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.