March 7, 2010

Learn to be a track star

Upcoming workshops can help you spot clues that identify the critters sharing your world.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BRIDGTON – If someone offered to set up motion-detector cameras to reveal the myriad of critters that live and travel around your home, wouldn't you let them? Wouldn't it be fun to know?

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Bridie McGreavy leads a group into the Holt Preserve to identify animal tracks. From left are McGreavy, Leigh Hayes of Bridgton, Derby Cartmill of Casco and Miriam Gibely of Sweden.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Participants in a Lakes Environmental Association animal tracking seminar happen upon a series of pawprints in the snow.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

ANIMAL TRACKING

COME LEARN ABOUT animal tracking with the Lakes Environmental Association at 7 p.m. March 19 at 230 Main St., Bridgton. Snowshoes and flashlights will be available to borrow.

CONTRIBUTIONS OF $5 for programs are appreciated. Call 647-8580 to register.

There are definitely more than you think.

The truth is anyone can figure this out without high-tech gear or much trouble. All that's needed is some basic know-how, a little old-fashioned effort, and OK, some snow.

Snow may be a lot to ask for in some parts of Maine this year, but with a good two more weeks of winter (at least on the calendar) there's a fair chance another dusting will help display a landscape of lines, patterns and prints. And all those critters running around your home will leave tracks in the snow.

One upcoming seminar on this ancient practice of reading animal tracks at the Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton can help a novice tracker get started. It's not exactly straightforward, but once taught the basics, it's not so tough.

The association's environmental educator, Bridie McGreavy, compares it to translating a foreign language.

There are basic signs that help zero in on whether a track is from a large or small mammal or a wild or domestic animal. Then, as McGreavy demonstrated at a seminar at the association's Holt Pond Preserve, there are an infinite number of clues that tell the stories of these busy travelers.

She stopped at one set of small tracks and quickly measured the stride, determining the 13- to 14-inch stride meant it was a relatively small mammal.

It clearly was a member of the dog family because the shape of the pawprint resembled an "X."

Given there were four toe prints, McGreavy decided it was a fox. But determining whether red or gray required more thought. The investigation continued.

McGreavy got down and took a whiff to find out if it had a skunk or feline odor.

"I've done that with what I thought were dog tracks and had it be a bobcat because of the cat smell," she said.

The smell of the urine mark is a tell-tale sign in this case, since red foxes are known to leave a stinky scent, and this smell was, indeed, strong and pungent.

But there is one more clue that leaves McGreavy positive she's identified the critter.

"The fuzziness of the track is the clue, because red (ones) have fur on the bottom of their feet," she says, documenting it in her journal.

Leigh Hayes of Bridgton has joined McGreavy in the past and improved her ability at identifying raccoon, fox and squirrel tracks. But Hayes still is amazed at the methodical way McGreavy deduces the tracks she finds in the snow.

"She's good," said the Bridgton naturalist shaking her head.

This day, McGreavy walked with four novice trackers who included Hayes and studied about a half-dozen tracks. On all but the obvious deer track McGreavy had to lead the group through the identification process step by step.

On each track McGreavy considers where it is found, the size, gait, the measurement between the back legs and the front, and even the smell.

"It's like being with a forensic detective," said Derby Cartmill of Casco as he followed along through the woods.

McGreavy helps show clues are everywhere, once a woods walker begins looking for them. And the more clues that are found, the easier the task becomes.

Deer prints are everywhere in Maine, along with those dog-like coyote tracks. And more north, of course, the unmistakable deep dent of a moose print is easy to find.

But it's not uncommon to see black bear tracks, even in the winter, right in southern Maine. An enormous pie-shaped paw dent was recently seen in the snow crust in the woods of Kennebunkport.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Miriam Gibely of Sweden records clues to an animal track found in the Holt Preserve during a Lakes Environmental Association seminar last month. LEA has another animal tracking seminar scheduled for this month, at 7 p.m. March 19 in Bridgton.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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click image to enlarge

Environmental educator Bridie McGreavy points out significant clues as to what animal may have made a set of tracks.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Leigh Hayes of Bridgton and Miriam Gibely of Sweden use charts to identify tracks found at the Holt Preserve in Bridgton.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer



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