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.