Sunday, February 05, 2017

Becoming Dunedain.

It's probably no surprise that A) playing Dungeons and Dragons was a large part of my childhood and B) even today I still play rangers almost exclusively...except for one half-Orc poacher named Bark that is just a big, ugly ranger. Of course my love of woods drive these choices, though multiple reading of Tolkien is also a big part. I've always wanted to be a Dunedain, one of Tolkien's Rangers of the North.

Well, today I got one step closer. While I've dabbled a bit with tracking I've never actually taken any formal training on it. Some of my friends have been able to attend Tom Brown Jr.'s tracking/wilderness school but that's always been out of my range. Luckily, Beau Harger, a Level 3 Certified Tracker, came to the Houston Arboretum and spent the morning quadrupling my knowledge of tracking.

Beau kneeling, explaining a track.
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Beau was an excellent teacher and he quickly had us understanding what aspects of the track should get the most attention and which aspects could accidentally mislead us. It turned out to be the same things needed to identify plants...and lead you to mis-identify plants! Primary observations are the key. Focusing in only on the definable, the measurable. Ratios of shapes are as important as the shapes themselves. Just as importantly, avoid assumptions.

The track here you probably can't see, we were able to identify this as a domestic (pet) dog track by the end of the class.
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Coyote track showing direct register (overlap of front and back footstep).
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Armadillo track.
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Here are the details of common animal tracks as described by Beau.

Raccoon
Front foot is symmetrical, rear foot is asymmetrical. Five toes on each foot. Nails/claws visible. Palm pad on same plane as toe pads. Low to on hind foot is inside. Found within 1/2 mile of water.

Domestic Dog
Somewhat circular and symmetrical but with a looseness. Four toes present. Prominent nail marks. Anterior (top) part of palm pad is uni-lobed. Palm pad is wider than tall. Negative space forms a star.

Coyote
More symmetrical than domestic dog and oval/aerodynamic. Four toes present. Nails very fine and may not register. Two center-toe nails are often very close together. Anterior (top) part of palm pad is uni-lobed. Palm pad height = width. Negative space forms an X. Coyotes are trotting hunters. Track direct register (hind foot steps in track of front foot). Scat is twisted, tapered at ends, and contains fur, seeds, etc. Often found in middle of trail junctions to mark territory.

Opossum
Front foot symmetrical with five toes, widely splayed. Rear foot asymmetrical with opposable thumb. Nails present. Palm pad very bulbous.

Domestic Cat
Overall shape is circular. Front foot asymmetrical, hind foot symmetrical. Four blocky, roundish toes. Nails not present. Anterior portion of palm pad is bi-lobed and major portion of track. Negative space forms a C. Tracks are direct registered.

Bobcat
Overall shape is circular. Front foot asymmetrical, hind foot symmetrical. Four teardrop-shaped toes. Nails not present. Anterior portion of palm pad is bi-lobed, posterior portion of palm pad is ti-lobed. Negative space forms a thicker C than domestic cat. Tracks are direct registered. Scat is smooth-surfaced, segmented, with blunt ends.

Squirrel
Both front and hind feet are slightly asymmetrical. Four toes on front foot, five toes on hind foot. Nails present. Front foot has a large, somewhat triangular palm pad and two small, round heel pads. Hind foot palm pad consists of four pads in an arc-shape.

Armadillo
Front foot has three long toes, splayed out but symmetrical. Longest toes on outside of foot. Hind foot has two long toes, mostly parallel. Nails present. No palm pads. Burrows are triangular-shape holes.

Cottontail Rabbit
Front foot asymmetrical with five toes. Hind foot symmetrical with four toes. Nails present. Palms don't register but sometimes hair does. Browed plants cut at 45-degree angle. Swamp rabbits leave scat on logs, cottontails do not.

Wild Hog
Symmetrical hooves with rounded anterior tips. Splayed somewhat outwards. Dewclaws register outside of hooves. Dirt clumps up at front of hoof. Scat is bulbous and clumpy, not scattered/splattered. Ground in area often rooted up.

Deer
Symmetrical hooves, pointed at anterior tip. Dewclaws in line with hooves but usually only register when deer is running. Blowout dirt knocked forward in direction deer is running. Tracks direct register when walking. Browse is frayed/torn. Tree scrapes are frayed at top and bottom from vertical rubbing. Earth scrape triangular with point at tree and low branch directly above. Scat is round, shiny pellets.

Adventure! Excitement! Aragorn!

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