Snow-tracking for Professionals

***Note: We have temporarily suspended this course offering due to social distancing requirements and risks of contagion during the current pandemic*** learn about our COVID-19 measures for courses and workshops

Instructor: Joseph Litke

This Snow-tracking for Professionals workshop is focussed on building track identification skills to identify winter-occurring wildlife tracks and sign accurately and efficiently.

The coming of winter in Canada brings lasting snowfalls that create landscape-sized track-traps, where all the movements of the various species of wildlife over a period of time are recorded in tracks cast in recent snowfalls. This has long been a powerful tool used by wildlife managers and researchers to assess the occurrence, distribution, abundance, and behaviour of a wide range of species. While seeing that an animal has made a track in snow is relatively simple, identifying exactly what species made the tracks can be more difficult. Its common for books on the matter to  teach us to count toes, look for claws, and assess foot symmetry, but that is easier to read about than it is to actually do. When you peer into the track left by an animal in deep, loose, Canadian snow, it is common to just see a hole in the snowpack– no toes, no claws, not even the vague shape of a foot. Join us to learn how to identify and interpret wildlife tracks in even the most challenging conditions during this intense and comprehensive course designed for ecology students, wildlife researchers, and environmental consultants. 

Mountain goat tracks observed in west central Alberta. Similar in size to a deer track, mountain goats toes have blunter tips, and tend have more space between them.
Mountain goat tracks observed in west central Alberta

Duration: 2-days (~8 hours of classroom & 8 hours of field)

Prerequisites: None. Participants are typically ecology students, wildlife researchers, environmental consultants, or otherwise employed or aspiring to work in a nature-focussed profession. However, any wildlife-track enthusiast or want-to-be is welcome to register. Beginner level trackers would benefit from taking one of our 1-day workshops before registering for this course, but its not required.

**Note: at this time, participants must be adults of 18 years or older on the date of the event**

Preparation: The field portion of this course is comprised of a long day outside during winter. Warm boots and clothes are a must to enable bouts of inactivity while receiving instruction. Equally important is a reasonable level of physical fitness, because the further we hike, the more opportunities we will have to see and learn. Snowshoes may be required depending on the conditions.

Edmonton Courses: When offered in the Edmonton region, field portions of this course are usually held at Elk Island National Park (to be confirmed on a course by course basis). This venue offers the potential for a challenging range of species, including up to 5 species of ungulates, 5 species of mustelids, 4 canid species, and 2 felid species, among others.

Fees for scheduled courses: $500 per participant, 8-participant minimum

Custom Courses: Custom, on-location Snow-tracking for Professionals courses are available by request from December 1 to March 31 (depending on local snow conditions). This service is perfect for consulting firms and research groups engaging in snow-tracking projects and seeking to ensure their trackers meet a minimum standard. Contact us for a quote! ***Note: We have temporarily suspended this course offering due to social distancing requirements and risks of contagion during the current pandemic***

Outcomes: by the end of this course, participants should:

  • be familiar with foundational theories related to the tracking of winter-active species
  • have a basic understanding of the many ways that professionals use tracking
  • be able to calculate relative abundance
  • understand the importance of days-since-snow in determining relative abundance
  • know the key features to aid in track-maker identification for similar looking tracks
  • understand the concept of baseline gaits and be able to identify the baseline gait for most winter-active species occurring in Alberta and Saskatchewan
  • be able to identify to species or species group using trail pattern and deductive reasoning
  • be aware of some of the pitfalls inherent from learning only from field-guides
  • have developed a toolset for aging tracks
  • have learned to consider weight in the assessment of track identification
  • have learned techniques for assessing the gender of individuals by their tracks and sign
  • have experience identifying ungulate scats
  • understand proper techniques for documenting tracks, including taking measurements, and photographs for confirmation purposes
  • understand the importance of broader ecological knowledge in wildlife tracking and continued improvement
  • be aware of the influence of substrate on track appearance

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