I love the art of tracking, especially in the winter since the snow easily captures these tangible signs of the animals that were there. We are so lucky to be in snow country where a fresh snow is like a canvas and the tracks upon it tell the stories of the animal’s movement on the land - including our own. Reading tracks is like reading the language of the land.
Just like learning any new language it takes time, practice, and patience. When you learn to play a new musical instrument, you don’t suddenly play the whole song, you need to start by learning the notes and practicing scales. It’s the same with tracking, the more effort and time you put into learning to read animal tracks the better you will become not only identifying different tracks, but also learning to read the mood and behaviour of the animal that made them.
When I find a set of tracks, I appreciate first, pausing to bend down and be with the track. I allow myself to be with my various senses and to have curiosity about the animal who made them and the habitat that I find myself in. I also look for any other clues that might be around such as signs of where the animal might have been eating or even notice if their home is nearby.
Tracking slows me down and opens me up to be present on the land. Sometimes to help give me a sense of who made the track, with my imagination I form an air sculpture with my hands where I imagine the size and shape of the animal that made the tracks. To make an imaginary air sculpture, I start forming and sculpting the animal at the tracks in the snow themselves. Then I start working my way up imagining the size and shape of the animal.
Sometimes it’s fun to look at the tracks and notice where they come from and where they are going; maybe to even follow them as long as you know where you are and are safe. As you get better at tracking you might even start noticing how old the tracks are by the snow conditions. A skilled tracker is aware of the weather and their surroundings and other context clues of what animal might have made the tracks and when they might have made them.
My next installment will be all about scat and another important sign and piece of the tracking puzzle.
- Here is a fun blog from the Nature Conservancy of Canada about tracking. It includes a printable tracking sheet. https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/blog/how-tracking-animals-leaves-a.html#.YdiHZf7MI2w
My favourite go to books for winter tracking resources are: (I prefer referring to books)
- Stokes Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald W Stokes
- Tracking and the Art of Seeing How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign by Paul Rezendes
- Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks