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Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #42 - Answer

by Brian Booth

 
The mystery animal is QUAIL. (In this case, it was Gambelís Quail. They were scurrying all around the wash.)

The way to figure this out is to first identify that the animal has 3 toes registering in the tracks, which means it is a bird.
The absence of a rear toe (hallux) rules out birds with a prominent hallux such as raven, cactus wren and roadrunner (although in finer substrate than the gravelly dust seen here, the hallux of a quail can be seen pretty well). The narrow trail width is characteristic of a game bird, such as a quail, chukar, bobwhite, grouse, prairie chicken or pheasant. (Itís also characteristic of shore birds such as sandpiper, but you can obviously rule that out by the habitat.)

The small track size of 1Ĺ inch x 1Ĺ inch rules out prairie chicken or pheasant. If you check a map of Arizona showing the location of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a bird field guide, you can rule out chukar, bobwhite and grouse, as they donít inhabit the Sonoran Desert. Additionally, the large number of tracks suggests that this was a gregarious bird, matching the quailís tendency to travel together in large coveys.

This quiz represented a challenge for folks not familiar with the desert Ė if so, hopefully you are one step more familiar now. It was also extra challenging because of the tracks in the dry gravel didnít show much definition, obscured the hallux, and the way the gravel collapses around the edges, it makes the toes look thicker than they really are.

While this may look like a simple quiz, the tracking itself on this day was not easy. The habitat and substrate presented a very challenging quest to me to find any tracks Ė I had to bushwack a great distance to find this patch of gravel that revealed the tracks, and had I not rose at dawn to go hiking amidst the long shadows of early morning light, I might not have been able to see the tracks at all.

Nevertheless, it was a magnificent venture to a remote and special area, one of the continentís best-preserved areas of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. I hope to visit again soon.

Iíll leave you with a sunset photo from my camp on my last evening at Organ Pipe. What a spot.
Till next time,
BRIAN

Quiz #42 - Question      ...on to Quiz #43

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