Tracks and Scat April 16, 2022

Who doesn’t wonder what animal made the tracks we sometimes see on hikes, or even in our own yards? And who hasn’t wondered what kind of scat we “tripped” over. 

On April 16, 2022 Cohort 6 had a special lab at Cienega Creekled by Master Naturalists Hank Harlowe, PhD, Michelle Kostuk, and supported by Master Naturalist Deb Petrich and AlexWolfe, Environmental Program Specialist with PCNRPR. We had 8 students: Diane, Francesca, Chris, Trinity, Carly, John, Izetta, and Kim; and tracks and scat were the order of the morning. Hank and Michelle set up ahead of time and greeted the group at the side of the (dry) creek. Big shout out to Deb Petrich for pulling it all together, and to Alex Wolfe for their contribution.

We started by naming the possible critters who lived in this area and what families they were in; deer, javelina, skunks, bobcat, ringtail, mountain lion, coyote, fox, bear, turkey, and vulture were some of the animals discussed. Hank and Michelle showed the tracks of most of these critters, some prepared tracks and some they came upon naturally. It’s actually a complicated process to analyze tracks! A full analysis will tell a story. Was the animal sauntering along, running from danger, on a missionto get someplace, or maybe stalking prey?

Students were then shown how to cast molds of tracks using paper mâché, salt, and water.  Once the solution was added to the tracks, we started off down the trail to search out the real tracks and the real scat, as the molds dried.

Some mentioned how excited kids were to talk about poop. From my observation kids aren’t the only ones! Hank brought along bags full of different scat so we could compare and contrast each animal’s poop, including cow and horse because they too occasionally roam the area. An animal’s diet is a big factor in identifying scat, as are shape and form. We think we saw fox, bobcat and coyote scat on the trail. Figuring out scat seemed a little easier than tracks and it was certainly easier to see! 

It was a perfect southern Arizona day with a breeze, a hazy sky, and the beautiful shade of the cottonwoods. And we learned a lot thanks to the generosity of our knowledgeable Master Naturalist instructors!

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