Blob Tracking

by Carl Strang

The title for this entry is not a technical term. It simply refers to the interpretation of tracks that are blobs rather than well-defined footprints. The mix of rain and snow we experienced on Monday provided a good opportunity for this practice. Here’s an example from the south savanna at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

What do you make of these blobby footprints?

Here an opossum was walking, left to right in the photo. As usual, the oddly shaped hind foot with its enormous big toe is turned sideways. The more uniform toes of the front foot are widely spread. The left-hand pair of blobs were made by the right feet, the middle pair by the left feet, the right-hand pair by the right feet again. You can see clearer reference examples in my tracking primer here.

I was interested to see that a raccoon had circumnavigated May‘s Lake Monday night, with various side trips into different woodlands, up and down a few trees, etc.

Do you recognize these as raccoon tracks?

The blobs in this case are recognizable as raccoon tracks because of the side-by-side pairs of footprints, indicative of the raccoon’s distinctive pace gait. Their size and spacing are consistent with the raccoon’s body size. Raccoon activity was especially concentrated in the west end of the south savanna, not far from the former friary, and the footprints had merged into the distinctive trails formed by the big flat feet of raccoons when they travel a route frequently.

Raccoon trails are easy to see in winter.

I suspected the raccoon’s den must be in this area, and sure enough, the trail led to a concrete culvert that empties into May’s Lake.

The trail comes to the culvert from the left and enters along the left edge.

In contrast to the blobs that the raccoon made during most of its excursion, it left very clear tracks as it entered the culvert. The animal still was inside, as there were no exiting tracks.

If you look closely you may be able to see a few clear footprints on the trail.

The possibility is open that more than one raccoon is involved, and that the one in the culvert was different from the one that went around the lake. This may seem a strange choice for a den, but it’s secure, and probably dry enough this time of year. I wonder if this might be the raccoon that used to live in the friary. That animal, evicted by the demolition, had grown accustomed to denning in a human structure. The concrete culvert might seem a more comfortable new home than a hollow tree.

Today’s final example had me fooled at first. This animal was doing a lot of its travel with the bound gait, and my interest in the mink had me thinking I had found a mink’s trail.

These sets of four tracks are in a pattern typical of the bound gait.

Again, you can find a description and clear photo of a mink’s bound gait pattern at the post on gaits. Eventually I had to abandon my initial idea. These footprints were too small and narrow, the sets of tracks were too close together for such shallow snow, and this animal was spending a lot of time downshifted into a diagonal walk.

The animal in question was slowing to a diagonal walk gait whenever it entered taller vegetation.

It doesn’t happen that often in mid-January, but a skunk had come out and covered a lot of ground Monday night. The temperature was in the 20’s that night, the warmest of the month, so it was not so far out of the realm of possibility. Still, it merited an entry in my skunk dossier.

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