Nothing is more exciting than being a wildlife detective finding animal prints in the snow and mud. Tracking gives you the opportunity to explore the lives of animals without disturbing them. Here are some tips to get you started on your wildlife tracking adventure:
- Be prepared. Dress appropriately and always bring a phone and water. Even though New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, you can still get very lost!
- Tracking etiquette. Tread lightly and try to minimize disturbance of wildlife tracks that others may want to study after you. If you make a plaster cast, be careful to pick up any debris that may have been left.
- Direct signs. Direct evidence of animals includes paw prints, scats (animal droppings) and can tell you if the animal was walking, foraging, running, trotting or pouncing.
- The number of toes in a print is a good way to start to identify an animal:
- 2 toes? Whitetail deer
- 4 toes? Rabbits, red fox, coyote, bobcat
- 5 toes? Mink, skunk, badger, river otter, raccoon, beaver, black bear
- 4 toes in front, 5 toes in hind? Norway rat, deer mouse, chipmunk, gray squirrel, southern flying squirrel, woodchuck, eastern mole
- The distance between footprints is called stride. The measurement between prints provides clues to the size of the animal and the speed it was traveling at.
- Stride increases the faster an animal is traveling. Try making prints yourself while walking versus running. Observe how they changed. The same is true with animals.
- Stride can also tell how big an animal is. A small animal like a chipmunk may have a stride of only a few inches. A large animal like a deer has a walking stride of two and a half feet.
- Different animals hop differently.
- Rabbits, squirrels, and mice hop with all four feet and land with their front feet first. However, their back feet come down second – in front of their front feet.
- Walking path also varies by species.
- Some animals walk in a very straight single line, like along a tightrope.
- Other animals like foxes and coyotes walk in a straight line with all four feet. Their back feet step directly on top of the front foot tracks.
- Indirect signs. Sometimes you can find indirect evidence of animals that provide you with even more clues as to what they were doing when they left these signs. These include tooth marks, hair, trails, and scrapes.
- Track guides. There are many books for wildlife tracking that can be found in your local library. If you would like a printable pocket guide, New Hampshire Fish and Game has a small handy guide.
- Keep a wildlife journal. How many different animals have you found? Have you found anything really unexpected like a bear or a bobcat? Have you found a track that you need help identifying? Keep a record of your findings and share them with friends and family.
- Just remember to carry out what you carry in leave no trace!
- Be a good neighbor. If you happen to find a set of tracks that lead to a nest or den, please leave the area and do not disturb our wild friends’ homes.
- These are just a few tips to aid your explorations in animal tracking. For more information, join us for one of our tracking programs where an expert naturalist shares the secrets to tracking wildlife.
For more information, visit the Princeton University Outdoor Action Club.
How is the game played?If using a handheld GPS device (such as a Garmin, Magellan, Lowrance, etc.):
- Register for a free basic membership on geocaching.com.
- Visit the Hide & Seek a Cache page to locate a cache nearby.
- Select a cache to view its cache page which lists the cache description, GPS coordinates, and other instructions on how to find the cache.
- Load the coordinates into your GPS device and naviagate to the hidden cache.
- Sign the logbook inside the cache and log your visit online on geocaching.com.
- Download geocaching.com app from your app store (there is an Intro version which only allows you to navigate to 3 caches before it makes you upgrade and there is the full version which is $9.99).
- Log-in using your geocaching.com username or create a free geocaching.com username if you do not have one.
- Once logged in, press "Find Nearby Caches."
- Choose the appropriate cache from the list. The cache page should appear.
- Press "Navigate to Cache." A map should appear showing your location in relation to the cache location.
- Navigate to the cache and sign the logbook when you find it. Go back to the cache page and press "Post a Log/Field Note" to post a log online.
Duke Farms GeoTrail
The Duke Farms GeoTrail is a geocaching challenge consisting of 11 different caches placed around the property. It is a unique journey through a variety of native habitats and landscapes.
To complete the challenge you have to fill out the GeoTrail brochure and uncover the secret word, then present your completed brochure to the front desk staff in the Orientation Center to receive your commemorative token (GeoTrail brochures are available at the front desk in the Orientation Center).