Sunday, February 3, 2013

Footprints in the snow

Feeling cooped up this winter? Take a walk outside and become a nature detective. Looking for signs of animal activity, like tracks, can be fun year-round, but can be especially exciting in the winter.  Just head outside and look for tracks in the snow, then follow them and see where they lead. You might find out where an animal is spending the winter or what the animal has been eating, or the trail might just take you for a long, pretty walk in the woods. Deer, rabbits, squirrels and fox are just a few examples of critters whose tracks you may come across on your adventures out in the snow. You can learn a lot about wildlife in your own backyard or favorite hiking place.  
Before you go out, you might want to gather some supplies that might come in handy. Things like a field guide, notebook, pencil, ruler and camera are helpful tools to identify the tracks you see. 
 Tips for identifying tracks:
  1. Look at the overall size and shape of the track. Draw a picture of it in your notebook or take a photo of the track with a ruler next to it for reference. Is the track circular in shape or more long and oval? Is there only one track or are there multiple tracks? If there are multiple tracks, what does the pattern look like?
  2. Look at the details of the track. How many toes does the track have? Do you see any toenail marks or toe pads? Perhaps the footprint looks like hooves? Make notes about your observation in your notebook.
  3. Observe what kind of habitat you found the tracks in. Take note of what the weather is like. By following the tracks, did you discover anything interesting? A nest? A feeding site? Different tracks?
  4. Have fun! Even if you don’t know exactly what kind of animal tracks you have found, enjoy guessing and seeing what other clues the tracks lead you to!
 There are a lot of books and online resources to get you started or to hone your track-identifying skills. A field guide is always a great place to start.
See if you know your animal tracks – take the online tracks quiz.
How can you help ensure that there are wildlife and trails to follow?
·         Buy a wildlife habitat license plate.
·         Buy a Living Resources wildlife patch.
·         Simply make a tax deductible donation.
With increased funding to the Nongame Wildlife Fund, we can continue our efforts to conserve Michigan’s wildlife. Join us in protecting the natural, wild and wonderful things that make MiNature.