Deneen found this in the wood pile. A mouse, or possible vole’s nest made almost entirely of snake skins. I have never seen this before. Certain birds will use a snake skin or two in their nests and I would not have been surprised to see a few snake skins in a mouse nest, this many is something else. The wood piles here do tend to be full of snake sheds in the summer so even though the wood pile was surrounded by a field full of other materials, these must have been the most convenient.
Please let me know if you have ever seen this before. Pictures are welcome.
Coyote tracks are very common where I live. So are dog tracks, red and grey fox, bobcat and others that could be confused with coyote. Learning the difference between them is an important basic distinction of wildlife tracking.
Above are both the front and hind track of a coyote in soft mud. The depth and softness of the substrate will demand close scrutiny. Here are some things to look for.
Four toes– Raccoons and fisher have 5. Look hard because one of them is smaller and sometimes does not show clearly in the fisher. All canines and felines have 4. Some domestic animals may have extras which usually look weird and stand out.
Symmetry– Obvious symmetry in both front and hind tracks. Felines have asymmetrical feet, most evident in the fronts. Domestic dogs breeding has led to crooked toes and claws in most individuals.
Negative space– I went to art school and was trained to view negative space as just as important as the “subject”. If the subject is the pads, pay equal attention to the space in between them. In canines, coyotes in particular, one can draw an X with its center in the middle of the track and it will not encounter any pads. The asymmetry of feline tracks means this is not possible. This phenomenon will also sometimes create a pyramid of material in the center of the track. That is present here in these pictures.
Claws– on any but the thinnest substrate the coyote’s claws will leave marks. They are small, narrow, strait, pointed and face strait ahead. The claws of the outer toes often are so close to the inner toes they are barely visible and the inner toes claws are close together and parallel. In these images the depth of the mud caused them to look larger and stick out more than usual especially on the front foot. This can be tricky and takes looking at many tracks to be comfortable with.
“Heel Pad”– It isn’t actually the heel, its the metacarpal pad on the front and metatarsal pad on the hind but, who’s counting. On coyotes the front heel pad is a wedge shaped trapezoid narrower to the front. The hind feet often show just a round dimple in the earth. Again in this example the depth of mud distorts some portions and shows more detail in others. The outer 2 toes of the front foot for example have pinched the mud up around the front edge of the heel pad.
Clarity– Red fox have very furry feet, the inside edges of the toe and heel pad are often indistinct. Coyote, bobcat and grey fox have very distinct pads so if the substrate is capable of capturing distinct edges and they are not visible consider red fox.
Size– Coyotes front feet are always larger than their hinds. Domestic dogs are not always so, they may be the same or the rears could be larger. There are parameters for coyote track size, several good books list these things. I find measuring to be misleading because of the considerable overlap with other animals and the effect of mud and snow on the size of the track. If one looks hard and often, the need for a ruler should disappear. I did use one here to give you some idea of scale and so I can try to keep track of individual animals in my area. Sharing photos does create a need for a scale such as a ruler.
Below are close ups of the individual tracks.
There are still more details to identifying coyote tracks which I will omit here for the sake of sanity. Looking at tracks, drawing them, looking at animal’s feet, learning their habits and way of life are what it takes to go deeper into wildlife tracking. The animal who made these tracks is my neighbor, I have known its family for generations, seen its parents in the woods, my family has listened to its family howl at night. Getting to know the wildlife around you is another way to go deeper.
The first day of spring brought me great tracking snow. I have been out often over the last few days and have a back log of great tracking to share with you. For now I will share something that happened to me today.
As I was walking up an old road in the woods I startled this Coopers Hawk out of the bush along the road and onto this tree branch. It had in its talons a chipmunk.
Right on the side of the road, just feet from me where the tracks of the capture. If you look carefully you can see Chippy’s tracks going from the middle left toward the rock on upper right as well as the wing and tail impressions of the hawk and some very fresh blood.
Above is some plucked fur on the snow and below the perch that I drove the hawk from as it fed. There is fur and some meat present.
I identified it as a Coopers by the size (too big to be a Sharpy), the slate grey color and rusty banded breast, rounded tail tip and darker cap that can be seen in the picture below.
Every time a go out with no agenda other than curiosity I am rewarded with something amazing. It wasn’t always like that and what I find is not always so dramatic as a hawk with its prey. The time I have spent looking seems to have broadened my idea of what is amazing and taught me where to look. In this case I was in the right place at the right time. Most days, anywhere but the couch turns out to be the right place at the right time.
Woke up the other day to these wonderful tracks outside the house. A skunk, no doubt looking for a mate, galloped down the path from the driveway past the basement door. I can tell its a lope because to start with the track pattern is in a broken rhythm, there is a space between each set of four. The next thing to look for is where the front and hind feet fall in relation to each other. Above the tracks of the hind feet both land past the tracks of the front feet. In the below photo one hind foot does not land past both front feet but beside it. That is a lope.
What does it matter? Well it is reflection of how the animal is moving and possibly its state of urgency. Often in tracking information can be hard to come by and any more of it is welcome.
March 9 we are leading a free tracking walk at White Memorial Nature Center in Litchfield CT. Come learn more about tracking with us.
I programed the wrong year into my camera trap, these picture where from earlier this month. I left the trap out at the same spot on the old access road across the street from the yurt. Only these deer where captured with the exception of the hind leg of some furry creature so obscure it was not worth posting. Many animal left tracks with yards of the back of the camera and I scared a whole flock of Wild Turkeys when I rushed out to check it tonight.
We finally set up the camera trap here in Northfield. Deneen and I put it out near one of her sit spots. It is pointed at a well used trail but I poo pooed the spot because the trigger is slow and animals (and people) moving down a trail often do not get captured in the image. Well as you can see I was wrong. Great shots of a coyote, deer and in the last picture, the tail end of a bobcat.