Mountain women don't have conversations like those of city women. You'd probably never catch a city woman discussing the kind of poop she sees when she's walking. Yet, that's exactly the conversation that Lori and I had this morning on our walk. And, it's not the first time. It's not that we're grossed out by it or even too focused on it to be considered healthy. It's just that we come across it all the time and we can tell so much about the wildlife in the area by taking a minute to examine what we're seeing.
The first time I realized this, I wasn't with Lori. I was trail riding with some friends. We were deep in the woods on a narrow trail that paralleled a ridge top when I spotted it. "Robin, what kind of poop is that?" I asked.
He didn't look at me like I was crazy. He pulled his horse up beside mine and said, "It's bear poop. Bear poop looks like human poop."
He was right. It did look like a wayward hillbilly had squatted on the path. "Oh," I said. "I wish I had a way to get it out of here and take it home with me. We're talking about scat in class right now and that's a great example."
Robin climbed off of his horse. "I've got a little paper bag in my saddle bags," he said. "We'll just put it in there and you can take it to your classroom."
He scooped up the poop with a leaf and popped it in the bag. Later in my classroom, we dissected it and determined that the bear had been feasting on grubs and poke berries.
Three years later, I was glad I knew what bear poop looks like. It was early summer and Lori and Caroline and I were hiking a portion of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail. The trail started out wide and friendly. The sun was shining, but the further we got, the narrower and more closed in the trail became. Soon we had climbed high enough to be walking through a cloud which just made everything feel spooky. Of course that's when we spotted it. A pile of fresh poop deposited right in front of us, and I knew what it was. "That's bear poop," I pointed out.
Lori looked around. "Geez, we can't see anything much in this mess and if it's a momma bear she could be close by. In fact her cub could be on one side of the trail and we might be between her and it and we wouldn't even be able to see her. That could make her mad...." Lori didn't need to finish. We turned around and high tailed it out of there. We didn't stop to dissect the pile to see what the bear had been eating. It didn't really matter as long as it wasn't going to be us.
Since then, I've become pretty interested in animal scat. Each morning, when Lori and I walk, we stop at any little pile (other than deer pellets which are everywhere) and try to figure out what's been there before us and what it was eating. Here's some of what I've learned.
Coyote poop looks like dog poop, but it's often full of hair or wool since coyotes feast on rabbits, fawns and lambs. Raccoon poop is small and kind of looks like tootsie rolls, but it's usually full of seeds of some sort. We've seen bear scat twice more and both times it had berry seeds and bug wings in it. Rabbit poop is pelleted and light brown because they eat a lot of bark. Sometimes we find a pile we can't identify, but I'm not interested in walking around with a handful of poo, so we leave it alone. I do however, try to remember if it was a plop, pellet or tube and then look it up on this website: What Pooped Here? I'd really like to find some toad scat and some owl pellets which are not poop but regurgitated bones and fur.
So, next time you're out for a country walk, look down. You might discover what's walked the path in front of you.