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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Domestic Dog Tracking Project

Today I'm going to McCormick Park to start my Tracking Intensive project. If you hear news reports of a crazy woman accosting dog walkers in Duvall, it will probably be me.

I've been busy creating a plan, a worksheet, and a letter explaining who I am and why I want to take photos of dogs and measure their tracks. Today, I'll find out if it works.

My goal is to record measurements on 100 dogs before the project is due in May. If I could do it without taking any measurements at all, I would. But, as my friend Jonathan pointed out, it would be impossible to re-create the project later, so I may as well take all the measurements anyone will ever want to know.

Jim Halfpenny has set the standard for tracking dogs, and so I'm going to be taking 15 measurements on each set of tracks...times 3, and then getting an average value for each of the 15 measurements. And I'll be using the metric system instead of the more comfortable inches...

That's assuming I can actually talk people into going to the sandy beach area along the river. I'm not sure I'd have fallen for the "school project" story when I was walking my dog. It should be interesting to see what happens.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hunters after the Flood

I had an unexpected day off on Saturday, and so took a walk along the path at McCormick park. I couldn't go far, as water was still up to the 2nd highest strand of wire at the low spot where the farm road crosses just north of the Safeway lot.

I didn't have to go any further - there was a fair bit of wildlife out enjoying the sunshine and mellow fall temperatures. I saw this pair of hunting coyotes - numbers 7 and 8 - on the backside of the open field just about 6 city blocks below my apartment. They knew I was on the bridge, and moved out of sight, but not before I got a dozen pictures! What a cool sight...even though there were a number of people and dogs out on the path, no one else noticed them.

The coyotes (Canis latrans) looked fat and in good conditon, probably since the small mammal population had been disrupted by the flooding. The vole was just a few hundred yards down the path. I still have to look up the species...I'm not so confident of my vole ID.

I saw several of them along the path. They would come out of the piles of dry leaves after someone had passed by. But, as soon as I moved in to get a photo, back in the leaf piles they would go. My shadow spooked a couple of them, and I only got photos of the spot where one had been just seconds before. Then, I got smart. I waited in one spot with camera ready as a jogger passed by. As soon as she was gone, this little critter came out into the sunshine and I got several pics of it as well. I expect that jumpiness pays off with the coyotes so near.

As I was leaving the park, one of the coyotes had retuned to the place I'd first seen them. I took a few more photos, then, one hunter to another, I wished it well and moved on.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What a Place to Work!

Monday is an all-day Staff Dirt Time day. I'm required to leave the office, go up to our land, and spend the morning working on - whatever. Not a skill they think I need to learn - just whatever nature skill I feel called to practice. It can be one I'm good at - basket-making, perhaps, or one I struggle with. My choice. How cool is that?
It cracks me up to think of the hospital telling me that I have to take a day off to play, with pay. The entire staff will be there. No one left at the office to answer the phone. No one going to the bank or the post office. Since nature mentoring is such an important part of the job here, they build time into the schedule to practice the skills and to mentor each other. Even those of us with office jobs are expected and encouraged to learn and share the skills of the naturalist.
I will be pulling out my bow-drill kit and working on fire. I haven't tried to get a coal since the Residential Program. I might go over to our new parcel of land and explore for a while, or I might do a bit of flintknapping. I might take a walk in the Enchanted Forest and look for this guy. We saw him Sunday during Tracking Intensive. Perhaps I'll see another coyote.
Since a number of us are interested, we will be carpooling into Seattle in the afternoon to listen to a cougar predation presentation at the University of Washington. I love this job! And I realize how truly blessed I am to be able to say that.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Trailing Elk

We had a guest instructor at Tracking Intensive this past weekend. Brian McConnel joined Dave Moskowitz in leading us through a day of trailing elk in the mountains just east of Snoqaulmie Pass.
There had been some lowland flooding on Friday, and more rain on the way, so starting out in the dark was a little scary. The Carnation to Fall City area seems to flood quicker than Duvall, and the web site to check King County road conditons was down. Although the rivers were up, we didn't find any road closures and crossed the pass without incident.
The Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest lacked the dense ground cover of ferns that I've become acustomed to here in our Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophyll) forest of the western slopes of the Cascades. I thought finding elk (Cervus canadensis) would be easy. Of course with 8 students and 2 instructors, we were not going to sneak up on anything.
We were successful in finding fresh elk tracks, and each of us had a turn in the lead as we trailed them through the woods. Along the way we found many varieties of mushrooms and fungi, including a deadly Amanitas variety that Brian pointed out to us. Some of them were beautiful, others just slimy and weird-looking.
We got close enough to elk to spook a couple of them, which some of us heard crashing through the brush, then we found the muddy tracks and scattered leaves they left to entice us! Go to my WebShots page to see more photos.

My Favorite Fiction Authors and Books

  • Suzanne Arruda- the Jade del Cameron mysteries: "The Mark of the Lion" "Stalking Ivory", "The Serpent's Daughter", "The Leopard's Prey" and "The Golden Cheetah"
  • Ken Goddard - "Balefire" and others
  • Stephen White - the Dr. Alan Gregory books are all great. "Kill Me" is my favorite.
  • Harlan Coben - anything he writes is great
  • Elizabeth Peters - Amelia Peabody mysteries

My Favorite Nonfiction Authors and Books

  • "Coyote's Guide to Connecting With Nature" by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown- 2nd edition coming soon!
  • Gavin De Becker - "The Gift of Fear"
  • "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales- the best survival book I've ever read! Not a how-to, its more of a who does,and why.
  • Candice Millard - "The River of Doubt -Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey"
  • Anything that starts with "Peterson's Field Guide To..."
  • Tom Brown, Jr. - "The Tracker" and others
  • Mark Elbroch - "Mammal Tracks and Sign" and "Animal Skulls"