The track detective at work

Just the other day, something rare and magical happened at the Arboretum: my animal

_ASR2447 Footprints in snow email

photo by Ann Rohlfing

track program coincided with a snowfall. Animal tracks patterned the forest floor, much to the delight of the girl scouts who accompanied me on a woodland walk.

The snow was crisscrossed with the usual suspects: deer tracks, some raccoon prints by the stream, and even the dainty indentation of fox paws over by Nancy’s meadow. Less easily identifiable were myriad sets of small, puzzling tracks among the trees.  I leafed through my track guide, trying unsuccessfully to find a match. The scout leader gave her verdict: skunk.

Initially, I was charmed by the idea of hundreds of skunks romping through the forest. Common sense quickly took over. Although not true hibernators, skunks den up for most of the winter and would be unlikely to leave their dens in snowy weather. And while skunks do live at the Arboretum, hundreds of skunks probably do not.

Tracking takes skill. Unlike the pictures in a track guide, real tracks are often eroded, melted, mushed, trampled, or overlaid with other tracks. Snow melts, mud oozes, and rain falls. Good trackers know that experience, intuition, and common sense are more reliable than any guide.

I am far from an expert tracker but do have enough deductive power to ask this question: what small, rodenty animal thrives in high numbers among the pervasive oaks and hickory trees of the Arboretum? Skunks, move aside. This track detective has cracked the case of the grey squirrel.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

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