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Bemidji Track & Sign Evaluation with David Moskowitz

posted Jun 11, 2019, 8:17 PM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Jun 11, 2019, 8:18 PM ]
Over the weekend of May 11-12, the Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project's new Bemidji Chapter hosted David Moskowitz for a CyberTracker Track & Sign evaluation in the north woods.

Over the two-day evaluation, Moskowitz asked us a wide range of questions covering the tracks and sign of fourteen different species of wild mammals and seven species of birds. Some of the highlights included flicker scat, jumping mouse tracks, bear bites, wolf scat, an otter feeding station, and pocket gopher eskers.

Like all the CyberTracker evaluators, Moskowitz is a masterful teacher and has a tremendous wealth of knowledge. He shared with us tiny details of foot morphology, principles for interpreting sign, behavioral characteristics, and points of his philosophy on tracking. He also welcomed and drew out the knowledge from our diverse group. As a result, our debrief conversations were tremendously rich and everyone, including David, learned a great deal over the weekend. A couple highlights from Moskowitz teaching included:

Pocket Gopher Eskers
Approaching animal sign by asking three questions. First, if I had a toolbox, what tools would I need to produce the sign I am looking at? A chisel? An awl? A pair of sheers? Second, what animals come “equipped” with that kind of tool in the right size for making this sign? Finally, what behavior from these animals makes a coherent story to explain the sign I am seeing? Using this approach, some of us were able to decipher sign we had never seen before during the evaluation.

Keep in mind the differences between front and hind track morphology when thinking about key features that distinguish particular species. The narrow profile and “dot with wings” heel pad of a coyote, for example, are features of the hind track, not the front. Sometimes we remember key features of a particular species tracks, but apply them without distinguishing front from hind feet.

In addition to the questions on the evaluation, our group of trackers and naturalists found time to share knowledge and experiences and even add a few of our own conversations beyond those for the evaluation. Mark Fulton shared his keen eye for porcupine sign, regularly pointing it in the woods during our two days in the field. Sue Mansfield helped us understand some of the details and nuances of the bear trail and bear bites we found (you can tap into some of Sue's expertise about black bears here and here). Kim Shelton found the bounding trail of a small animal along the side of the road which looked at first glance to be the tracks of a small rabbit. After a bit of discussion in the group, we concluded they were the tracks of a thirteen-lined ground squirrel—an analysis that Moskowitz confirmed.

At the end of the day, eight trackers received certification in Track & Sign interpretation. The highlight was our host Kim Shelton receiving her Level IV Track & Sign certification--an impressive achievement and a well deserved acknowledgment for one of the most knowledgeable and experienced wildlife trackers and naturalists in the state.

We are looking forward to many more projects with the new Bemidji chapter of the club. Keep an eye out for a wildlife survey in that part of the state, as well as Minnesota's first Track & Sign Specialist evaluation!

Until then, there is still one spot remaining for our final Track & Sign Evaluation of the year with Casey McFarland over Labor Day Weekend. For more information, Contact Us.