Sunday, December 18, 2011

Drawing and Tracking Training

Professional artist and art teacher Mark Kang O'Higgins explains the value of drawing exercises in training observation skills relevant to wildlife tracking.

Monday, December 12, 2011

December Tracking Intensive

So Dec tracking intensive class was busy. The weekend started for students with class room lectures for the first part of Saturday. Then out into the field, where there were plenty of tracks to be found under bridges in Duvall and at Chinook bend. Everyone stayed out until the light began to fade and then that evening went to the schools land for an evening class on observational principles and drawing as related to tracks.

The following day was spent at Stossel Creek. It was a beautiful riparian environment and we weren't there long before we found tons of bear tracks and sign. Some was old and some was very fresh. An exciting and beautiful place. With the low hanging mist in the morning giving way to clear sunshine in the afternoon the place took on a magical quality. We found Coho salmon swimming in the streams, returning to their spawning beds. There were signs that the bear had also found them. We came across cougar and otter sign. All in all it was a great weekend. Top left; In the woods. Top R: Hannes Wingate finds bear tracks. 2nd down L & R: Old and new bear sign. 3rd down L; bear track. 3rd down R;drawing class. Below L; drawing review. MKO

Coho in this shallow stream made easy fishing conditions for a black bear patroloing its banks. Photo by Terry Kem.

Remains of a coho salmon consumed by a black bear found by students during class. Photo by Terry Kem.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Marcus Reynerson explains river otter scent marking

While teaching on the Snohomish River in Western Washington, Marcus discovered the tracks and sign of some recent scent marking activity of a river otter.

A prominent sandy location above a body of water such as this is a typical location for river otters to scent mark.

Scent marking stations include scratch marks, scat and other secretions, often deposited on vegetation.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Why did the mink go under the bridge?" December Tracking Club

Kelly Staples inspecting an insect trail.
About 20 folks braved a cold and foggy day in the Snoqualmie Valley for Tracking Club today. After a careful inspection of Chinook Bend Park which yielded several elk trails but not much else, station guides settled on holding the day under one of the valley's bridges.

Species encountered under the bridge included:
  • Bobcat tracks
  • Deer mouse tracks
  • Opposum tracks
  • Salamder tracks
  • Several insects trails
  • Racoon tracks
  • Beaver feeding sign
  • Bat scat
  • Perching bird tracks
  • 2 American robin nests
Jenn Wolfe explains the key features of Mink tracks.

  • Mink tracks
  • Muskrat tracks
  • Eastern Cottontail
  • Barn owl pellets
  • Frog tracks
  • Weasel tracks
  • Rat tracks
  • the mandible of a vole
  • some mystery scats I believe were from rock doves (though Jonathan Goff remained skeptical).

Mink (Neovison vison) tracks from the edge of the Snoqualmie River.

Station Guide Chris Byrd, explains the ins and outs of insect feeding sign on a dogwood bush.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Elk trailing on the East Slope of the Cascades

Morning temperature of 13 degrees F did not deter our class from an  excellent weekend of elk trailing along Clockum Ridge.

On Saturday, after searching for a fresh trail along a roadless ridgeline with amazing views of Mount Stuart without success (though we did discover sign of a mountain lion that had been on a similar mission), we finally picked up the trail of a large herd of elk moving through a meadow system further east and trailed them all afternoon through a maze of feeding sign and bedding areas. A few of us were distracted by the fresh trail of a black bear we discovered in a light dusting of snow.

Brian McConnell waxes philosophically on the
 finer points of trailing elk on the east slopes of the Cascades

Cybertracker Senior Tracker Brian McConnell joined us as a guest instructor and graced us with his keen insights during the day as well as some awesome stories around the fire in the evening.

On Sunday we picked up the tracks of a heard of elk and followed them for several miles through shrub-steppe and open pine forests in the sunshine. On the long hike back to our vehicles at the end of the day, I think we were all impressed at both the terrain the herd had covered as well as the fact that we had followed them through all of it.

Brian cutting for elk tracks along a ridge in the eastern Cascades

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A new species Spotted at the Oregon Dunes

Thanks to Guest Instructor Laura Gunion for the following post and photos:

Foggy morning on the Dunes. Air is wet and cool. Walking along I see acrystal clear fresh perfect trail of a small animal bounding across the damp sand. The following are some of the thoughts in my head. Probably good for my ego that I kept them to myself.

"Whoa! These tracks are perfect! Plaster cast for sure! People always say they see squirrel tracks and I've never seen them here before. I can't believe a squirrel is running from the forest all of the way out to the Tree Island.  Why? This is pretty cool. Wow, they look *really* weird in the sand.  It's going so fast that the front feet aren't even beside each other. The toes are so round. Huh, is this a different kind of squirrel?! The proximal pads are kinda small for a Douglas Squirrel.  Hmmm. This is weird....Wait.. What??! The front feet have 5 toes!! and the back feet have proximal pads -  What?! those look like back feet, but they can't be!  What the #!*% is going on?!"

 My total confusion lasted several more seconds before I started to piece together a new story
of who this critter actually was.  As far as I know, this was the first time that tracks of this species has been spotted at the Dunes.  Interestingly, we trailed this animal the following 2 days.

Do you know who this was?

Have you ever seen one running across sand dunes?

Post your thoughts here. We will put up ours in a couple of weeks!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October Tracking Club: Now with Bears and Salmon!

Second Tracking Club of the season: Bears! Salmon! The sandy beaches were littered with carcasses of spent salmon spreading their nutritious rotting selves over the landscape, and live ones splashing in the shallows. The tracks of two black bears made their way through the sandy cottonwood forest down to the river’s edge. The trails made for a great tracking club.

This time we split our ranks and simultaneously conducted a tracking assessment for members of WAS’s Tracking Intensive course. This meant we explored two separate sand bars during the morning finding everything from jumping mouse tracks to beaver scat to the hefty black bear. The mustelids and the cats stayed home, but many of the other usual suspects were present. My favorite station was a dead salmon with it’s brains chewed out. Our question was “who did this?” There were large flat compressions in the grass leading away from the fish, a ragged hole in the head, and three evenly spaced slices over an inch long near it’s tail. There were signs of bears eating salmon all up and down the shore.

A black bear retrieves a salmon from a stream on the British Columbia Coast. Photo © David Moskowitz

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Oregon Dunes Weekend

My seventh visit to Eel Creek campground resulted in the same conclusion as the previous six—tracking is cool. It’s hard work, it’s rewarding, it’s fascinating and eye-opening. And hey, we saw peregrine falcons, so the trip was totally worthwhile!

Back to mammals, we got some insight into aging tracks as the rain poured down on us for most of the weekend. You’d think that sand would drain well, but an impressive pond formed in the kitchen on Saturday night as we told stories of our day’s adventures. Plaster casts of mysterious creatures decorated the kitchen table. We got to ponder questions like: Do ravens have a different number of toe joints than crows do, resulting in a different number of dots in their tracks? Do any squirrels have five toes in both front and rear? How unerringly can I tell the difference between gray and red fox tracks? And where the heck did that red fox go after one group scared it up out of its day bed?

Despite the rain, sinuous sand dunes held lines of tracks stretching from oasis to oasis. Monday morning had some people out in the early light, trailing animals using the guidelines Dave had inspired us with the night before. From the perspective of ancient hominids, debating claw angle and number of toes doesn’t get you any closer to actually seeing (and perhaps eating) the animal. I thoroughly enjoyed blending the skills of the modern naturalist and the ancient scout, solving mysteries with as many parts of my brain as I could muster.

There’s still plenty of grit in my clothes and beds to remind me of the Dunes. “Sand time” is an inspiring start to a year of solid dirt time.

Alexia inspecting the trail of a species of mammal we were quite surprised to find roaming the dunes. Stay tuned for a forthcoming post on it!

Hardy Pacific Northwest trackers diligently studying the same trail in the rain.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Pieter Van Winkle discovered this rarely seen critter while exploring a marsh on the edge of the Umpqua Dunes during our second weekend of the year. Good spot Pieter and nice photo!

Wilson's snipe amongst pond lilies. Umpqua Dunes, Oregon Coast. Photo by Pieter Van Winkle


Puma concolor or Canis lupus domesticus, you decide!

Here are a couple of photographs of one of the questions from the opening weekend's field trip to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. Post your thoughts about the maker and why. We'll share our thoughts in a week or so!

Tracks were found on the muddy bank of a slough feeding into the river.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tracking Club on Sept 24th

For this club meeting, we had 6 experienced station guides. Our favorite spot to hold tracking club was closed for conservation upgrades to the riverbanks, so we headed under bridge we knew often harbored a wide variety of species.  

We were rewarded with nearly 15 potential stations including bobcat, mink, muskrat, bat, coyote, otter, beaver, and even a hummingbird nest. We also saw track or sign for at least three larger birds including an owl. A beaver had chewed a branch off at a height near our heads, and two animals had left scat in the same exact location. It was an outstanding day, despite the fact that I fell in the river. I did an unexpected otter slide while exploring tracks on an upended tree some little ways off shore. We decided not to use that spot as a station.  

We had a great time talking out the various mysteries with the participants, and Chris Byrd shared no fewer than 5 new vocabulary words for describing dentition on the tiny vole mandible we picked out of an owl pellet.

Dates for future Tracking Clubs and other information can be found on the WAS website under Wildlife Tracking Courses. I’ve also put them here for easy access:  

Dates for 2011-2012 - Saturdays - Sept 17, Oct 15, Nov 19, Jan 21, Feb 18, March 17, April 21, May 19. We meet at the WAS office at 8:45 am. See you there in October for a fun boost to your dirt time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

First Tracking Intensive weekend 2011

Sept 24th-25th:
Great class this weekend. 1st Tracking Intensive class of the year. Students were challenged right from the start. Saturday morning involved classes on foot morphology and tracking principles. They took a shot at tracking and trailing and then reflected on their current skill set. Then the afternoon was spent studying tracks that had been laid out in stations by the teaching staff.

Sunday was a full on day of tracking in different substrates. The team set up a mock evaluation so that everyone would have a chance to test their extent of naturalist and tracking knowledge. Our first part of the day was spent a few miles from north bend near exit 38 on I-90. We found racoon, deer, elk, vole, deer-mouse sign.

Track of an elk which passed under Interstate 90.

Eli inspects the trail of a deer mouse under Interstate 90

Mallory facilitating a discussion around the identity of one of the sets of tracks we discovered.

Then we moved up the middle fork of the Snoqualmie river. Lots of exciting tracks, sign and stations. Students had 40 or so different questions to answer. A beautiful wild riparian habitat was a great setting for the day. There was a lot of great sign. Amongst others the species we came across were raccoon, river otter, great blue heron, stellars jay, jumping mouse, beaver, bear, bobcat and dog. There was a lot of excitement over finding a lot of bear track and sign and everyone had a chance to check out a great example of a bears overstep walk. There was also a lot of debate over a set of tracks that had aspects of cougar but was in fact a large domestic dog. Thanks to all who participated.

Tracks of a Stellar's jay on the banks of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

Mallory looking on as several students decipher the tracks left by a beaver on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Animal Locomotion and Track Patterns

Steve Leckman, who completed the Advanced Path of the Tracking Intensive last year, posted the video he made as part of his independent research project on Youtube. Its an excellent overview of the topic of track patterns and animal movement, not to mention an amazing display of athleticism on Steve's part!

Though there is no sound in this version, he strongly recommends something from the hip-hop genre for accompaniment. Thanks Steve!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A latin quiz

If your smartes you should be able to guess the maker of t his track!

A Linnaeus Nightmare

So there I was, down on my knees in the wet sand, examining a set of tiny tracks. I had just made a suggestion that the teaching team learn sign language for all the most common animals we track, so we could discuss the tracks without giving anything away when students wanted time to puzzle out track ID for themselves. Marcus was there and he mumbled something to Alexia. It sounded like, “zap us.” Was he swearing? Then he burst out with a string of Latin names for small mammals. Now I was sure he was swearing. I got the point, Marcus, really, I did. If I wanted to talk about the tracks I could use the genus and species. As a teacher, I learned that we have receptive language knowledge and productive language knowledge. My receptive knowledge of small mammals species names was good enough to let me know he had suggested I consider vole or deer mouse for the ID of these tiny tracks. I couldn’t have produced the Latin name for vole, but remembered it when he said it. But what was this zapping thing he was talking about. With a far too sneaky twinkle in his eye, Marcus wandered off leaving me to the mercy of Dave, who was only slightly less twinkly. Turns out Zapus trinotatus is our friend the Pacific Jumping Mouse. I hadn’t considered that since I knew the track was vole. But that hadn’t helped me here. I decided it was time to study up.

So I’ve been writing common names on small cards with Latin names on the flip side. Plugging away at it pushing names from merely receptive knowledge into productive and then adding more from the never-knew-in-the-first-place category into receptive. I’ve gotten 33 mammals and a hand full of birds up that conveyor belt now. I’ve been even sending slightly off color emails using the Latin names as puns to torture Marcus and Dave. The mustelids seem fairly easy. Maybe since it’s my second try with them. Porcupine was a cinch having read a children’s book where the main character, a porky, was named Erethizon. Crow sounds like a crow retching (brachyrynchos). Sandpiper is being remarkably stubborn. I’ll keep you posted.