Saturday, December 29, 2007


While visiting my parents in Idaho this Christmas, I went down a canyon with my dad. I've been taking a greater interest in bones lately so I gathered a bunch of them when I found a big set of owl pellets and a few bones along the edge of the canyon. My dad also found a nice skull under a bush while fishing along the creek.

Now that I'm back home and have access to my copy of Elbroch's Skulls book I've been looking over the skulls and figuring out what they are from. So far I believe I figured out the two here to genus at least, and know that there are at least two other species in the collection.

There are a lot of details visible in these pictures that can be used to figure out who the skull belonged to, but it would be difficult to go through very many of them. Instead, I will just go over a few of the main details I used. For reference the first skull in each pair is about 6.5 cm and the second skull is about 5 cm. Both are clearly rodents from the teeth, so I'll go from there.

The first skull ended up being pretty easy for me to identify because of its size and the way the brain case sticks out squarely over the eye socket. Just flipping through the pictures of skulls I saw that it matched up with the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus).

The second skull has a well developed post orbital process (the sharp protrusion over the eye socket). As far as I can tell, among rodents, those seem to mainly occur in the squirrel family.

At first I thought the second skull might be a type of marmot because of the shape of the post orbital process (and because they are large members of the squirrel family). However when going through the details of the marmots things kept not seeming to match up quite right. What finally convinced me that it wasn't a marmot was that marmot skulls are pretty flat on top, somewhat similar to the muskrat skull, however this skull is fairly rounded. In hind sight the skull was smaller than the range given for marmots as well. With a little more searching, I found that ground squirrels (Spermophilus sps) fit the skull much better.

A couple of differences to note are the position of the zygomatic arch (the bone that forms the outer portion of the eye socket) and how curved (or straight) the incisors are. I don't know that these are more useful details to pay attention to than others, but they seem fairly easy to pay attention to.

A couple of differences I notice on the ventral view are the size and shape of the palate, the relative position of the teeth (including parallel vs. angled) and the size and position of the incisive foramina (the narrow pair of holes behind the incisors).

I have not yet got down to species on the ground squirrel. There are a couple of different ground squirrel species in that region of Idaho that aren't in the skulls book and the skull doesn't seem to match up exactly with the ones that are.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Trailing Bobbie

It snowed a bit at the beginning of the month here. It worked out nicely for the first day of the tracking intensive weekend, though not so well for the second day as it had snowed all that night so covering up all the tracks. Then it started to rain and flooded the valley a bit, but that is for another post perhaps.

We went back on the logging roads behind the school's land with the intention of doing some sign tracking. My subgroup decided to head down toward the creek and check out aplodontia sign along the way. There certainly was plenty of that, and while exploring the holes and tunnels we came upon the trail of a bobcat. It's hard to turn down the chance to follow a fresh bobcat trail even if we were supposed to be sign tracking, so off we went. (And hey - we could look for bobcat sign along the trail!)

It's interesting to see how much a bobcat can splay its foot. The above picture shows that this is a relatively small bobcat, but when it walked out on some ice (and apparently decided that perhaps the ice wasn't as solid as it would like) its track splayed out to almost twice the width.

Before we even found these bobcat tracks, one of the goals for the day was to find some bobcat scent marking. So we were keeping our eyes out for that sort of thing. Whenever we found the tracks stop we would look (and smell) around to see if it had marked there. Not too long after we started on the trail there was a place where it had stopped, we smelled around and some in the group decided that a section of a nearby tree smelled of "asparagus pee", but it did not seem connected to the bobcat. However just 10 feet away there was another quick stop where the cat had turned its butt towards a dead fern. Jackpot. It smelled strongly of cat piss.

I've been told that animals like to scent mark things that will hold the smell for a long time. Punky wood was given as a good example because the smell will be able to soak in. So I'm curious about using the fern, perhaps the dead vegetation will hold the smell well until it completely decays, so would be good for a season or two. As far as I can tell, this was done primarily for marking rather than to empty the bladder as I didn't see any particular yellow marking or dripping on the snow around the fern.

Apparently both males and females can spray urine behind them - I'm not really sure how that works - so the marking doesn't really help me out with gender id. However given the size I would think it was either a female or a young male. There are track features that can be used to determine sex and hopefully I will be able to use those at some point, but at the moment I'm not very knowledgeable about using those.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Delicacy

Last week I found a large salmon carcass along the river. There have been a lot of chum salmon carcasses along the river in previous weeks (with mainly just bones remaining now), but I think this was a king salmon and the only one I've seen on the river so far. My impression is that their population is much smaller than dog or pink salmon in the area, which may be the reason I have not seen any before now. I also wonder though if they prefer to spawn further up river and so aren't as likely to be found dead down here.

I don't know what the cause of death was, but I have to wonder if it was one of the many fishermen I have seen along the river. I don't get the impression that the salmon are legal to keep, perhaps it became injured while being caught and released and died subsequently. I've only talked with a few of the fishermen I've seen down there, but all the ones I have talked to seemed unwilling or unable to say what they were fishing for. My impression was that they were pretty novice and were just out to fish without worrying much about what they might or might not catch.

The next morning the carcass was already picked pretty clean. I was a bit surprised since most of the salmon carcasses I see mostly just get pecked at (eyes and brains seem to be favorites). I guess this one tasted a bit better as it was a lot fresher than the spawned out salmon that otherwise had washed up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Having lived in the coastal rainforest most of my life I should probably have learned more about mushrooms by now. Alas, I am woefully ignorant.

While at the ISPT tracking conference some of us noticed an abundance of mushrooms that had been coming up in the lawns and woods around Carnation. A couple of them were unlike ones I'd ever seen before.

I don't have a picture of it, but one mushroom was found that looked like pasta that had been cooked a little too long then allowed to cool in a clump.

Another new one for me is this fuzzy one which I found growing under a log. Unfortunately it broke off as I tried to get a better picture of it.

I think these might be called inky caps. I like the little colonies they form.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wild World of Arthropods

This is an observation from several moths ago. The pictures have been sitting on my camera waiting for me to do something with them.

I was sitting in my apartment (where I no longer live) and noticed a dark spot moving up the wall in the corner near my door. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a beetle (or at least something that looked like a beetle to my relatively untrained eyes), about a centimeter long, climbing the wall. I continued to work, but occasionally glanced over to monitor its progress. After it had attained a height of around four feet it plummeted to the ground. I heard a little *click* as it bounced off the floor. After a little while I went over to investigate and what I found was a little surprising. The beetle was suspended an inch or two off the ground in a light spider web and the little spider (probably not even a third of the mass of the beetle) was wrapping it up, its legs still moving a bit. Slowly, even as it was wrapping it further, the spider moved the beetle to a more secure part of its web several inches away.

I had mixed feelings as I watched the beetle struggle. It seemed like I had some little connection with it after watching it climb the wall. But the spider needed to eat and I didn't have any idea how injured the beetle was or what it was trying to do anyway.

I figured this was a pretty ambitious catch for such a small spider, that such a meal probably didn't come along too often. But when I got in closer to document the event a little better I discovered the spent corpses of two other of what appeared to be the same sort of beetle. Had this little drama played out the same way twice before? If so, what were the beetles drawn to? And where had they come from anyway? If it happened differently, how had such a small spider managed to wrangle in so many large beetles?

All wrapped up.

The other hapless victims. I think the spider husks seen here give a good approximation of the size the spider was.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Olympic Vegetation

It took me awhile longer to get to this than I thought it would. These are just a few of the interesting vegetation (does fungus count as vegetation? I know it's not a plant...) I saw on my trip to Olympic National Park.

Subalpine spirea (Spiraea densiflora). A different species of spirea is common around the puget sound, but I think this may be the first time I've noticed this species in the wild (I haven't spent much time at high elevations around here).

This mushroom seems a bit unusual. I saw it half under a log not far from the trailhead. The brown and white both seemed to be fairly well stuck on and I didn't see any obvious environmental causes for the difference in coloration.

This was probably my favorite vegetative find on the trip. The seed head just looks so cool. Unfortunately I was unable to figure out what kind of plant it is. Probably would have been easier if I knew what the flowers look like or if I had a book about the vegetation on the peninsula instead of the more general books I have.

The leaves that go along with the seed head above. Please let me know if you have ideas as to what it is.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Owl by the Lake

I've been a little tense and stressed lately - trying to find a new place to live, dealing with showings of my apartment, increased hours at work, deadlines looming for volunteer projects. Sitting inside pretty much all day. So this evening when I didn't feel up to dealing with that stuff anymore for the day and was just about to sit down to the computer to try and relax, on a whim I went for a walk around the lake instead.

Fall has definitely come to Seattle. Leaves are turning colors and falling and there is an added crispness to the air (though tonight it was relatively warm). Seeing the lake in the fall was a big factor in me choosing the area to move to, but I haven't been out to enjoy it much this year.

For the most part, I took my time going around, interested in trying to see wildlife. I didn't see much until I got to the northwest corner of the lake and noticed a large form in a tree branch just over the lake. It had a round head and what appeared to be a long (for what I would expect on an owl) tail and was a bit larger than a crow. It was quite dark so I was unable to discern any colors. It sat on the branch, mostly looking down towards the ground, though it would turn its head to glance at people as they passed by on the trail behind me. It was fun to watch it turn around on its perch at it would turn its head then with head still would turn its body, a very fluid motion. After I'd been there a few minutes it flew to another perch several feet away. I didn't have as good a view of it there and felt a little conspicuous right on the edge of the trail so got up and walked back down the trail, then looped back through the grass behind a tree to try not to disturb it while getting a better view. Apparently though, my attempt to be quiet walking through the grass sounded like something good to eat because no sooner had I squatted down but the owl flew around the tree and at me. An arms reach away, I could feel the air off its wings as it beat back away from me and off into another branch. I watched it in that branch for quite awhile before it flew away again, this time much further, and I decided to move on myself. Throughout the time I watched it I was struck by its patience. It was exciting to imagine the poor critters that would move about in the dark only to be pounced upon by the owl lurking above.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Camping in the Olympics

I got to Port Angeles (right near one of the park entrances) late Friday afternoon. I drove around a bit exploring and by the time I got to an entrance place the ranger stations were closed. I didn't have the right cash on me to buy the requisite passes without somebody giving me change, so I went back into town and had dinner, eventually deciding to sleep in the back of my truck on a turnout on the road up to Hurricane Ridge.

In the morning I finished the drive up to the ridge. The ridge was above the clouds, it was beautiful and sunny and I wandered around some of the trails and the visitor center before heading back down to the main visitor center at the park entrance where I could get a back country pass. I had been thinking about going to the Olympic hotsprings and hiking the ridge near there, but the ranger I talked to said that those hot springs were pretty sketchy and recommended I camp along the Seven Lakes Basin. I took his advice and off I went.

I didn't actually make it to the trail head until about 2 in the afternoon and the hike would be longer (and with a heavier pack) than what I am used to. Each day of my trip was about 9 miles and the elevation gain was around 3000 feet (I think the ridge I would be camping on was at around 5000 feet). So I was a little concerned about getting to my campsite before it got dark.

The first few miles were rough. They accounted for much of the elevation change and were under pretty but enclosing woods. Those miles were also under the overcast sky, though that was actually fairly welcome as I was working up a fair bit of heat climbing the hill. There were several unnamed camping spots along the trail that tempted me pretty heavily, as I passed the cloud layer around the 3000 foot level they were even more tempting, but I decided I would be more satisfied if I just pushed on.

Finally I made it up to deer lake where the steepness slacked off a bit and the vegetation began to open up. There were a lot of blueberry bushes along the trail to replace the trees which were fading back. The ripe blueberries were particularly delicious in the exertion of the day. With all the berries, I kept expecting to see some sort of bear sign but it was conspicuously absent where I was walking.

It was wonderful walking above the tree line, out in the sun. Gorgeous mountains and clouds everywhere I looked. Around 5:30 I got to the spur trail down to Lunch Lake where I could have camped. In that area of the park you have to reserve your camping spots and I was fortunate that there were a couple that had become available due to last minute cancellations. Lunch Lake is in the Seven Lakes Basin. It looked like a nice area to camp, but I chose instead to camp at a spot along the ridge a mile or so onward (according to the ranger - I suspect it may have been closer to two miles).

By that time my knee had begun bothering me pretty badly, it seems as though going up hill exacerbated it, but going downhill was even more painful. From Lunch Lake I took my time, nursing my knee, enjoying the views, and the cool plants along that section of the trail (I will probably do a separate entry about the living things I saw on the trip). I had a particularly beautiful view as I came toward the intersection with the trail from the Hoh Valley and the High Divide trail (where I would be camped along).

As I got towards the intersection I saw a man standing on the trail leaning on his hiking pole and looking through his binoculars. When I got closer he told me there was a bear around the corner. I walked over to him and saw a bear eating blueberries probably 100 feet above the trail I would be walking on. He said he had been standing there for an hour trying to decide what to do because he had wanted to camp up not far from where the bear was. We talked for a bit and I left him to his decision making, happy to get the chance to see the bear which looked at me briefly as I walked by, but otherwise ignored me.

Not far from there, as I rounded the slopes near Bogachiel Peak and could again see into the basin, I saw another bear walking along down there. Another man came walking along the trail and we talked for awhile. He was camping at Lunch Lake and had taken a "short cut" up to the high divide trail to look around, but upon turning back saw the bear walking in towards where he would have to walk on his short cut back so he decided it would be better to hike the longer way back. He assured me that my campsite was not far down the trail and was glad to hear I was at it, since he had walked by and saw nobody was there and it was such a beautiful spot.

When I got there, I had to agree, it is quite beautiful. The view of Mt. Olympus over the cloud covered Hoh Valley was amazing.

On getting to my campsite, I set out my sleeping stuff and got down to the business of eating some food and enjoying the views. I had probably an hour before it started getting really dark which I was looking forward to as I don't often get to see the stars away from the lights of civilization. While I was laying in my sleeping bag waiting for it to get really dark I saw a small bat flying around in the opening along the campsite. I also thought I heard some foot steps in the vegetation a little ways away, but made a lot of noise moving around in my sleeping bag trying to look in that direction and by the time I quieted down I no longer heard it. Even more thrilling was the elk I heard bugling down towards the Hoh. I don't think I've ever heard them bugle before.

Finally it got dark enough for the stars to really pop. It was incredible. It's kind of funny how the constellations are a bit harder to pick out when the stars are more visible - there are just so many stars to pick them out from. I laid out under the stars for a half hour or so until the cloud level began to rise and haze up the view. Laying under the stars reminded me of some trips when I was a kid and my best friend and I went camping in the boat with our dads who would sing to us as we laid back looking up at the night sky.

The morning was a little bit of a rude surprise. I had been hoping that the cloud level would be back down in the morning, but it stayed firmly above me the whole day. And to top it off, while I lay in my sleeping bag hoping that the clouds would burn away it began raining. Seeing that it was unlikely that the weather would improve anytime soon, I got up around 8 and headed on my way.

Going downhill was quite painful to my knee and since it was just the beginning of a long day of going downhill I was a little concerned. I kept my eye out and found an acceptable stick I could use for hiking which was quite helpful in mitigating the pain. I also bummed some ibuprofen off a nice lady who was looking at plants and birds while waiting for her partner to catch up. I'm not sure how much the drugs helped, but along with a second walking stick I picked up and a much gentler slope than the first day, I managed to make pretty good time and my knee actually felt a little better at the end of the hike than it did starting out that morning.

I passed many people over the course of my trip, a few groups played leap frog with me several times throughout the day, passing each other taking breaks and what not. One of the things that I quite enjoyed about the trip was the camaraderie of the trail. Most of the time I like hiking in more solitary areas, but there is something to be said for the community I've experienced out on some busier trails (it seems to be more pronounced on more strenuous trails then shorter day hikes).

When I got back to the parking lot I headed just down the road to the Sol Duc hot springs. It's a commercially developed place, concrete pools and everything. A bit more developed than my preference, but it was a very welcome soak, and I suppose it's just as well that it is developed so there were showers available to wash the trail dirt off before getting into the pools. The other people there were also friendly. Some locals I talked to ended up saving me some time and gas money by recommending I take the Kingston ferry back to Edmonds. It was a long wait headed back to Seattle on a Sunday evening, but I don't think I got back any later than I would have if I drove the whole way, plus I could sit around and read my book. I had known there were ferries to the city, but hadn't given them much thought since most of my experience with ferries in the Puget Sound have been going to the San Juan islands which cost around $50 to take a car on, but the Kingston ferry was significantly cheaper and a pleasant ride.

There are more pictures of my trip at this online photo album.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Quick Note

I went to the Olympic National Park last weekend. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but it ended up being awesome! I will post more about it soon, but for now I thought I would just post a little teaser.

(The three deer I saw in the park were all on pavement.)

I also wanted to note that when I got back home around 9:30 Sunday night I saw a rat walking between the roof of my house and the telephone pole on the power lines - from there it was headed to the neighbors tree. There have probably been a lot of times when I could have seen a rat in the city if I had only been looking in the right place or paying attention, but this was the first time I actually did see a rat here. It was actually kind of cute - not that I want to invite it into my apartment or anything.

Friday, August 31, 2007


Today I went tracking on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie with Mallory. Our stated intention was to walk down the river (a few miles to a bridge), but the weather was overcast (the day before when plans were made it was sunny out) and there were tracks to be seen. I think the temperature was around seventy degrees which was plenty warm for what we did, but would probably have been on the cool side if we had walked more along the river like we had planned. The water itself was a bit warmer than last time we went, I think in July.

We didn't find track and sign of as many mammal species as last time, but we still saw quite a few and had several interesting groups of tracks to investigate. We came down off the road near a little creek which a short while later merged with the river. It took us awhile to go between the small beaver dam a little ways up the creek from the river all the way down to the river. How could we avoid investigated each little patch of mud? We found jumping mouse tracks, beaver tracks and along each little mud bar in the creek there was a line of otter tracks. (There were also tracks of a few people and a dog or two that had been through as well as the deer and elk tracks which were common everywhere we went.)

I was also side tracked by a red legged frog. In fact I found two which appeared full grown to me, one of them had a broken hind leg and had a lot of trouble getting around. I felt bad for him, but after taking a few pictures, left him be. I suspect he will end up somebody's meal before too long. We saw quite a few amphibians today, most of them were tiny - both red-legged and pacific chorus frogs. In a side pool near the mouth of the creek there were hundreds of large tadpoles, some seemed as large as the little frogs we saw hopping around. I hope that they aren't bullfrogs - I haven't seen or heard any up there yet. On the way back I also found a western toad which seemed to have dug itself a whole to hunker in. I inadvertently scared it away (it swam down the creek into the river - hope it is okay as it seemed to have some trouble swimming against the current) so I took the opportunity to check out the hole. It was deeper than I expected - longer than my fingers, but when I dug in only another inch or two further, so probably around 5 inches total.

When we finally reached the river we found some bobcat tracks that seemed fairly large as well as some cougar tracks, all amongst the fishermen, elk, dog, etc. On the other side of the river is an area Mallory refers to as bobcat pond, though today it seemed to be everything but bobcat pond. More cougar, elk, deer, raccoon, but no bobcat.

We walked down the river a bit further and decided to cross back over to the other side where hunger took hold and we stopped for lunch in an area covered in raccoon tracks. I'm curious why the raccoons seemed to like that area so much more than the other areas we went through. I also saw a couple of bright caterpillars. One was large and bright green with little yellow dots in rows along its side. For some reason it was crawling across some rocks in the open. The other I found on my backpack after I had left it lying on the ground for a couple of hours out in the middle of some other rocks. It was small and bright orange with some wicked looking hair like protuberances.

That section of land was as far as we would go. We spent a bit of time investigating beaver tracks, trying to determine where the toes lie on the hind foot. Often only two or three toes show up in the hind track of a beaver and for some reason, even when the foot was showing up well in deep silt, often there would only be four toes showing up clearly.

Shortly after the beavers we hit on the main attraction of the day. Two parallel cougar trails through the muck. They seemed to be different ages and were definitely different sizes. Though the tracks were fairly old I think they had both been within the past couple of weeks because they didn't seem to have been rained on significantly. We spent awhile discussing the characteristics we thought might help us determine which sex they were but did not come to any conclusions. One of the trails had tracks that splayed to 4 and 5 inches. On our way back we also noticed cougar tracks in a couple of places we had missed them before. It seemed strange that with as many tracks as we saw we did not see any cougar scat.

On our way back we discussed whether on deer and elk the inner toe or the outer toe is longer/further forward. Our observations suggested that which was further forward was pretty variable. The slippery mud may have played a big role in the inconsistency. The tracks also sank in pretty good so it was difficult to determine which was longer. In general they seemed quite close to the same size. In Mammal Tracks & Sign Elbroch says that the inner toe is slightly smaller (looked up after returning home).

Just before our last river crossing on our way back we saw a nice trail of mink and a number of rabbit tracks which were in the size range for cottontail or snowshoe hare, and which we suspect were snowshoe.

There were a number of other delights during the day. I found some stonefly larva husks; some pebble casings out on a rock in the middle of a river - wonder if they are from caddis fly larva, though the caddis fly larva I noticed moving around were covered in twigs and were in slow moving water; and some reddish brown growth which I suspect was a fungus of some sort and which put out an amazing amount of spores.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Scat Finding Mission

Yesterday evening I got together with a few other tracker types at Discovery Park - one of the large city parks in the Seattle area. To my knowledge, there aren't many places in the city that are good for finding animal tracks. Not many big stretches of sand or mud, and the ones there are often are covered in people and dog tracks. So it seems like a good idea to practice sign tracking in the city.

The other folks who came knew the park much better than I did. So when I suggested it might be fun to find some weasel scat we went down to the north beach where there have been weasels seen. Plus there are otters that hang out there a lot.

It took us a little while to get down there, but when we did it didn't take us long to find a mystery. We walked along between the vegetation and the water (an area mostly covered in large breakwater rocks) and in some grass along the edge of the bushes found some scat. It was very soft, probably about a half inch diameter, but twisted on top of itself a bit. The contents were mostly smooth, dark and with the occasional seed, but not chock full of seeds like scats often get when an animal has been eating predominantly berries. It was close to a trail into the brush and also next to an opening into what appeared to be a vole tunnel.

It seems as though our evening was characterized by scat mysteries. Later we spent some time discussing whether otter eat blackberries. There is otter scat in the rocks all along the beach there, mostly it is filled with crunched up crustacean shells and has a particular strong fishy odor. But we found some blackberry filled scat that seemed similarly placed and shaped to the otter scat. I've learned that most animals will eat fruit when it is available, but I've never heard specifically about otters doing so. Raccoon is the other likely candidate as there are many in that area and the characteristics of the scat would also make sense for them.

Finally, as the light was getting dimmer we found a small scat (around 1/4 inch across and close to an inch long) on the trail. It was dark and mostly filled with insect parts though there were also a few large seeds (presumably blackberry). While most of the scat was dark there did appear to be some white on an end and we decided that this scat was probably from a flicker.

I think if we do something like that again it might be fun to comb through the woods and see what we find there.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sage Beach

Matthew let Brian (the instructor for the kayak building class) borrow his new kayak for a trip, so he didn't get to try it out until several days after it was finished. When he finally was able to take it for a paddle, the kids and I went down with him and played on the beach while he was out on the water.

The kids love going to the beach even when it's raining. One of their favorite activities there was trying to catch bullheads in the tidepools. Most of the time I was actually trying to stay dry while they were out playing around. I guess I've become a bit more of a rain weeny since moving away from Sitka. I did get pretty wet anyway as I ended up spending quite a bit of time with Connor while he was fishing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bear Tale

For my last hike of my trip, on Sunday my brother and I hiked up the middle sister. The peak of the middle sister is a beautiful place to be. It's a bit tough to get there, but when you get to the top you are greeted by views like this in every direction (assuming you are not in the middle of a cloud layer).

We saw much track and sign of bear and other things on our hike. To get home we went down a ridge to get to Indian River trail which is a popular hiking trail near town. It was getting late so we tried to keep up a pretty good pace once we got onto the official trail.

Now, the salmon are starting to run in Indian River and there have been a number of brown bear sightings even near residential areas near the river. I think even when the salmon aren't running bear are not uncommon in the valley. So many people are a little nervous about the possibility of having an unscheduled bear encounter. In fact when we had started up the trail a couple started about the same time and had indicated some nervousness about that possibility.

Anyway, that wasn't really on my mind as we caught up with a family also hiking back down Indian River trail. As we were coming up on them several of them glanced back at us and seemed to be preparing to let us pass. The dad, who was in front looked back and said "Look, there's a bear" - joking about us being a bear. The family response was a general "yeah, yeah, real funny" sort of attitude. Assuming they all realized that we were behind them, on a whim I played along and let out a little "grrr" (of the sort a person might make when playing bears with children). That little growl was met with an unexpectedly enthusiastic response from the mother who nearly jumped out of her skin - fortunately I was far enough back still to be safe from the hefty walking stick she was carrying. Her husband thought it was all quite funny (I have to admit I was amused myself) and she made a few choice remarks about men as we went on by.

Probably a mile further down the trail I stopped as I heard an odd noise coming from a ways away on the other side of the river. At first I thought it was some wind, but that didn't seem quite right as it wasn't moving and it seemed to be coming from one place instead of a large area. After a few seconds it stopped then came back again for a shorter period. The only thing I can think of that might have made that sort of sound there is a bear roaring (and it was coming from an area where we had seen a lot of bear activity). The fact that something that was probably a quarter to half mile away made a noise so loud gave me something to think about. Certainly not something I would want to have directed at me at close range. I imagine it would be quite bone-rattling.

After listening for a bit longer (and not hearing any more), we continued on. Matthew wanted to walk in front for awhile since my pace did not comfortably fit with his natural pace at that time. So probably another mile down the trail, he was twenty feet or so in front of me when I heard some twig snapping to the side of the trail as he passed. I looked over and just 10 feet off the trail a bear looked up and went bounding off into the bushes. It was probably a yearling (though I'm not real sure about bear sizing/aging) - about three feet tall at the shoulder. I suspect it is the bear that we saw so much track and sign from earlier in the week as the tracks we found were a bit below the size range listed for brown bear.

It would have been nice to go back and look for where the bear was roaring from (perhaps there would be evidence of a confrontation) and where the bear ran off but there wasn't really time or energy to do it then (not to mention being unsafe) and I left on the airplane the next day. All in all it was a great way to wrap up my time in Sitka.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Of Bears

One of my goals for my time in Sitka was to find and study bear sign. While there are a few things I was hoping to see (without much expectation) that I didn't, I have to consider my goal to have been smashingly met.

This post is intended to be an overview of my bear experiences, though I plan to tell my most interesting bear story from the trip as well as document some of the other things I saw and did in later posts. At some point (hopefully in the near future) I will likely document my bear experiences in even more detail on my tracking website.

I won't list everything that I saw but some of the highlights were finding several rubbing trees, much feeding sign and scat and trailing a bear and cubs for quite a way through an alpine meadow. I sometimes wondered about the wisdom of the last, but I think I was pretty safe since the trail was at least hours old and I wasn't exactly being quiet as I was going along.

The sign that was generally the most interesting to me were the things that I was least certain about. It's hard to mistake bear scat or hotfoot trails for anything else, but a trail of pushed down vegetation through a meadow? So I tried to be sceptical of such things and look for supporting evidence even when I couldn't think of anything else that would have been likely to make the sign (What else would have dug so much dirt from around a tree pretty far back in the woods from an official trail? On the other hand, why would a bear make such diggings?) And when I looked for supporting evidence I found it, which helps make me feel a bit more confident in my tracking deduction skills.

Hear is some bear scat with blueberries, cow parsnip seeds and other vegetation. Most of the scat I saw was almost entirely grassy, the exceptions were this one and one large bunch that was predominantly filled with deer hair.

This was the biggest sign tree we saw. Matthew is pointing at some bite marks on the tree, though I think there are some markings higher up than that as well. For reference, he is a little over six feet tall.

Claw marks on the same tree. Though I don't include a picture here, I found several small bunches of hair caught in various places on the tree as well.

Brown Bear sometimes wear in trails where they step in the same spot over and over again. We have been calling them hotfoot trails, though I'm not sure how commonly used that term is. My brother said someone told him that they saw a bear making such a trail intentionally by rubbing down each step as they went. Perhaps it is a scent marking behavior? This trail has been there for several years at least and went on for over 500 feet with a few different rubbing trees along its side.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Kayak Building

My brother was unable to participate in a skin on frame kayak building class he signed up for, so I took it instead (though he paid for it, so will keep the kayak). It was an enjoyable experience - long days (10-11 hours many days) doing new (for me) interesting work with interesting people.

The class was taught by Brian of Cape Falcon Kayak. He was a good instructor: fun, skilled, and laid back while managing to maintain a good schedule.

Due to previous commitments I arrived a couple days into the 8 day class. This is more or less what it looked like when I started.

Putting the ribs in was somewhat of a challenge for me. Remembering the saying to measure twice, cut once would have been a good idea. We eventually got them all in though.

With keel.

Sam sanding off some rough edges.

All oiled up. The wood is yellow cedar with the exception of the oak ribs.

The "skin" is 9oz nylon. Brian had a handy tool to burn/cut through it.

All sewn up with combing on.

Kitty chose to give her kayak some color. Everyone else opted for the uncolored opaque look.

Ready for some protective coating.

We coated the kayaks with a few layers of urethane to waterproof them and increase their durability.

After the coating had dried and our paddles were finished (we also made our own greenland style paddles out of cedar) we took the kayaks out for a bit.

Most of us stayed relatively close (within a half mile) of where we launched, but Keith and Sam decided to paddle the 5 or so miles back to town. As you can see, Sam didn't have too much trouble carrying the kayak by himself after arriving back in town.