Monday, August 25, 2008

More Wolves

After two days of having relatively fixed schedules, the students had the choice of getting up at 5am to go on "poop patrol" - driving the roads looking for fresh tracks and scat as well as live sightings - or sleeping in till 6. I think those of us who got up early (about half the camp) were not disappointed.

As I lay in my sleeping bag waiting the last couple of minutes before it was time to get up, I heard a strange noise. It was a low sustained tone, not quite like anything I'd heard before. It reminded me more of a canine howl than anything else I could think of, though it crossed my mind that it could be somebody's stupid idea of a wakeup call. Whatever it was it got me up out of my sleeping bag quick. I went down to the gathering area where I joined a couple of people discussing it in hushed tones as it continued. From there it was easier to tell that the sound was coming from across the meadow, probably up the hill across from our camp. The noise continued for 5 or 10 minutes, with occasional changes in tone and breaks. A couple of times in the distance behind it we could hear what sounded even more like wolves howling in apparent response.

I had never heard a wolf howl in the wild before, and this sound didn't exactly match what I have heard in the movies, but I couldn't think of anything more likely. Elk and owls were suggested as possibilities, but just didn't seem right to me. Plus I really wanted it to be a wolf.

The poop patrol was relatively uneventful, I think we saw some elk and fresh coyote tracks, but not much we hadn't already been seeing. After finishing the patrol circuit we had a little breakfast than split up into our groups for the day. My group started by driving down the side road across from camp where we quickly stopped when Dave saw wolf tracks going down the road.

We had seen a few sets of wolf tracks earlier in the week, but they had been somewhat old when we found them. Often when tracks are fresh they will be a different color than the surrounding dirt, this effect lasts a bit longer in the early morning, but the color difference quickly fades as the sun comes up. These tracks had color in them and were probably no more than a couple of hours old, and were coming right down from the area we heard the noise. Meaning that quite possibly we had heard this wolf howling up on the hill two hours previous.

I imagine that everyone was pretty excited, but it is hard for me to tell because I was so excited myself and was very taken with following the tracks. Several of us started trailing it forward and another group started following its back-trail. It wasn't long before we lost its forward trail in the woods so Mallory and I took the van to cut for the trail along the main road in the direction it had been headed. It took us a little while, but we eventually picked up the trail again, got out and started trailing it some more. This road was more exposed to the sun and the color was fading quickly. Unfortunately we couldn't both just keep on the trail, the rest of the group needed to be picked up. I decided to let Mallory stay on it. After checking in with the group on the radio I jogged back to the van and drove back to the intersection of the roads thinking they would be there soon. I was mistaken.

It was several minutes before they even came into sight down the road. It was a delicious agony having to wait, with the excitement and potential of a live trail bursting in my mind. I paced, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until they got there. Eventually we got back to where we picked up the trail and again started trailing. We followed it much further this time, but again it disappeared into the woods. After cutting for the trail along another side road, most of the group decided to go back and further investigate the trail before we lost it and look around more for it in the woods. A few of us decided to continue down the main road looking for tracks though, and probably a mile or two down the road found a few more prints that were probably part of the same trail. It was getting late in the day though, and between the sun and traffic we didn't have much success in staying on it. After a bit the rest of the group picked us up and we drove down to a river and had a relaxed afternoon exploring that area.

We were a little late getting back to camp that afternoon, but the other group was not back either. When they did get there they also seemed to have had an exciting day. They were coy though, having decided not to share their story until the whole group gathered in the evening. And so I guess I will wait till next time to go into their day...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wolf Tracking

I was excited to get the opportunity to volunteer with Wilderness Awareness School's summer wolf tracking program. I wasn't sure what to expect other than that it would be an incredible time. I was hoping to see wolves, I certainly didn't expect to though - I wasn't even certain I would get to see any wolf tracks.

I went out to the site in central Idaho with a few other staff members several days before the class started. We split our time between getting camp setup and scouting out the area to see what was around. There was a different dynamic when it was just us staff then when the students were there, and I loved them both. With just the staff we would get up early and drive the main roads through the meadows looking for animals and watching for tracks in the dirt, sometimes repeating the process in the evening. During the day we would work on camp with breaks for a little more exploring.

The weather was incredible and continued to be so throughout the week. The temperature was probably in the mid 70s during the day, perfect for walking around or taking a dip in the (a bit cool) creeks. At night the temperature would drop maybe into the 30s (there was frost in the meadows but not in the woods) which kept the mosquitoes down at night.

There were a lot of animals with babies around, I'll be making posts about some of those later, but two of the more prevalent such animals where the sandhill cranes and the elk. The young elk were already pretty decent sized and were often visible with the cow elk (and occasional bull) in the meadows. I didn't actually see sandhill crane young (one of the students said she almost stepped on one before she realized it was there and quickly backed away), but the adults were regularly visible and audible in the skies and meadows.

I am not generally an early riser, but somehow when I am camping out it is easier for me. Over the week I don't know if slept in past 7 and most days was up at 5 or 6. Sometimes we had the option of sleeping in a bit longer, but I always chose the earliest option because I didn't want to miss anything! there were always more animals out early and even if there weren't the sunrise was spectacular. It was just great to stand there eating breakfast at the edge of our campsite, looking out over the meadows, mist hanging above the creek, a sliver of moon not far ahead of the orange preceding the sun over the hills.

One morning the early risers also heard something pretty cool, but I'll leave that for another post...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bike Ride

I am still planning on getting to some posts about the wolf tracking trip soon, but I had some cool experiences while riding my bike recently and I still have some work to do with the photos I took in Idaho.

I've ridden my bike along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail where it goes near by Fall City a couple of times this past week. The first ride I went up to the bridge going across Tokul creek. It was quite pretty with the sun going down on the horizon, the bridge high above the creek, but with sizable trees reaching up above the bridge. On the way back I heard some sort of animal call - I suspect an insect - at several places along the trail. The rhythm of it reminded me of a chickadee call, but almost toneless and coming from fixed places, the closest one I heard seemed to be on the ground.

Today I rode north towards Carnation. On the way back I stopped and watched a couple of 4-point bucks eating apples on the edge of a field near some houses. One of them seemed much more cautious, it looked in my direction for quite some time (there was a row of trees and shrubs at the edge of the road between us so I think it was difficult for them to see me clearly) while the other continued to eat.

A ways back up the road a decent sized black bear popped out onto the road ahead of me and loped along for maybe 100 yards before looking back to see if I was still coming, then heading off up the hill next to the trail. It had come out of the woods next to a large meadow, I don't think there were any apple trees down there, but there were quite a few blackberries brambles which seem to just be coming into their prime around here.

Maybe I'll keep up the bike riding.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I got back from tracking wolves in Idaho last weekend (more about that in future posts) and was pleasantly surprised at how productive my garden had been while I was away. This is my first non-arugula harvest of the summer. Not a large harvest, but I wasn't expecting peas or tomatoes to be ripe at all yet. Looks like the kohlrabi will be my biggest crop, though the tomatoes are doing better than I expected.

Unfortunately I just found out I will have to move at the end of the month. My tomatoes are in buckets so I will be able to take them with me, but I guess I will have to write off the rest of the garden. A bit of a disappointment as this was my first real garden and I didn't want to abandon it, but it has been a good experience regardless.

I also harvest dandelion greens from the garden. It's a lot easier to pick young tender leaves out of the soft garden soil then out of the yard.