Who Done It?

I have selected several photos of tracks and other animal sign that I have encountered in my wanderings. Each one tells a particular story. Select a location from one of the menus below. Your task is to view the photo and try to reconstruct that story. Then compare your interpretation with mine.

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At the water's edge

Rivers, lakes, and ponds are an excellent place to track for several reasons. For one, receeding water levels will expose sandy bars and muddy areas that register tracks well. For another, animals tend to congregate at the water's edge. Some aquatic mammals like otter and beaver as well as many birds are rarely found far from water. Carnivores will often make the river bank part of their daily routine searching for food.

Mountain Madness

Tracks can be found most anywhere, not just along waterways. Tracking works in many mediums: dust, grass, broadleaf plants, etc. I call this section "Mountain Madness" because these examples were found at higher elevation and they are more subtle due to the tracking substrate (novices beware, these are more difficult puzzles better suited for those with a bit of experience).

Fine Feathered Friends

Birds also leave tracks and other sign. Perhaps they do not capture the attention that a cougar or wolf might for the casual observer but the experienced tracker knows that bird sign is an important part of the natural landscape and poses unique challenges.

In the Grip of Winter

Winter is a challenging but rewarding time to track. To identify the species, the tracker must use all the available clues since a clear, well-formed footprints are rare. Snow conditions in the northern Oregon Cascades are not always ideal (snow on the west side sometimes freezes into hard crust affectionately known as "Cascades concrete"), but winter tracking is still worthwhile.

In a Warmer Place

Much of the West is desert, an extreme environment that can reveal fascinating stories to the patient naturalist. Even the eastern portions of Oregon and Washington qualify as desert.


Understanding gaits is an important clue in determining what an animal is doing. When you don't have clear tracks (e.g., in dry sand or snow), reading the gait may also be your most important clue for identifying the species. If you have not studied gaits yet, you may want read the introductory section of a recent guidebook. For an extensive treatment see Jim Halfpenny's classic book, A Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in North America or his Scats and Tracks series.

Other Sign

A good tracker looks for all types of animal sign, not just tracks.

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