Every spring Boulder Outdoor Survival School hosts the Slickrock Gathering, an opportunity for their staff and students to come together and learn primitive skills such as flint knapping, pottery making, and hide tanning. This spring, I was invited to join the gathering to teach wildlife tracking. During three days in the field with a group of instructors for the school, we visited several locations close to Boulder, Utah. We spent the first day focused on learning to identify tracks and interpret the stories left behind in the trails of wildlife.
Trailing Elk and Mountain Lion
On the following two days we focused our attention on following the trails of wildlife. One day we spent half the day following the fresh trail of a mountain lion, piecing together the story of her hunt through clearings, aspen stands, open pine forest, and oak scrub over a couple of miles. On the third day we picked up the very fresh trail of a group of elk and followed them, determining they had been foraging above the creek we had been following, eventually abandoning their trail as the heat of the day set in, anticipating their trail heading away from the canyon bottom, was likely leading to where they were currently bedded down.
In early May I had the opportunity to travel to northern Arizona to deliver a Trailing workshop and a Track and Sign Certification around Flagstaff and Sedona for a group of local naturalists, hosted by Earth Encounters LLC. While I was in Arizona, I also gave a slideshow on Wolves in the Pacific Northwest hosted by the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project.
During the two day trailing workshop, participants practiced various component skills which are required to effectively and efficiently follow the trail of an animal over challenging terrain. These include detecting tracks in grass, leaf litter and other challenging substrates, anticipating how an animal will likely move across the landscape, and stealth in movement so as not to alert the animal being trailed to your presence. After a morning of exercises we spent the afternoon trailing a group of mule deer for several hours, finally getting to observe them foraging as an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in. On the second day we spent the day trailing a small herd of elk through a forested landscape.
Track and Sign Certification
Day 1 of the Track and Sign certification took place outside of Sedona, in a desert landcape and along the riparian corridor of a stream. Species whose tracks we encountered included kit fox, bobcat, kangaroo rat, striped skunk, black bear, river otter, beaver, coyote, cottontail rabbit, and lizard among many others.
On the second day of the evaluation we spent the day in a forested area outside of Flagstaff where we encountered a wide variety of signs of wildlife including acorn woodpeckers, elk, deer, bobcat, coyote, deer mice, and jackrabbits.
9 people received certificates from the evaluation:
Level 1: John Behrman, Adam Bailey, Rayne Zhaughsome
Northwest Connections is an innovative organization which runs a variety of biological monitoring, conservation, and educational programs all revolving around the unique and wild landscape of the Swan Valley in northwestern Montana where they are based. In April, I delivered a Cybertracker Conservation Track and Sign Certification Event for them.
A very talented group endured challenging field conditions (including about 5 inches of fresh snow Saturday night and Sunday!) and everyone in the group earned a Certificate. My friend and colleague Emily Gibson came along to take some photographs and I am grateful to her for sharing a number of the images for this post!
Level 2 Certificates Awarded: Jim Quinn, Trenton Harper, Scott Tomson, Andrea Stephens
Level 3 Certificates Awarded: Cassie March, Luke Lamar, Lara Arvidson, Mike Stevenson, Alissa Anderson, Rebekah Rafferty
Like their unreasonably large and beautiful song, the Pacific wren (Troglodytes pacificus) has a surprisingly elaborate nest. Abundant in forested landscapes around much of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific wren typically constructs its nest out of mosses and builds it into an existing structure such as a rootwad of a fallen tree or the hanging moss on the underside of a tree branch or leaning trunk. Nests are spherical with a small entrance on the side giving access to an enclosed chamber where eggs are laid. Occasionally nest are constructed in tree branches and appear as a spherical glob of moss. My bird nest mentor, Emily Gibson, who first introduced me to Pacific wren nests, noted that the entrance to their nests, in western Washington at least, typically are lined with tiny conifer twigs.
This March I met Darcy Ottey on the island of Kauai to hike the famous Kalalau trail on the island’s rugged Napali coast. A pleasant hike, amazing scenery, cool wildlife, warm water, and excellent company made for an amazing trip.
Like what you saw here? Check out more of David’s Adventure and Expeditionary Photography here!
In mid March, the Methow Conservancy, a land trust serving Okanogan County, hosted a Track and Sign Certification event in the Methow Valley. With the battle between winter and spring conditions in full swing, we picked our way through the melting snowpack on the eastern edge of the North Cascades, spending most of the weekend in a lovely part of the Methow called Big Valley. Signs of mountain lion were abundant along with their primary prey species in much of the Cascades, deer and beaver. Participants also had to sort out tracks and signs of squirrels, deer mice, woodrats, mink, bobcat, and other mammals as well as the tracks of flickers, geese and other bird species. Though no fresh sign of black bears having awoken from their winter torpor were apparent, historic climbing and marking signs on trees along the river were also covered during the evaluation.
Congratulations to the folks that earned Track and Sign Certificates. (For a complete list of certified trackers visit trackercertification.com)
Level 1: Susan Ballinger, Danny Nora Moloney, Gayle Grything
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to run a Track and Sign certification event in beautiful Humboldt County, California. We visited a variety of field locations including coastal dunes, redwood forest, and riparian habitats. Participants included students from Humboldt State University‘s Wildlife program as well as professional biologists and naturalists from elsewhere in northern California. Here are a few highlights from the evaluation.
Track and Sign Certificates Awarded:
LEVEL 1: Jim Ladio
LEVEL 2: Emily Culhane, Mathew Luedtke, Andria Bietz, Jessica Nikolai, Andrew Underwood, Alison Osgood, Wes Gibbs, Anthony Fisher
LEVEL 3: Natasha Dvorak, Kim Cabrera, Shane Brown, Preston Taylor.
This weekend was the 6th weekend of 9 for the year-long Wildlife Tracking Intensive I teach for Wilderness Awareness School. This month we spent Saturday searching for signs of large carnivores and other creatures in the dense rainforests of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River on the western slope of the Cascades. Among other things we discovered the following tracks and signs:
Feeeding and scent marking signs of black bears
Scent marking signs of a mountain lion
Beaver feeding and dam building activity
Black-tailed deer and elk sign including antler rubs, trails, tracks, scats and feeding sign
On Sunday we ventured out to the banks of the Puget Sound where students were quizzed on a wide variety of tracks and signs, including identifying and interpreting the story behind the remains of numerous species of birds we discovered. Tracks and signs we found included:
Tracks of: racoon, river otter, feral house cat, mink, muskrat, opossum, black rat, deer mouse, shrew, American robin, sparrow, black-crowned night heron, teal.
River otter scent marking sign
Pellets from several species of owls containing vole remains
Northern harrier pellets
The remains of a barn owl, a short-eared owl, several snow geese, a female pheasant, and several species of ducks most of which appeared to have been predated by areal predators.
On Sunday, besides tracks and signs, the birding was quite good. We observed four snowy owls, a short-eared owl, numerous Northern harriers and other hawks, dunlin, yellow-legs, pintails, widgeons, western meadowlarks, snow geese, trumpeter swans, and many other species.
During several trips this winter to the shores of the Puget Sound where the Stillaguamish and Skagit rivers drain into the sea, I encountered two species of predatory birds sharing some remarkably similar hunting habits. The Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)) and Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) are both medium sized raptors. Of the two, the short-eared owl stands out as a bit of an oddity–being diurnal in its habits, unusual for owls, the rest of which are night hunters. The graceful and quavering flight patterns of both species are mesmerizing to watch.