|There are so many clues here, and so many confusing
signs. Where to start?
First of all, the tracks were clearly coming
out of the water, and the trail width was about 6-8 inches wide. That
narrows it down to something like beaver, otter, or muskrat.
The tracks are indistinct, which is very characteristic of beaver.
That’s because beavers typically degrade or completely destroy their
footprints by either dragging their tail (which sometimes leaves swirl
marks), or dragging a tree. The tracks in this quiz are probably the
clearest beaver tracks I’ve ever found.
The 6˝ inch track length is too large for otter or muskrat, and are
about normal for a beaver’s hind foot. The 2 5/8 inch long track is
about normal for a beaver’s front foot. Take a look at the photo on this
page to note how huge the difference is between the front and hind
tracks of beaver. On occasion the beaver's front and hind prints will
overlap, leaving very confusing-looking footprints like some seen in
Beavers’ hind feet have very long toes, sometimes as long as a human
finger. They also have very robust toenails / claws, which often display
much more distinctly than the toes, pad, or heel, which can be seen in
Beavers have 4 toes on the front and 5 toes on the hind foot, but
they are notorious for not always registering all the toes. So they
often leave confusing prints that make it look like they have 2 or 3
Photo 38H was somewhat subtle, and Photo 38T was a more distinct sign
of drag marks left by the beaver. They are signs of the beaver returning
to the water, dragging cut-down trees behind them, which completely
obliterate their footprints.
Photos 38M / 38R were “tricks” of a sort – they told you to look at
the tracks, but there were other clues present, including leaves and
drag marks of black cottonwood saplings. Beavers have a very strong
association with this tree.. As I have learned from tracking expert Sue
Morse, developing your tree identification skills will sharpen your
tracking skills, as many animals are experts at tree identification and
have a strong preference for a single tree species. The entire grove of
saplings in Photo 38S are black cottonwood - it's the beaver's favorite
food source in western Washington. In other areas of the continent,
beavers prefer alder, aspen, birch, poplar, or maple.
The tracks and sign from this quiz made for a super day of tracking.
I was glad to be there at just the right time - hope you enjoyed it.
The quiz that follows will take you to winter, on the opposite side
of the U.S., in New England.