Tracking Wascally Wildlife

I thought I’d do a post today revolving around my recent experiences volunteering with the Amoskeag Fishways to monitor wildlife at Hackett Hill in Manchester, NH. Part of the reasoning for this is while part of the land there is already under conservation status, the opposite side of the road is up for bid for development. The Fishways,an environmental education center created out of a partnership between PSNH, NH Audubon, NH Fish and Game, and US Fish and Wildlife, hopes to use data about what animals frequently use this area in the hope that they may be able to preserve at least a portion of the area representing the best habitat for these creatures.

First of all, the area is quite beautiful, a haven in the middle of a the city. This particular trip out, we saw most of the brook iced over while the water was flowing underneath. The icy patterns resulting from the flowing water were striking:

Iced over brook at Hackett Hill, Manchester, NH; Photo credit: Carrie Schuman

What the wildlife monitoring entails is looking at tracks in the snow and determining what kind of animal made it. There are some basic patterns of movement – bounders, hoppers, walkers, and waddlers. Once you figure out the basic pattern, you can determine what is around locally that falls under those types of patterns. For example hoppers in the Hackett Hill area can include red and grey squirrels, snowshoe hare, and shrews. This type of pattern characteristically includes the back feet prints appearing before the front feet prints, like the set of squirrel tracks below I found on ehow.com:

Further identifying the tracks once you’ve determined the movement pattern involves looking at characteristics of the track, such as size (width, length, and stride distance all can help with IDs),  shape, the number of toes the animal has, whether claw marks or webbing are evident, etc. The condition of the snow can really help or hinder this part of the process and this certainly takes practice; the naturalist with us has at times pointed out some of the aforementioned features of the track but the impression in the snow looked like a featureless blob to me. Fresh snow can leave some very clear tracks and a fine dusting of powder over ice is also good for capturing signs of wildlife walking through.

Here are some from our own trip this morning:

Fisher cat tracks at Hacket Hill, Manchester, NH; Photo credits: Carrie Schuman

Red fox tracks at Hacket Hill, Manchester, NH; Photo credits: Carrie Schuman

Skunk tracks at Hacket Hill, Manchester, NH; Photo credits: Carrie Schuman

There are some excellent guides that can help with this endeavor. One of the guides we’ve used on our treks is a guide called “Mammal Tracks” which has life-sized versions of tracks that really help in comparison. There is an updated version for sale on the publisher’s website as well as Amazon called  “Mammals Tracks and Scat: Life Sized Tracking Guide“. The guide is waterproof and meant to be practical in the field.  Another book that has made the trip out with us is: “Tracking and the Art of Seeing“. I’m going to order my own copy used off of half.com.

As an interesting follow-up, check out this guy’s blog account about hearing fisher cat cries in New Hampshire. The fisher cat is a tenacious, toothed weasel-like creature and has a strange somewhat scary call. The post also contrasts the sound of fisher cats with foxes, who also let out a surprisingly bracing yelp.

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2 thoughts on “Tracking Wascally Wildlife

  1. Lori Meryl says:

    We live on the edge of the woods in Laconia, NH and for the first time since we’ve lived here (25 yrs) we saw two Fishers roaming the snow covered woods about 300 feet away from our house. They were far apart but heading in the same direction. We’ve heard them in the woods (pretty scary sound like a baby screeching) but have never seen them until now. Thank God we have a fenced in yard but we never leave our dogs alone out there. We’re still thankful for all the great wildlife up here. Good blog and thanks.

    • neoncstar says:

      That’s neat that you got to see them. The naturalist we’ve been tracking with hasn’t actually seen the animals, just the signs of them living there. Must be great to take in the wildlife up there, I’ve really learned so much the past few years and have plenty of friends who also appreciate nature and the outdoors so it can be great having people to share it with =).

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