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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