Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bolton Bobcat - 2/27/09

Susan was out in the Wilder bobcat's territory yesterday and came across this downed tree with the cat's tracks running the full length. Not far away, on a trail that the bobcat seems to use regularly, I came across what could be a scratching post. Some of us trackers have had discussions about posts in the past, and I admit it's very easy to call an antler rub a scratching post, so I reserve the right to flip-flop on this. However, if anyone is ever up for a trek back in those woods, I'd be happy to point this out and get someone else's take on it. The shaggy, scraped-up section starts at about 14 inches or so off the ground, and the tree is alive. (I neglected to note the type of tree, which I'll check next time I'm in there.)

On today's outing with my brother and our three dogs, we had an excellent fox sighting in an open field. The animal sat perfectly still for the longest time - while we tried to figure out what we were seeing - and then loped off across the field to the woods. It seemed quite unconcerned about us or the dogs (who didn't even notice it). I think the fox had been hunting, perhaps waiting for a mouse or meadow vole. We were sorry to have caused it to miss a meal.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Vaughn Hills mystery print

Donna discovered this print at the northeast corner of the beaver pond at Vaughn Hills on Thursday 2/26. Substrate was frozen granular snow, with a dusting of powder on top.  Many fallen pine branches (none larger than 2” in diameter) peppered the area. The surrounding area was criss-crossed with a variety of tracks, none of which definitively led to or away from this print.



Cat vs. Gray Fox

I thought I'd respond to Vivian's off-blog comment, relating to Quabbin
2/25/09. She felt that photo #2 was more consistent with gray fox
because the metacarpal (palm) pad seemed small relative to toe area, and
because of the large negative space between toes and palm pad.

Those observations are indeed what make me consider gray fox. I have to
admit here that I have very little experience tracking gray fox, but
look at the photo above. This was from a trail of bobcat tracks seen on
2/7/09, in which some tracks showed the classic robust trapezoidal palm
pad and others, like the one above, had a more delicate looking palm
pad. This track really isn't very different from photo #2 on 2/25/09.

That said, Vivian could be right. Maybe it is gray fox. I go back and
forth on this. Tracking conditions were not ideal that day, and I
couldn't find any prints in that trail of small, cat-like tracks that I
could hang my hat on. So the answer is that you often cannot decide
based on one track....unless you have a beautiful, crisp, unambiguous print.

If you are new to tracking, a good exercise would be to spend a lot of
time tracking one species, observing how the tracks look in different
substrates (wet snow, powdery snow, deep snow, shallow snow, mud, sand),
and how fresh tracks look relative to old ones. Observe how tracks vary
from one to the next, within the same trail, in the same substrate, and
the same exposure to weather. Sometimes all the pads register clearly,
sometimes certain pads register partially or not at all.

Follow a single animal through the woods, where tracks are protected by
the forest canopy from sun and wind, and then out onto an open field,
where prints are exposed to the elements. Observe how quickly tracks
age when more exposed, and how they can even change to look like those
of a different species. You might see interesting phenomena, such as
nice coyote tracks in side trot (a 2-2 pattern) in the woods suddenly
morphing into 2-2 bounding fisher tracks when they emerge onto a wind
swept field.

And, while you're doing all this, think about how difficult it is to age
tracks, and whether you believe those who think they can age them down
to the hour, basing all sorts of interesting conclusions about animal
behavior on that "data".

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quabbin 2/25/09

Janet went to retrieve camera, which, unfortunately, had no photos of
animals other than an unbecoming view of a deer's back end. I found no
fresh moose sign on the mountain in the vicinity of the camera. I did
find nice moose tracks at a lower elevation. See photo above.

I spent a lot of time, stupidly perhaps, on the icy ledges (continuing
south of where we turned around last time), scrabbling around in rather
unflattering positions, in order to avoid becoming a distant thud on the
ground below. I did find 3 porcupine dens. The first was an old
abandoned one in a large hollow snag, while the other two were side by
side in crevices in the ledges. At least one of those was occupied.
The crevice was not very deep and I could easily see the tail quills
glistening out at me in the sunlight. I wish I had paused to take a
photo, but the animal, alternately shifting around and raising its tail
at me, was obviously troubled by my presence, and I was troubled by the
sharp dropoff of the icy ledge behind me.

I examined the trees in the area and noticed that there were several
hemlocks with signs of porcupine feeding on the bark only a foot or so
off the ground. Some of these trees were dead or dying. So the
porcupine is a forest manager much like the beaver, but on a far smaller
scale. Also, some hemlocks near the dens had been heavily browsed over
the years, giving them a bonsai appearance, while neighboring hemlocks
were untouched. Why?

On the way back down the mountain I picked up an adult bobcat's trail
and decided to follow it all the way down. Sure enough, I came to an
area where a trail of small cat-like tracks crossed the trail of larger
cat tracks, just like we found last time. I found no urine marking at
all. So what are those smaller tracks? The choices are:

1. Subadult bobcat still hanging out in Mom's (the large tracks)
territory. Young disperse anywhere from age 6 mos to 2 yrs.(Incidently,
male bobcats sometimes don't reach adult size until 3.5 years, and
females until 2.5 years.)
2. Small female and male thinking about mating (March is the typical time)
3. Domestic cat bold enough to prowl around bobcat's territory.
4. Gray fox (small tracks) and adult bobcat just happening to cross

If this was a soon to mate male-female pair, I would expect some sign
that at least one of them was turned on (urine spraying). If it was a
house cat, I'd expect some sign of the bobcat exerting territorial
rights (urine marking again). The fact that the two animals appeared to
be indifferent to each other's presence leads me to think that the
smaller one has to be a juvenile bobcat or a gray fox. Look at the
photos: which do you think? NONE of the small tracks had claw marks,
and some of them did have a leading I guess I'm back to
favoring juvenile bobcat....But I reserve the right to change my mind
yet again, should we return to the area and find clearer tracks.

As I followed the adult cat down the mountain, the tracks brought me
right back to that fallen tree whose exposed root system had attracted
the cat last time. Remember that? This is where we all paused to admire
the beauty, and where some of us got wet as we crossed the stream. This
is where I dropped my mittens in the mud last time. I even found the
hand warmer that I had lost! So this is a place the cat frequents, not
just a random passage. Maybe a good spot for the camera.

Two Owls, a Cross Fisher, and a Lazy Fox

Lars reports a few sightings.  Yesterday, I was crossing the ice of the swamp of the northern section of Delaney Complex between Finn Rd and Taylor Rd in Stow/Bolton.  I roused a pair of great horned owls on the southern edge of a pine stand jutting into the pond.  I followed as they took flight and saw them three times. Then they doubled back to the original location.  Nesting pair?  Online owl reports are possible at

On Feb 17, I was lucky to see and photograph a running fisher.  I saw him running (loping) across the woods as I parked to go into Heath Hen Meadow conservation land on Boxboro Rd in Stow before 8 AM.  As the fisher came up to the snow bank, he looked both ways before crossing!  I got four frames and photoshopped them together.  The BFI dumpster has been included for scale.  Male, female?

Finally, I found a body print of what I presume to be a sitting fox. This was near the eastern edge of Marble Hill/Stow off Taylor Rd. His trail had a narrow, direct-register line, then broke to a 2-2 rear foot-leading pattern. Body print and gait included.

Monday, February 23, 2009

tracking quiz

Who made those cute little tracks? Which is hind and which is front
track? What is the gait?

Colorado adventure

I see that the pics appeared, but not the text of Scott's message. Here
is the text:

Janet / Bob - here are a couple of interesting shots from our ski up and
down New York Mountain, just south of Eagle, Colorado, March of 2003.
The dead and buried "whatever" was at about 9,500 feet, and the slashes
in the tree were all around it. The tracks were at about 10,500 feet,
or several miles above the kill. I attached one more picture in here
just for good measure, to show you what we skied up, then down. I think
the summit is close to 13,000.



[Fwd: Pictures from Colorado]

I (Janet) am attempting to forward a message with photos to this blog.
I don't know if the photos and message will actually appear. If they
don't, I'll find a way to get them posted later.

Last night, we were catching up with our friend Scott, when he mentioned
this carcass he had found several years ago while skiing. The only info
he mentioned to us, other than what he says in the email, is that
several trees in the immediate vicinity of the carcass had scratches on
them similar to those on the tree pictured. His thought (he's not a
tracker) was that the carcass was an elk and that it was killed by a bear.

Are you willing to post your thoughts about this? Could make for
interesting discussion.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

River Otter in Dan's back yard

Earlier this week I noticed a river otter on the far shore of our back
yard pond. He (or she) had hauled out through a break in the ice and was
sunning himself on the shore. He spent about 10 minutes rolling and
grooming, and then proceeded to build a sort of "nest" by piling up
branches and leaves against a small stump. Perhaps he did this so
that he'd have a level spot to sleep on the sloping shore. I was
surprised that he used his mouth for this task. I figured the front
paws would be used to put stuff into place, but he relied solely on
his mouth - quickly scampering up to 10 feet away, grabbing a mouthful
of sticks or oak leaves, and then bringing them back to the pile.

He left after creating the pile, and while it looked "nest-like" to
me, I didn't see it in use for another two days, when he returned.
After grooming and rolling around in pine needles (which sort of
negates the benefit of grooming, doesn't it?), he curled up in the
constructed pile and went to sleep, nose resting comfortably on tail.
He slept for at least 20 minutes, but when I checked back an hour
later, he had gone.

After the first visit, I placed a remote camera on a nearby tree,
hoping to get some photos of his return. He didn't seem to mind it on
his second visit, and if it's actually working this time (it's been
acting up lately) I should have some excellent photos. I'll retrieve
it next week and post a follow-up. In the meantime, enjoy my photo
of two river otters at the San Francisco Zoo.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wilder Farm 2/20/09

Leigh, Susan, and I (Janet) tracked in our neighborhood today and found
that we do indeed still have a bobcat. We picked up many bobcat trails
in the area between Forbush Mill Rd and Wilder Rd. It has been 3-4
consecutive years now, that we've been seeing these tracks here. Not
surprising -- there is still an abundance of cottontail activity in the


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vaughn Hills 2/19/09

Best prints of hind foot of beaver I've seen. Compare size to my boot

Oxbow Tracking Walk - Feb. 18, 2009

During Wednesday's walk at the Oxbow, Susan and Dan found evidence of deer, rabbit, otter, mink, mouse, and of course, the ubiquitous squirrel and beaver. We were baffled by some fisher-like tracks that seemed to begin at the water's edge. Were they actually those of an otter? No slides in evidence at that location. We were left scratching our heads on that one.

We do feel that we may have solved one mystery, though. We saw three or four melted-out tunnels similar to the one in the upper left of the photo - approximately four inches across, some going on for several feet, and all originating at water's edge or a hole leading to water. The tracks coming out of the hole, in the upper right of the photo, are clearly those of a mink. Do mink routinely use lengthy snow tunnels in the winter? I found quite a few references to mink tunnels on the internet. Could muskrat be involved? Maybe, though I couldn't find anything definitive about their use of snow tunnels. The other interesting thing about the scene captured in this photo was the presence of a single mussel shell at the hole entrance. It doesn't show up in the picture, but it was just inches away from the front of the hole. More evidence that mink are snarfing up those fine Nashua River mussels.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oxbow NWR 2/17/09

Susan and Janet spent a few hours at the refuge today, and found mink
tracks, raccoon tracks (everywhere), empty mussel shells (either mink or
raccoon feeding, or even otter feeding, I guess), and lots of otter sign
at the same knoll that we found on 1/25/09, when there were bobcat
tracks going to and from it, and foxy looking scats near the entry hole
and atop the knoll. This time, however, there were lots of otter scats
at the entry and on top of the knoll, and no sign of felid or canid. In
addition, there was a yellowish secretion near the entry hole, probably
from the otter's anal glands.

Last year, I saw this yellow stuff at an entry hole of a knoll at the
edge of a beaver pond at Bowers Spring. I couldn't find any otter scats
or tracks/slides, though, so I thought it was a secretion from beaver
anal glands....However, it didn't smell beaverish. I guess I've learned
what otter anal gland secretions look like, and where they like to put
it. Yellow gunk at entry holes. See photos.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Wildlife Rehabilitator's Conference Saturday, February 14

I (Sue Sauer) will be attending the Wildlife Rehabilitator's conference this Saturday, February 14; other trackers may find this interesting as well.  The link to the site is  There will be a talk on coyotes in the morning and another on turtles in the afternoon.  The registration ended recently, but I imagine there is still space available.

Photos from Quabbin 2/7/9

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Vaughn Hills 2/8/09

Janet led a walk at Vaughn Hills sponsored by the Bolton Conservation
Commission with the help of several other NT people on this warm, windy
day. Most tracks were melted out, so species ID was based on trail pattern.

We followed fisher tracks which led to a fisher scenting area marked
with the usual tiny, twisted scat, and also a yellowish gelatinous
material (do fishers have anal scenting glands?). We dug up the scented
area and found nothing. But a little further up the fisher trail there
were remains of a bird (feathers). Had the marking been done where the
fisher dug up a cached bird, which it carried along for a while before
consuming it? Or were those two events unrelated?

We found a trail consistent with either house cat or gray fox -- too
melted out to distinguish. Nothing else of great interest. Lots of
discussion at the beaver wetland about ecology and behavior of beavers.

Quabbin 2/7/09

Several of us spent the day in the Quabbin area, and what tremendous
findings! Fresh, crisp bobcat tracks and some scent posts. Two
same-age side by side trails of gray fox tracks probably indicative of a
mated pair. At one point, there were two sit-down prints of the two
foxes facing each other. Abundant moose sign, including tracks, scat,
beds, barking, walk-overs, and browsing. And of course abundant
porcupine sign, including trails/runs, scat, urine, nipped twigs, and
bark gnawing.

While near the cliffs, a few of us caught a quick glimpse of a bald
eagle. In the car on the way, a couple of us saw a fisher bounding at
the edge of woods.

On the down side, the lighting was terrible, so track photos are not
good. And, the motion sensitive camera placed a week and a half ago
didn't get any pix. So, we moved it to an area with a lot of moose sign
and nearby bobcat and gray fox sign. Hopefully this time we'll get

Tracking Report: Fox, Otter, and Moose at Delaney Project

Dan joined Lydia and a group of about 8 people on a tracking walk at
the Delaney Project, sponsored by OAR (Organization for the Assabet
River). We tracked at the far north entrance, the same site where a
bunch of us found a swan carcass being visited by a great horned owl
several years ago. It was a balmy 40+ degrees, and most tracks were
melted out or refrozen.

We found red fox, and then possible grey fox and red fox side-by-side
(not at the same time). We found very fresh otter tracks, with some
short slides, leading out to open water. Lydia also found a single
tree (red maple) that had been barked by an itinerant moose. The
tooth marks and stripped bark extended upward to eye level - nearly 6
feet off the ground.

Dan talked to several local dog walkers after the hike and learned
that there have been reports of moose (somebody saw tracks somewhere)
in the last month at Delaney.

OAR is hosting a Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival on March 4: