Tracking in the Park

    Around here you really have to watch your step.  The amount of poop that sends you side-stepping (or racing to catch the baby before he tastes it) is a sure-tell sign that wildlife is abundant and varying.

    Truthfully, I like it this way.  Not only do we have some fairly good fertilizer making its way into the soil, but the learning opportunities are abundant.  Scat (AKA “poop”) along with tracks can tell you a lot about an area, the animals we share it with, and possible dangers on the trail.

    Before I talk about our own Scat/Tracks lessons, I have to mention we had a little inspiration.  There is a fabulous series of books called “Who Pooped in the Park – Scat and Tracks for Kids”by Gary D. Robson.

    The series started in Yellowstone, the book has now been expanded to accommodate for many other National Parks, per their request.  It tells the story of a family traveling through the park and noticing sign of a bunch of local animals (bear, elk, bison, wolf, badger, etc.)  In case you are planning on traveling around this area this summer, Gary will be appearing at a number of locations and doing some book signings.  We are going to try and catch up with him (and think you should too!)


    Wed., July 18 – Dubois, WY (National Bighorn Sheep Center) **Our own former stomping grounds**
    Friday, July 20 – Lake Hotel, Yellowstone
    Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22 – Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone

    Doing our own tracking
    We’ve been doing our own search for scat as we spend time in the park (or around it.)  Here are some fun facts we learned from the book plus our own explorations:
    – Elk and deer scat is very (VERY) similar, though it looks different depending on the season (and hence their diet.)  This scat actually was dropped more likely in the winter.  In the spring and summer months the scat is more clumped together.
    – Bison (see photo of scat taken in Mammoth that has been there awhile below…) are called Buffalo by plenty of people.  While they ARE technically bison, early settlers thought they looked an awful lot like buffalo in other parts of the world (water buffalo from India and cape buffalo from Africa) and the name stuck.  Now you have no excuse to NOT call them Bison, though. 🙂
    – Rabbits eat their own droppings.  When you see really round droppings, that is after they have been processed twice (to get as much nutrients out of their food as possible!
    – Elk horn (which is really “antlers” not “horns”) is a super popular pastime for many people in the spring.  However, usually restrictions are made as to when you can go into certain areas to search (so make sure to check that first!)  Mtn Papa got lucky a few times this spring.  Depending on how big they are, they can be valuable to artists and buyers, but we usually keep them and add them to our garden/landscape.

    Notice Your Surroundings:
    – Deeper tracks mean an animal is running.  Are elk tracks followed by bear tracks? Rabbit by wolf?
    – How fresh is the scat  you see?
    – Do you see any animal hair lying around?

    It’s amazing all that we can miss during a hike in the woods.  Slow down and see what the animals are telling you!


      1. You can learn so much when on a hike – seeing a couple of tracks such as elk and wolf are great opportunities to teach children. Another reason to keep your eye open is purely safety – if there’s a lot of fresh bear activity, it might not be the best place to hike and at the very least you better be extra vigilant.

      2. We always feel like we’ve won the lottery when we find bear scat. I like to know what I’m sharing the trail with… 🙂

      3. Love those books! J-Man has the Colorafo Plateau one. We also have a pamphlet with scat and tracks on it we take with us on our hikes. I love learning along with J-Man.

      4. We loved this post, particularly the picture of your kiddo and the poop! We’re glad you found the book inspiring and hope to see more poop pictures.

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