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Nature detective: Honing wildlife tracking skills

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  • Whether you’re eight or 80, identifying wildlife tracks is one of the most rewarding experiences in which a nature-lover can participate. You become a detective searching for clues.

They were strategically left on the sandy side of a shady creek bank when Daddy first spied them. “You’re the wildlife person,” he said. “What kind of tracks are those?”

I slowly stood up in my muddy stirrups, peering off the side of my sleepy mare trying not to disrupt her preferred Boggles Creek stance. The tracks in question appeared as four widely-spaced, tiny hand prints with claw marks and a strange line between.

After mentally ruling out all forms of regular creek-visiting rodents and snakes, I came to the conclusion that it had to be a tail-dragging reptile of some kind—probably a turtle. This little guy had discovered what the resident deer, turkeys, beavers and other forest critters already knew—this creek was the best source of clean water in all of Boggles Creek swamp.

Whether you’re eight or 80, identifying wildlife tracks is one of the most rewarding experiences in which a nature-lover can participate. You become a detective, searching for clues as to what woodland inhabitant left its calling card. If you look more closely, you can also gain some insight into its more baffling behaviors.

Whether your desire for dinner drives your quest for such knowledge or you’re simply curious to know more about the forest residents’ daily doings, the intelligence you receive is directly proportional to the time you spend in observation of detail.

If you spend enough time in the woods to know who calls them home, you can use your mental natural rolodex to name the guilty party. Still, species identification is just the first clue in solving forest mysteries.

Track location will give you an immediate idea of travel routes and vice versa. Most wildlife will use the path of least resistance to reach their intended destination, whether it’s the best water source or their favorite feeding spot. These created roadway systems are not the preferred route though when being chased by a predator; an obscure path increases one’s chances of survival.

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