Today, you will explore your site looking as always for tracks and sign, with your special attention finally on the tracks. Where will you find them?
We are going to look for track plates. Track plates are spots where the substrate will reliably show tracks for the animal we are trailing. This means that if there are no tracks there, we can be sure that the animal did not go that way.
River banks with moist, fine sand can be track plates for mice. River banks with moist, coarse sand can be track plates for otters, but they’re not track plates for smaller animals, because the substrate is too rough to show small tracks well. Importantly, in both situations, the track plates are only reliable until the river rises enough to wash the tracks away, which sometimes is just after a motor boat passes, throwing waves in its wake. So, some track plates only show very fresh tracks while others may hold tracks for … well, millions of years in the case of fossilized dinosaur tracks.
The quality of the substrate is key: wet snow can be a gigantic track plate for everybody from shrews to moose. Powdery snow, on the other hand, can be a track plate for nobody when it caves in on the tracks. Environmental conditions are another key: fine sand is wiped clean in a rainstorm.
For beginners, a track plate is in easy substrate, mud or stream banks for example, but the animal must be big enough for all beginners to see the track. In extremely difficult substrates, track plates are as variable as the ground is, and it takes a highly skilled tracker to discern the track plates in those places.
Track plates are what tell us whether to continue or to turn back. If there is a “track” in the track plate, we go on. If not, we go back, or we go elsewhere. The quality of a track plate is such that if there is no track there, we know that the animal did not go that way. In trailing, when you can’t see tracks but you can tell where the track plates are, then you simply go there.
So, for this exercise, you are searching for track plates in easy substrates.
Unless you’re surrounded by the right kind of snow or sand, then look for wet, soft ground. So, search your spot for wetlands, including vernal areas. Keep your eyes open, of course, for tracks in other places, because it can be hard to say where you might find moist, soft ground. When you return, locate those spots on today’s map. Please make a note, as best you can, of the qualities of the ground where you found tracks most easily (e.g., wet, dry, sandy, loamy, etc.). Don’t forget to include last time’s hazards on the map, too, if they are in the map view.
© Nate Harvey, 2015