Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Aplodontia Hike

I got back from a school trip to California a couple of days ago. I have a cool story or two to tell from that trip, but I want to get caught up first. Hopefully that will mean I will post relatively frequently over the next couple of weeks.

Back in January I went on a hike to Cherry Falls (near Duvall) with a couple of friends. The trip to the falls was fairly uneventful, but after we left the falls we decided to be adventurous and turn right instead of going back the way we came. We thought the logging road might connect with some that we were familiar with or we could just bushwack through the brush and woods to get back to where we wanted to be.

Early along the way we came upon a dead Aplodontia. Before I came out for school I had never heard of an aplodontia, but they are pretty common around here (they are also known as mountian beaver though they aren't really a type of beaver). They live in burrows and tend to be active at night so they aren't commonly seen (this was the first time I had seen one alive or dead.)

We tried to figure out what killed it, but remain stumped. There didn't seem to be any obvious wounds from predators or vehicles, so we thought maybe disease. I've also seen a lot of shrews dead in the middle of trails with no apparent wounds... A definite mystery.

It was cool to see the different parts up close. You can see here the big digger claws of the front foot and the weird bumps on the hind which would probably show up in good tracks.

After a good long look at the aplodontia we moved on. We were headed generally north (with several switchbacks) and wanted to head mostly west and a little north. There was an occasional trail or road headed west that we explored, but none of them panned out. Eventually we came to a gate by a clearcut. Nearby the gate was a sign warning that it was a test zone for fertilizing with treated sewer sludge. I guess maybe it's good that they're using waste in a productive manner, but it certainly didn't make me eager to explore around off of the road in that area.

Time was progressing and I was getting a little tired. We passed a few westerly roads that looked unpromising - there were several small timber sale locations in the area that roads would go to and stop - and were getting a little worried about getting out before dark. At probably close to 3 (this being when/where it gets dark around 5) Matt suggested that if within 15 minutes we didn't join up with a road we recognized that we should head back the way we came. Though I knew it was the safer option, I was dreading that possibility because we had hiked an extra few miles already, I was getting tired, and even if we did head back that way it would probably be dark before we got back. Fortunately about 10 minutes later we joined into a road that Matt and I had been on back on the day we trailed the cougar tracks. From there we had an uneventful, though still fairly long (probably an additional 2 miles) walk back.

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