Sunday, January 7 was a perfect day for a field trip and the subject was animal tracking in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. More than 25 interested hikers took advantage of a fresh fallen snow and mild temperatures to join leader UW Professor and wildlife ecologist David Drake as they looked for tracks in the snow and other signs of the winter movement of the many species of animals in the Preserve. David discussed the habits of coyotes, foxes and other mammals in the winter and ways of detecting their activities otherwise not available in the other seasons. As the hikers progressed toward the lake, they were treated to owl sightings while looking for evidence of the movement and habits of foxes and coyotes and other small mammals within the Preserve. He described the various programs within UW that trap, tag and release animals for habitat research and showed the group the “bait piles” and snares used by the researchers. One treat was the opportunity to see a beaver tail up close, a sight that many, including the kids in attendance, had never experienced.
Along the way, David explained how to determine whether animal tracks belong to cats, e.g. bobcats – hint – cats retract claws in the snow, most other mammals do not. And how to tell if the tracks belong to dogs or coyotes – hint – dogs wander and generally have a splayed print, coyotes travel in a straight line to conserve energy. Please visit Prof Drake's Urban Wildlife website to learn more about this fascinating project and how YOU can get started supporting wildlife in your backyard.
David sprinkled stories of Aldo Leopold as he described how to keep notes about nature, whether it includes animal sightings or conditions encountered when hiking. When the field trip was finished, the group was chilled but totally satisfied, as everyone felt that the take-away was well worth the effort on this wonderful day in the Preserve. Paul Quinlan and Peter Fisher were the field trip hosts of the Friends. Peter also provided all photos.