This is Not Where I Thought I Was Going

Tracking Kangaroo Rats at Bruneau Dunes State Park

Today I’m going to take you along on a little tracking adventure! Tracking wildlife is one of the things I do for fun and I thought you might enjoy seeing how a tracker thinks.

As we delve deeper into my story I’ll explain how I came to study wildlife tracking. For now all you need to know is that I’m always looking for tracks. And when I find them I have to follow them and do my best to figure out the story they tell. Tracking makes me happy!

About Bruneau Dunes

This Idaho state park is located south of Mountain Home, and a few miles off of highway 84, is a lovely place to visit. Landlocked sand dunes are interesting places with tons of tracking substrate. This one, at 470 feet, is the tallest single structure dune in North America.

A world-class observatory in a beautiful setting a bit south of Boise. The sky is quite dark here, and the Milky Way on a clear night makes an impression! All photos by Linda Bittle

The campground is comfortable, with places to pitch a tent or hook up the RV. There’s a separate campground and trail system for horse lovers. Bathrooms and showers were clean, and our shaded tent site had both electricity and water.

Recreational activities include enjoying the hiking and horse trails, boating and fishing, bird watching, and sand-boarding on the dunes. The visitor’s center is well worth stopping at, too.

Don’t miss the opportunity to attend a program by a real astrophysicist at the observatory and do some stargazing with the experts on Friday and Saturday nights from mid-April to mid-October. (Note that you do not ever want to fall into a black hole!) I highly recommend both the program and the stargazing.

“Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

~ Robert Baden-Powell

Early Morning Tracking Adventures in Pictures

I’ll post a list of links at the end of this photo journal that will go into detail about the park, how sand dunes are formed, Kangaroo Rats, bird tracks, and tracking in general. Check them out if you want to learn more.

An early morning walk on the trail between the campground and the observatory reveals that many creatures use this path! Most clear tracks were human, and of all sizes. Leashed dogs are welcome in the park, and I saw multiple dog tracks as well. Bird tracks were also common.
The edges of the path were lined with holes that went back into the sand and under the vegetation. They reminded me very much of the Ord’s Kangaroo Rats that I’d tracked in eastern Washington a few years back. I hadn’t done my research before heading off on vacation, and so I wasn’t sure if they lived in southern Idaho. The only clear tracks I see here are bird tracks, so I looked further down the trail.
Bipedal hop! The tracks are almost clear enough for me to say with certainty that I’m tracking a Kangaroo Rat. While sand is great substrate for tracking, it doesn’t always hold enough detail for me to be sure of myself. Kangaroo Rats have 4 toes on both front and hind feet. They typically stand upright and hop on their hind legs.
Tail drag is also indicative of K rat tracks! I silently ask myself what other creatures leave tail drags…and I can say for certain that this is not a beaver, lizard, or salamander. Have I forgotten anything?
This tiny little front track clearly shows 4 toes. I’ve never seen such a clear K rat front track, and it’s pretty exciting! I’m 98% sure I know what I’m tracking.
With these beautiful hind tracks, I felt certain of my identification even though I still did not know for sure that Kangaroo Rats live in this part of Idaho. At this point I stopped photographing every new track we found and we made way better time to our destination. Hiking with a tracker can be really slow…
Verification that Kangaroo Rats do live in the Bruneau Sand Dunes came at the end of the trail on this informative sign.
I also saw a lone Mule Deer track, a partial set of Jackrabbit tracks, and a number of different bird tracks, including a pair of zygodactyl tracks that may have been a small owl! Tracking is like reading the newspaper to see who passed by in the night. So much activity happens in the dark, and tracks tell the story if you only learn how to read them!

I had a lot of fun working out this tracking mystery. And I hope that you enjoyed tagging along. I have lots more tracking stories to tell!

Is tracking wildlife something that you enjoy or would like to learn more about? Leave a comment below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *