I teach an introductory course on mammal identification and natural history. This blog serves as a place for all of those stories, photos, facts and fun stuff that simply won't fit in the course. Type in your email below to follow this blog!
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Wednesday, January 9, 2013
A quick internet search gives multiple references to the word "sitzmark" as originating in the 1930s from a combination of the German word to sit and the English word mark. Originally, the word referred to a the imprint a skier would leave after falling backwards in the snow. I cannot find any reference to when the word entered the language of trackers, but to us non-skiing naturalists, a sitzmark is when an animal jumps from a tree or limb and lands in the snow (note that it no longer means to fall backward). Most commonly, the term is used in conjunction with arboreal animals like flying squirrels, fisher and marten.
Feral cat track
One of my two goals for tracking this winter was to find a sitzmark (the other was to find bobcat tracks in the Finger Lakes). I didn't realize it was going to be this easy... sort of. We have a few feral cats around and I was following the tracks of one on Tuesday trying, without success, to photograph the tracks. The snow was deep with a hard crust (think Magic Shell on your ice cream) but the cat was heavy enough to break through with each step. I imagined the experience was a bit awkward for the cat as it had its toes splayed wide and all of its nails distended. I badly wanted to photograph those cat tracks with claws out and that is exactly what I did -- I photographed them badly.
The cat crossed our side field and headed to a pile of tree trunks awaiting processing (fuel wood). The cat investigated under many of the trunks and made is way up to the top of one.
It walked the length of the log and when it got to the end, it simply jumped off into the snow.
The feral cat sitzmark clearly shows all four legs and the body. What would have really "made" it was a tail mark.
Feral cat sitzmark
This photo give you an idea of the height the cat jumped from -- that is my glove at the top
Feral cat sitzmark
So technically, I met my objective. I found a sitzmark. But it was bittersweet at best. I mean, I really pictured myself finding something a bit more glamorous like a flying squirrel or one of the few fisher in our area. Certainly I could do better than a feral cat! But on the other hand, this was an important moment. I only set the goal to find a sitzmark a short time ago. Shouldn't I just be happy that I found one so quickly regardless of the species? The more exciting sitzmarks will come with time. The important this is that I am continuing to learn; to hone my craft.
Gray squirrel stizmark
I kind of lost myself in those thoughts for a moment until a car sped past and jolted me back to reality. Guests were coming and I had to get back to the house. I walked to the far side of the pile, stopped, backed up and looked. I had nearly stepped right on it. There in the snow was a gray squirrel sitzmark. The squirrel had launched itself from the end of a trunk nearly six feet off the ground. Not the flying squirrel I was hoping for, but a definite improvement over the feral cat!