Trailing Black Bears in the North Cascades

This spring I spent a week out in the field with several colleagues from Cybertracker Conservation honing our tracking and trailing skills following the trails of black bears on the western slope of the North Cascades. I put together a brief video describing the art of trailing and documenting some of what we discovered on our adventures in the temperate rainforest. 

Interested in learning to trail bears and other wildlife? I offer custom classes in a wide variety of tracking subjects, including wildlife trailing.

Wrapping up the Wildlife Tracking Intensive for 2013

Black bears, mountain lions, and much much more...

May marked the end of this years Wildlife Tracking Intensive at Wilderness Awareness School. We spent one more weekend exploring wild lands in the region looking for tracks and signs of wildlife and testing our skills in the field.

 Mark Kang-O’Higgins inspects the marks left on a leaning alder by a scent marking black bear.

Mark Kang-O’Higgins inspects the marks left on a leaning alder by a scent marking black bear.

 Douglas Cowan inspects a scent marking scrape next to a rotting log from a mountain lion found on a trail along the edge of a wetland on the western edge of the Cascade Mountains.

Douglas Cowan inspects a scent marking scrape next to a rotting log from a mountain lion found on a trail along the edge of a wetland on the western edge of the Cascade Mountains.

Advanced Path Student Projects

Saturday afternoon our two Advanced Path students presented on their research projects.

From Field to Font
As Time Passes

Thanks to all of our students this year for their passion for developing their skills as wildlife trackers and naturalists! It was another great year!

Interested in learning more about the Wildlife Tracking Intensive? Check it out here! Applications now being accepted for next years class which starts in September!

The Remains of an Owl and Other Finds from the Field

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
 Teaching assistant Dan Gusset and student Erin Campbell inspect the bite mark of a black bear found on a small tree along a game trail. Such marks are commonly produced by scent marking bears whom also claw and rub such trees in efforts to attach their scent to tree for other bears to find.

Teaching assistant Dan Gusset and student Erin Campbell inspect the bite mark of a black bear found on a small tree along a game trail. Such marks are commonly produced by scent marking bears whom also claw and rub such trees in efforts to attach their scent to tree for other bears to find.

 Douglas Cowan inspects a pika hay mound found under a bridge along the Snoqualmie River. Pika typically live at higher elevations in the Cascades but here were making use of the large boulders laid down at the base of the bridge which mimic higher elevation talus fields. Pika’s collect vegetation in mounds for later consumption in the rocks where they live.

Douglas Cowan inspects a pika hay mound found under a bridge along the Snoqualmie River. Pika typically live at higher elevations in the Cascades but here were making use of the large boulders laid down at the base of the bridge which mimic higher elevation talus fields. Pika’s collect vegetation in mounds for later consumption in the rocks where they live.

 Trever Ose examines some elk hair on an antler rub. Antler rubs are an important scent marking behavior of bull elk associated with the breeding season. After abraiding the bark of the tree with his antlers, the elk will then rub the tree with his face, shoulders and the base of his antlers to attach his scent to the tree. The scent acts as an advertisement to female elk in the area and a challenge to other males.

Trever Ose examines some elk hair on an antler rub. Antler rubs are an important scent marking behavior of bull elk associated with the breeding season. After abraiding the bark of the tree with his antlers, the elk will then rub the tree with his face, shoulders and the base of his antlers to attach his scent to the tree. The scent acts as an advertisement to female elk in the area and a challenge to other males.

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.

 Front (below) and hind tracks of a muskrat in fine river mud.

Front (below) and hind tracks of a muskrat in fine river mud.

 All four feet (two fronts at bottom of the frame, hinds above) of a river otter.

All four feet (two fronts at bottom of the frame, hinds above) of a river otter.

 The wings of a snow goose which had likely been consumed by a bald eagle on the banks of the Puget Sound.

The wings of a snow goose which had likely been consumed by a bald eagle on the banks of the Puget Sound.

 Identifying bird feathers found in the field at the end of the day.

Identifying bird feathers found in the field at the end of the day.

 Feathers from a barn owl (left) and short-eared owl, both found on the edge of a large field filled with vole sign where each owl had likely been hunting when they were killed. The short-eared owl remains where found scattered in the brush bellow some trees in a location where a larger bird, such as a great-horned owl or bald eagle might perch to consume a meal. The barn owl feathers where found below another tree on the ground and was also likely consumed by a raptor.

Feathers from a barn owl (left) and short-eared owl, both found on the edge of a large field filled with vole sign where each owl had likely been hunting when they were killed. The short-eared owl remains where found scattered in the brush bellow some trees in a location where a larger bird, such as a great-horned owl or bald eagle might perch to consume a meal. The barn owl feathers where found below another tree on the ground and was also likely consumed by a raptor.

 The class under a particularly large Sitka spruce on the bank of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The large amount of reddish debris at the base of the tree is the result of a feeding Douglas squirrel. Such a midden is created when the squirrel consumes conifer cones from a favored perch and discards the remains onto the forest floor below the perch.

The class under a particularly large Sitka spruce on the bank of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The large amount of reddish debris at the base of the tree is the result of a feeding Douglas squirrel. Such a midden is created when the squirrel consumes conifer cones from a favored perch and discards the remains onto the forest floor below the perch.

North Cascades National Park Wildlife Tracking Certification

 The right front foot of a mink (Neovison vison) in fine glacial silt found close to the mouth of Thunder Creek.

The right front foot of a mink (Neovison vison) in fine glacial silt found close to the mouth of Thunder Creek.

In mid-June North Cascades Institute hosted the first Wildlife Tracking Certification Event in North Cascades National Park. Besides a diversity of tracks and signs some challenging field conditions including some classic North Cascades rain and multi-element bushwacking/wading added to the experience for myself as the evaluator and for participants! Here are a few of the highlights from the Evaluation.

 These tracks of a Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) were found just down the shore from the mink.

These tracks of a Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) were found just down the shore from the mink.

 This unusual sign of a beaver (Castor canadensis) in the riparian forest along Thunder Creek stumped many.

This unusual sign of a beaver (Castor canadensis) in the riparian forest along Thunder Creek stumped many.

 Roger Bean, who earned a Level III Track and Sign Certification contemplates the beaver feeding sign during the evaluation.

Roger Bean, who earned a Level III Track and Sign Certification contemplates the beaver feeding sign during the evaluation.

 The weathered track of a black bear (Ursus americanus).

The weathered track of a black bear (Ursus americanus).

 Terry Kem, founder of Deerdance, earned a Level III Cerftication as well on the evaluation, seen here photographing a sign post tree well used by black bears along Thunder Creek.

Terry Kem, founder of Deerdance, earned a Level III Cerftication as well on the evaluation, seen here photographing a sign post tree well used by black bears along Thunder Creek.

 Moose (Alces alces) are rarely sighted in western portion of the North Cascades, but these pellets indicate one had passed by the Easy Pass Trailhead along the North Cascades Scenic Highway.

Moose (Alces alces) are rarely sighted in western portion of the North Cascades, but these pellets indicate one had passed by the Easy Pass Trailhead along the North Cascades Scenic Highway.

 Scat from a bushytailed woodrat (left, Neotoma cinerea) and a pika (Ochotona princeps) were both discovered in a large talus field.

Scat from a bushytailed woodrat (left, Neotoma cinerea) and a pika (Ochotona princeps) were both discovered in a large talus field.

 Susan Brown, a graduate student in the North Cascades Institutes Masters of Education program, assisted with the evaluation. Pictured here by a powerline pole that had been bitten and rubbed on by black bears.   

Susan Brown, a graduate student in the North Cascades Institutes Masters of Education program, assisted with the evaluation. Pictured here by a powerline pole that had been bitten and rubbed on by black bears.

 

Congratulations to everyone who participated in the Evaluation. Of 10 participants, 3 Level III , 3 Level II , and one Level I certificates were awarded. For a list of certified trackers in North America click here.

16-20: The aroma of rotting salmon

 A black bear carries its prize back to shore for a late afternoon meal.

A black bear carries its prize back to shore for a late afternoon meal.

Spent 4 of the last 5 nights out in the field, attaining a sense of oneness with the river, the tides, the migrating salmon, the moss and lichen cloaked trees of the rainforest, the bloodthirsty blackflies, and the ever present aroma of rotting fish carcasses--the good life. Several interesting encounters with wolves  which I'm sure will make it into the book.Flying south tomorrow and home the day after. Now that all the field work is completed, I reckon I'll be chained to my computer for the next month and half writing. Don't think I'll be posting daily updates.

11: A not so great bear

 A young black bear makes its way across a coastal stream in the Great Bear Rainforest.

A young black bear makes its way across a coastal stream in the Great Bear Rainforest.

A long day sitting along a river here in the Great Bear rainforest trying to stay dry and not get eaten alive by bugs. The only large mammal out and about today besides us was this yearling black bear which poked around in the river briefly before nearly walking into my blind before I said hello and it ran off into the forest.On the way back in the evening we passed an absolutely massive barge carrying a huge amount of timber heading. Hard to tell from this image but the barge is multiple stories tall. Bet the bears where those logs came from are having a worse day than the fellow who ran into me this morning.To find out more about conservation issues related to the Great Bear Rainforest visit Raincoast Conservation Foundation's website at www.raincoast.org

 Tug pulling a barge loaded with rainforest trees, dwarfing a fishing vessel to the right.

Tug pulling a barge loaded with rainforest trees, dwarfing a fishing vessel to the right.

Clayoquot Sound Revisited

A week of journeying by land and sea has yielded some great results as I continue to collect material for my forthcoming book on Wolves of the Pacific Northwest. I am tremendously grateful to Steve and Susanne Lawson for their invaluable assistance in my fieldwork here in Clayoquot Sound thus far! Stay tuned for more photos and stories to come!

 Sea Otter patrolling coastal waters north of Ucluelet.

Sea Otter patrolling coastal waters north of Ucluelet.

 The return of extensive bull kelp forests along the northern Pacific coast has been associated with rebounding Sea otter populations, a classic example of a trophic cascade. Bull kelp was released from heavy browsing pressure by sea urchins with the return of otters which love to eat urchins.

The return of extensive bull kelp forests along the northern Pacific coast has been associated with rebounding Sea otter populations, a classic example of a trophic cascade. Bull kelp was released from heavy browsing pressure by sea urchins with the return of otters which love to eat urchins.

 Rocky coastline close to Wye Point, north of the town of Ucluelet

Rocky coastline close to Wye Point, north of the town of Ucluelet

 Guess the beach brings out the playful side of more than just juvenial people. Here two yearling wolves play with washed up seaweed on an island in Clayoquot Sound.

Guess the beach brings out the playful side of more than just juvenial people. Here two yearling wolves play with washed up seaweed on an island in Clayoquot Sound.

 Wolf crossing a lead of water at first light.

Wolf crossing a lead of water at first light.

 We watched this randy male black bear following a smaller female bear earnestly, stopping only to rub vigorous on a large drift wood log, a behavior which increases during the breeding season.

We watched this randy male black bear following a smaller female bear earnestly, stopping only to rub vigorous on a large drift wood log, a behavior which increases during the breeding season.

 Oystercatchers are one of the most common shorebirds in the Sound this time of year.

Oystercatchers are one of the most common shorebirds in the Sound this time of year.

Bears, for a change of pace

 Black Bear feeding on huckleberries. East of Heart Lake, Olympic National Park

Black Bear feeding on huckleberries. East of Heart Lake, Olympic National Park

A few images from a recent trip to the 7 Lakes Basin in Olympic National Park.

 Black bear, Olympic National Park.

Black bear, Olympic National Park.

 Black bear, Olympic National Park.

Black bear, Olympic National Park.

 Darcy Ottey with the Hoh River Valley and Mt. Olympus in the background.

Darcy Ottey with the Hoh River Valley and Mt. Olympus in the background.

 Darcy Ottey watching a bear feed in the meadow beyond her. An Olympic marmot was also watching the bear with much scrutiny. West of Swimming Bear Lake, Olympic National Park.

Darcy Ottey watching a bear feed in the meadow beyond her. An Olympic marmot was also watching the bear with much scrutiny. West of Swimming Bear Lake, Olympic National Park.

 Western Heather Vole (Phenacomys intermedius). Lunch Lake, Olympic National Park.

Western Heather Vole (Phenacomys intermedius). Lunch Lake, Olympic National Park.

 Stream in the Sol Duc River Valley, Olympic National Park.

Stream in the Sol Duc River Valley, Olympic National Park.

 Black bear, feeding on huckleberries. Olympic National Park.

Black bear, feeding on huckleberries. Olympic National Park.

Clayoquot Sound, B.C.

 Wolf tracks along west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Wolf tracks along west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

 Bald eagle above a foggy forest.

Bald eagle above a foggy forest.

 Carcass of juvenile humpback whale on beach of island in Clayoquot Sound

Carcass of juvenile humpback whale on beach of island in Clayoquot Sound

 Racoon foraging for sand flees on beach of island in Sound

Racoon foraging for sand flees on beach of island in Sound

 Black-tailed deer feeding on seaweed on island in Clayoquot Sound.

Black-tailed deer feeding on seaweed on island in Clayoquot Sound.

 River otter scent marking on seaweed as tide goes out.

River otter scent marking on seaweed as tide goes out.

 Black bear foraging for invertebrates in the intertidal zone by rolling rocks.

Black bear foraging for invertebrates in the intertidal zone by rolling rocks.

 Large Sitka spruce in ancient forest on island in the Sound.

Large Sitka spruce in ancient forest on island in the Sound.

 A gray wolf trots along the beach early in the morning with ravens in the background. West Coast, Vancouver Island.

A gray wolf trots along the beach early in the morning with ravens in the background. West Coast, Vancouver Island.

 Tofino Inlet, Clayoquot Sound.

Tofino Inlet, Clayoquot Sound.

 Harbor seals lounging at low tide.

Harbor seals lounging at low tide.

 Atlantic salmon fish farm in Clayoquot Sound with uncut forest in background. Several rivers with no clearcuts or roads in them are seeing massive declines in salmon numbers due to sea lice and other issues associated with fish farming in the Sound. The smell is overwhelming, far worse than a dairy farm and totally shocking in such a wild setting.

Atlantic salmon fish farm in Clayoquot Sound with uncut forest in background. Several rivers with no clearcuts or roads in them are seeing massive declines in salmon numbers due to sea lice and other issues associated with fish farming in the Sound. The smell is overwhelming, far worse than a dairy farm and totally shocking in such a wild setting.

 Active clearcut logging in Clayquot Sound. Top of the photo is uncut oldgrowth. Bottom is regrowth from a previous clearcut.

Active clearcut logging in Clayquot Sound. Top of the photo is uncut oldgrowth. Bottom is regrowth from a previous clearcut.

 Growth rings: over 200. Destination: ?

Growth rings: over 200. Destination: ?

 Huge western red ceder stump set amidst second growth forest of planted Douglas firs. Note that the original nurse log that the ceder tree started growing on in still under the stump, attesting to the volume of biomass in the previous ancient forest and the literally centuries it took to create the structural diversity so important to many Old growth obligate species.

Huge western red ceder stump set amidst second growth forest of planted Douglas firs. Note that the original nurse log that the ceder tree started growing on in still under the stump, attesting to the volume of biomass in the previous ancient forest and the literally centuries it took to create the structural diversity so important to many Old growth obligate species.

Despite decades of conservation efforts, Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve,  faces numerous severe threats to its ecological integrity including clear cut logging of roadless old growth forests, industrial Atlantic salmon fish farms, and proposed open-pit copper mining. Learn more about the region and how you can support conservation in the region at the following websites:Friends of Clayoquot Sound Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve First Nations Environmental Network

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