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Mammal Tracking - The Eye of a Detective

Diagonal walkers, pacers or waddlers, bounders and gallopers; these are just some of the new terms we learned at our Mammal Tracking workshop last Saturday, Feb. 26. Bob Bowles led a group of outdoor enthusiasts on an expedition into the wetlands at the Robert L. Bowles Nature Centre, where so many mammals make the area their winter home. The wetland is protected and shielded from a good deal of adverse weather and also predators. With everything frozen over, we were able to hike into the heart of the wetland.

We donned our snowshoes and with our detective's eye started out on the trail system. First up; two sets of fresh deer tracks. Deer are diagonal walkers like moose, coyote, wolf, dogs and humans. A diagonal walker means the feet diagonal to each other move at the same time. Next up moose tracks. The tracks were a day or two old but still very evident and huge!















We then discovered porcupine tracks. They are pacers or waddlers. Pacers move both limbs on the same side at the same time. We spotted the tracks of a white-footed mouse, a red squirrel, eastern cottontail and a snowshoe hare. These mammals fall into the category of gallopers. Gallopers move with a galloping motion with the hind legs landing in front of the front legs.




We found fisher tracks about a week prior to the workshop. These mammals are bounders, hopping in jumps with front feet landing first then back feet right behind them.


We learned Bob's Five "S" approach to mammal tracking. The first is "Size" of the print. Is it small, medium or large? The second is "Stride". This is the distance between the two front footprints. Next, "Straddle" is the distance between the inside of the left and the right footprint. "Speed", the four methods of moving, diagonal, pacers or waddlers, bounders and gallopers. And finally "Step", this is where you count toes, two, four or five toes on the front and back feet. All of these tools make the dectective work of tracking mammals a little easier. However, it does take years and a lot of practice to determine and identify tracks in the snow.

Bob not only shared his knowledge of mammal tracking but he talked about lichens, liverworts and the primary and secondary trees that make the wetlands their home. Black ash, silver maple, American white cedar, black spruce, tamarack, balsam fir and speckled alder are our primary trees in the wetlands.

We ended the workshop around the campfire with a Q&A, lunch and a hot drink. The participants left with more knowledge about mammal tracking. Thank you, Bob.

Blog courtesy of June Crinnion. The Robert L. Bowles Nature Centre, founded by June Crinnion and Michael Elmer, is a nature and wellness centre in Ramara, named after Lake Simcoe Living Nature Detective Bob Bowles to honour his role in protecting and caring for the environment. For more information, go to


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