SAIL SHORE to SHORE Students Discover the Art of Animal Tracking

Reflections by HCT walk leader, naturalist, and Kripalu Mindful Outdoor Guide Andrea Higgins.

Photos courtesy of SAIL and SHORE staff and parents.

Sand Pond Woodlands’ stunning 77-acres was the site for today’s SAIL SHORE to SHORE adventure. I was beyond excited for students to explore this alluring Preserve with its amazing trees, beautiful trails, and stunning views of the Herring River.

After warm welcomes and a discussion of today’s plan we set off on the trail. Our first stop was to forage for delicious, sun-ripened blueberries and huckleberries. We paused again nearby to enjoy fragrant flowering sweet-pepper bushes perfuming the air.

Arriving at a section where three trails intersect, we decided to spread out in search of animal signs and discovered feathers, coyote scat, fisher scat, and a bird’s eggshell. Our search saunter continued, leading us to an otter slide and otter scat near the Herring River. Wandering down the trail, a black swallowtail butterfly flitted around us before landing on a catbrier leaf, offering a closer look. Students complimented the butterfly’s colors and the lovely patterns decorating its wings.

Next, we came upon a bench with a view overlooking the Herring River and paused in silence to create a sound map of our surroundings. Students and staff heard a variety of bird songs coming from all directions, the gentle rustling of leaves stirred by light breezes, and insects buzzing by. Back on the trail we continued exploring and noticed cavity nests in several trees that we guessed were providing homes for chickadees, owls, or flying squirrels.

At a picnic table just off the trail, we gathered on a mat spread out across the forest floor and chatted about animal prints and tracks. I shared a box of animal track casts with front and rear paw prints from a mink, red fox, otter, beaver, deer, coyote, fisher, opossum, raccoon, and squirrel. Students checked out Lynn Levine’s Mammal Tracks and Scat Life-Sized Pocket Guide for another example of the sizes and shapes of animal prints.

Next, I handed each student a package of homemade playdough and a collection of animal track stamps to create their own impressions. Once the prints in the dough were finished, we brought our stamps over to the picnic table where I filled a shallow cardboard tray with cloud sand (a mixture of flour and baby oil). The group used a variety of stamps to design an animal track mosaic. Deer and rabbit tracks were popular choices this morning.

Once we were satisfied with our track designs, we played a game of Whose Track is That? with Stan Tekiela’s book by the same title. This nature detective training guide is interactive and entertaining, filled with animal track hints and excellent nature photography. Students were very engaged, raising their hands to call out which animal matched the track’s description as I read the hints out loud.

Packing up, we wandered back down the trails and gathered in a closing circle to recap our morning and share our favorite parts of our adventure. Highlights of the day included the track printing, spotting the butterfly, and exploring the trails.

We returned to the parking lot where a staff member’s parents greeted us with frozen fruit popsicles! What a sweet ending to an absolutely terrific morning! I am already so very excited for next week’s adventures.  

Happy Exploring!


Ms. Andrea