Advice from Lynn: Getting the Most out of Tracking
ARE THERE BEARS OR WOLVES IN THE WOODS?
It is common for some children and adults to be afraid of tracking because they fear they might meet the animal they are following. This is something you should address before you go outside. Encountering the animal being tracked is a very rare occurrence. Usually, these mammals smell and hear humans long before you might get near them. You should always follow fresh tracks backwards (away from the direction they are moving) to make sure you will not encounter the animal you are tracking. If you do encounter an animal, do not corner it; give it a path out to escape. You might remind your group that it is much more dangerous to get in a car and drive than to be in the woods. Approximately one in twelve people drive drunk, and one in five drink and drive.
WHAT TO WEAR?
During the colder months, you and the group you are working with should dress extra warmly. Because you are going slowly, you will tend to get colder. If you do get cold, suggest jumping up and down to produce heat. Your clothes keep the warmth in; your body makes the heat. Wear good snow boots. Even though you might be wearing snowshoes, your feet will, generally, go below the snow’s surface, especially in fluffy snow. Snowshoes do not keep you totally afloat.
Reminder: If you are tracking in unknown territory, make sure you have a compass. A GPS unit is not enough!
The batteries can die, or you can lose reception. One of the ideal places to track is near a wetland or brook, where there is usually a higher diversity of species. When there is a lack of snow, streambanks, sand or gravel pits, or by the ocean
(if you are near one) will be the most fruitful.
WHEN TO GO (OR NOT GO)?
The worst time to go tracking is right after there is a storm. The animals will just hunker down and stay still. Wait a day or two, and you will be rewarded for your patience. The best time to go tracking is a little after a light snowfall, when the tracks are most clear.
HOW TO COLLECT SCAT?
Note: Always take extreme caution when examining scat. If you want to collect scat, carry along small zip-lock bags, like those used for freezing. You can turn the bag inside out (so it functions like a glove) so you can pick up the scat without touching it, and then reverse the bag so the scat is inside and can be saved. You can write on these bags. For your own records, write the date, where it was found and, if you know, the type of scat. After you let the scat thoroughly air dry (outside the bag, or it may mold), if you want to preserve the scat, you can use Krylon # 1303 - Clear Crystal spray. If you do not protect your specimen, it will tend to dehydrate, and may break apart.
WORKING WITH GROUPS
If you are leading a group of children, a 6:1 child to adult ratio is a good idea. For adults, a ratio of 15 adults to 1 leader is workable. Since it is often hard to hear the leader, especially when people are lined up along a path, make sure, if you are the disseminator of information, that you drop back to the middle of the group so that each person can hear you.
Make sure that everyone is clear that they should not step on the tracks, so that others will also be able to see them.
Tracking is not so much about identifying species, but about “reading the story.” For example: Which way was the animal travelling? How fast was it going? When was it here? How many animals were here? What was the animal doing?
Here is one:
A fisher, traveling from left to right, gets on the trail of a snowshoe hare. Both animals’ speed increases as the fisher gets closer.
Dedicated to connecting all people with Nature
Links to Lynn's Favorite On-line Resources
The bear tracker The ultimate source of information about tracking beyond your wildest dreams
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History An Encyclopedia of the natural history of mammals in North America
Acorn Naturalist Resources for the trail and classroom
Nature Watch More resources for the trail and classroom
Project Wild Conservation education program focused on wildlife for K-12 educators and students
Project Learning Tree Award winning, multi-disciplinary environmental education program for educators and students in Pre-K through Grade 12
Links to Lynn's Suggested Reference Books for Tracking
It's fun - when you know what to look for...
Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Tracking Guide by Lynn Levine
A Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in North America by James Halfpenny
A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes
Mammal Tracks and Sign by Mark Elbroch
Bird Tracks and Sign by Mark Elbroch
Mammal Tracks and Sign of the Northeast by Diane Gibbons
Peterson Field Guides - Animal Tracks by Olaus J. Murie
Scat & Tracks of North America App available on iTunes
The Art of Tracking and Seeing by Paul Rezendes
Links to Lynn's Favorite Tracking Books for Children
Big Tracks, Little Tracks by Millicent Selsam
Crinkleroot's Book of Animal Tracking by Jim Arnoswky
Stories in Tracks and Sign by Diane Gibbons
Who Pooped in the Park (Series - one book for almost every National Park) by Gary Robson
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