Thursday, 21 January 2010

Signs of Life

There's a certain mystique around the ability to read tracks and signs; a sense of wonder surely helped by a childhood spent watching old westerns where Indian scouts read seemingly invisible signs in the dust or notice a bruised blade of grass on the prairie. It was usually portrayed as a skill outside the experience of your average white man. It doesn't need to be, of course, but it is a much neglected craft and one of the most rewarding in developing our understanding of the habits of our local wildlife.
Painstaking and occasionally obsessive, tracking/sign reading is an exercise in learning to look, learning
to move with animal stealth, learning to listen, and even learning to smell in a new way. All your senses including your
intuitive sixth are finely tuned. It is part observation and part
interpretation and a perfect antidote to the channel zapping, google
scrolling that our eyes are used to. It is a way of telling stories about the
countryside, building up a picture of the creatures who live there and the
significant landmarks and boundaries of their world.

Living in such a populated country, tracking and reading signs is made more difficult by one sign being overlaid by
another. Hiking boots may be kind on your feet but they leave a heavy mark
where they tread. However when it
snows its as though a whole new landscape has been laid down in front of you.
It sometimes seems like vandalism to disturb it, but it is a perfect time to start learning to read the signs and see how much wild life is teeming
around you.

Above: Shire horse and wallaby tracks. Below: Fox and blackbird

For a good introduction see "Animal Tracks and Signs" by Preben Bang and Preben Dahlstrom

1 comment: