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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Raccoon tracks and trails

We traveled so much this summer, it was hard to keep up with the blog. And to make matters worse, I had nothing but trouble with my camera traps. I have one set near the pond in our backyard and got a few interesting coon pics to share with you.

Young raccoon
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/2011)
We have had our share of wet weather lately, first with Hurricane Irene and then Tropical Storm Lee gave us a soaking. I am not complaining as many people lost homes and worse, but giving you some perspective... This camera trap is set right on the berm of the pond in our backyard. Coons are attracted to wet areas for the wealth of food they provide. This coon is so thin and small looking that it must be a young-of-the-year. And although there is only one animal in this photo, a camera trap doesn't always tell the whole story. It is getting late in the year, but not so late that I would expect the young to be on their own.

Family of raccoons
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/11)
Here is a photo from August that shows four coons in one frame. Again, who know what the camera missed? Is there another young one or two just out of frame? Anyway, these guys are headed straight to the pond. No matter how much rain we get, our pond always dries down in the summer. This leaves a nice ring of mud for tracking (and probably makes it easier to catch frogs, tadpoles and aquatic macroinverts...). Friday, I went down to the pond and took a few photos of coon tracks to share. But first, take a look at the feet of the coons in this photo and note the difference in size and shape between fronts and rears...

Raccoon tracks
(Seneca Falls, 9/11)
There were so many tracks going to and from the pond that it was hard to find a spot that wasn't too confusing. Raccoons leave a distinctive pattern of fronts and rears. Specifically, a front right is paired with a rear left and vice versa. It looks as if I have photographed the steps of several raccoons. If you look carefully at both pairs of tracks pictured, BOTH appear to be right fronts with left rears slightly in front. It is common for the front tracks to fall behind or even with the rear tracks. This is called an overstep walk. But if this was a single coon walking, we would have seen the pattern mirroring itself so that the left front would fall inside of the right rear.... interesting.....

Lets take one more look at the photo above, but I will zoom in on only the two center coons. This way we can see the shape of their feet better but also try to determine where each foot is going to land. The raccoon on the right has two feet on the ground - its right front and left rear. Note how close they are together and imagine what the tracks will look like.... just like the photo above! It is a little harder to see what is going on with its sibling on the left, but that guy has its left rear and right front in the air while the right rear and left front are making the distinctive track pattern (or would if this wasn't grass).

Raccoon tracks
Seneca Falls, NY 12/10)
Here is a photo I took last winter that shows this exact circumstance: two raccoons walking side by side in the snow along our North trail. But the photos line up even better than that.... If you start with the tracks at the bottom of the photo, they match up perfectly with the coons above. Follow the trails up and imagine how the raccoons made each pair of tracks..

Raccoon leaving tracks
(Orlando, FL 4/11)
One last photo: I took this photo in April in Florida and blogged about it here. The posting focuses on defining the words plantigrade and digitigrade but the photo is my best ever of a raccoon leaving footprints and therefore is worth reposting today. You can actually see the fresh footprints in the silt. Note again the position of each foot and try to imagine how this animal moves on its four limbs. I challenge you to give it a try. I can tell you from experience that this overstep walk is difficult to replicate. But with some practice, you too can leave nice coon-like prints in your own mud. And don't forget to wear your mask....

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