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.
During the winter thousands of snow geese flock to the Puget Sound where they feed in farm fields and tidal wetlands. Wintering bald eagles flying overhead bring massive groups of geese into the air. Click here to see a gallery of images from a recent trip of mine.
In mid January, I made my first trip ever to Texas where I joined Texas State Wildlife Biologist and Cybertracker Evaluator Jonah Evans to deliver a Track and Sign Certification event for Urban Biologists from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in southern Texas. Jonah is also the author of an excellent Iphone App Tracking Guide and manages a website with a large collection of well organized track and sign photographs.
The wetlands and thickets of this part of Texas are a birding mecca, with over half of all the species of birds which can be found in the continental United States making their way through the region over the course of the year. Besides bird life, the area is home to a wide variety of mammal species including oceolots, a very rare species in the United States as well as feral pigs and a variety of other introduced exotic species.
During my recent trip to the Big Island of Hawaii I had the amazing opportunity to hike with Darcy Ottey out to where the active volcano on the island, Kilauea, is currently releasing lava which is flowing into the Pacific Ocean. A 2 mile hike by starlight over basalt from earlier lava flows brought us to a primordial setting. Following an eerie orange glow we arrived at what truly could be described as the edge of the earth–a landscape made up of stars and sky, the pounding waves of the ocean and glowing lava pouring over 60 foot basalt cliffs into the sea, releasing plums of steam as it met the water. Before our eyes we watched flowing lava harden into rock and the coastline expand ever so slightly. As daylight came intermittent rain squalls, driven by a warm off shore wind brought a spectacular rainbow seemingly rising out of the glowing cliffs. It was definitely an experience I will never forget.
Kilauea’s Main Crater
Miles to the west of Kilauea’s eastern rift which is releasing the lava flowing into the ocean, the volcano’s main crater is also a spectacular sight, perhaps most magnificent at night when the glow of the pool of lava within it illuminates the steam and smoke rising from the crater.