Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Holidays

My schedule for track of the week has got a bit off with travel and whatnot so I think I will just wait till next Monday to post the next one and get back on schedule.

Hope everyone has a good new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Track of the Week 14

This post is a little late. I drove over to Idaho yesterday and didn't have the energy to feel like putting together a post when I got here.

Setting: I took this picture the other day after the first of the recent snows in our area.

1. Which foot?
This is a front left, the thumb is just visible toward the bottom of the picture.

2. What species?
Homo sapiens.

Bonus. Approximate age?
I think this is a juvenile based on the stubbiness of the fingers. Additionally, I suspect they were wearing gloves based both on the details of the track and the conditions where/when the track was located.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Low Tide: Starfish

A friend and I went down to the beach late the other night for one of the big low tides of the season. Fortunately her headlamp was strong, because mine was in real need of a battery change - I kept forgetting I even had it turned on because it didn't make much of a difference unless I was holding something a few inches from my face.

We saw quite a bit of cool and pretty things. I may post one or two more later on. A friend suggested this intertidal website for identification purposes. I'm not convinced that what I have pictures of are necessarily the same exact species (and I think some of the species I took pictures of are not on that website), but it seems like a pretty cool resource.

One thing I notice about these starfish is that they have a larger white spot just off center. If I had only seen one of these starfish I probably would have assumed that it was just a random spot, but it seems to be on all of this sort of starfish. I wonder what it is?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Birds in Arbutus

It snowed in Seattle a couple of days ago and the weather has actually been cold enough for it to stay around. So yesterday afternoon I went for a walk to enjoy the snow and see what tracks were out.

I didn't end up seeing many wild tracks, but as I walked down the road there was a cacophony of birds coming from every pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) I passed. I'm not sure if it is because they need extra energy because of the cold, or if the cold made the fruit more delicious, but they were gorging on the small red fruits of the tree.

Track of the Week 13

A couple of summers ago along one of western Washington's rivers.

1. What species?
This is from a cougar trail. Kitty did a good job of explaining why they fit with being cat tracks and the size and location narrow it down to cougar. For further explanation of feline track characteristics check out the explanation with the bobcat tracks here and the bobcat tracks there.

2. What is the likely gait?
Cougars move in walks very commonly. It appears to me that this is a portion of a direct register walking trail. The hind foot landing on top of the front, there doesn't appear to be much disturbance to suggest that it was moving in a faster trotting gait.

3. Which foot?
This was a slightly tricky question as there are actually two feet here. Kitty correctly identified the more prominent track as a hind foot. The fact that it is on top makes that the likely option, it is also a bit narrow which suggest hind rather than front foot for cats.

The second toe from the top of the picture seems to be the leading toe which would mean these were on the right side of the body.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008


This is another plant I saw on my trip in the cascades this summer. It was relatively common in the valley just below the big glacier. I like these plants, but I don't see them very much. Seems like it might be only the second or third time I've seen them in the wild. I think this one might be spreading stonecrop (Sedum divergens).

Monday, December 08, 2008

Track of the Week 12

Middle fork of the Snoqualmie River, Washington. The end of August, 2007.

1. Who?
This is a beaver (Castor canadensis) trail. The large webbed hind feet, I think you can count five toes in some of these hinds, but often with beaver you won't be able to. The much smaller front foot with long fingers that are strongly curved. A rule of thumb that often works reasonably well around here is if it is big, long and weird looking there is a good chance it is a beaver track. Often the front tracks will be wiped out by the hinds and sometimes tail drag is visible, particularly in sandy areas.

Nutria have made their way into this region now and have tracks somewhat similar to a beaver. I don't have much experience with their tracks, but from reading the field guide it seems that the toes of their front tracks are straighter than those of a beaver.

2. Which foot is nearest the ruler?
The track nearest the ruler is a front right. It is on the right side of the trail and has the toes curved inward.

3. What are you likely to find at either end of the trail?
You are likely to find water on at least one end of the trail, sometimes both. There is also a high likelihood that you will find wood that has been chewed on the other end.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Spotted Owl

I went to Northwest Trek a couple of months ago. It is a zoo focused on animals native to the region.

While there I happened by while one of the zoo people was giving a presentation with this spotted owl (Strix occidentalis). According to the presenter owls have small brains but their eyes are proportionally as if we had eyes the size of oranges.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Track of the Week 11

Central Idaho, end of July 2008

1. Who?
These are badger tracks. When I first walked up to them, I thought bobcat because the foot morphology is pretty similar. Badgers do have a 5th toe that registers, but often faintly as there is just a faint impression in the front track here. The big give away that it isn't a bobcat though is the claws sticking way out in front.

The claws are easy to miss if you tunnel vision in close on the tracks, but once you see them there are very few options of animals around here that have claws that long. And badgers are the only ones that look at all like this.

Like most other mammals with long claws, badgers are avid diggers. They are members of the mustelid (weasels, otters, etc.) family though to my mind, they don't seem to fit in it very well.

2. Which feet?
A badger's front tracks are noticeably larger than their hinds. So we have a front track on the right of the photo and a hind to the left.

On badger tracks the inner toe is the smallest and does not reliably register. That and the shape of the front claw marks indicate these are the left side of the body.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's a Little Fishy

At the last tracking club the flood waters had recently receded. The substrate along the paths was a lovely silt and we saw a number of tracks we don't usually see out there. We also found some things left over from the waters going back down including this little fish.

I'm hoping that one of my fish-knowledgeable friends will be able to identify it. We think it is a salmonid. The only salmon I see in the river in large numbers are chum salmon so that would be my first guess, but I think there are others that it could be.

--New Pic--
I guess the picture above wasn't good enough to use for identification very easily. Maybe the picture below will add some helpful details although it is unfortunately quite washed out.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Track of the Week 10

Sand dunes near Oregon Coast, October 2006

1. What species?

This is a raccoon. It's got 5 finger like toes (though they look less finger-like here than they often do.) It is moving in gaits common for a raccoon (and in the case of the 2x2 walk, rare for other creatures its size).

2. Which feet are the two at the left of the picture?

They are the left hind and right front. The inner toe on a raccoon hind foot is lower down then on the front foot. Also hind feet have a bigger heel pad when it all shows. It is hard to see in the left most tracks, but if you follow it out you can see in the later tracks and extrapolate backwards.

3. Describe the gaits.

It starts and ends in its standard 2x2 walk - checkout this cool video to see how a raccoon moves. The middle section of the trail is a couple of slow loping strides.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pretty Rocks

This is also from my trip to the Washington cascades last summer. Up near the head of the valley there were a lot of rocks around with these reds and oranges. I assume that those colors are due to iron. I particularly like the white streaks through this rock, almost like lighting.

This rock reminds me of glaze. The part at the top of the picture was in the dirt. I am curious if it turns the glazed deeper red from the sun, if it is from polishing in the elements or something else.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Track of the Week 9

November 16, 2008 at Bob Heirman park along the Snohomish river in Washington. The river had recently flooded.

This week's questions aren't so much tracks, but are important things for a well rounded tracker to know. If there are other features you would like to see for any of these questions, you can ask and I may have a picture that shows them from a different angle.

1. Who am I?

Ably identified by the commenter, this is a shrew-mole. In addition to what the commenter said, note that the nose is naked and the fur is uniform in color around the whole body. Shrew-moles are the smallest North American moles.

2. Who am I?

Also ably identified by the commenter, this is a shrew. I am not experienced enough to identify it to species. From what I can tell, the long tail, bi-coloration, size, and shape of the nose are useful in identifying shrews. I hadn't realized that shrew eyes were so tiny. One interesting thing I learned is that some species of shrews use echo location.

Bonus 1. Who am I?

I don't have the proper resources to identify this, but a friend who is a knowledgable naturalist tells me it is a bull frog. This seems quite reasonable to me considering the size of it. I was surprised to find tadpoles this time of year, but apparently it can take up to 3 years for bullfrogs to grow from eggs to adults.

Bonus 2. What evidence of the flooding can you see? (Definitely would be a good idea to view the enlarged image.)

The main clue is a bit difficult to see, but the bottom of the trees are all grey from silt picked up during the flood. There is a line at the same height on all of the trees where it shifts from grey to green. This line was also visible along the side of the valley.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Rock Brake

I'm not sure which species of Cryptogramma this is, it appears there may be several species in the state. This was up in the Napeequa valley late last summer.

In the enlarged image it is easier to see that it has vegetative and fertile fronds. The vegetative fronds look somewhat like parsley which gives it one of its common names: parsley fern.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Track of the Week 8

October 25, 2008 along the river near Vantage Washington

1. What species made the clearer tracks?

These are classic tracks of a bobcat. Notice the overall roundness of the tracks, the asymmetry, as well as the flat, lobed front of the heel pad. These characteristics mark it as a feline and the size puts it at a bobcat.

2. Which feet are they?

They are on the right side of the body because cats have a leading toe 3 (the third toe from the inside counting the inner toe that generally doesn't show up in tracks). It is a little difficult to tell which is the leading toe of the foot closest to the ruler, but is more clear on the further track.

One way to help remember the leading toe is to look at your hand and pretend you don't have a thumb. Which finger sticks out the most? The middle finger, which is the third finger from the inside if you count the thumb.

The track closest to the ruler is the front. Notice how much wider it is the the other track which is a hind.

Bonus 1. What sex is it?

I think it is helpful to compare these tracks with the earlier bobcat track of the week. Notice how much more space there is between the toes in this week's tracks and that the tracks are smaller. There is also quite a bit of space between the heel pad and the toes in comparison to the previous set. For these reasons I think this was a female bobcat.

Bonus 2. What are the genera of the fainter tracks?

The track at the lower end of the ruler is from a coyote: note the symmetry and tightness of the track.

I think the track in front of the bobcat tracks is difficult to id from this picture, but I believe it is the left hind track of a raccoon. The toes are at least somewhat finger like and I can just make out part of the inside fifth toe low down on the right side of the track.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Great Horned Owl

(Bubo virginianus)

While tracking on the east side of the mountains a couple weekends ago I came upon this owl. I heard it shifting around in a tree in front of me, but had trouble seeing it until it flew off. On my way back I found it perched on a rock and shortly after it flew up into the tree in the picture. I didn't find any owl pellets.

I was a little surprised to find it like that - where it is pictured is the kind of place I imagine owls like to hang out during the day, but the outer branch it was in at the first tree and then the rock both seem exposed for an owl during the day. I didn't see or hear any birds mobbing it while I was there though.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Silence and Feet

I saw a couple of cool web pages recently that I want to share.

The first is an article on silence and soundscapes in a world where it is increasingly difficult (next to impossible) to escape human noise. It was written by Kathleen Dean Moore who has written a couple of books of essays that I would also recommend.

The next is a recent blog post by DeAnna about a wildlife rehabilitator she knows. Be sure to click the link for the slideshow. Of particular interest to me were the pictures of feet. Possum feet are so crazy!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Track of the Week 7

Central Washington, a week ago.

1. What species are here?

There are coyote tracks going through from bottom to top (as well as some older ones going the other way).

The trail going across horizontally is a snake. The divots are the most obvious parts, but if you look there is also sand smoothed out between the divots. I'm not really sure how to describe the trail, but I'm not aware of anything else that leaves a trail quite like this, so if you see something similar, there's a good chance it was left by a snake.

And of course there is the tire track on the left side.

2. What order did they come through?
The snake came through after the coyote and tire. It's a little difficult to see, but the snake trail comes out of the tire divot and although the coyote tracks are all visible, one of them has been partially smoothed over by the snake.

I don't know whether the tire or the coyote came first.

3. What directions are they going?
(The picture was taken at 9am if you want to give the compass directions.)

At 9am the sun should be shining more or less from the southeast. From the shadows it appears that the sun was shining from the right of the picture.

That would mean the coyote is travelling NE. The snake is a little more difficult for me, but I believe it is travelling SE. This is based on how the trail comes out of the tire track and I think it makes sense that the divots would be made in the direction of travel like that.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Track of the Week 6


1. Who made me?
Found at the edge of the road in central Washington last weekend.

Caveat: Identifying animals from their scat seems to be a less certain skill than going from tracks. I feel pretty comfortable with my identifications here, but different species may leave very similar looking scats.

This was left by a coyote, probably earlier that morning. It has the characteristic tapered ends and a volume that fits well within the range for coyote deposits.

2. Who made me?
Found in second growth woods on a hillside probably a hundred feet or so from a logging road on the east of Snoqualmie Pass in the Washington cascades a couple of weeks ago.

The blunt ends and blunt segmentation are classic characteristics of feline scat. The width and volume here strongly suggests bobcat. I believe there are scats of two different ages. Note that one of the scats has a tapered end. Another characteristic difference between canine and feline scats is that cat scats tend to be more densely packed. These scats definitely fit that bill, they were very difficult to get into with sticks.

3. Who made me?
Found in second growth forest a hundred feet or so from a snow shoeing trail east of Snoqualmie Pass last winter.

Characteristic M&M style scat of a lagomorph, the location indicates shoeshoe hare rather than eastern cottontail. The orange is from urine, I'm not sure if that is the color for most lagomorphs, but definitely seems common for snowshoe hares.

Bonus. Who made me?
A voluminous latrine found in the middle of a dirt road east of Snoqualmie Pass a couple of summers ago.

This one has been a bit of a puzzler to me. What small animal would leave such a large latrine out in the open like that? Since then I've seen bat latrines that look somewhat similar, but they were beneath a roosting area, which was not the case here. Based on size and appearance when we found these we thought vole seemed plausible, but couldn't reconcile the placement. After posting it here it occurred to me that it could be from a vole's winter latrine. Having been in the middle of summer when we found it it didn't occur to me to look for evidence of vole activity from when the ground was covered in snow. While more confirmational evidence would be nice, I am pretty satisfied with this explanation.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dusk at the Park

The weather has been lovely the past week or two and after sitting in my room through the previous evening of remarkable evening light I decided to go down to the park with my tripod and get some pictures.

Monday, October 20, 2008

North Cascades

I've been out on several cool backpacking trips this summer. Haven't done a very good job of keeping up with them on the blog though.

Last month I went up into the north cascades with a couple of other folks to retrieve wildlife cameras for Conservation Northwest. Unfortunately one of the cameras was stolen and the other didn't have any wildlife pictures on it. We did have a great trip though!

The colors were lovely with lots of fall reds and oranges. Blueberries to snack on on the steepest portion of the trip provided a welcome excuse to slow down.

A large part of the reason I chose to do this location was seeing a friend's photos from doing it in previous years. They reminded me of Alaska. Doesn't get much more magnificent than this.

Track of the Week 5

I took these pictures last February on a road in Olympic National Park.

1. What species?

Looks like people did pretty well recognizing characteristics of felines. They are (a bit) asymmetrical, front of the heel pad is bi-lobed back of it is tri-lobed (when the detail shows up), the negative space is small and does not have an X shape, also no claws showing.

I'm pretty sure however that this is a large bobcat rather than a small cougar. It would be very small for a cougar and we didn't see any tracks around suggesting it was with its mother. I'm not really sure how to differentiate small cougar and large bobcat from foot morphology. I would be quite interested in hearing if anybody knows some characteristics to look for there.

2. Which foot is the ruler next to?

It is the right hind. Hind feet in cats are generally narrower (particularly the heel pad) than their fronts, this gives them a bit more of an oblong look where as their fronts tend to be more circular. This individual track looks even longer because it seems to have scuffed a bit adding length to the rear of the track.

It is fairly easy to see here that it is on the right side of the body, but if that were not so clear you can also use the fact that cats (true also for many other animals) have a leading toe. For cats it is toe 3. Counting from the inside of the foot, toe 1 generally does not register (look at a cat's foot and you can see they have a toe a little ways back on the inside), toe 2 is the innermost that reliably registers and toe 3 is the second from the inside of the toes that show up. In the track in question it is not especially obvious, but I think many of the other tracks in the trail do show the leading toe more clearly.

3. What is the gait?

This is an overstep walk. Recognizing it is a walk is a good start. And knowing which feet are which shows it is an overstep.

I had a fair bit of trouble with gaits starting out. One thing that helped me was realizing that most animals have characteristic gaits they use. When I was taking the cybertracker evaluation I had missed a couple of coyote gait questions that happened to be overstep walks. The evaluator told us that he sees coyotes in an overstep walk so often that if he sees a track pattern like that he starts from the thought of it being an overstep walk and tries to prove it wrong. Of course, knowing what gaits animals use comes from experience and study (and it's handy if somebody experienced shares their knowledge with you as the evaluator did with me). In my experience, overstep walks are not unusual, but understep walks are.

Bonus: What sex?

I'm not real good at sexing felines from their tracks yet, but apparently it can be done. Size is definitely a good clue and since it is large for a bobcat, that points towards male. Other things to consider are the robustness of the track. From what I understand female felines tend to have "daintier" toes and heel pads which will leave more space between them. Males have beefier feet which tend to have less space between the toes and between the toes and heel pad.

It really is a relative evaluation, but these tracks look pretty robust and are definitely large, so I think it is a male (and that was the general evaluation of the tracking group I was with as well).

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Deer Mouse

This weekend I went exploring the land that I'm considering purchasing with some friends. It's a pretty cool place. Most of it looks much like the above, there are 5 small streams running through it and that parts that don't look like this are open with many fruit trees and a large garden area.

While I was out wandering the woods I noticed this little mouse trying to get out of my way and stay hidden. It's not a very common experience for me to see a mouse while wondering in the woods. Though while camping out a couple weeks ago I did have a mouse running back and forth above my head, occasionally on my sleeping bag, and chewing a hole in a pocket of my pack (one that had no food for it).

A recent track of the week had deer mice tracks, so getting a picture of this little guy seemed timely. You can even see the front and hind feet pretty well (if you click to enlarge the image anyway) and can get a feel for some of the differences between their front and hind tracks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Track of the Week 4

I am changing the mechanics of this series a little. I'm feeling like the number of posts I've been making in this series is overwhelming my other posts a bit. Instead of having a separate analysis post I will put my answers inline on this post at the end of the week (with a little show/hide answer button so you won't have to see the answer if you don't want to). I've gone back and adjusted the previous couple of entries to work that way as well.

We found these tracks in a dry (but still soft) mud puddle adjacent to a road at the edge of a forest and a meadow in central Idaho at about 6000 feet elevation.

I suspect these tracks are going to be a little on the difficult side too. I'm hoping to stock up on some more interesting sets of larger animal tracks to mix in soon.

1. What groups of animals might have made these tracks (or which groups of animals do you think you can eliminate)?
If we make a very wide list, with this size range one might include medium-small rodents, weasel, mole and I think that is about it as far as mammals. The trick comes in considering non-mammals, so then we might add in birds, reptiles and amphibians.

I don't see how I could make those tracks fit into bird tracks though, so if we mark them off the list we are left with a set that is fairly reasonable to look up in a field guide.

2. Can you separate out fronts and hinds, lefts and rights?

The hind feet are the row of dots on the right side (relative to the picture rather than the tracks) of each track group. It's interesting to look at the feet of these animals and see where those dots are coming from. The three more finger-like marks are from the front foot.

Lefts and rights are pretty easy if you can tell which direction the animal is moving, and here it is moving from the rights side of the picture to the left.

3. What species?

These are toad tracks. I was thinking they were western toad because I didn't think there were other toads in the Pacific Northwest, but in a brief scan on the Internet it appears there may be other options there.

There were a lot of toad tracks and scat in that area which surprised me since it is fairly hot and dry with cold winters.

I don't have enough experience with frog tracks to tell you how they are different other than that frogs generally hop and toads generally walk (though both can do either).

4. Bonus: What made the pattern in the middle? How specific can you get?

I can't get very specific on this myself. Some sort of arthropod. I think it is interesting how it has quite a bit of bilateral symmetry.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Track of the Week 3

The Mystery:

This picture was taken on the same early March trip to central Washington as last week's mystery.

The Questions:
For all of these questions, you may want to click to enlarge the picture to get a good enough view.

1. What is the predominantly used gait?

2. What species? (or as close as you can get)

3. Why are there sections in the middle of the heavily used paths that only have a couple sets of tracks in them?

The last question is one I may have still been puzzling over if I hadn't been working on it with other people. I'll be interested to see what ideas you all come up with.

I'm adding the picture below in the hopes that it will be helpful. I'm not sure that it will be any more helpful than the picture above, but at least you will be able to see a closer view of the individual tracks.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Track of the Week 2

The response to last week's track of the week was better than I expected. It was great getting so much advanced participation in the comments. My initial plan for this was to aim it at a more beginner to intermediate level though and I'm not really prepared (or knowledgeable enough) to target it at folks interested in studying pressure releases. I hope that such people stick around though and are able to stretch themselves with the pictures I am able to offer anyway (and perhaps as time goes on I will begin to gather more pictures that will be increasingly useful for such study).

That said, I would like to request that if you are a more experienced tracker you leave the answering of the official questions to the newer trackers, at least for the first couple of days after I post them. The way I envision things, perhaps you could discuss the more advanced topics without mentioning the answers to the more basic questions. After a couple of days go by though, please feel free to answer those questions as well.

People who are newer to tracking, please feel free to post comments even if some of the other comments are over your head (some of them have been over my head too!) I hope that people at all levels of tracking skill feel welcome to post their analysis and feel free to ask questions too!

This week's mystery:
This picture was taken in central Washington.

1. What is the species at the top?

2. What is the species at the bottom?

3. Who came through first?

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Track of the Week 1: Analysis

Thanks to everyone who participated this week. It was fun for me to read and join in on the discussion. I should be posting the next track of the week later on Monday.

The facts as I remember them:
This was taken along the beach in southeast Alaska (in an area with no black bears) in mid April, I think at the hind end of the herring spawn (there were quite a few herring eggs lower on the beach). The bear trails went into and out of the woods at various points, I saw nothing to suggest that there was more than one bear making the trails, but didn't spend a lot of time examining them so it is possible. We did not see any bear tracks that were of significantly different size. I did not see evidence of where it had eaten, but again we did not spend a lot of time following the tracks very far, particularly as the snow disappeared in the woods and made trailing a lot more difficult. I also do not recall noticing any fresh bear scat along the beach.

The answers to the "official" questions:

2. Which foot?

I'll start with the second question. I think it is pretty clear this is a bear track due to its size and general shape, so with that understanding, this is the front left foot. The heel pad in a hind bear track will generally register much longer than in the front (the difference can clearly be seen in the second photograph). Additionally claws in the hind foot are generally shorter than what can be seen here.

On bear tracks the inner toe is the smallest (sometimes not registering in the track), here the left-most toe is bigger than the right-most (and all five toes are showing) so it should be the left track. Additional verification can be seen by examining the second picture and seeing that that foot is on the left side of the trail.

1. What species?

This is a brown bear track. One thing to note is that the claws are quite long, sticking pretty far beyond the toes. This is a common trait in brown bears, black bears generally have much shorter claws. From what I've seen long claws on the front feet are a common characteristic for many animals that do a lot of digging. This happens to be a coastal brown bear and I haven't noticed them doing a ton of digging (might be more my poor observation skills than anything else) but apparently the inland brown bears (grizzlies) do a fair bit of it.

Another trait to notice is that if a straight line is drawn from the bottom of the outer toe across the top of the heel pad the innermost toe will generally fall at least halfway above the line. A black bear's line of toes is usually more curved and its inner most toe will fall more below such a line.

Now, in response to the discussion in the comments:

I would like to note that I am excited to have such advanced discussion going on, I was definitely not expecting it. Some of it is beyond my ability to analyze at this point, so I will mostly leave that alone. What I will do is give my best interpretation of the tracks with the understanding that I am no great expert and my opinion isn't necessarily likely to be more correct than yours.

I'm not sure of the gait here, but I think that the bear was moving slowly, stopped and looked to the right. The positioning of the right front foot so far out on the left edge of the picture as well as the way there are two right hinds between the right fronts and the way the left front is closely surrounded by hinds, but there is not another left front a similar distance back all contribute to me thinking that.

I thought it was interesting that there seemed to be consensus for some things commenters seemed to be relying on pressure releases for, but disagreement in others. The most commonly agreed upon thing (of the things that I can't verify) is that it was a female, which I am still curious to know more about the reasoning on.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


These birds certainly earned their nickname of "fool hen". The first one I saw on the wolf tracking was silhouetted against the road a couple hundred feet in front of us. It stayed there in plain sight until we were within a few feet when it finally moved off the road towards its chicks. Of course we would never have known the chicks were there if it had just faded into the woods after it had seen us initially.

Two more times that trip I was alerted to their presence by either the hen or one of the chicks moving or clucking as I got close to them. That seems a bit more forgiveable since they were at least in the woods and difficult to see. They probably would have been better off if they were still and silent there though. It makes me wonder how they manage to survive, and also if they are more successful than I realize - perhaps I passed near many more grouse families without ever realizing it.

I was out in the cascades last week and we saw a couple sets of grouse there, the young seemed to be nearly full-sized, but had a bit of fuzziness on their heads still. Unfortunately I was unable to get any pictures as my camera battery had run down by that point.

I'm not certain as to which species of grouse this is, most of the pictures I found of various species that would be around here did not look quite the same, but my best guess at the moment is Spruce Grouse (Dendragapus canadensis).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Track of the Week 1

I thought it might be fun to start a weekly tracking mystery segment on this blog. I'll post a picture and ask a question or three about it. Hopefully people will post their thoughts and questions in the comments. My intention is to post one every Monday.

This week's mystery:

1. What species?
2. Which foot?

Additional information:
There has been a lot of great discussion in the comments, so I thought it would be helpful to include this picture with an expanded view of the trail.

Note: If you haven't looked at the comments yet and want to try and come up with an answer yourself, you might want to do so before checking out the comments. They quickly jumped beyond my questions, so I definitely recommend checking them out and posting your own thoughts and questions after you have taken whatever time you want pondering things yourself.


There were a lot of elk where we were at in Idaho. Often while driving along the meadows in the early morning or late evening we would see large herds, some probably numbering more than a hundred.

One morning we stopped along the road to watch a small herd of elk in a meadow. Shortly they decided they wanted to move on and most of them ran off, but there was one young elk that was moving with a limp and seemed unable to move quickly. Not long after we saw it we noticed another young elk had come back and seemed to be keeping company with the lame one. A friend or sibling? We wondered if he would help protect the other until he recovered or if the injured one was destined to become somebody's dinner.

One evening a few of us took a break and went out scouting. On our way back this elk and another were out at the road looking at us. He ran off and came back a couple of times as we sat and watched. Often as he went to and fro he would have his head tilted up like this, I wonder if to help his sense of smell or as some sort of posturing? Eventually he went back to the main herd and we watched him run around. Most of the elk were calmly standing around grazing, but he would run back and forth between them full of playful energy. The ADHD elk of the herd.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Common Nighthawk with Babies

While Mallory and I were exploring our first day in camp she happened upon some common nighthawk chicks and their ma. They're cute little tykes and are well camouflaged. Can you pick them out below?

There mom was pretty well camouflaged too.

I was impressed by how wide she could open her mouth, particularly considering how small her mouth looked when it was closed.

She was clearly trying to distract me from the chicks but didn't seem to be working at it too hard. Perhaps she had somewhat given up since we obviously knew where they were. She stayed about 20 feet away from me and would move further away and act like her wing was damaged when I moved towards her.