Sunday, September 18, 2005

Intractable Tracks

Track in soft, sandy soil that has been sifted and piled
for the taking by the topsoil harvesters.

When the birds have mostly gone I start to long for the snow, and this is why. I found these tracks around the edge and little up the pile of sifted topsoil in the field--a handful of individual tracks, no trail, in the soft spots, surrounded by packed dirt too hard to take an impression from a small animal. When it's not frozen, snow doesn't always deliver a readable track, but at least it delivers a trail, which is enormously helpful in the identification of a track. Under good conditions, a trail in the snow tells a whole story. Last winter I got to see the maker of an excellent trail, and was later able to reconstruct the story of the maker's evening: On the Trail of the Fox.

The rule is marked in centimetres.

I think this is the track of Felis catus But look at the claw marks in the print!?! Yes, but this track is all alone (or in one case paired) in very soft soil, walking horizontally on a vertical incline. I think that the claws show because the animal was slipping a little, or feeling in danger of doing so. This may also explain the size of the track--rather large for a domestic cat. On the other hand, I have noticed an enormous range in the sizes of cat tracks. This may be a big-foot cat, perhaps offspring of the biggest-foot cat who used to lurk around here until he made an error on the road last year. He was also a very big cat altogether, but not all big-foot cats are.

The track is very clearly of the four-toed variety, around here generally signifying a member of the cat or dog family. The roundness and placement of the toes relative to the heel pad suggests cat--nothing about the appearance of the track says "dog" to me, in spite of the claws showing. What about Lynx rufus (bobcat)? Too heavy an animal to have left so few tracks in the medium, I think. An assumption that also eliminates Lynx Canadensis (lynx).

The range map at the link I've provided also suggests that one wouldn't find lynx here, but I believe I did find lynx tracks and other spoor a couple of years ago. I'm not sure though. The "other spoor" was very suggestive of wild cat--a patch in the cedar bush covered in shreds of bark, scratch marks on the surrounding tree trunks, and a liberal splashing of urine--but not necessarily lynx. The tracks were not clearly associated with the marking, and were in very deep, soft snow, a medium with problems of its own. But we're close enough here to the southern edge of the range that it's a possibility. But not for the present tracks.

So, domestic cat, I think. But I long for snow....


Anonymous said...

Hmmm...good print - too bad there weren't more! Definitely looks like cat, though. I think bobcat tracks are always slightly askew, or slanted, so that if you drew a grid over the pawprint it would appear a little cockeyed.
When the snow flies you'll be in tracking heaven! Soon enough.

Pamela Martin said...

Interesting about the bobcat tracks--I'll watch for this. I know that there is a good chance that there are bobcats around here, though I have never found any definitive sign.

Anonymous said...

tracking is one of the things I like most about winter, as all those prints have a story to be explored.. an interesting read Pamela, enjoyed your blog & I'll be back :)