Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First Tracking Intensive Weekend 2012

September 1st and 2nd marked the first Tracking Intensive weekend for 2012. Ten students met on Saturday for introductions and an orientation of the year to come, then began lectures on track characteristics by family, sketching and journaling tracks, and track terminology. The students ranged in experience from novice to advanced.

In the afternoon we went into the field with the task of finding a deer which led to an interesting discussion of where and how to search for them in a Western Washington lowland forest. Groups found deer browse, and tracks from deer and Bobcat, but no deer. Where would they be on the landscape in the mid-afternoon? One group found some interesting eggs placed down a ~1/2 inch hole in the forest duff. Do you recognize them? They were about the size of green peas but opaque white.

Eggs found a few inches underground. Do you know what they are?
On Sunday we had a field evaluation to see what knowledge students were entering the program with. These evaluations are inspiring because they illuminate how much there is to learn about tracking in the Pacific Northwest. The questions that were asked included spoor from Mink, Old World Rat, North American River Otter, American Robin, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Stiletto Fly, Deer Mouse, Black-tailed Deer, Bullfrog, Coyote, Muskrat, American Beaver, bat, and Domestic Dog. We also got great looks and pictures of 2 to 3 Long-tailed Weasels along a stream. It was a greatly educational and fun first month of Tracking Intensive. Here's to many more! -DG
 Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata)

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) left front and left hind tracks on a rock
River Otter (Lontra canadensis) tracks in a 3x4 lope

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Advanced Path Projects

The last weekend of May we wrapped up this years Tracking Intensive with a variety of field activities designed to test students tracking skills, a BBQ and potluck, and presentations from our three Advanced Path Graduates from this year (so far, two more students have parts of their projects yet to complete over the summer)! (DM)

 All the excitement got you hooked? Enrollment is now open for next years class at http://wildernessawareness.org/adult/tracking_intensive.html

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tracking Club on 5/19/12

If you wanted to know the differences among shorebirds, how robins move, the stories in deer trails, and how to tell vole from deer mouse tracks, you should have been at Tracking Club.  For intermediate trackers, these stations might have seemed elementary at first, but they turned out to be layered and challenging.  We had a good discussion about using the tracking funnel (big picture map to small picture track detail) to decipher partial and obscured tracks.  Participants were led to discover a beaver trail from a partial front and the dog-like toes of two back tracks.

The robins across the river began alarming at one point and those who were keeping themselves tuned to their surroundings caught sight of a Red-tailed hawk.  Later the bird wheeled over us several times putting the sun behind it to show us the red in it’s fanned out tail.

We had a great day in the sun on the banks of the river at Chinook Bend. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

April: Olympic National Park--more images from the Rainforest

Students traversing fallen logs on the floodplain of the Hoh River in Olympic National Park.

Dan Daly poses with incisors marks left by an elk on a small red alder tree along the South Fork of the Hoh River.

Dan demonstrates how these marks were produced!

Gazing up at one of the many magnificent trees of the Hoh Rainforest.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mallory's Journal from the Olympics

Microtus Townsendii: The humble Townsend’s vole.  This one hung from a tiny stick by its teeth.  When you see their feet like that, there’s no wonder their tracks have long skinny fingers in them.  The field we found him in was a warren of vole tunnels, trails, and sign.  Every step I took, I knew I was collapsing the roof of some small critter’s hallway or dinning room.  Take that, you midget nibblers!  Yes, relatively small, but so numerous.  What they lack in grandiosity, they make up in consequence.  I bet they transformed this field when they first arrived.  The “meadow” in the park next to my city home seems lifeless compared to this one.  It is not blessed with a single vole.  After any half hour exploring vole tunnels, you know what fields do for voles, but what exactly do voles do for fields?

Drew Middlebrooks inspects a Townend's vole (Microtus townsendii)

Cervus elaphus roosevelti:  They were eating sword fern!  They didn’t seem to care about the car stopped 10 feet away and went on crunching the vegetation without even a raised eyebrow.  The top two or three inches of each tough frond was ripped off and vanished.  Why swords and not all that tender spring green stuff?

A Roosevelt elk browses in the Hoh rainforest.
A bull elk grazing in a wetland in the Hoh rainforest.

Lepus americanus: Two snowshoe hare were sitting by the exclosure fence when we arrived.  I’ve always been startled by how their bodies are the perfect picture of hell-bent runner even when they go a short 5 feet and then stop.  How do they get so wound up in only the first few inches?  Zero to sixty to zero in half a dozen feet.  Then they execute those dainty hops that look so relaxed and floating they make me sleepy.

Snowshoe hare outside the elk exclosure.

Ursus americanus:  The black bear tracks were massive.  Almost every time I find a good way across a wild river or creek, (a downed tree, a beaver dam, or a perfect place to swim and climb up on the other side) there are the bear tracks.  Good shallow fording spots with the usual loose river rocks are not attractive to the bears.  They are the masters of crossing finesse and seem to protect their unshod feet.  I want to know if it used the human trail on the other side of the river or came to the tree-bridge bushwhacking.

Black bear tracks on a sandbar of the South Fork of the Hoh River.
Mallory Clarke crossing the South Fork of the Hoh River on a fallen log.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mark's take on the Olympics!

Tracking Intensive April:

Here are some images from the Tracking Intensive weekend in the Olympics. (MKO)
Elk Explosion
Hoh River Valley
Bear Bed
Elk Bed

Monday, April 23, 2012

April Tacking Club

We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day for our April Tracking Club. We went to the Stossil Creek area and found some really interesting track and sign.

 A good number of people turned up including four children. All were prepared to clamber over fallen trees, cross creeks and bushwhack when needed.

We found trees that had been marked and bitten by bears.

 We found beaver dams and chews, aplodontia burrows, racoon tracks, cougar scrapes, kill sites, and robin's nests.

An aplodontia burrow.

A cougar scrape:
And finally a mystery for our viewers:  A kill site, can you identify the partial skulls?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coyote Tracking with Charlie Serra

Tracking Intensive Alumni Charlie Serra discusses the finer points of coyote tracks and trails.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Trailing Bighorn Sheep

Dan Daly searches for the tracks of two rams we observed from the valley bottom.

Drew Middlebrooks inspects the bed of a bighorn sheep perched high above the Yakima River.

Following the trail of two bighorn rams between cliffbands.

Discussing where the bighorn we were following might be currently and how to approach them without being detected.

Terry Kem points out a likely travel route.

Intrepid trailer Anthony "T-Bone" Andreasik takes a break in the sunshine,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March Tracking Club

Last Saturday morning I heard the rain as soon as I woke up, and my first waking thought was, "I bet we'll go under the 124th St bridge today." The bridges are dry-ish and hold tracks well, especialyll when heavy rains mean the sandbars are flooded. But when I met with the five other people who were gathered there to help run this Tracking Club, they mutinied. "No more bridges!" cried Joe. "We were there the past three months!" So Chris suggested scoping out the Redmond Watershed area. Off we went. Even if it meant sign tracking rather than a lot of clear prints, at least we wouldn't be under a bridge.

Maybe it was the heavy rain, or maybe past participants were worried we would wind up tracking deer mice under bridges again, but a small group of three people showed up. I'll speak for myself and say I had a fantastic time wandering through the woods with some very skilled trackers, looking at everything from edible plants to salamander eggs. Everyone got the chance to identify salamander eggs by feel, which was a lot of fun. Snags next to the water's edge led to a good mystery: both beavers and woodpeckers leave wood chips as a sign of their feeding. But given a handful of random chips, could you separate the beaver from the woodpecker chips?

There was a place where a large woodpecker had been pecking into a live cedar. The cedar tree was only 10 inches in diameter--probably small for a nest. No obvious insect sign in there. I have since noticed a similar hole on a cedar near my house. Any ideas what the birds are pecking for?

Rain or not, I had a blast during Tracking Club-- a big hats off to the participants and the stalwart team of trackers and scouts who make it possible. Roaming through the woods exploring with a team of knowledgeable fun-loving people felt like a powerful way to get engaged with the questions of the landscape. Let's get out from under bridges more often.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cold February Mud is Fun

You might have wondered about the neat rake marks under the bridge off of exit 38 on I-90. The bridge spans a tumultuous section of the Snoqualmie River, and is a good spot for wildlife to get from one side of the road to another. I never knew I would spend so much time under bridges but I am regularly amazed by what I can see in the soft un-rained-upon soil, provided we were careful to rake it smooth after our last visit! This place had raccoons aplenty--or was it only one?--making the rounds between river and the bank. Deer mice, voles, and perhaps a mole made marks where the water had receded from a recent flood. My favorite mystery was where a small bird had hopped up and down repeatedly, leaving a pattern that kind of looked like crayfish tracks. Was this some kind of spring display behavior? The tracks didn't look like the robin tracks nearby. I have never seen my backyard song sparrows do anything like that so I am really curious now. Whatever the birds were saying about spring, snow and cold wind whistled under the next bridge we checked. A coyote had come through there, navigating the rocky terrain in a strange jumble of gaits. I narrowly missed getting obliterated by slushy dirt when a snowplow went over us. And we all agreed to go get warm beverages after discussing the difference between flood debris and woodrat nests.
Thrush tracks in the mud along the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River
 In the afternoon we went to a sandy spot at Three Forks. Rakes in hand again, we scratched up the sand and studied pressure releases, those indications within a track of speed, turns, and myriad other details. It was challenging and not always successful, but the next day I had a sense of how useful a knowledge of pressure releases could be...

Saturday night we gathered in the original structure on Wilderness Awareness School's land. It's called Malalo Ya Chui, which means "Lair of the Leopard." Just the right sort of place to gather 'round a fire and tell stories. We focused on stories from our own experiences with crows, ravens, raccoons and foxes. I loved comparing notes: You get mobbed by crows too? You have also seen raccoons with no tail?

 The wind and cold thinned our ranks the next day as we met early at a place called ElkLand. Well, that's what we call it. It's also a dog run and sports field near the Three Forks natural area. And it's crawling with elk. Mark and I went to scout for fresh sign on one side of the road. Thick snow started to fall, but we squelched our way in to the soggy woods along a well-worn trail, undaunted. A hundred yards in, Mark spotted a group of elk moving away from us. Yep, that's fresh elk sign. We marked the spot to come back to and spent the rest of the morning trying to trail the rest of the group as they went into the woods across the road and picked up a fresh set of elk tracks. Success! We followed the trail until a group of elk popped up from their beds ahead of us. After watching them move off, we stayed on their trail until they scampered down a sandy bank into the river and across. Clever elk. Sorry to disturb you. But we've got some happy trackers who are excited to work on trailing skills now.
Searching for the trail of the herd of elk we were following under the freshly fallen snow on the otherside of a wetland they crossed.
A successful escape! Where the herd forded the cold waters of the Snoqualmie River we chose not to follow.
Except that it turns out we couldn't even trail ourselves back through the muddy landscape. I should have looked closer at those pressure releases! Our entire group wound up on a spit of land that jutted out into a marsh, with a deep four-foot gap of water to cross. Snow was falling again. More than a few feet were wet and cold. Yet let it not be said that this group isn't resourceful... Lots of log-shuffling and splashing later, we had a spiffy wilderness bridge cobbled together. "You must have planned this as a team-building exercise," said one student. And it did bring us together to cross and look out for each other, to make it through a day of tracking. Now I'll have an elk story to share around the fire someday. I hope you do too.
Alexia Allen crosses a lead of water on a bridge skillfully constructed by several students in the class.

The intrepid elk trackers.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January Tracking Intensive: Snow, Snakes, and Skulls

The marvelous and mysterious Marcus Reynerson made an appearance this weekend, guiding us on a series of adventures. The title of this post says it all, but let me explain.

Saturday was a day of tracking in the snow up in the Cascades. I was still nursing a broken ankle that kept me off snowshoes, but I heard some great stories when people got back that evening. There's the mystery on everybody's mind: why is some snowshoe hare urine bright orange? One group followed bobcat tracks, and saw the places where the cat had looked around and scratched a tree. Two students went out and found a hollow tree which was described as a "bear shrine" where bears scratch the burned interior of the old tree.

So that's the "snow" part of the title. When we got together in the evening, Marcus and Dave shared some tips for recognizing non-mammal tracks. Have you ever thought about how many toes a woodpecker has? Or how a salamander moves? Can you really picture the sequence of footsteps as a beetle or spider walks along? Many of those invertebrate tracks will show up in the spring and summer, but the winter mud here gives plenty of opportunity for tracking birds and other critters. We trackers aren't above catching beetles and filming them in order to study their movements. And yes, we got to see a picture of snake tracks from the Oregon Dunes.

On to "skulls." Dr. Tom Murphy over at Edmonds Community College is a graduate of the Tracking Intensive, and opened up his lab for a day of extreme osteological geekiness. He has an impressive collection of animal skulls from the northwest, as well as fossil hominid skulls. We started off with a quiz of 16 animal skulls and a talk on skull terminology. I can hardly tell my fossa from my condyle, but with lots of hands-on examples the terms became useful. After lunch Dr. Murphy talked about primate locomotion and human evolution, and we wrapped up with another quiz on mammal families. The day was a blend of scientific detail and vivid imagination--I liked to look at the skulls and imagine the flesh and muscle on the living creature. How does the skull reflect the senses and strategies of the animal? What does it feel like to be a shrew or a moose? Who has eyes on the front of their heads, and who has them on the sides? What can I tell about the individual animal who once wore this skull? And what does my own skull reflect about me? Lots to ponder until we meet again in February.

January Tracking Club

Despite the rain, a group of ten people showed up for this Saturday Tracking Club. There was soggy snow all over the Snoqualmie Valley, and so the best place for clear tracks was under the Tolt Bridge in Carnation. After a quick awareness game, we scampered under the bride and found more than I had bargained for! There were a lot of questions to ask, like which small mammals hang out under bridges more often, mice or shrews? Can I tell song sparrow tracks apart from junco tracks? Hint: junco tracks are stouter, sparrow tracks more spidery. Some five-toed masked bandit had also been spending plenty of time under the bridge. How many were there? Where did it or they go from here? I was especially glad to bring my visiting dad to this tracking club. It was a good chance to share inquiry and problem-solving, some of the really fun adventure of finding and following footprints of wild animals.

After we wore out our noggins with detailed bridge tracks, we went to Chinook Bend, where a young eagle circled around us. We walked down the road and tracked some larger animals in the snow. Big, cloven-hoofed, shaggy brown animals, to be precise. Cows? Moose? There were two of them strolling through the snow-covered meadow, and their tracks went from one clump of orchardgrass to another. The orchardgrass was chewed down to the ground. Why did they choose this species of grass? A quick taste test revealed that the orchardgrass was sweeter than the other plants growing there. Eventually my dad got bored with the big beast tracks (they were elk) and wandered down to the river to watch buffleheads and mergansers. People who know me won't be surprised; I'll take birds over mammals any time.
Tracking Club, as usual, was a good day of questions and adventure, showing how many stories can be recorded in the landscape when we stop to pay attention. Pretty much everyone can work up enthusiasm about good animal questions, even dads who are reluctant to get on their hands and knees on the dirt. Go tracking with someone you love today.