Archive for the ‘tracks’ Category

Hugest Owl Pellet Ever

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Biggest Owl Pellet Ever

A fallen down rotten trunk of a cottonwood revealed the biggest collection of owl pellets i have ever seen. The owl must have regurgitated them all into this hollow tree for what was probably years. There they got so compacted that they kinda just turned into one big pellet.

Owls do not defecate as mammals do. Rather they will often swallow their prey whole and let especially strong stomach acids do the work. The unused parts that the body cannot assimilate are then compacted into a pellet and regurgitated back out of the mouth.

This collection of pellets seemed to be entirely composed of Vole body parts (microtus sp.) Up here in the High Sierra where this picture was taken we have the Montane Vole among others. Alot of the sagebrush is entirely stripped of its bark by these little rodents.

Vole feeding signs

If you look closely you can see little lateral stripes in the wood. These are the marks of the rodents incisors, its two primary teeth used for feeding.

It was amazing to be in this meadow composed almost entirely of sagebrush on which the voles were feeding, and then to see this very obvious evidence of what was feeding on the voles, all in this little stream-side meadow. Amazing.


Sunday, April 24th, 2011


Spring is here in the foothills. Still raining and snowing here and there. I sat underneath this beautiful cherry blossom for a good while the other weekend. I heard in Japan they have a tradition of picnic-ing under the plum blossoms in the spring. Pretty cool tradition.

Ursos Trail

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

bear trail

Can you see the Black bear (ursos americanos) trail in this Photo? The prints start in the right bottom corner of the photo and head across to the top left.

It’s moving in an overstep walk, a simple back and forth type of walk, one bears use regularly to get around.


Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Mystery Photo

Here’s a mystery for you. Who made these tracks?  The pine needle on the right is a ten inch Ponderosa Pine Needle for size reference.


Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Morning frost

Mornings after cold nights are gorgeous. Everything is covered in frost. It’s like if Nature is a good idea that pops into your head that makes you all happy, frost is someone agreeing with that good idea. It accentuates it.

Thomomys bottae


The latin name for the Pocket Gopher family. Pocket Gophers are smallish rodents who spend most of their time burrowinging underground. All you gardeners on out there know them all too well i am sure. They are called “Pocket” Gopher because they actually have large , fur lined pockets on either side of their head where their cheeks are. In these they store little root balls and other underground delicacies that they feed on. A friend recently caught one in a trap in her garden and upon examining it’s pouches, I found two almost marble sized white root balls from an unknown plant.  Gophers have enormous incisors or front teeth which they use to fell large plants in pursuit of the roots. These they will often store up in underground chambers that they make themselves. Studying the feet of gophers is fascinating. You don’t see anything else quite like it. Almost prehistoric looking. Makes for some interesting tracks.

The photo above is a picture of a Pocket Gopher esker. When there is tons of snow on the ground, instead of these guys flinging out the dirt they excavate from their underground tunnels into big, old mounds, which is what they normally do, they stack the dirt up into nice neat rows. Why do they do this? I am not exactly sure. I think it’s because its hard to excavate a big dome in the snow to put all your dirt in. It’s easier to make sideways tunnels in the snow and then just stuff the dirt into that. At least this is what a friend told me.

This esker was probably made by a Bottas Pocket Gopher, thomomys bottae. Look closely in the bottom left part of the picture for a latrine. A latrine is a place where an animal deficates or urinates repeatedly. This one is part of the esker and probably got pushed out with the dirt. They look like a bunch of little brown tic-tacs.

Felis Concolor

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

felis concolor, mountain lion, male

The mountain lion.

I recently revisited a wonderful show I used to watch when i was ten years old. My housemates five year old son was sick at home watching “Felix the Cat” cartoon episodes on the couch. Remember that? That cat was tight. Whenever he got in a fix he would reach into his bag of tricks. Non-cartoon cats however, like the mountain lion, need our protection. Protection from whom? From us humans, our technology, and our often non-moral or unaware use of it.

A neighbor caught an image of a massive male lion on a trail camera back in January. He was completely ripped, muscles bulging out from beneath the skin. I went out in search of him and eventually came upon his fresh trail down by the creek below my home. I came back to the creek in the following days and each morning there would be a fresh trail. I wonder if this means he had a kill in the area that he was hanging by and feeding on. The third time i came back there were two trails walking tandem along the water.

can you feel the Love tonight?

I figured it was a mating pair and not just two trails that happened to be alongside each other. They were made at the same time, the print dimensions of one was significantly larger than the other, and they were walking in tandem, like holding hands in the park tandem. The size difference was incredible. The female was way smaller than the male. Small, delicate and soft compared to the angular, large, male prints.  Perhaps its difficult to see in the picture but in the photo above the male trail is the on on the right side of the photo, starting in the bottom right, and the female is the trail on the left side of the photo, starting bottom left. Both are moving away from the camera in what trackers call an “alternate walk”, or your most basic relaxed right, left, right, left kind of walk. Like we would walk from the kitchen to the bathroom except with animals there are four legs involved. It’s kind of difficult to get a size comparison looking at the photo, but the male measured close to an inch larger than the female.

right front and hind

Mountain lions are solitary and are only found together during a few weeks in winter when mating occurs. At least it happens once a year. This is unfortunately better than some of us can attest to.  Mountain lions are one of the most widespread carnivores in America, ranging all the way from the Canadian Rockies to the snowy mountains of South America. Of course they are all called different names in all the varied places they are found, some of them being, cougar, catamount, puma and probably all kinds of cool Spanish names. I read in this one book that they are even different sub-species in each location, labeled accordingly with a third Latin name. Of course they are physically, noticeably different in the different regions they are found. The Florida puma has what we call a “roman nose”. It kind of bends out like an Italian person in comparison with lions from California or some other location.  Although called a lion, they are not as similar to the African Lions as they are to a Panther or Jaguar. They are solitary and don’t hang out in prides, and they hunt from stealth and sudden attack as apposed to group predation.

The photo above is that of the males front right print (bottom track) and the rear right print (top track). It’s an interesting feeling when you see the tracks of an animal that could end your existence, walk on top of your tracks from the previous day. There’s kind of this moment of connection like, ” Whoa, a lion just stepped on top of my tracks.”  Then you feel all proud.  I heard from a naturalist friend once that on average us humans all walk within ten feet of a mountain lion without even knowing it. That is if you live in lion country. This isn’t really that hard to believe when you start to learn about these creatures. They are incredibly stealthy. They are nocturnal. And they don’t enjoy being seen. So during the day they are layed out beneath a bush, sleeping the day away, keeping one eye open as you and your friends hike past, talking about your recent stock bonds.

I went out with a lion biologist once to see the kind of work he did. We hiked around the rim of this canyon for an hour trying to locate with radio telemetry this female that was, according to the technology, quite close. We were about to give up when we looked back to where we had come, only to see her zoom out of this stand of brush that we had walked just twenty feet from 30 minutes earlier. What other things in life do we walk twenty feet away from without ever knowing of it’s existence?

sunset from porch, life is beautiful

Summer Solstice

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

The Yuba River

The rushing Yuba River. All the snow has been melting in the high sierra, so i hear, so all the water is rushing down into the foothills. A friend and i went and sat by the river. It was amazing. Woodrat, snake or lizard of some sort, huge bull frog, deer mouse, fawn and deer, killdeer, turkey, and quail tracks along the bank. Hoards of cliff swallows flying in and out of their nests under the bridge. A hot yet beautiful day.     

mystery tracks

  Not sure what these guys are. i was with a bunch of folks, when we were looking at them, who had to be somwhere, so i didn’t get to study them closely. i guessed that they were tracks of the meadow vole.  One of the tracks is about   3/4 of an inch long.  What do you think? please let me know if you have an idea. 

Black - Tailed Deer

  The male black tailed deer or a “buck” as they are commonly referred to.  Soon after i took this picture i watched as he proceeded to scratch his underside with his large antlers. they seemed pretty unwieldy so it was a somewhat impressive feat. 

ground squirrel dust bath

   The Beldings Ground squirrel, or at least thats what i think it is. I was calling the ground squirrels around here California ground Squirrels earlier. But now i am thinking they are Beldings( spermopholis beldingi). If i read correctly they are both in this range, but the California has white dots on its back while the beldings is smaller and has a reddish brown back. These guys are reddish and smaller.

   Anyways the ground squirrel “bathes” by rolling around in the dirt, or what others call a “dust bath” . Look closely for the fine striations in the dust which are the marks of the squirrels hair as he rubbed about.  

turdus migratorius

       The tracks of the American Robin. The tracks below are from the Western Gray Squirrel (sciurus grisius).  The feet of gray squirrels are amazing. the ones out here are gigantic, so their feet are also exceptionally large, as well as extremely dexterous. This has come about from the amazing acrobatic lifestyle they lead: jumping about from tree limb to tree limb and literally running up large vertical tree trunks. I was observing one in a low branch before me the other day. His/her hands protruded an almost nimble intelligence, the mark of their high-wire lifestyle no doubt.

Old Nevada City Airport

Friday, June 4th, 2010

lepus californicus

It was a true joy to find out there was a tracking club in my new backyard, other people who are actually interested in staring at the ground for hours on end like myself. good fun.

We met at the old Nevada City Airport just outside of Nevada City. Supposedly it was an airport in the 60’s. Now its a vacant lot that is used by “recreationalists” and a small group of people interested in wildlife tracking.

This is the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit. Check out the hind right foot -the track in the top right portion of the photo. Looked at by itself it could easily be mistaken for a small canid track. Notice how it’s slightly off-kilter  or asymmetrical. That gives it away as a rabbit print.

Rabbit feet are odd. They have five toes on the front foot and only four on the hind. My guess is that this is an adaption for speed and quick manuvering.  You can see the fifth toe on the front foot on the track in the very center of the photo. This animal was moving in a bound so the front feet land before the back feet do. That makes the tracks in the bottom of the photo the front feet.


The substrate was incredible on Sunday. It had rained Friday so the mud was sticky. Incredibly fine detail, and  gorgeous, like chocolate. Here’s a trail of a milipede.  The individual footfalls are actually visible as tracks. Incredible. Harder to see in the pic but amazing in the field.  In dust or sand milipede trails usually just show up as two rows running along parallel next to each other like railroad tracks.  The trail width in this pic is about half an inch.

psuedacris regilla

The hopping trail of a small frog, i was thinking the pacific tree frog (psuedacris regilla). The trail was a sloppy cord running through the mud. These tracks here were some clear ones.  None of us saw it in the field but when i showed this picture to a friend she pointed out that you can see the imprint of the body surrounding the tracks. The color is a little darker right where she /he hopped. Amazing. I didn’t even notice that.  Of course she doesn’t even do tracking much.

mystery invertabrate

The trail width on this guy is about half or three quarters inch wide. Some suggested  beatle. A bit large for a potato bug I thought.

callipepla californica

The walking trail of a California Quail. I have been in California for years and i still can’t get over how stunningly beautiful these guys are. There coats are just stupendous, dark blues fading into grays, with black diamond patterns surrounded by white.  that’s the males. The females are browner. One of these tracks is about an inch and a half in length.

spermopholis sp.

A spermopholis species, I think the Beldings Ground Squirrel but perhaps the California. I think all the yellow stuff is pollen from the pines. One can differentiate ground squirrel tracks from tree squirrel tracks by the front feet. the fronts on ground squirrels are asymmetrical while the trees are more symmetrical. In this photo the front track is the lower right print on the bottom. Notice how it has somewhat of a curved appearance in the toe structure.

pinus ponderosa

The new needles of the Ponderosa Pine.  The ground and cars were covered in bright yellow powder, pollen from the abundant pines in the area. Life is beautiful.

Ursus Americanus

Friday, May 28th, 2010

ursus americanus (black Bear)

Talked with my neighbor who has lived here for thirty years. He knows the land very well and also saw the dead coyote. He also thought it was the mother of the pup. But a another friend I talked with said he thinks the pup survived. That was just his hunch. I hope hes right. Otherwise I’ll be heartbroken.

Anyways its been raining on and off for the past week or so. Went out for a bike ride yesterday and followed an old mining road down to the stream. It had bee raining all daybut there was no precipitation for the moment . I stopped my bike when I noticed the track above.  Thats a regular ball point pen for size comparison. I was amzed to see completely fresh bear tracks. The rain had just stopped and these tracks had absolutely no precipitation marks in them. The tracks were very fresh and I thought that I  had probably scared him off. The trail was going up the road and then it turned around and headed back down the road. He had probably heard my squeaky, wet breaks, turned around and bolted.

bear front and hind

Perhaps these prints are easier to see. Thats the front-left track of the bear below with the hind-left track above in a walking gait. Some natives of america called the black bear “brother”. For those who have seen one up close walking around you can see why. But unlike us,  bears have a foot structure where the smallest toe is on the inside as apposed to our foot where the Biggest toe is on the inside.

can you see the trail?

As I followed along the road here’s what the trail looked like at times. Perhaps its tricky to see. Can you see the alternating footsteps of the trail, showing up as light splotches in the grass? Because evrything was so saturated with moisture from all the rain, the tracks were showing up in many different substrates:   soil, grass, leaf debris and gravel. I followed him ( or maybe her?) for about a quarter of a mile and then lost the trail when it came down to a riverbed.


Perhaps it’s too difficult to see in the photo but can you see the bear track taking up a significant portion of the bottom of the picture?

right-fore black bear

See the tiny inner toe? These tracks measured about six and a half inches in length with the claws.


Monday, May 10th, 2010

Western Coyote (canis latrans)

The illustrious coyote.  The female behind my house, perhaps this is her, is raising pups currently. I found one of them, or rather one of them found me, one rainy night. It was very cold out a couple weeks ago, hail and slush covering the ground. I was about to turn in for the night when I heard some strange wailing sounds. “An owl perhaps”, I thought. I went to investigate and in the dark night a little form waddled up to me, calling. I picked him up and put him in my jacket. His brother up the hillside however wasn’t cooperative. When I tried to get him he retreated under his log and growled at me. Anyway I brought him into my bed to warm up. He smelled of skunk, I think he must have gotten sprayed, and kept him in my room for a few days feeding him goats milk from the local farm. I worked during the day and would come back home at night and take care of him. I got a taste of what having a baby is like. Its like having another full time job when you come home at the end of the day from your full time job.

Anyway after a week of going on no sleep ( he would bite me in the middle of the night cause he wanted to feed) I was starting to go insane. I asked a neighbor who has been living on the land for a long time and she said I should put him back. When my first found him my initial thought was that his mother had been hit by a car, so I hesitated, fearing he wouldn’t survive. I put him back on a Sunday morning and came back the next morning to find him gone. I hoped the mother got him. A little later I came upon a dead coyote off the bottom of the driveway, a small one, perhaps female, about one hundred feet from the road. Judging from the rate of decomposition of the body I guess she would have died a few weeks ago, about the time I found the baby. Heartbreaking.

Perhaps I should have kept him, but i wasn’t actually allowed to have pets in my room.

California ground squirrel (spermophilus beecheyi)

The california Ground Squirrel, or perhaps the Beldings Ground Squirrel. I am not sure which one. The Beldings is smaller and has a red strip on its back,  but ground squirrels are fossorial or diggers, and the soil is very red here and stains everyones shoes and livestock a dull orange color, so maybe its just an orange- stained california ground squirrel. Anyway I found along the road where these track were some patches of mussed-up dirt. At first i thought they were quail dust baths but then  a couple days later i saw a ground squirrel in one of them and realized they were probably their dust baths.

pacific tree frog (psuedacris regilla)

Can you see the little guy? I was walking along the river bed down the road and I stopped and sat down to look at the cool quartz rocks beneath my feet . I was sitting there looking at the rocks for a few minutes until I realized i was also looking at a small amphibian.  These guys make a chorus of sound all night in the pond behind where I live.

Bullocks Orioles nest building here, as well as Black -Headed Grossbeaks. Saw  a brilliantly colored Western Tananger and a Townsend Warbler a few weeks ago. Yelow warblers calling behind where I work.  Two Great Horns calling at night.