Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Environmental Sign

We've already talked about the two better-known types of animal sign, tracks and scat. There are other signs left by animals that can fill in blank spaces in the story you're seeing. Antlers and claws leave scrapes and rubs on trees. Some canine and feline species bury their waste, leaving visibly disturbed soil. A sharp eye can catch tufts of hair and broken twigs as animals move through brush. All of these signs help determine the size and type of animal, and the direction and speed it was moving.

Rubs and Scrapes

Animals with antlers have to rub them on trees after they grow in to remove the "velvet," a fuzzy covering that supplies blood and nutrients to the antlers while they grow. Once they're done growing, this needs removed. A rub is a rather visible bare spot in the bark on one side of a tree. Deer usually rub between 4 and 6 feet above the ground. Elk and moose rub from 6 to 8 feet and possibly higher.

A textbook deer rub.

Just like a domestic cat uses a scratching post (or your furniture), many wild carnivores will scratch at trees, leaving clear marks. These can be anywhere from ground level to above 8 feet in the case of a large bear.

Disturbed earth

Many animals bury their waste to mask their presence. This occurs with varying levels of completion, and is usually seen as disturbed leaves, piles of twigs, or mussed soil. Inspection of these areas can reveal the scat and identify the animal.

As animals move around and bed down, they leave some tell-tale signs. Bedding areas of large animals will have bent and broken grasses in a large circle or oval. Slow-moving animals won't likely leave much disturbance as they pass, but areas they travel frequently will begin to look almost like a footpath. These routes are called game trails, and are like animal highways.

As animals move faster (usually either pursuing or being pursued), they take far less care in their movements and leave more sign behind. Broken twigs and small branches along the trail are an obvious sign. A less-obvious but very telling sign is small tufts of hair snagged on those same twigs and branches. Areas that are more disturbed had more animals going through, at a faster pace.

Keep your eyes open and your head moving for your best chance to see these signs. You can learn much about the world around you by simply being observant.


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