Winter is the prime time to tune into the rich wildlife that lives right outside your door. “The Hudson Valley is a vibrant wilderness community,” says Thomas Meli of Wild Earth, a New Paltz nonprofit that sponsors environmental programs and events. And what is one of the best ways to discover all this local fauna? By tracking animals, of course. “It’s absolutely nonstop learning,” says Meli, who organizes an animal tracking club and leads local expeditions. “Tracking is the doorway to an animal’s behavior — a vehicle to connect with what is going on in that animal’s life.” On his blog, Meli recounts the excitement of the hunt: “I was wandering leisurely with a friend towards a cave as we came upon something startling — a mysterious trail. Each track had four toes, no claws, and was a little smaller than an adult coyote track. It looked too big to be a bobcat. Could it be a cougar?”
But you don’t have to go far to begin your own tracking adventure. Simply open your back door after a light snow of one to two inches, Meli suggests. “As soon as it snows you can see mice, junco, robin, and blue jay tracks,” he says. Be on the lookout, too, for white-tailed deer, coyote, red and gray fox, raccoon, skunk, cottontail rabbit, squirrel, crow, turkey, and other common critters. An alternative approach, Meli notes, is to watch an animal as it moves around your yard, and then review its tracks; by looking at the track pattern, you can learn something about the creature’s life and wintertime habits.
Wild Earth, New Paltz; 845-256-9830
How many tracks can you identify? Click the pawprints (at right) to find out which animal they belong to — plus a dozen other prints! (PDF opens in new window)