adventures in nature

Posts tagged “tracks

newt tracks

20160319_150046 v1CA newt (Taricha torosa) tracks in soft muddy silt / Tilden Reg Park, Alameda County CA

You can see in this photo a great example of the understep walk that these awesome little creatures move in, with the five-digit rear feet landing just behind the four-digit front feet. So cool to see them walk. Note also the tail drag in the middle.


2016 Jan 17 – a quick Arizona experience

I found myself briefly in Arizona this weekend, and despite it not being a planned “adventure,” of course I’m always tracking. Got some new tracks I’d never seen before.

I was in an area that is renowned as a birding hot spot, and it’s also not far from where there have been jaguar sightings. That’s right, JAGUAR. This place in southern Arizona in the Santa Rita mountains is an interesting ecology, high desert, and home to some of the only perennial creeks in these deserts. The Santa Rita mountains are in the shadows of Mount Wrightson.We broke out for a short hike in the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, and though we didn’t see a lot of wildlife (it was midday), we spotted some nice tracks.

cOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfresh small mountain lion track (probably female) / Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve AZ

coati track / Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve AZ

We stumbled on some mysterious feed sign, it looked like broccoli barfed up in the middle of the trail. As we considered all possible solutions, including vegetarian humans that might have puked on the trail after a rough night at the Wagon Wheel, we finally came upon a solution …

osage orange fruits, a non-native that is present in the area

I determined that likely it was wood rats (tracks below) and also possibly squirrels that were opening up the fruits and leaving the broccoli-like remnant behind …

woodrat tracks

Beautiful country, I can’t wait to return.

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javelina (collared peccary) tracks

 


2014 Oct 26 bobcat track in sand

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tracks

IMG_2324 v2north american river Otter

 

IMG_2323 v1-2western Coyote

 

IMG_2329 v1-2Bobcat


chasing mountain lions blog to resume soon …

I’m excited to report that I am helping with a new puma project in the Bay Area, my other blog chasing mountain lions will be updated with a new chapter soon …

Here are pictures of tracks of two of the cats that we are tracking and trying to capture right now in the mountains East of San Jose near Mount Hamilton:

 

male puma track

male puma track

female puma track

female puma track

And here are a few of the residents where we are tracking the lions for capture (to outfit them with GPS collars) …

red-tailed hawk

red-tailed hawk

adult golden eagle

adult golden eagle

magpie

magpie

white oak "monster"

white oak “monster”

great-horned owl

great-horned owl

the amazing pooping bobact

the amazing pooping bobcat

60 second old bobcat scat!!

60 second old bobcat scat!!

More to come soon …


trailin’ hogs!

I had the good fortune to go for an adventure yesterday with a friend to practice trailing animals – the species of focus was the feral pig (feral hog).

The weather was outstanding, despite some strong winds early in the day. It doesn’t get much nicer here than these sunny days with clear blue skies and temps in the 70’s – and the light was great too. I knew it was going to be a good day when not long after sunrise I saw a juvenile bald eagle (hatch year / 1st year) perched in a tree overlooking a creek. It was eyeing up some water fowl and steelhead, the latter of which were spawning in the creek bed below.

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[juvenile bald eagle]

Steelhead are a type of salmon, and once were found in great numbers up and down the west coast. As with many of the salmon, their populations have been suffering due to over-fishing, habitat loss, and pollution. This time of year, mature fish swim from the ocean back into small creeks and streams from where they were born, where they create nests in the creek beds to lay their eggs. Unlike other salmon who die after spawing, some steelhead return to the ocean for another go. Interestingly, according to current science taxonomy, they are the same species as rainbow trout – the difference being that steelhead are anadromous, meaning they spend part of their life in the ocean. Because of this, they look physically different than fresh water rainbow trout (larger). These fish shown below were probably close to three feet long!

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[steelhead]

I was on my way to a remote area of western Sonoma County where we were going to do our wander, on some land miles from any roads by the Gualala River. I feel like Sonoma County is my “second childhood home” – and it felt so good to be visiting on this beautiful spring day.

When driving along a ridge line with views going miles in all directions, the land looks like a piece of bunched up fabric – deep, drastic valleys at the bottom of steep descents that fall from high mountain tops and ridge lines. Huge stands of douglas fir and redwood are on many of the north-facing slopes, with oak woodland spanning other parts of the more sunny areas. Some of the land remains ranch land, and many folks have made their living with sheep and cattle out here. “As the crow flies,” the distance between two points seems not too far – but when traveling on land, it can take a long time to travel a short distance. And there’s seldom a direct route. Perhaps it is this ruggedness that has helped keep it somewhat intact – it isn’t conducive to the industries of man. May it remain as such!*

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Feral pigs, also called feral hogs, are non-native animals whose relatives escaped from the domestic life and have secured a place for themselves and their progeny in the wild. Sonoma County has a large population of them, and many areas of the country consider them to be a pest. They certainly don’t tread lightly on a landscape – in areas of high density, the ground can be torn up all over the place from their rooting. They are an amazing animal – highly intelligent, very social, and incredibly adaptable. They can also get pretty big – some of the larger boars are around 300 pounds! And they can be pretty intimidating to see – large tusks, coarse hair covering parts of their body – they often don’t look like their barn-yard cousins.

I have mixed feelings about the native / non-native debate. The truth is that many of our ecosystems are so different than they were prior to European colonization – especially with the removal of so many of the apex predators – that it is unlikely they will ever be the same. Especially without reintroduction of the trees, plants and animals that were originally here and created a balanced web of life. You don’t grow old-growth redwood trees overnight. I imagine the pigs would not be as successful if there were wolves and grizzly bears around (as there once were in this area) – but I bet the main detractors of the hogs would be even less apt to welcome that strategy!

There is a difference for humans, psychologically, when labeling an animal as a pest and/or a non-native – somehow it’s life seems to be valued less. I have an issue with this. These are still living, breathing creatures, just doing what we all are doing here – trying to make a living. I’m not suggesting that all non-native animals should just run amok with no management plan in place, but I do believe there can be better, more compassionate management strategies that are also more supported by science. Ones that honor these animals as individual living beings, with a value the same as any other living being. Sadly, humans have used (and continue to use) this type of labeling to denigrate people too – whole cultures, races, and people of varying lifestyles have been subjected to horrible treatment because of this manipulative psychology of labeling.

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It was fun to get to be in the world of the hogs for the morning! We started off by looking for some fresh tracks so that we could have a chance at being able to trail and find the animal that laid them. The pig sign was everywhere – the trick was finding something fresh. Despite some of the recent rains, the ground in some areas was already becoming quite dry again, so it wasn’t holding sign as well as it had been just a week ago.

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[some fairly fresh hog tracks]

We ended up on several different hog trails, the first of which took us down a steep hill side, traversing downward through the trees. We saw quite a few pig beds – all empty – strategically situated at the base of large trees on a steep slope, with crunchy leaves all around that would belie the presence of an approaching predator (or tracker!) and allow for multiple escape routes. After being on it for quite a distance, eventually we lost the trail – which seemed impossible, given we were following a number of individuals travelling together. How do 150 to 300 pound animals seem to vanish and leave no discernible sign? Perhaps there is a “pig vortex,” similar to the “raptor vortex” – the place raptors seem to often disappear to, out of the air, when you take your eye off them for a second! Amazing! Humbling.

We continued on, looking for another trail to follow, and eventually we found some more fresh sign just off the dirt access road we were following. After poking around a bit, we took a hog trail down another steep slope descending 100’s of vertical feet. There were some fairly fresh tracks on it, but mostly we were just curious where they were going as it seemed to be a highly used trail. It took us all the way down to the bottom of the valley – and to the Gualala River.

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I could have spent days at that spot. The river was gently flowing past, its gray-green waters moving over small round river stones on its bed. Small waterfalls and seeps were cascading into the river from the steep hillsides, scouring the rocks and making a home for glowing moss and lichens. An abundance of life, and signs of animals passing through, was everywhere. I was overwhelmed by the calm and beauty.

I finally couldn’t resist and waded into the water (it was also the easier route around some poison oak that was guarding a narrow pass on the steep banks!), and saw a couple of newts hanging out under the surface of the chilly water …

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[red-bellied newt (Taricha rivularis)]

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[rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa granulosa)]

Once I made my way back to shore, we saw a little snake sunning itself on a rock ledge. All the animals seemed to be in the same blissful, relaxed state that I was in … under the spell of the Gualala River and the warm sun above.

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[CA red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis)]

Finally, we hit upon some nice fresh hog tracks in the soft sediment on the banks of the river. Back on it!

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These were likely from a pretty big boar. We followed him back up the hillside from where we came, but once again after a little while we lost the trail. Humbling! As we fanned out and attempted to pick it back up again, we found another little creature on the hillside under a log that we had disturbed.

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[juvenile speckled black salamander? (Aneides flavipunctatus flavipunctatus)]

We put a new rock and some leaves back over this young lady to keep her out of the sun after we left.

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[some type of lily? anyone?]

[UPDATE – Fritillaria affinis aka the chocolate lily or checkered lily

edible bulb/roots

thank you Ann for the ID!]

As we got to the top of the hill, we found the boar tracks again … and it was one of the tracks that we had originally seen when we started on this trail! We had come full circle.

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We reluctantly made our way out of the property, but as we were leaving we spotted one last treat – a golden eagle! it was a double eagle day. A good sign and a perfect ending to a great morning.

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I am so thankful to have gotten to spend the day out there, many thanks to my friend Matt for taking time to share this special place with me.

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* As a side-note, in recent times vineyard owners have been trying to push into some of these areas because they are ideal for certain grape varietals, such as the popular pinot noir. Thankfully there are many organizations, including Native groups, that are spearheading the effort to keep this land intact from groups who want to convert forest to vineyards (or other clear-cutting). The amount of life that is impacted by deforestation is astounding, and humans have already destroyed 96% – NINETY SIX PERCENT – of existing redwood ecosystems since the west was “settled” … and old growth constitutes just a small part of that which remains. Scientists have barely scratched the surface of understanding ecology and the web of life on this planet, and it has been shown that the canopies of redwood forests contain a huge amount of biodiversity. Seems like there is a lot of value in honoring these remaining places – and perhaps a duty to do so.


another adventure at the lagoon

red-tailed Hawk (intermediate morph)

red-tailed Hawk (intermediate morph)

Sunday was a warm and clear day on the coast, strange weather for January – it felt like summer (well, summer anywhere besides the coast and the Bay area). We started the day by witnessing some interesting behavior by a couple of deer that caught our attention. The deer, which appeared to be doe and a yearling (nearly the same size), were standing with heads raised and their focus on something in the chaparral to the north of us. The yearling took off trotting, then bounding, right towards the path we were on, seemingly unconcerned with our presence. It then stopped and turned around, bounding back to its mother. The two of them then started a slow walk in the direction of the threat, with the mother in the lead. Shifting our position back down the trail, we were able to see what was causing the concern …

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I was only able to catch the tail-end of the bobcat as he disappeared into a coyote bush (for the moment now a bobcat bush) – a large male that uses this particular territory who’ve we’ve tracked and seen around here before. Although I think it’s rare for bobcats to take down full grown deer in this area, fawns are fair game. This particular young one is probably big enough to be safe, but given the respect that the deer on this day showed towards him, and on another occasion when I witnessed his presence disturb them, I’d say he is still viewed as a threat. He seems to be a large bobcat based on his tracks and scat.

The most interesting part of this whole interaction was when the deer started to FOLLOW the bobcat – the doe literally walked right to where the cat had disappeared, and she seemed to be chasing HIM out of the area! Good stuff.

On the way in to the lagoons, I spotted an American bittern in a small pond along the pathway – I’ve seen one on the far shores of the larger lagoon, but never one so out in the open here. It was shaping up to be another good day, with lots of live animal sightings. Later in the day on the return trip it was still there and posed for some pictures in the beautiful light.

American bittern

American bittern

American bittern

American bittern

As we approached the lagoon, a resident great-blue heron was hunting in the shallows.

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There were quite a few sets of trails and tracks on the dunes, but the striped skunks were most prevalent. This is their mating season, during which they really seem to be wandering around outside of their normal areas with higher frequency – sadly it is also marked by the large number of road kill skunks at this time of year. Notably absent was the female bobcat that usually patrols this area. It is also breeding season for the cats, so her daily patterns are likely interrupted by the breeding impulse. I also spotted at least one golden eagle soaring above the hills, only the second time I’ve seen one in this particular area. Along with a ferruginous hawk sighting (a somewhat rare winter visitor in this area) and the great view of an intermediate morph red-tailed hawk, we had some great raptor and other bird sightings. During the day at various times the family of otters was visible on the upper lagoon, but I never really was close enough for any pictures. Just their presence is a joy, watching them even from afar is so fun.

marsh wren

marsh wren

ferruginous hawk

ferruginous hawk

As we were resting by the lagoon, a pie-billed grebe made it’s way out of the shallows by the cattails with quite a prize – after straining to identify what it was, we realized it was a small bass! The grebe paddled around with the fish in its beak for at least five minutes, occasionally shaking it and twice losing it in the water, but diving down and quickly recapturing it. Finally, after almost ten minutes, it downed the fish whole!!

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Impressive.

Another great day out there, I’m so thankful for that place and to be able to wander in it. Thanks also to Richard Vacha and everyone who participated in this Marin Tracking Club excursion for making it a fun and educational day.


teaser

There are too many photos and stories from yesterday to rush this tale, which I don’t have time at the moment to honor properly  – but here are a few teaser photos until I do. Honestly, books could be written about what is found in any few square feet of space in places like Abbott’s Lagoon. The richness and density and variety of life in this area, along with many friendly substrates that record so much of it to see afterward, is just such a gift.

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The above picture is of a Great-Horned Owl landing spot in sand – you can see where it landed, and in the foreground is the imprint of its wing feathers in the sand. You can also see the trail of it walking away, out of the frame to the top left of the picture … a trail of about 15 feet, where it took to the air again.

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Black-Tailed Mule Deer Buck

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Ferruginous Hawk

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Bobcat tracks in algae/sediment


Abbotts Lagoon Sept 2013

black-tailed mule deer buck

black-tailed mule deer buck

Morro shoulderband snail

Morro shoulderband snail

Morro shoulderband snail and trail

Morro shoulderband snail and trail

receded lagoon bed

receded lagoon bed

black-tailed mule deer ma and fawn

black-tailed mule deer ma and fawn

beautiful dune grasses

beautiful dune grasses

muskrat

muskrat

red-tailed hawk

red-tailed hawk

juvenile peregrine falcon

juvenile peregrine falcon

north american river otter tracks

north american river otter tracks


passersby in the night

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raccoon and gray fox tracks in mud silt

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gray fox track in mud silt

Both tracks look like front left for each animal, which is pretty cool. Amazing detail in the fox track, you can see the hair impressions in the mud silt – also, it’s not often that the claws register (gray foxes have semi-retractable claws and are able to climb trees).


Carquinez Strait raccoon trail

raccoon walking trail

raccoon walking trail


Point Reyes tracking day

Ahh, where to begin. This post has taken me a long time to get up because one day of tracking can yield volumes of stories and tales!

Our day at Abbott’s Lagoon a few weeks ago began with a morning of warm sunshine, after a few days of very cold temperatures and rain – as we started out towards the sand dunes near the beach we saw quite a few black-tailed mule deer in groups of over ten individuals. There was a herd of males of all different ages in an adjacent field, their antlers varying from sprouts to full racks. They seemed to be frolicking in the warm sun, play sparring and hopping around each other like fawns on a beautiful spring day. What really caught our eyes though was another group of deer to our north … one of them was standing guard to the west and not even our presence took this doe’s attention off something towards the eastern lagoon. Her behavior queued us in to another presence that warranted her attention more than humans. It had to be a predator.

As her group grazed, she seemed to be doing some tracking of her own. We decided to see what it was that garnered such focused attention, and we moved quietly across the chaparral to investigate. As we moved west, the look-out deer finally broke her sentry post and they all moved on to the east. We didn’t see what had attracted her attention, so we started to investigate the area where the deer were grazing to see what was for breakfast. As we moved west through the brush though, our efforts were rewarded as the hard ground gave way to add a character to the story by yielding a single clue … a fresh bobcat track in some soil upturned by a gopher!

We were able to trail it for a distance, the fresh tracks sometimes not visible at all, occasionally popping out for us to see in some loose soil after losing the trail for 20 feet at a time. With great reluctance after trailing the cat for 500 yards, we abandoned our search to see the maker of the tracks to continue on our journey towards the dunes. I would be rewarded later though …

bobcat tracks

bobcat tracks

Once at the sand dunes, we saw an explosion of activity that indicated many animals were eager to be out after so many days of cold and/or rain. Another bobcat made some nice trails, along with black-tailed mule deer, river otters, coyotes, gray fox, great-blue herons, ravens, deer mice, beetles, brush rabbits, skunks, opossum, raccoon, and more. There was a lot of skunk sign, and we postulated that they were very active after a short period of torpor (similar to hibernation) that left them hungry and in search of mates. Deer mouse sign was also everywhere, their small tracks making trails all over the dunes.

raven tracks

raven tracks

river otter scat and tracks

river otter scat and tracks

brush rabbit tracks

brush rabbit tracks

great-blue heron tracks

great-blue heron tracks

striped skunk trail

striped skunk trail

striped skunk tracks

striped skunk tracks

Virginia opossum tracks

Virginia opossum tracks

bounding mouse tracks

bounding mouse tracks

The evidence of another saga soon played out on the sand dunes before me – a bobcat trail that showed what I determined to be a recently captured brush rabbit. The trail had drag marks that extended under the cat for 30 yards to a spot where it did tight circles as it either made the final kill or adjusted the prey in its jaws, then sat for a bit. The trail went on then for 20 yards up into some dune grasses where there were bits of rabbit fur and presumably the cat ate its meal.

bobcat trail with drag marks

bobcat trail with drag marks

bobcat tracks

bobcat tracks

bobcat sit spot

bobcat sit spot

This particular area usually is thick with coyote sign, and seldom have we seen gray fox sign here – but this day showed evidence of at least one fox that had traveled with purpose around the whole area. The tracks are dainty next to the many coyote tracks, and I was excited to see find the trail.

gray fox track

gray fox track

I trailed one of them for half a mile down the beach, its tracks following the vegetation line at the edge of the beach, at one point going down into the surf area where the water washed away its paw prints at the last high tide before it veered back up to continue on its journey north towards Kehoe Beach (where their sign is much more prevalent according to others familiar with the area). It was a very purposeful gait, seldom stopping to investigate the ocean flotsam along the shore. What spurred this fox on an unhurried yet purposeful journey on the beach? The search for a mate? A territorial scouting mission? Food? It will be interesting to see if there is more sign in the future or if the foxes will remain more north towards Kehoe beach after this.

gray fox tracks

gray fox tracks

At one point as I backtracked one of the bobcats, I was excited to catch sight of an American bittern hunting in the floating vegetation on the edge of the east lagoon. Among the live animals I saw this day were great-blue herons, ravens, gulls, two snowy plovers (a very endangered species), red-tailed hawks, white-tailed kites, northern harriers, turkey vultures, yellow-rumped warblers, black-tailed mule deer, a peregrine falcon and …

American bittern

American bittern

song sparrow

song sparrow

great-blue heron

great-blue heron

marsh wren

marsh wren

snowy plover

snowy plover

snowy plover

snowy plover

striped skunk

striped skunk

coyote

coyote

… a bobcat!

bobcat

bobcat

Good stuff.

The dunes are ever-shifting, they can be an amazing palette for animal tracks or the tracks of the wind, giving a brief glimpse at the stories played out in the hours before. But the winds eventually wipe the slate clean like words fading on a page, as the dunes make their own tracks across the landscape.

wind design in sand by dune grass

wind design in sand by dune grass

cattails in sand dune

cattails buried in sand dune


a bald and white Christmas in PA

Yes, Christmas will always be bald and white for me with regard to one definition of those terms at this point in my life, but this particular Christmas we were treated to other, more fun benefactors of those descriptors –  a snowy Christmas eve yielded a white Christmas morning, and we got quite a show by some local nesting bald eagles.

adult bald eagle 01

adult bald eagle 01

These are presumably the same birds that have been nesting at this site for the past few years not far from my parent’s house in PA (see my post from last year here). It’s great to see them still successfully using this nest as it is more exposed and closer to human activity than most nests. This is actually a GOOD thing, as it indicates that most of the other more ideal nesting spots and territories around the Susquehanna River are already taken by breeding pairs.

adult bald eagle 02

adult bald eagle 02

adult bald eagle 03

adult bald eagle 03

The snow also allowed us to see who was using the landscape … snow tracks! It’s far from wilderness here, but this beautiful agricultural area still has quite a bit of wildlife that manages to survive in an area that continues to have more and more human development replace farms and forests. We were still able to find the tracks in the nearly melted snow of white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, and two red fox – and ultimately I was able to find what I think is the red fox den! A couple of red-tailed hawks were hunting in the cold air above us, and we spooked a coopers hawk with a meal from its perch in a grove of fir trees.

red fox tracks

red fox tracks

red fox den

red fox den


wolves need help

I try to keep this blog apolitical, but I am bending my rule for this. I’d love if you took a minute to read this (if you haven’t already seen one of my pleas) – and if you feel moved – to add your name to a petition to help find a better solution for wolf management in Wyoming.

These next two days are critical for the wolves of Wyoming, if you haven’t already please check out the following petition to endorse re-evaluating the proposed management plan by the Wyoming Fish and Game Department which goes into effect in two days. It includes unregulated hunting, trapping, and poisoning of wolves in the majority of the state.

petition

Seeing wild wolves was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I want my children, and theirs as well, to be able to have that experience and be proud of the choices that we make today to protect these National Treasures of the United States and the Earth. I am not a liberal and I’m not a conservative. I’m a human being that understands that no issue is as simple as to have only two points of view. I understand that hunting is necessary for managing wildlife at this time, but I believe it should be done in a humane way with plans based on science and compassion. Wyoming’s plan includes neither.

summary of issue:

Wolves were removed from the Federal Endangered Species list last year, meaning the management of the species has been turned over to individual States. Montana and Idaho started management last year, and though their plans were approved by the Federal gov, they still include questionable methods that seem to endorse the old West mentality of extermination (outside of any National Parks) – though at least their hunting plans have some limits and regulations. To contrast bad and worse, Wyoming’s proposed “management” plan was so poor that last year the Feds would not turn over the responsibility until revisions were put into place. Any day now though, management will transfer from the Feds to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, despite very few reasonable revisions.

Wyoming’s current “management plan” includes categorizing the wolf as a “predator species” outside of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park (and a small area just outside those parks). As a predator species, they will be subjected to unregulated hunting outside of those areas – they will be allowed to be shot, trapped, poisoned, or any other method of destruction, at any time, with no oversight. This plan is not far off the existing plans in states such as Texas that offer a dollar reward for every coyote killed.

Wyoming’s management plan needs further revision, or the wolf needs to remain with some Federal protection. Wyoming is part of this Union of the United States of America, and they are stewards of many National treasures. I believe in States’ rights to govern, but there remain shared resources that belong to all of us. Wyoming should remember that many of their cities and towns exist because of the treasures within their state, and much of their income comes from people who come from outside the state to visit. Let’s come up with a plan that honors the people who have to live with wolves, the wolves, and our future generations.

sign here

why should we care?

The proposed plan from Wyoming seems archaic and fear-based, not a plan based on science or even remotely including any compassion for a species that is directly related to animals that many of us keep in our homes and consider parts of our families. Anyone who has a dog or has experienced time with wolves knows that they are intelligent beings, live in close family groups, and experience some feelings similar to our own.

Wolves, and other apex predators, are necessary parts of a healthy ecosystem, just as are all creatures right down to insects and bacteria (see this article). It is proposed that one reason deer ticks and Lyme’s disease is so out of hand in the Eastern United States is that deer populations, along with other prey species, have gone unchecked due to lack of predator influence, allowing the ticks to proliferate.

The methods of “management” proposed by Wyoming include activities that I would associate with a 3rd world country. Let’s create a plan based on science and compassion, something we are proud of as citizens of the United States of America – something that can be a model for big predator wildlife management around the world. Poison and traps are horrific ways for an animal to die, and it is often a slow and painful death. Not only that, traps and poison have many other casualties in the form of other animals that aren’t targeted. I want my children and children’s children to be proud of the choices we make, not embarrassed that we reverted to the very tactics that put the wolf, bison, and many other animals in the position that they are in today.

sign here

recent articles regarding this topic:

LA Times click here

New York Times click here

Defenders of Wildlife summary click here

Thanks in advance for taking a moment to raise your voice in favor of a more humane, moderate and compassionate plan for managing these amazing animals!!!

sign here

Zach


wolves

The tracks that I saw two Fridays ago I supposed to belong to a set of three wolves, and three days later I returned there to cast some tracks of their paw prints on the shores of the lake where I had found them. Originally my plan was to cast a bunch of the tracks, then hike around the lake with some left-over plaster to see what other cool tracks I might find.

The wolves had a different plan for me.

I spent a few hours pouring plaster, and most of the good tracks were close to the area where I accessed the lake. It was a hot day, even by Wyoming standards, and there was a pair of swans that took great interest in my affairs. They were alternating feeding with short forays to investigate my work with much curiousity, as I traversed the banks back and forth over an area about a 1/4 mile in distance. I was happy to have them there.

wolf and bird track casting prep

wolf and bird track casting prep

wolf track casting

wolf track casting

swans 01 / Grand Teton National Park WY

swans 01 / Grand Teton National Park WY

swans 02 / Grand Teton National Park WY

swans 02 / Grand Teton National Park WY

After pouring the plaster, I started off to hike around the lake. As I continued east, the amount of wolf sign just increased. I found more evidence of movement there by the wolves, it still seemed like only three individuals but it was obvious that they used the area with some frequency. Not only were there more tracks, but there were bones and parts of animals that indicated kill sites and also objects that seemed to be used as toys. After my day, I learned that the area was home to a wolf den, so it is likely that many of the bones and feathers that I encountered during my day were the play things of young wolves. These included swan feathers, and I suspected that perhaps there were only two swans because their young had fallen prey to the wolves of the lake.

As I was walking and scoping the ground in the heat of the day, a form caught my eye towards the east side of the lake, about 300 meters away. As I brought my binoc’s to my eyes, I already knew what it was.

It was a wolf.

Languishing on the cool mud by the lake.

wolf on mud flats / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf on mud flats / Grand Teton National Park WY

It didn’t realize I was there, despite me being generally upwind of it. I stared a bit in disbelief, even though I shouldn’t have been surprised based on the amount of sign that was around. Still, when you actually see a wolf for the first time, in the wild, there is a moment of pause that’s required by the mind and body. We as a species have a long history with the wolf, and like many things, the experience is not quantifiable by the mind. Nor are words capable of expressing it.

Eventually it got up and started scouting the shoreline, and it was then that I realized there were two other wolves in its company. I saw a beautiful red-tailed hawk flight feather on the shore right next to me, and I couldn’t help but smile. Shortly thereafter a red-tail appeared in the sky just to my left, and it seemed to coax me on, giving me the go-ahead to investigate further.

wolf scout / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf scout / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolves / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolves / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf greeting / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf greeting / Grand Teton National Park WY

I didn’t want to disturb them, but I saw that it was possible to get a little bit closer while still keeping water in between us. As I tried to get in position, two of them heard/smelled/saw me, and they moved away up a densely vegetated drainage behind them. The third moved a bit slower in the same direction, until all three had disappeared. I waited a bit, then decided to walk further, still having the intention of walking around the lake.

As I got about 50 meters from where they had been, I realized that I needed to pass very close to where they had been laying. In addition to not wanting to bother them further, I realized that I’d be walking, by myself, on a very exposed mud plain, with no where to go and nothing to defend myself. I don’t think wolves would attack me unprovoked, but … they are, umm, wolves. This was real.

As I was trying to decide what to do, the largest of the three reappeared not far away, within 150 meters. She (I’m assuming, based on size) seemed to be relaxed and just investigated the area as I watched her. I was able to get a few more pics as she meandered around.

scoping wolf 2 / Grand Teton National Park WY

scoping wolf 2 / Grand Teton National Park WY

scoping wolf / Grand Teton National Park WY

scoping wolf / Grand Teton National Park WY

sitting wolf / Grand Teton National Park WY

sitting wolf / Grand Teton National Park WY

As I watched her, it started to occur to me that, while it was amazing to see her chilling by the lake, it left two other wolves unaccounted for. And I was essentially pinned in by the lake, the willows, and the hillsides around me. Not that I really expected that they would be trying to flank me and give me a surprise, but why chance it? It was my first experience with wolves, and they are intelligent animals. And big. Very big.

I think it was right around when I took these pictures below that I decided a greater distance between all of us was prudent …

wolf gaze 01 / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf gaze 01 / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf gaze 02 / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf gaze 02 / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf gaze 03 / Grand Teton National Park WY

wolf gaze 03 / Grand Teton National Park WY

The feeling of having a wild wolf gaze at you is unlike any other feeling. Thrilling, chilling … primal.

After taking these last shots, I started to make my departure, leaving the wolves in peace to their afternoon cool-down. I’m not going to lie … I also picked up a large club-like log, and, neanderthal-style, plodded back along the lakeside from whence I came, with many glances behind me. I may have grunted a few times between wide smiles.

neanderzach

neanderzach

After I gathered up the casts of the tracks and put all my gear back into my jeep, I walked down to the lake to say a good-bye and thank you. As I expressed my gratitude standing on the bank,  I heard a peregrine calling as if to acknowledge my sentiments, and I just gave a big smile – and a wolf howl – before I turned and made my way back to camp. It’s a thrill to know that when I howled like a wolf there, wolves were actually hearing it.

Instead of angry neighbors.

On the drive out, my old friend the red-tail called so loudly that I stopped my jeep to find it, and it flew out in front of me as if my escort, leading me for a bit, seeming to celebrate the events of the day with me as it finally landed on a nearby tree and watched me pass.

red-tailed hawk escort / Grand Teton National Park WY

red-tailed hawk escort / Grand Teton National Park WY


where there are wolf tracks …

… there are wolves.

Today was an amazing day – I saw my first wild wolves!!! Three, to be exact. Likely the three that left the tracks that I spotted on Friday and are posted in my previous blog post.

More details to come …

wolf / Grand Teton National Park

wolf / Grand Teton National Park


wolf tracks!!

wolf tracks / Grand Teton National Park

There are wolves that roam very close to where our camp is setup here in the Teton National Forest. These particular tracks are from a bit further north … after a hike to check some remote cameras, I sat next to a reservoir to eat a snack and I stumbled on them. Three wolves started out moving along the edge of the lake, I realized as I backtracked them – towards the end of the trail there was only one.

I was hoping the other two weren’t in the dense willows right next to me as I scouted their trails.

Ok … part of me was hoping they were there.

wolf tracks / Grand Teton National Park

3 sets of wolf tracks / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks 02 / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks 03 / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks 04 / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks / Grand Teton National Park

wolf tracks 05 / Grand Teton National Park

The politics of wolves in Wyoming is very heated, there is the possibility that soon (after they are removed from the Federally protected status that they currently have until the end of August) in unprotected areas (outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park) that they will be allowed to be shot on sight with no regulation. See this link.

Come on Wyoming, let’s find a reasonable compromise eh?

To be walking where there are wild wolves is an experience I will never forget.