Sunday, December 9, 2012

Backyard Animal Tracks: A Lesson In Assumption

Seeing snow on the ground, first thing in the morning, always brings a smile to my face.

I woke up before my daughter this morning, which is a feat in and of itself.  This means that I had plenty of time to do my own thing.  I thought about watching some "grown up" tv... you know, like an action flick or a thriller.  Something I don't normally have the chance to do, since I don't want my 4 year old to have nightmares.

In the end, though, I decided that what I really wanted to do was play Ultimate Animal Tracker Detective.  Not exactly something I'm good at, but it's fun, and that's what really matters.

Since it snowed the evening before, I had the opportunity to see what the critters living in the area had been up to.  Standing on the back porch, I saw a lot of squirrel tracks.

This is good.  

I know squirrels by now, so I had a fair shot at having my visions of animal tracker grandeur become a reality.  I ran out with my camera to take pictures.  There was a really nice example of the little guy moving in one direction, then quickly turning and re-tracing his path.

The line of tracks goes diagonally up and left, then back down and to the right.
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As I stared at the photo, however, I realized that I was going to have to give up my aspirations toward becoming a great and magnificent tracker.Why?

Because I wasn't looking at squirrel tracks at all!  

I made an assumption due to what is common in my yard, and ran with it.  My assumption, however, was wrong.


What I was actually looking at were rabbit tracks.  Here's a close-up of a track a bit further down the trail.

two small impressions, one after the other, then two large impressions, side by side.
He was moving to the right in this photo.

Unlike squirrels, who have more of a squished up look to their tracks, rabbit tracks are y-shaped.  While moving, rabbits land with their hind feet first, and their front feet last, one foot behind the other.

I had a mission.

Since I made the mistake of assuming I had found squirrel tracks, I decided I had to rectify this infraction by finding real squirrel tracks.  I'd search, therefore, until I found them.

Yeah... I have a lot of dumb ideas.

My yard, which was once a pristine white with no breaks except rabbit tracks is now filled with boot tracks. The good news?

squished up print - large hind feet first, smaller front paws behind and "inside" the larger two.
Again, this photo is showing movement to the right.

It's a rather cruddy photo, but I finally found some squirrel tracks along the edge of the fenced area of my backyard, and ended at the base of a tree.

Go, me!!!

While not a perfect image, it gives you an idea of the difference in their tracks.  The bounding movement of a squirrel produces a rather squished up track, as the front and back paws land close together.  Sometimes the tracks look like this, but other times, the tracks will actually come together as a near perfect line of four paws.

That's the look I was hoping to give you.

Oh, well... Never say Never!  I'll be sure to post that particular track when I find it in the future.

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