I do see some similarities in the tracks shown in the two pictures, but there are also differences.  The next question to consider is the larger area where the track is found.  Are there other clues, was the animal traveling and the tracks can be followed?  Or did the animal stop for some reason, sit down to groom, rest or possibly eat?

Keep asking and pushing the questions along.  What I have learned from the lessons of coyote’s tricks is to leave myself open to at least three choices.  Usually I can only come up with two choices so I pick a third one just to follow my rules, but once in a while I find out that it was in fact the animal I least expected it to be.

There are pictures in the gallery that show the track patterns of two different animals.  There are also some pictures of other signs that might indicate what animals were there.

In closing I encourage you to look for the storyline. What story can you take away with you? 

As always ~ Enjoy!