Archive for the ‘tracks’ Category

Tennessee Valley

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Gorgeous cliffs at Tennessee Valley beach in Marin, CA. Otters and Owls. Dangerous tides and vast ocean views. Love it.

Contumaza, Peru

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I am in Contumaza, a small agricultural town in the northern foothills of Peru in South America. The landscape shares similarities to the southern parts of California, particularly the San Bernardino mountains.   Beautiful flora and fauna, of which i am completely unfamiliar with. A whole family of what appears to be Cactus Wrens, stark dark brown a nd white in color and rather large in size, building a nest in a cedar tree. Skunks, perhaps striped skunk,  the same size as ours in the US.    Amazingly colored hummingbirds, bright green, and huge, the size of a North American Bluebird, (kind of scary).

Some kind of black and white hawk the size of a redtail but shaped a  bit differently. All black wings with white wing patches beneath toward the outside of the wings. White tail with a black bar. Hovering over the mountain landscape.    Rabbits, maybe jackrabbit, rats and mice.

Getting off the plane into this new land  I decided  i wanted to see what the mountain lions where like on this continent. I am not sure if there actually are any where i am here, its very open with lots of farmland, but turns out there is a local zoo, “Hermita”, with all these amazing animals either out in the open or behind structures that are very accessible. I usually feel pretty sad when i go to zoos so i try to avoid them, and this one was no exception, but it was so close and i was exploring. He just paced back and forth impatiently in his twenty by eight foot cage. It was quite fascinating however to be able to watch him move, walk, urinate, doing things i have always seen in track and sign but never actually live. Quite  revealing.  People, mothers with children, just walked by, obviously quite used to “La Puma”.

The Vicuña is a beautiful mountain mammal similar to the Llama, but more slender and agile. It flows over the landscape like a dolphin on the water, graceful and completely at one with the terrain underfoot. I meanwhile stumbled and slipped quite clumsily in comparison as i chased after it. They put me to shame in how fast they could move over the  mountainside. I also couldn’t breath very well as i was somwhere around ten thousand feet above sea level.

I had arrived during their annual Vicuña shearing festival, in which they capture these wild animals and steal the fur right off their backs in the middle of an alpine winter. They then sell it for a rather high price to folks in Europe and North America.  It was a community affair, in which hundreds of people gathered to capture, cook, shear, clean and spectate.

In the cold hours of dawn, while it was still dark,  we gathered under the yellow street lamps to wait for the bus. About sixty- plus men and women piled together in the back of the open, wooden bed of a small semitruck, and proceeded to drive up what i would hardly call a road, for the next two hours. Winding over rocky switchback after rocky switchback, we bumped up and down, side to side, like livestock in the freezing mountain air.

Upon arrival to the camp we were met with hot “Mote” soup, a traditional Peruvian corn soup with various animal parts in it. It was very welcomed after the bitter ride.  The men then proceeded to juice up on coca, a native plant that can give one energy and relieve altitude sickness, and is also what the recreational drug cocaine is made out of.  We split off into smaller bands and made our way across the wide valley where the animals were grazing, eventually forming a line with each person walking over the grass and rock about twenty to fifty feet apart.

The goal was to corral the animals through the valley towards a fence that had been set up specifically for this event. The fence was arranged to funnel  them tighter and tighter into an enclosed pen. I read that this was how ancient cultures in Northern America captured wild ungulates such as deer, in their case to eat them, so it was interesting to actually participate in it being done successfully.

I kind of feel like i am dreaming sometimes when i am here as i find myself in such bizarre situations. Everytime a pack of Vicuña would come toward the line we would scream and wave stuff about to frighten them the other way.  Lookout men would stand up on the highest elevations and shout out orders to us, ”  Advance!”, “Stop!”, “Duck!”. Sometimes we would crouch and hide in the grass to let a few run past us.

"Calypto" Eucalyptus leaf

They had what must have been close to a thousand feet of rope with multi-colored plastic flags tied to it (they use alot of  plastic here), which they all held together and marched across the landscape with to further condense the frightened animal population.  At this point i realized why they had all been downing so much coca that morning. They were all running up these steep slopes in the thin high altitude air, holding  this rope, while screaming at the animals, while picking the line up over rocks and other snags. This was some kind of  intense athletic training . I barely kept up.

Vicuña tracks in mud

I have not been impressed with the way folks treat animals here. I have seen way too much animal cruelty in the past two weeks than i care to mention. Voice hoarse, body sweating  and exhausted,  we finally got these animals into the pen, at which point they went into a frenzied panic. The men could have at this point respectfully apprehended and sheared these animals, but they didn’t. I wasn’t feeling the love.  They would put them in a headlock, pick them up by the tail,  strap them against the ground and then shave off what i assume they needed to survive the zero degree temperatures up there. Blood dripping from their mouths and legs after running full speed into these metal fences, the men laughed and cheered as these inspector people seemed to fail to notice that ther were actually living animals underneath the fur they scrutinized for quality. You could almost see the dollar signs floating above their  heads. I have pics of all this but perhaps i won’t post them.

I wondered what would be the appropriate thing to do in a situation such as this? Tear open the fence to let them free and have an entire Peruvian village murder me? I eventually just walked back up to the bus to wait for our departure.

Wish i could have gotten a pic of the sunset glowing red as it set over an endless horizon of silent, completely uninhabited mountains but the  batteries for my camera died.  As i lay in the back of the truck, packed on either side with human bodies like loaves in a bread shop, i stared up at the crystal clear skies with the milky way winding it’s way through and tried to forget the day and just revel in the  pure awe and joy of the moment .

Pine Marten Pair

Monday, March 18th, 2013

 

  A Pine Marten, martes americana, in a bound (a fast sprint using four legs).  Two Marten trails wove in and out of each other through the alpine wilderness near Tahoe , California. The distance between their trails would widen and narrow, and at times speed up or slow down in relation to what I assumed was  the plentiful population of Douglas Squirrel that frequented the forest area.  One trail held footprints slightly larger than the other, which led me to assume I was following a male and female of the species in the process of acquiring sustenance not only for themselves but for a soon to be embryo, young that would join their wild family sometime this month or in April.

 In the background you can a second Marten trail intersecting it’s companion’s, along with some Douglas Squirrel tracks, likely the sumptuous dinner they feasted on that winter day.   

   A “sitzmark”, where an animal lands in a deep substrate from a height , causing it’s body to register more than just  feet.  In this case a small pine tree, no doubt harboring a terrified squirrel, was the object from which the Marten returned to the ground.  Notice the impression of the belly, neck and what appears to be muzzle in this photo.     

  The enormous leaps of a Long-tailed weasel trail looks surprisingly similar to that of its tree-bound cousin, only mini.      

Martes Americana

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

 

  

       Martes Americana, or the American Pine Marten.   

     It’s amazing how the weasel family has adapted to cover all sorts of terrain and habitat. The Long -Tailed and Short -Tail weasel have taken to the marshes and wetlands, the Mink and Otter to lakes and stream, the Badger has gone underground, the Wolverine took to the harshest of alpine and tundra climates, the Sea Otter to the salty ocean and the Fisher and Marten to the trees.

   Both Fishers and Martenshave a unique foot structure which allows their hind feet to turn around in a complete 180 degree half -circle. This affords easy movement up and down the trunks of trees. This is helpful to the Marten who wreaks havoc on the squirrel population as he hunts though the canopy in pursuit. I always wondered why the red and Douglas Squirrels where such tense little creatures, often alarming at me as i walked afoot, to the point of significant frustration.   They have giant ferocious weasels crawling after them through the trees, ripping them and their young right out of their hollow-tree trunk nests!! Nowhere is safe. No wonder they are on edge. 

 

 

       Here is my wrist watch next to the trail for a size reference.The tracks where in between the size of a Mink and a Fisher, about one and a half to one and three quarters inches long. Its bounding trail paralleled that of the Douglas Squirrels all day long, leading in and out of root cavities and entrances to various underground spaces.  Supposedly they can spend a significant portion of their time  underneath the snow in certain areas.

   I got the impression that the Marten was a smaller, cuter version of the Fisher. But more alpine. They moved very similarly, bounding about in between a 2x and 3x lope.

       Towards the end of my sojourn the Marten left a scat right atop a much larger animal trail. It looked like a dog trail but was moving about in a lope. It kind of reminded me of Fisher but bigger. I dismissed it as a local dog, but now i wonder what it was. 

Pine Marten atop a Snowshoe Hare trail

Fire and Ice

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

  Some cool ice formations i came across on the gravel road one chilly morning at Donner State Park in the Sierra Mountains of California.  Frozen in time, gone by the afternoon’s melting sun.  What hidden messages does the crystallized water have for a wandering wayfarer? 

   I was reminded of the poem “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost, which my English teacher had us memorize in high school. I thought it was a cool poem then but i remember she was kind of excited sharing it with us at the time. I never really got why she was so excited, but reading it now i get it. It  talks about Nature and Destruction. Nature and Destruction are Awesome!!

                               “Some say the world will end in Fire

                                                  Some say in Ice

                                   From what I’ve tasted of desire

                                 I hold with those who favor Fire.

                                        But if it had to perish twice

                                     I think I know enough of hate

                                    To say that for destruction Ice

                                                    Is also great

                                              And would suffice. “       

  Now i even get why she accented and spaced the words the way she did. Adults are so…………. entertaining. 

   Robert Frost spent a significant portion of his life in New England, writing, teaching and walking about in the woods among other things. Many of his poems are about Nature and his interactions with Her.  I guess in this poem he was linking two human qualities that would tend toward the dark side of our beings, with elements in Nature, and then personifying them.

 

Wandering bears in the snow, flocks of Hooded and Common Mergansers, (lophodytes cucullatus), chattering kingfishers, minks and beavers. This well- used beaver trail connects a pond with a nearby mountain stream. It rises right over a well used hiker and auto trail. 

 

  

 You can see the hand-like beaver tracks intersect with the tire prints. I figured the beavers used the trail to drag brush from its foraging area, pond, to its burrow/lodge  in the bank of the stream.

  The interesting thing about this park is that it has a railway  going directly through it. So all of a sudden you will be hiking along and a giant freight train blazes by with much ferocity and clamor.

  A downed, weathered Pine, with accompanying beetle trails, a mysterious and silent melody written on the staff of Life, now past and dead.

Lutra Canadensis

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Northern River Otter

  These tracks are somewhat difficult to see, but if you look in the upper left corner of the photo, you should be able to make out an arc of toes and a palm.

  This is the track of the playful, aquatic weasel known as the River Otter. I have lived in Nevada City for over three years now, a couple miles away from the South Fork of the Yuba river. I have spent considerable time along the banks of the Yuba swimming, exploring and observing wildlife. Never once in all this time was i aware that otters frequented this riparian habitat. I even thought to myself, ” i am bored , i know all the animals in this area too well.”  Hahahahaha.

   That’s what is great about tracking. It’s humbling. You get to thinking you know all that and then something pops up that reminds you how abundant and prolific the life is in this vast Universe.     

otter scat

  Here’s some otter scat. Check out the crayfish shell remains in it.  I was sitting with a friend along the side of the river when she suddenly exclaimed, ” Look!” I had my back turned to the water. I turned around but missed it. She said a slick, dark, cat-like- looking creature slipped down a crevice in the rock into the water. From her description it seemed that she had seen an aquatic mustelid, a mink or a weasel. ” But we don’t have those here.” i explained.  The next weekend i went out to investigate and scoured the banks of the river for an afternoon. Low and behold, an otter haul-out. Scat, tracks, fishy smells, everything.

  Perhaps part of the reason that i wasn’t more earlier aware of their presence was the fact that the banks of the Yuba look like this :

 All smooth stone. Very little substrate that i can track in, such as mud and sand.  But it got me to thinking: mammals will usually follow very defined trails, just as us humans will follow the same exact road to work everyday for years. It’s convenient. The otters trail is the river. That’s why , in this case, the sign was more difficult to spot. The tracks were left behind in the whirls and jettis of a rushing mountain stream, gone downriver just as soon as it appeared. What else in our lives is there, yet invisible to us for years on ened until someone points it out?

  Otters are brilliant in the water, like an underwater, professional dancer. They have webbed feet which you can kind of see in the top photo.  And very bulbous toes. If you see some very fishy smelling scat along a body of water along with a flurry of small grapefruit sized tracks and a whole messy flattened out area, you have the tell- tale sign of the river otter.

  And some amazing flowers found along the way.  The blossom did this fascinating thing where it would fall down the stamen after it was done flowering to hang upside down below the new growth.

Calusa

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Didelphis virginiana

The walking trail of the Virginia Opossum along the Sacramento River in Calusa State Park. The opossum is a curious creature. One can see them waddling through the fields and woods at night somewhat awkwardly, in search of delicacies.  They have a human-like track with five toes and an opposable thumb on the rear foot. This can be seen in the photo above.

That’s a trail of the common Killdeer in the upper left. A gorgeously marked shorebird found along rivers, streams and lakes ,that boasts a stark black and white neckband.

Once i was sitting, leaning up against a hemlock tree in upstate New York enjoying the night when i heard a shuffling though the leaves behind me. I turned around to see a pale ghostly mammal making its way towards me, unaware of my presence.  It was a possum out for its nightly forray.

Possums are our countries marsupial, meaning they have a pouch that the young spend time in just like kangaroos. Pretty cool.

castor canadensis

A flurry of beaver trails dragging branches and vegetation in and out of the water.

New England Lion

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

A mountain lion (puma concolor) was struck by an SUV near Milford, Connecticut in June. DNA samples showed it had come from South Dakota! Pretty wild. Folks have been spotting and tracking lions in New England for years. They used to be native to the northeast before all the development.

Feather River

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Mustela vison

The American Mink, a weasel found often  in waterways throughout North America and beyond. I walked along the feather river in Portola California today in search of wildlife. Some co-workers said the river has otter. I wanted to find out. I found some otter-like scat, but i couldn’t ID it for sure. I did come across the other riparian weasel however. His trails and scat were all along the banks in the mud and up on the rocks. The scat was almost entirely filled with crayfish remains.

Yesterday I picked up John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra” for the first time in years. I opened it up and was absolutely blown away. Everyone remembers him as a mountaineer, but honestly, I have never heard anyone else write like that. The mans mastery of words is phenomenal.  He makes Nature sound like Heaven. I’ve never heard anyone write about Nature like that. He was so enthralled by the wilderness and conveys it so well in his writings, I almost couldn’t relate, and i’m a naturalist. That guy was some kind of alien or something. Truly inspiring.

Castor canadensis

The Beaver, also a common resident of rivers, ponds and almost any place with water. If you look in the top right portion of the picture you can see a fairly large three-toed track that looks like a giant bird track, that’s the hind foot of the beaver. The hind left is also in the photo in the bottom left, but it’s jumbled up amongst other animals tracks and is harder to see.

The beaver has five toes on its hind feet, but usualy only the outer three show up. Not sure why honestly. It probably has to do with the fact that they spend a significant amount of time in the water swimming as apposed to travelling about on land.

Spotted sandpipers, ospreys, and a green-tailed towhee shared the banks of the Feather with me. The Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, makes a unique kind of shriek-call as he flies, that makes him sound like the dominant resident of the river.

bear trails

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

a walk in the snow

The walking trail of a black bear (ursus americanus) near Yuba Pass, one of the passes over the sierra that highway 49 uses.  This particular trail was less than forty five minutes old, likely minutes old. Sun was melting the snow pretty fast that day and these tracks were crisp. Plus he walked right on top of my trail that i had made forty five minutes earlier.

It was a stunning walk. All the snow reflecting the light like some kind of brilliantly lit lab room. I walked in the slush for a few miles out then turned around and came back the way i came only to find the sign of this wandering omnivore. He broke into a run just a few feet up from the photo above. I was singing pretty loudly on my return walk and i wondered if that is what scared him. I am saying him just cause of the size of the tracks. Not actually sure of the sex.

little one

Here’s a smaller one that crossed the trail earlier on my walk. That’s an AA battery for size comparison. I wonder how old this guy was and why he/she was alone.