Thursday, September 29, 2005

By Their Feet You Shall Know Them

Last week I posted some tracks I had found (Intractable Tracks). Although claws showed very clearly in the prints, I determined that they were cat, domestic cat. Then the day before yesterday I found the tracks below.

No claws, and yet dog. In fact, very nice, big coyote front foot print. Notice the shape of the heel pad, and the openness of the foot. The trail left was not particularly coyote-ish, front and back feet printing separately, but typical of a coyote ambling along. Big? The tracks were about 3 inches long. Coyotes around here can be very big--unlike the coyotes represented in most of your basic track field guides. Can I ever be sure that a canid print is not a domestic dog print? No--dogs come in every shape and size. What I like best is to find tracks, follow them along until I find a scat, or a kill site, or something else to add to the evidence. When the scat is composed of apple or mouse hair, I assume coyote. When it is kibble, I assume dog. But it's easy to imagine situations where this will trip me up. Coyote steals kibble or dog with a fondness for apples or mice.

There are also a couple of generalizations I rely on (tentatively). There is a dog that sometimes runs loose where I walk, and I have observed that she will follow my tracks exactly (need snow for this). I have also observed tracks (again in snow) that showed an animal hesitating even to cross a trail left by me.

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