Tracks reveal denizens of winter landscape

  • Northfield Mountain Education Coordinator Kim Noyes explains the differences between animal walking patterns during a wildlife tracking event on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • A tracker measures a print at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Northfield Mountain Education Coordinator Kim Noyes gets on all fours to show how a “walker/trotter,” such as a bobcat, moves. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Northfield Mountain Education Coordinator Kim Noyes examines a “scatter hoarder” feeding pile left by a gray squirrel. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • A set of possum prints near the entrance of the trail at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Participants equip ice cleats before the hike at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • A print thought to be left by a red fox at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • A tracker holds up a porcupine quill he found alongside a set of its footprints at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Nature lovers take to the woods for an afternoon of wildlife tracking at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • A pileated woodpecker hole at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Pileated woodpecker scat found at the base of a dead tree at the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2022 4:32:57 PM

NORTHFIELD — Despite frigid temperatures, a group of 10 nature lovers joined the Northfield Recreation and Environmental Center for an afternoon of wildlife tracking in the woods on Sunday.

Led by Northfield Mountain Education Coordinator Kim Noyes, participants traversed the snow-covered Northfield Mountain route to scan for tracks of the woods’ elusive creatures. Ice cleats, trail maps, wildlife guides and magnifying lenses came in handy as they embarked on what the center has dubbed “On the Trail of Predator and Prey,” a series of weekly educational events led by Noyes.

“See what you see, notice what you notice,” Noyes encouraged participants along the trail. “We’ll just walk right along the tracks.”

Noyes said Sunday, a cloudy day in the high 20s, was a “good example of tracking conditions.” She explained that prior warmer days had allowed animals to make deeper impressions as they walked, while freezing weather helped to preserve and solidify prints that had been made. This added to winter’s general favorability in terms of tracking, she said.

“It’s like this whole other hobby that you have in the winter and it’s great,” she expressed regarding the difference between seasons.

The excursion, which took around two hours and consisted of frequent stops for people to observe findings, evidenced these beneficial conditions. Tracks were abundant, with impressions from a possum, gray squirrel, red fox, dog and porcupine among those identified with relative certainty. True certainty, Noyes explained, was virtually impossible to accomplish, but to her, the challenge to be accurate adds to the thrill.

“Feel free to disagree,” she invited during the hike. “That debate is really healthy and that debate is how you learn.”

Noyes was thorough in her instruction. In addition to providing guides and charts prior to the hike, she showed a series of graphics that helped portray the difference in gaits between animals that potentially made each set of tracks, dividing them into the categories of “walker/trotters” such as bobcats, “waddlers” such as bears, and “hoppers” such as rabbits. Additionally, Noyes drew from a tracking guide compiled by Warwick tracker David Brown to show life-size references of different prints. She even went so far as to get on all fours to mimic the strides of various animals, providing a moving representation of them, as well as some good laughs.

What seemed to captivate Noyes most along the way was not a series of tracks at all, but rather what remained of a pileated woodpecker’s recent meal. Aside from great holes bored into a handful of dead trees, piles of the bird’s scat were found at their bases. She deemed this an uncommon finding, made even more rare by the observation that one pile included remnants of berries, thought to be outside of the woodpecker’s typical diet. Her surprise fell in line with what she’d identified as a pattern that has recurred each time she took to the path, which she’d carved out herself along natural deer trails.

“Every time I would come into this area alone,” she said, “I would see something special.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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