Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I thought this was fun with the three different species all in one spot (it may be a little difficult to see the mouse tracks without clicking the image to enlarge it).

Deer Mouse Tracks

On the same beach as the earlier mink and bear tracks we also saw deer mouse tracks. They have bulbous toes rather than more finger like digits of a vole. It is a little unusual for them to be walking (trotting?) around much, though there were other places where they were moving in a bound which is the normal gait of a deer mouse (voles commonly move in a trot).

These tracks turned out to be very common along the beach right at the edge of the forest. I wonder what they were doing out in the sand. In most of the trails it didn't appear that they were headed toward the detritus washed up on the beach. Perhaps they were hunting invertebrates? Doesn't seem like a particularly good season for them to be finding plant material to eat there.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Afternoon Walk

I haven't been getting out on walks much lately. I have been outside a bit, but recently that has been more for spending time gardening or harvesting wild edibles.

But it is sunny this afternoon so I decided to (slightly) extend my walk to the post office. The post office itself is actually the site of some interactions I've been following.

There has been a pair of pigeons that have been trying to nest in the rafters just in front of the entrance since much earlier in the spring. Somebody at the post office appears to not appreciate it as every once in a while I would find the nest scattered on the ground below - a couple of times with broken egg. I don't really blame them as the pigeons create a bit of a mess on the sidewalk right where people walk through. I did wonder though, why they didn't put up a deterent to keep the pigeons from nesting there at all instead of periodically dashing the pigeons' hopes. At some point in the last couple of weeks they finally did that, putting up those little spikey strips on top of the rafter beams. It seems to have worked - sort of. Actually it seems to have created more diverse habitat. There are now house sparrows nesting where the pigeon had been, building there nest around the spikey projections. The pigeons have moved just to the outside of the crosspiece on the same beam and have begun a nest there. But they are no longer over the cement and the house sparrows don't seem to leave as much of a mess. I'll be interested to see if the post office leaves it at that.

After checking the mail I went down along the river and under the bridge. I have gone there pretty often, though this was the first time in a few weeks. The river was pretty high - I guess because it has been raining the last couple of days and perhaps the snow is melting more now. There were quite a few interesting tracks in the sand, though most of them were not photo-worthy. Lots of different birds, rat, frog, raccoon and the largest possum tracks I have ever seen. The first possum tracks I've seen there in quite a while.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dead Eagle

My brother tells me it was a hard winter for bald eagles in Sitka. While walking one of the beaches on the tracking field day Scott found this eagle floating in the water near the shore. He was pretty excited because it was the beach where he has been doing dead bird surveys and it sounds like he hadn't found too many dead birds there yet.

I am impressed with the talons. After the body had mostly decomposed and who knows how long it had been bobbing in the water, the talons still seem almost synthetic in their smoothness.


I'm not sure why I didn't post this when I wrote it last spring, but I found it today while going through my old drafts, so I will post it now.

I don't see many lizards in Washington, though I do see them more when I'm on the east side of the mountains. Last month's tracking intensive was on the west side, but we saw a fence lizard. This month we were on the east side I saw a few more lizards.

Somebody caught this western skink. I'm not sure I've ever seen a skink before. Apparently they have bright blue tails when they are young.

I think this is a western fence lizard.

Friday, May 09, 2008


It didn't take too long before we came upon these bear tracks on the beach. It appeared that there were a couple of different ages of tracks and they wandered up and down the beach quite a bit. We figured it (and pretty much everything else around) had probably been partaking of the abundant herring eggs on the beach.

It put its dirty feet up on this snowy log. This is the front right foot - unlike us, a bears largest toe is on the outside and smallest on the inside.

While there are only brown bears in the Sitka area, even if that weren't the case it is possible to tell that these are brown bear rather than black bear tracks. One thing to look for is that the toes are straighter in brown bears then in black. On the front foot, if you draw a straight line from the bottom of an outside toe across the top of the heel pad if the other outside toe falls at least half above the line then it is likely a brown bear, below and likely a black. On this track the toe would be completely above the line.

Another thing to look for is the claws. You can see here that the claws on the front feet are pretty long (good digging claws), whereas black bear claws tend to be much closer to the toes.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Big Rock

I really like this rock out on the beach. There was a geologist out with the naturalist trip, but unfortunately I missed most of what she said since I was busy having fun with the tracking group. So I didn't hear what sort of process formed this rock. I suspect it is a volcanic rock as there are a couple of volcanic cones on the island.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Mink Tracks

I didn't really know what to expect for the tracking over on Kruzof, but it turned out great. Shortly after we arrived we came upon this gorgeous mink trail.

It appeared that the mink liked to run along the water's edge so we were able to estimate when it made the tracks by how high the tide would have been and knowing the times of the tides. I don't remember exactly but think we figured this trail was made at something like 2 in the morning. From other trails we found it seemed that was a fairly active time for mink in that area, though there were also trails at other levels as well including one that we came upon in the middle of our day that may have been made since we arrived on the island.

These are pretty classic mustelid tracks. The one above is the front right, the one below the hind right. Note the five toes, clawed, with small inner toe almost not showing up. Without that fifth toe they look fairly similar to canine tracks.

Mink hind tracks are supposed to be a little bigger than the fronts (it appears to be at least partially due to more space between the toes and heel pad), but one thing I notice here that I don't recall having read anything about is that the toes on the front foot appear to be larger than on the hind.