Jasper NP maligne caribou herd is no more. They have ceased to be. Expired. This occurrence is no joke. rmotoday.com/lake-louise/ja… Retweeted by Fiera Biological

@h_tesni If you like #podcasts about nature #conservation, try - Nature Needs Half by @ruth_midgley @CourtneyBurk2 - Bear 148 by @TheNarwhal @MollyAudio - Nature Talks by @NCC_CNC - Terrestrial by @AAhearn, and her new one “Grouse” Retweeted by Fiera Biological

Archive for Fieratracks

Wildlife Track & Sign: Snowshoe Hare

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare

#FindOutFriday, #Fieratracks

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare. Hind Left print.
Snowshoe Hare Hind Left, Clear print

The footprint above (posted to social media on May 25, 2020) is the footprint of a Snowshoe Hare in snow, photographed on March 24th, 2020, in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada.

The track patterns of snowshoe hares are very recognizable, but most people haven’t looked very closely at the details of a single print, so when they encounter a print without a track-pattern, they may not recognize it. A snowshoe hare’s foot is fully furred making details hard to pick out in most conditions, but that in itself is a detail that can lead you to a correct identification. Though the toes may register as distinct appendages, a palm pad (interdigital or metatarsal) will never register clearly, nor a heel pad with snowshoe hare, so the lack of those feature is a good clue.

Another good clue is the toe arrangement in the tracks. Four toes will register in front and hind, and that is different than most rodents which register four toes in the front tracks, and five in the hind. In addition to the number of toes, take account of the symmetry of the arrangement in an individual print. Note how the toes are loaded all to outside of the foot.

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare.
Snowshoe Hare Hind Left, Clear print with toes circled

The claws of snowshoe hare are thin, fine, and sharp. They don’t always register, but the first time you see them clearly register in a splayed print, you may doubt for a moment that you are looking at the print of a bunny, and think rather that it might be something more dangerous like a lynx, a wolverine, or a dragon.

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare. Showing splayed prints with distinct toes, but no palm or heal pads.
More snowshoe hare prints showing splay, and lack of palm pad details

Earlier I mentioned that snowshoe hare track patterns are very recognizable, so I’d better explain. Snowshoe hares are very consistent in their use of a bounding gait. I the gait the front feet land first, and then the hind feet swing around on either side, and register ahead of the front feet. The hind feet land simultaneously, side by side.

Typical snowshoe hare bounding track pattern

The most likely animal you may have difficulty distinguishing from snowshoe hare in the Edmonton area would be black-tailed jackrabbit. Jackrabbit are similarly sized and shaped animals, and so they leave similar tracks. Habitat is probably your best clue for distinguishing these two species. Jackrabbits prefer open areas where they can see predators coming and use their powerful speed to escape across open terrain. Snowshoe hare on the other hand like to stay in or near the forest where they can put rose bushes, deadfall and thickets between them and any predators. Another indicator is the frequency of off-set hind feet positioning. Where a snowshoe hare only rarely positions its hind feet off-set to one another, a black-tailed jackrabbit will frequently do so.

Joseph Litke

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Wildlife Track & Sign: Rock Pigeon

Wildlife Track & Sign: Rock Pigeon

#FindOutFriday, #Fieratracks

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) in snow, Old Strathcona, Edmonton, Alberta Canada.

The footprint above (posted to social media on May 12, 2020) is the footprint of a Rock Pigeon in snow, in Old Strathcona, Edmonton Alberta, on April 2nd.

Pigeon footprints are similar to game bird (like grouse and quail) tracks in general size, and in structure except for the length of the backwards toe (called a halux). Pigeons are perching birds, and as such, have a well developed, longer, halux to help them grip branches. The halux of a rock pigeon is roughly 1/2 to 2/3 the length of its lead toe, and it will register in most tracks. Birds that spend a lot of time on the ground like grouse and quail have a reduced halux less than 1/4 the length of the lead toe, and it may not register in the majority of tracks; when it does register, it may only be the tip of the claw that does.

The left footprint of a rock pigeon, with a prominently registering halux nearly 2/3 the length of the lead toe.

The length and width of bird tracks is helpful for identification. Typical measurements of rock pigeon tracks are 6 cm long (include the halux & claws), and 4.5 cm wide.

Pigeons and grouse tend to leave an alternating (walking or trotting) track pattern. Other birds often hop, leaving a 2 x 2 track pattern.

Alternating track pattern of a Rock Pigeon walking in snow

Watch for bird tracks in snow, sand, and around puddles after a rain. Other birds that frequently leave tracks include ravens, magpies and other corvids, waterfowl, shorebirds, and robins.

Joseph Litke

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