So in general tracking requires you to notice things that are out of place or are creating patterns. A depression in the Earth, grass shinning or dull, sticks broken, sharp angles, and recurring patterns. As you notice from the pictures above -especially the deer prints- tracks can come in different shapes even from the same species.
Here are some general tips for tracking:
- Try and keep tracks between you and the Sun. Lighting can make a HUGE difference in how you see tracks.
- Cat tracks tend to be rounder than dogs and rarely show claws.
- Canine tracks tend to be oval in shape and often show claws.
- Deer tracks tend to look heart shaped and have a pointed end.
- Birds that live and hunt mostly on the ground will usually walk, while birds that hunt and live in the trees more will usually hop.
You might notice that I used the terms "usually" and "tend" in these tips. There are trends in tracking, and nature provides us with a wide range of variety. There are some other tips you can use especially when you are just beginning to spot tracks:
- Mud provides a great medium for tracks.
- So does snow.
- If you live in a area with sand, you can find many more tracks than those of us in wooded areas.
- Bodies of water are great areas to look for tracks-animals need water.
- Animals have routines just like us and tend to take the same trails on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
A fun game to play with kids around where you live is to see if you can determine whose shoes left what tracks around your house. Using shoes is great because so many of them have unique patterns on the bottoms. Play around with making tracks in different soils and mediums.
Websites to visit for tracks:
http://www.bear-tracker.com/ A website by a tracking friend of mine here in California.
http://42explore.com/animaltracks.htm A good site with several good links.
Another sign that animals have been around is that they leave scat. Scat is the scientific term for poop. So to follow that fact, I am going to try and answer the question one of my camp staff asked me years ago: "Why is poop brown"? So here we go:
Scientists have been pondering the question "why is poop brown" for centuries and still have not quite figured out why. As it turns out, and you may have noticed, not all scat is brown. Sometimes scat can be green, yellow or nearly black. On occasion there are pieces of plant matter, fur, bones, etc in it too. We are talking about animal scat here, not human.
Now in people, our poop, you could call it scat if you want, is mostly shades of brown or yellow, but other colors can occur as well. I found two explanations of why scat is brownish in color. The first is that digestion is aided by bile and when bile is metabolized by bacteria in the large intestines, a byproduct called stercoblin is created, which gives poop a brown color. The second reason says that dead blood cells release iron that is then converted into bilirubin which gives our poop a brown color.
Now in people we can also have multi-colored poop. Some illnesses in babies gives them green or even blue-green poop. I found out on a backpacking trip with teenage boys, that freeze dried cobbler turns poop a very odd color of green. The kids were a little freaked out at first! In the front country, another source of blue poop in children is more innocent: it can come from eating a concentrated source of blue food coloring such as ice cream. Intense red food coloring can produce bright red poop. Sometimes brightly colored foods pass through the gut almost unchanged, and poop may be speckled with bright red fragments such as pimentos, or that favorite, bright yellow kernels of corn.