As mentioned in previous columns, learning to identify animal tracks is a fun exercise for all ages and a great way to hone your observation skills. Most naturalists start out tracking in winter after the snow falls. Following tracks in that situation is relatively easy, and much can be learned about the nocturnal animals that we seldom see by reading their stories in the snow.Opportunities to track in the snow are somewhat limited here on Long Island. But the big sandbox we call the beach—bay or ocean—is also a good place for beginners to learn and practice the trade. Try visiting the beach after a rain, or focus on the edges of the intertidal zone where the moist sand makes great imprints.
Many of the creatures on the beach are birds, but the variety found there is enough to make it interesting. Here are some clues and some notes on this week’s tracks:
#1. This unusual track went out and back from the ocean and was photographed during the winter. The deep claw marks reveal five toes on each foot, but there is no foot impression visible other than the claws. Sand from the claws is thrown out to the sides as this animal moves forward. As it reached the upper beach and dry, softer sand, it was apparent that it drags its body as it moves, leaving a shallow, 14-inch-wide trough in the sand. Who am I?
#2. This track had a similar overall pattern to #1 (12 inches wide), but lacked any claw marks. Instead, the footprint impressions were circular depressions approximately two inches in diameter and spaced 12 inches apart on each side of the track. Who am I?
#3. It didn’t take long—even for an inexperienced tracker—to locate the slow moving and curious maker of the tracks in #2.
If you’d like to learn more about tracking in sand, reading wildlife sign in general, and some interesting things about the famous Walking Dunes of Napeague, join me for one or two day field trips this weekend. Details are at www.longislandnature.org
#1: Seal (Harp Seal to be exact).
#2 & #3: Little Kid in Crawling Mode (Ariel Ruggerio to be exact)