The day turned from cold, high clouds to full sun as the 3 of us hiked in through the cholla cactus field criss-crossed by packrat trails. Looking for fresh trails to follow took some time, the bobcat tracks were old, badger tracks faded in and out of the partially frozen sand, and even the ubiquitous coyote sign was absent. The ground was clean, but perfect for registering tracks; soft, sandy and slightly damp soil that stretched for miles. It would be nice to find a fresh set of deer tracks to follow, we could sharpen our trailing skills on this fine Jan. day.
Finally we came across a fresh coyote trail going the other direction, so we backtracked his trail through the light, dry snow and sun melted patches, around juniper bushes, across arroyos, and up onto a bunch grass covered mesa. Here we lost the trail after a half hour of making wide sweeps arcing around the last clear track. Giving up for a while and enjoying lunch was a good thing to do as the wind had come up and we needed a break. Trailing is difficult, it requires a lot of concentration, at least as much as driving a car in a strange part of town..
After lunch we picked up more fresh coyote tracks a distance away from where we lost the first ones, maybe the same animal, but couldn’t tell. We left that trail and went to the top of the mesa for a good view. An old road went by as we descended, so we followed it to the west, seeing badger tracks crossing the road, but not registering on either side. For a while the badger shuffled right down the road before peeling off again, his tracks disappearing in the rocky, frozen soil. On our way back we did pick up a Mule Deer trail, and were able to follow it, again backtracking, for about 1/4 mile. Coyotes were following the deer trail as well, their tracks in concert with the deer’s.
We had to head back to our trailhead where the car was parked, so we broke off from the deer trail and headed back, crossing numerous other, older animal trails including elk, with scat, more deer, and more coyote. Not too many human tracks this time, and no domestic dog tracks at all.
This is a great way to get in touch with those skills necessary for gathering good data about wildlife corridors. Besides good record keeping and protocols, it is the “dirt time”, the time you spend with animal track and sign on the ground that really makes for good data.