Gareth’s and my search for an ideal wedding site found us at a woodsy site in New Hampshire last Sunday, enroute to Boston from Vermont. Because the place we were visiting sees relatively little action in the winter, both we and our tour guide were surprised to find that ANOTHER party had already made the rounds of the place earlier in the day. Their group, though, had made a very different impression on the place: a three-toed impression, to be more precise.
If I’d thought to put down a quarter or something to indicate scale you’d see that what appears above are the footprints of a rather large bird. At first glance we saw only one line of tracks and thought, maybe they’d been made by a heron. But no. Once we saw many, many more sets of tracks we realized that "heron" was probably not the answer to our "What left those tracks?" question. After all, when was the last time you saw herons traveling in flocks like this?
No, it appeared that there had been a rather large congregation of birds in this place, AND that they had walked approximately the same path we were walking, on rather large feet. You can see Gareth’s rather’s large feet (and tracks) in the photo below, which might allow you to make some comparisons.
Our final guess as to the species that left these marks? Wild turkeys. (If you were thinking geese, note that the feet leaving these tracks weren’t webbed.) I later verified our suspicions using what? A children’s book, OF COURSE. (It is true, though, that you can easily find photos of turkey or heron tracks online too.)
As luck would have it, THIS is the year to spot unfamiliar animal tracks and use a children’s book to help you determine their origins. There are at least three books on animal tracks that have come out this year. All three of them are good, and two of them include the tracks of a turkey (just in case you were wondering).
My favorite of 2008’s available offerings is Jim Arnosky’s Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature’s Footprints (Sterling, April 2008). This wonderful book actually includes life-size renditions of animal tracks on gatefold pages, so you can really get a sense of each animal’s size AND more easily compare the illustrations on the pages to the prints you find in your yard (or potential wedding site). Yes, this book includes the prints left by a turkey, in addition to those left by other birds, many reptiles, and a number of mammals, ranging in size from chipmunks to polar bears.
Who’s Been Here? A Tale in Tracks by Fran Hodkins, illustrated by Karel Hayes (Down East Books, October 2008) works for a younger audience than Jim Arnosky’s book, as it sets up a simple scenario in which three kids follow their Golden Retriever on a romp around the outskirts of town, noticing the tracks of other creatures along the way. This simple introduction to tracking would work for kids as young as preschool-age. And it will indeed introduce them to a turkey and its prints.
The most comprehensive of this year’s tracking book options is National Geographic’s Animal Tracks and Signs by Jinny Johnson. With 192 pages, this book introduces readers to the tracks and signs of over 400 different animals — in other words, it leaves a lot more than just footprints. It’s a bit less concise to use when, say, looking up the tracks of a turkey (which are NOT included in the book), but it’s the best of the options here when it comes to helping readers understand the variety of ways that animals make their marks on the environment — marks we can all find if we learn where and how to look for them.
I plan to brush up before our NEXT visit to a would-be wedding site!