Archive for the ‘fresh water’ Category

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.      

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.

Northern California Autumn

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

  A gorgeous Autumn here in Northern California.  The Black Oaks are a rich yellow to gold, which mixed with the bright greens of the Pines and Madrones, turn the hills and canyons into an artist’s palette, the brush of the brisk breeze making the colors dance  in a symphony of worship to the bright Sun-God above, sitting regal in his azure palace. 

    I enjoy Northern California because it shares some similarities to my home in the Northeast; snowy winters, somewhat of an autumn, deciduous trees, yet lots of sun and a Mediterranean climate.

  Some nice rounded stones on the shores of Lake Tahoe. A red glowing sunset over the snowy mountains. Chipmunks scurrying beneath the downed logs. Gulls lazily transversing the air overhead as people walk their dogs and search, beset with anguish, over their lost portable communication devices.

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.


Monday, January 30th, 2012

Cool bridge up at Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada where i went wandering yesterday. That’s Donner lake in the background. It’s like an adult playground up there. A high mountain playgound. Everyone goes up there to ski, hike, climb, paddle and party. Its kind of ridiculous.

Gorgeous granite bulb-giants sticking up into the skies like strange alien rocket ships emerging and then freezing in the mountain air.  Here’s a close up of the granite. Beautiful dark-black flakes mixed with white and a hint of peach.

Incredible black, white and neon green lichen covering the rock surface. Lichen is an incredible organism that lives on surfaces such as stone or bark, absorbing the moisture and nutrients from the soil,dust and debris it finds there.  Scientists have found that some lichen can be thousands of years old. They are super hardy, which is why they can live so long.

Fat sheets of rippled ice slowly marching down the face of the rock. Despite all the frozen water, it was quite a warm day.

Looking closely at the intricacies of Nature’s creations, one sees a brilliant mastermind, artist-architect at work.  The Beauty-Intelligence of the universe. One that makes the geese to migrate across vast oceans, the buds to open up to the sunshine in the spring, our blood to pump continuously through our bodies.  We have yet to fully understand and grasp it all. Even the sharpest scientists of our human species. A mystery. A mystery that whirls and rotates and rises and falls in perfect time, all around us.


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.

Yuba Pass Meadow

Friday, July 29th, 2011


The Crimson Columbine, aquilegia formosa, an incredibly gorgeous Sierra wildflower that accompanied my sit one morning in a meadow at Yuba Pass, a pass over the high sierra a bit north of Tahoe.  It was an absolutely INCREDIBLE morning. The beauty was ridiculous.  I am starting to get why John Muir wrote about the Sierras the way he did.


As the sun rose i sat amidst the rich , moist green of the high-mountain meadow, colorful flames of flowers spread throughout, soaking up all the beauty.  The Hermit Thrush was singing its other worldly song, perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious of bird songs i’ve heard.   I was in awe at how ridiculous it all was. It almost seemed kind of fake. Like those flowers at the flower shop that look too colorful to be real.

The Broad-Leaved Lupine, lupinus latifolius, a purple tower of a plant. Quite splendid, mixed in there with some Corn Lilies.

snow plant

Snow plant,  sarcodes sanguinea. This guy was just popping up all over the place quite randomly, not even in the meadow. Kind of like a friend that just shows up on your doorstep uninvited yet quite welcomed.

I find the beauty of Nature sometimes to be kind of ridiculous. Like you see it and you think, ” Wait a minute…….. whats going on here?”

old dried up Yellow Pine

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.

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.