In one of my favorite films, Joe vs. the Volcano, Meg Ryan explains to Tom Hanks that if she had a boat (she is sailing one at the time, but it isn't hers) she would sail "away from the things of man!" That line always resonated with me, because I love our natural world!
One of the real joys of getting out in nature is to see the incredible variety of different plants and animals that share our world with us. And while seeing the wild critters themselves is always fun, it often takes a keen eye. So I am always amazed at the traces of them you can find, even after they have crept away, unseen or unnoticed, to other haunts!
Here are some different kinds of animal tracks. How many of them do you recognize? How many of them have you ever seen in the wild? Where do you think would you be most likely to see them? Soft dirt or sand? Fresh snow? Muddy banks? Fresh concrete? (Just kidding!) The answers are printed upside down at the bottom of the page. No cheating now!
If you study these animal markings carefully, you will begin to notice common elements. Things like the length of the foot, the number and arrangement of toes (front and rear may be different), and the nails' length becomes apparent. For example, it's often surprisingly easy to tell the prints of a grizzly from a black bear by the nearly linear arrangement of the toes and the claws' length. Of course, it also helps if you know what kinds of animals are native to your area. It's easy to tell a fox from a coyote paw print, for example, if only one lives in your region. Then again, someone may have taken their dog for a walk. A cigarette butt near a poo pile is a dead giveaway, as are bits of a candy wrapper or a slipper embedded in the pile. Excellent work, Watson! Sherlock Holmes would be proud!
If you see a footprint in the wild that you don't recognize, remember to pull out your phone and take a snapshot to puzzle or amaze your friends later. (Do the same when you see an herb or flower you want to look up later!) This leads us, finally, to a quick hint on track #13: if this is what you see on your phone screen, turn around quick! That bear is behind you!