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Animal Tracks Indicate Spring Has Sprung But You Might Not Have Noticed


In case you don't believe that spring is really here - and it sure doesn't feel like it in some places. Just ask my mom in Indiana where it's 29 degrees this morning. If you don't believe spring is really here, take a walk in the woods. Reporter Natasha Haverty walks with professional wildlife tracker - with a professional wildlife tracker in Massachusetts' Quabbin Reservoir to watch spring happen.

NATASHA HAVERTY, BYLINE: David Brown stands at the edge of the forest about to step through a curtain of dense pine and oak. The morning is quiet, but he says we're surrounded.

DAVID BROWN: There are secrets all around us. There's hidden life.

HAVERTY: And right now, he says, everything's going through some kind of change.

BROWN: A lot of things are coming alive at this point that have been dormant or semi-dormant or even hibernating all winter long. They're starting to come out now and starting to prowl around.

HAVERTY: We set out looking for tracks. Brown walks in here almost every day, sometimes with groups who hire him as their guide. The snow on the ground is like shaved ice and caves under our weight. It doesn't take long to find something.

BROWN: Ah, this is interesting. We have some tracks. And this answers a question, and the question is, are bears out of hibernation yet? And this one is - this is good. This is the first bear that I've seen so far this spring.

HAVERTY: He kneels down.

BROWN: And this is the front track up here - five toes, kidney-shaped secondary pad and just a little dot here for the heel.

HAVERTY: It's probably a young bear, hungry enough to leave the den in search of food in the thawing forest. From this one print, Brown can imagine the whole animal.

BROWN: An animal's trail is often described as a diary of its personal life. And few people lie to their diaries - or maybe they do. I'm not sure.

HAVERTY: Brown's been reading animal tracks for 30 years.

BROWN: For me, language is like a code. And decoding it reveals all sorts of information that I didn't know before. And an animal trail is a great deal like that, like translating a foreign language. And we've come on a site here, and basically, we've got porcupine quills that are laying in a little trench and a lot of tracks around them. And one of those tracks is a very fresh bobcat track.

HAVERTY: Translation - this is the story of a hungry bobcat preying on an unsuspecting porcupine. As we continue on, we find at least 10 more kinds of tracks - grey fox, moose, coyote, ruffed grouse.

BROWN: I think probably most people would walk down this trail and not see the things that we've seen already here.

HAVERTY: Brown almost never sees the animals he tracks, and he's OK with that. He says staying out of the way makes for better stories. For NPR News, I'm Natasha Haverty in western Massachusetts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CALL OF THE FOREST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.