February promises to be a snowy month. We all need activities to help us enjoy the winter. When taking a walk on trails, I like to watch for animal tracks. You can follow the tracks for awhile, on and off the trail, to see what the animal that passed by was doing. Was it tracking another animal, or did it have a run-in with a predator itself? Was it nibbling vegetation? Or was it marking territory? Of course you can also find tracks in mud or wet sand.
If you have a cell phone with you, you can take a photo of the tracks and the track pattern, and perhaps of the signs of animals you see. Paul Rezendes, Massachusetts tracker states, “The term sign refers to all the indications of an animal’s passage through an area, or of its living in an area….These include obvious things such as droppings or scat, remains of food, claw marks on trees or shrubs, and trails or corridors through the forest.” [Paul Rezendes, Tracking and the Art of Seeing, page 23. At home you can find the tracks and signs in a field guide. My favorite guide is Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendes. The book focuses on northeastern mammals. Rezendes is a professional tracker, photographer and wildlife consultant. All the photos in the book were taken by Rezendes himself. Besides field guides in book form there are also online resources, including several apps for your cell phone.
Rezendes recommends not just identifying a track, but also following it’s trail in order to understand more about the animal’s life. “Tracking an animal is opening the door to the life of that animal. It is an educational process, like learning how to read….Ultimately, tracking an animal makes us sensitive to it–a bond is formed, an intimacy develops. We begin to realize that what is happening to the animals and to the planet is actually happening to us.” [Rezendes, pg.15-16] Enjoy your walks in the snow, and let us know what you observe!
Many thanks to all flora/fauna reporters for the month of January. Please send reports by February 26, to be included in next month’s column. You can e-mail me at email@example.com, write to me at 7A Old Colony Drive, or call me at 692-3907.
Editors note: a tracking event will be held by Acton Conservation Trust on Feb 6th – sign up is required – more info on their website at https://actonconservationtrust.org/winter-wildlife-tracking-walk/
Late December Reports:
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. December report, Birds: the usual group of chickadees, tufted titmouse, chickadees, a pair of cardinals, many purple and house finches and goldfinch. “They like our choice of seed!” Also blue jays, an occasional dove, a small group of juncos, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers. Downies are still pecking at the house. A hawk flew overhead. A few turkeys in the yard. Mammals: bunny, squirrels, fox seen on trail camera, heard coyotes…. Several times we saw two deer in the back yard. They are rare for us, so we were delighted. They blended in so well with the woods.”
Tim and Diane Spera, Concord Rd. December 30. “I enjoy your informative commentary and wildlife reports on the Westford Conservation Trust website.” [Thank you, Tim! MH] “Recently we got a wildlife camera and set it up along our driveway….We first put it in that location when we noticed bear scat on the pavement. In night vision mode we have captured images of bear, deer, fox, rabbit and some unrecognizable smaller critters. Most intriguing have been the coyotes…. One coyote, sometimes two, walking in one direction and then 3 or 4 hours later heading back in the other direction. This is happening on average four or five times a week….I am attaching a video of two healthy looking coyotes just walking by.”
Sheila Walsh, at Forge Village. December 31, red-tailed hawk had a gray squirrel firmly in its grasp, sitting on a tree limb. [Sheila sent some excellent photos of this sighting-MH]
Tim Spera, Concord Rd. January 3, “I am attaching another video taken at 6:49 am of a bobcat taken from the same driveway location. About a minute before the bobcat arrived, an opossum wandered by in the same direction.” [Great shots, Tim-MH]
Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. January 10, four young deer walking in the woods behind our house. January 16, a lone coyote passing through yard, limping.
Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Dr. January 21, down to 9 degrees this morning! Nevertheless, two chickadees are singing their spring songs for the first time. I have been hearing the titmice singing their spring songs for a few weeks now. At the feeder, three chickadees, two titmice, one female cardinal, one hairy woodpecker, four goldfinches, one blue jay, four juncos, one female red-bellied woodpecker, one white-breasted nuthatch, one house finch. January 24, six blue jays at feeder.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. January report: chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, one pair of cardinals, lots of goldfinches, purple finch, house finch, several blue jays, juncos, a few doves, a red-bellied woodpecker and a downy woodpecker. Surprise: a flicker–haven’t seen one in a long time. Hawk seen flying in the woods out back– seen several times. Several wild turkeys, several gray squirrels, always chasing each other, several female deer in back yard, two foxes crossing the driveway at night.
Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization whose mission is the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out the Trust’s website at westfordconservationtrust.org, and visit us on Facebook.