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Categorized | Outdoors

Tracks 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Take a walk in the sand and discover new sounds and sights. When walking along Lake Michigan’s Shoreline or an inland lake find a place where the sand sings to you. If too close to water’s edge or too far away, the land will not speak. Find the correct location between wet beach and dry sand where the sand sings. It requires the exact ratio of water to sand to create sound. You can force sound production in any location but when you walk the right path, the sand will speak freely in a narrow band of beach.

It is up to you to interpret what singing sand has to say. Use your imagination and include family members or friends to discuss meaning. Examine scientific details of the sound creation or just have fun with the phenomenon.

While enjoying time on the beach with sun, waves, color, and ever changing surroundings, begin exploring your own tracks. It will be a great introduction into the world of animal tracking. Shed shoes and walk in areas covered and uncovered by lapping waves. You will have little time to examine your tracks before they are erased by the next oncoming wave. Step inland from wave-covered areas where track details will remain longer. Notice your foot print details. Dry sand does not produce good track detail.

In damp sand, what parts of your print show detail? Are parts of your foot missing? Are toes evenly spaced? Are toes of equal length or show equal impression? Compare your print with those of others. Can you recognize your footprint from that of friends? Do you walk with more or less pressure on your heel or ball of foot? Is there greater imprint pressure along the side of the print? Zig-zag and see if print impressions change.

Once you notice human foot print details of depth, shifting directions, size, and speed of movement, one can make better sense of animal tracks.

Animal size is one of the first things that can be determined but one can be fooled. Karen and I were portaging a canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota when we encountered a moose track that was almost a foot long and six inches wide. This is about double the normal size. Had we discovered the “Big Foot” of the moose population? No. The moose was walking in mud and the print expanded in the soft mud. I have done the same with my footprints in light snow where my tracks appeared twice normal size.

If animals are moving in groups, recognize heavier animals from lighter animals by the depth of imprints if the ground is soft enough to hold imprints. Exploring animal prints on wet shorelines of lakes or streams helps. Tracking on fallen leaves through the forest is nearly impossible.

What can be followed through the forest are animal paths.  Animals often use the same path and create a trail just wide enough for their movement. When I walk deer paths, I am amazed how narrow they are and how low branches hang. It seems the deer must be very short. The narrowness seems too close for a buck to travel without snagging antlers. Along the trail, I discover this is not true because buck antler scrapes are evident on small trees.

Bucks stop to scrape velvet from antlers as blood vessels in the skin covering begin to die and itch. They also battle with small saplings to make noise to announce breeding territory. It is easy to find scrapes when one follows a deer trail. I find some scrapes that are many years old. When a tree is not damaged too severely, it grows in diameter and the deer scrape scars grow with the tree bark. When people carve initials in aspen bark, the initial scars grow as the tree grows. Take time to look for tracks and signs of animals.

Begin tracking discoveries with your own tracks along beautiful lake or stream shores and then discover nature niche nuances created by animal movements. One will never become bored with wild outdoor wonders. Fall tracking practice will lead to fun winter snow adventures with mice to large mammals and birds.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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