Following Animal Tracks in the Boundary Waters

Amy skijors down Angleworm Lake with Tank and Acorn following otter tracks.

Amy skijors down Angleworm Lake with Tank and Acorn following otter tracks.

Students voted last week to decide who should write our Notes from the Trail. Together you decided that we should take turns. The dogs should write some and the humans should write some. Since Tina wrote last week’s Notes from the Trail, it is the humans’ job this week. This is Dave and this week’s Notes from the Trail focuses on animal tracks.

You can imagine how an otter was moving when it made this set of tracks.

You can imagine how an otter was moving when it made this set of tracks.

 

Over the last week we have ventured deep into the snowy wilderness. We have encountered lots of tracks in the snow, but it has been many days since we have seen the tracks of other humans, or other sled dogs. The tracks that we have encountered were left by the animals that live in this vast wilderness. We don’t see many animals in the winter, but the tracks they leave in the snow help us understand who we are sharing the winter woods with. Their tracks can also help us understand what habitats they prefer and what they are up to.

Have you ever been to a wild place where you and your family or friends were the only people there? What was it like, or what do you think it would be like?

Share your answer!

otter

A river otter runs a few steps before sliding on its belly.

Several days ago Amy, Tina, Tank, Acorn, and I set off to explore Angleworm Lake. Angleworm is a long skinny lake with large white pines and red pines towering above it. It is a beautiful lake and as we skijored down the lake, the dogs were excited to follow otter tracks. River otters are common here and we often see their tracks. Otters are a member of the weasel family and they have a long skinny body and short legs. Otter tracks are easy to identify because otters run for a few feet and then slide on their bellies, run for a few feet and slide on their bellies. The dogs love to follow the otter tracks. Sometimes the otter tracks disappear into holes in the ice. Otters love to eat crayfish, mussels, and other aquatic animals. We often see otter tracks, and if we are really lucky we see otters, near rapids or open water. Otters need places where they can get into the water even in the middle of winter to search for food.

What is the most interesting animal track you have seen?

Share your answer!

A pack of wolves watch us as we travel past them on Basswood Lake.

A pack of wolves watch us as we travel past them on Basswood Lake.

We have also seen a lot of wolf tracks this winter and last week we were even lucky enough to see a pack of wolves. We were dogsledding across a large lake and started seeing a lot of wolf tracks. Then Amy spotted a pack of wolves in the distance. We were able to identify five wolves. Most of them were laying or sitting in the snow and they did not seem bothered by our presence. They were a long ways away, but normally when we encounter wolves they run away. It was interesting to watch them go about their business. We continued to see lots of wolf tracks for several hours. Wolf tracks look a lot like the track of a large dog.

You can see how big a wolf track is compared to Amy's hand.

You can see how big a wolf track is compared to Amy’s hand.

 

 

wolf pack

These are not the same wolves we saw, but here you can see a closeup of a wolf pack.

We also see many other types of tracks. Snowshoe hare tracks are common on the portages and in alder thickets. Sometimes we even see wing prints where a raven or owl swooped down to pick something up out of the snow. Owls can sense mice and other rodents running around under the snow and will swoop down and punch through the deep snow to grab a meal.

What types of animal tracks do you see in your neighborhood? Do you see them in the snow, mud, sand, or on a different surface?

Share your answer!

There is always something new for us to see and learn out here in the winter woods and the dogs are always using their noses to investigate as well. I wish they would tell us what they are smelling.

Keep Exploring!
Dave

Student Response Worksheets

16_01_31_SRW_Packet

16_01_31_SRW_Lower

16_01_31_SRW_Upper

 

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