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Not Just for Kids

In Search of Animal Tracks
A pair of eyes glowing under a bush. A shadowy creature galloping into the trees. A tail disappearing down a storm drain.

Most wild animals aren’t too keen on hanging out with humans. If we see anything at all, it’s an animal’s behind skedaddling away. Plus critters like opossums, skunks, foxes and raccoons forage for food at night, remaining safely hidden in dens during the day when their human neighbors are tromping around.

So how can you tell that wild animals have been visiting your yard? From what they leave behind, especially animal tracks. Seeing tracks in the winter after a snowfall is easy. In spring and summer, you’ll have to look a little harder. Look for muddy spots in the yard, especially after a steady rain.

The best place to find animal tracks is by the edge of a creek, river or swamp because animals are drawn to water for food and drink. If the bank is muddy or the sand is wet, pawprints will stay long after the critters have returned to their burrows and nests — at least until high tide washes the tracks away.

Carry a pencil and notebook so you can take notes on your discoveries.

What else do you see?
Has your critter left behind part of his last meal? Ack! What’s that on the bottom of your shoe? Animals often leave behind a pile of scat, or poop, but that’s a subject for another kids’ page! Many books on tracks include a picture of scat because each is so different that it helps in identification when tracks are incomplete.

No luck finding animal tracks in your backyard?
Here are a few great places for short hikes and hunting for animal tracks. Some nature centers even offer short, guided hikes looking for signs of animals. Call and find out.

  • Quiet Waters Park, Annapolis: 410-222-1777
  • Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, Port Republic: 410-535-5327
  • Calvert Cliffs State Park, Lusby
  • Flag Ponds, St. Leonard: 410-586-1477
  • Jug Bay, Lothian: 410-741-9330

Want to know more about identifying animal tracks?
Look up these two handy guides to start with:

  • Track Finder by Dorcas Miller
  • National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Animal Tracks of North America by John Farrand Jr.

Who’s been traipsing through my yard?
These are the tracks of some wild animals who might live in or near your neighboorhood. Can you guess which track belongs to which animal pictured to the left? For the Answers click here.

You’ll see lots of these animals leaping through trees. You’ll see lots of these animals leaping through trees. This animal shares similarities with a cat and a dog.
This swimmer has a hairless tail and partly webbed hind feet. This critter has a long, hairless tail. This animal hides behind a mask.
This critter hops. You might smell something. This animal loves the water.

You’ve probably seen these tracks before.
Which two household pets left these behind to throw off your investigation?

That’s right: these tracks belong to your everyday cat (top) and dog. Dog tracks are easy to identify because they are erratic. Imagine how a dog acts when it goes outside: It sniffs around from spot to spot, rarely walking in a straight line. You can also often see a dog’s nails in their prints. A cat’s claws usually don’t show in its prints because they are retracted.

Kids Calendar

Thursday, May 20
Spring for Frogs
Are frogs green? What do they sound like? Find out at the cypress swamp. 10-11am; 2-3pm @ Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, Gray’s Rd. off Sixes Rd., Prince Frederick. $3; rsvp: 410-535-5327.

Friday, May 21
Growing Up
Hear the story Ruby In Her Own Time about a little duckling who learns to swim and fly; then make a feathery duck puppet. 10am @ Barnes & Noble, Harbour Center, Solomon’s Island Rd., Annapolis. free: 410-573-1115.

Saturday, May 22
Young Salts
Kids ages 4-6 learn about sharks, fossils, lighthouses and creatures in our salty neighbor, the Chesapeake Bay. 10am-noon @ Calvert Marine Museum, off Rt. 2, Solomons. $8 w/member discount; rsvp: 410/326-2042 x 45 •

Tuesday, May 23
Woof! Woof !
Hear the story McDuff’s Favorite Things and make a pet collage of your favorite animals. 10am @ Barnes & Noble, Harbour Center, Solomon’s Island Rd., Annapolis. free: 410-573-1115.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 20, 2004 @ 12:47am.