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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do I Look Homeless To You????

I was early getting into Kirkland by bus, and Ellen had forgotten her phone. It had been raining hard when I'd left Duvall early Monday morning and so I'd wrapped a trash bag around my backpack, which was stuffed full for 2 days at Ellen's. I had noticed that when the Kifaru pack gets wet, it smells a bit.
I'd picked up some cookies for the party and had found my Mom's birthday present at a Barnes and Noble store in Bellevue, so I also had a large plastic bag that I was trying to hang on to as I tracked the otter and then a Yorkshire Terrier on Juanita Beach. The cold wind was blowing in off the water. I was wearing my fleece camo hunting cap to keep my ears warm, and some really dirty wool gloves I'd found in my pockets. I guess I did look a bit - ragged.
I suppose it's even possible that I was behaving city norms, anyway. Still, I was a bit taken aback when the gentleman approached me in the parking lot. "Are you OK?", he asked. "I've been watching you wander around for a while, and it's cold out...I thought you might be one of the homeless."
Fortunatly, Ellen soon arrived and my would-be rescuer at least believed that I do have friends - but perhaps not that I'm entirely sane.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Naturalist's Christmas Week

What a fun week I've had! My friend Ellen proved to be quite entertaining - although I'm certain she said she wasn't going to any trouble for the Monday night pre-Christmas Ship party, she set out a feast. There must have been 35 people in her house prior to all of us going down to the beach at Denny Park. The cold wind blowing across Lake Washington did not stop the festivities. A large fire kept us warm while carolers on the boats sang holiday favorites. Then we returned to Ellen's for more eggnog.
On Tuesday, after an amazing breakfast and a long walk with her dog Taz, she treated me to the Festival of Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Garden for a magical tour. Afterwards, we enjoyed margaritas with good Mexican food and girl talk.
Some highlights I'll blog about next week:
  • Otter sighting in Juanita Park!
  • Another dog for my tracking project
  • Being mistaken for a homeless woman
  • Sylvia, the largest tree in King County
  • A fabulous lunch and tea near the bus stop in Redmond

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I have a week off for the holidays, and plan to watch my favorite Christmas movies with friend Shondell on Sunday - "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon"...popcorn and brownies are the plan.

Then I'll ride the bus into Seattle on Monday (I have 2 free passes that have to be used by the end of the year!) and I'll wind up in Kirkland to help Ellen make cookies and join her and other good friends at Denny Park to see the Christmas Ship...There will be caroling, a huge bonfire on the shore (firemen too!) and dogs, kids, the entire neighborhood...and wine. Check it out here...

Ellen has plans for seeing Christmas lights and events on Tuesday, then I'll return on the Wednesday bus for a quiet end of week with the cat, a pile of good books, and plenty of hot chocolate.

Merry Christmas to all my friends!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lingerie by Columbia

It's cold in the valley this week - Missouri cold, except without the wind chill. It was in the low single digits last night. I'm still walking the mile and a half to work, which I think says something about my dislike (OK, hatred) of driving. The hair inside my nose froze this morning before I'd reached the end of my block. I don't care...much...I have several sets of long underwear that allow me to get out early and walk up the hill after dark without danger of frostbite...lingerie is what you make of it. My black wool set is quite fashionable.
Leaving the water dripping in the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and the cabinet doors open underneath has kept the pipes from freezing. I have food and tea, the cat is fat and happy and will sit on my lap and purr in the evening, and there are plenty of books stacked on my stairs waiting to be read. Life is good in the valley. And the cold spell won't last nearly as long here as it will back in the midwest.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I've Seen the Tracks...Now Here Are the River Otters!

I was starting to think that otters are invisible...I've seen tracks on the sand bar near Index, on Osprey Swamp at the school land, and at several of the interesting places I've gone on field trips...but no otters. Then, the day before Thanksgiving, I needed to get my oil changed. I dropped my vehicle off at the garage and walked up hill to the trail at McCormick Park. I thought I'd walk a while until they called me to come get my car.

Five hours later, I got the call...still, I felt like I'd had a great day, and I would not have seen this pair if it had only taken the hour I expected. The River Otter (Lontra canadensis) is a member of the mustelidae family. They are both playful and wicked carnivores - kind of like me!

This pair seemed to enjoy looking at me as much as I enjoyed watching them...they hung around for about 20 minutes while I shot pictures until my camera battery ran down. I'm really glad that I got to see these beautiful animals - the trail is just 2 blocks from Highway 203, and the trail is used by walkers (with or without dogs), bikers, and the occassional horseback rider. Who would guess that otters would live so close to such an active trail?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Club Naturalists

Alexia's duck seemed to think we'd lost our minds. The big female Muskovy (Cairina moschata) kept looking in the glass pane of the door - sometimes she'd even peck at the glass with her beak as if she wanted in to see what we were doing.
Really, now, is it so surprising that 8 natruralists (and one cat) would gather on the floor in front of the fireplace to look at moss through microscopes and with hand lenses? Our November book club selection was "Gathering Moss:A Natural and Cultural History" by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
We gathered, shared a wonderful harvest potluck, then spent a couple of hours on the floor enchanted by the tiny mossy "forests" and the inhabitants thereof. Miniscule transparent worms, teeny unidentified beings...what an amazing amount of life in a handful of moss.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where Does the Time Go???

I can't believe that it's been so long since I've posted anything here...and why can't I make my letters pretty? Yikes, the time gets away when you're

Work is a little crazy just now - getting ready for an audit in December, so lots more paperwork for me! Should go well, but just the word "audit" is scary. And I bet the auditor is worried, too. Wilderness Awareness School is not like her usual gig...We are...unique.

The lovely fall weather continues with lots of rain and enough wind to drop a tree across the road just around the corner from my little apartment. When I came to work this morning the road was clear, but lots of debris still on the road. Missouri trees are quite a lot shorter than Washington trees. I never used to worry about getting hit by a tree except during tornado weather.

If the rain keeps coming in from the coast I don't know if I'll go tracking on Saturday. The sandbar may not be accessible. Of course, post flood tracking is really awesome...not that I'm hoping for floods.

I hit 2 King County Library used book sales a couple of weeks ago, so I have lots of good reading material to keep me company if I can't go tracking. With a cup of hot tea and a purring cat on my lap, it's all good!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Aquarium Clowns

My favorite part of the Aquarium was the outdoor otter exhibit. The Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) seemed to enjoy entertaining us. I got a number of photos of otter tails and the backs of otter heads as they swam past...I think they did it on purpose. Note the wicked canine teeth - all otters are ferocious carnivores of the mustelidae family which includes weasels, mink, and wolverines!

The River Otters (Lontra canadensis) spent more time under the water, and released streams of air bubbles from their fur! It helps kssp them warm in cold water. They appeared to be about half the size of their sea-going cousins. Otters always look like they are having fun!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Birds at the Seattle Aquarium

I believe that this is a Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), who was fun to watch as it poked it's long beak into the a tracker, I should know that the resulting holes -behind the bird, at the edge of the greenery - was feeding sign, but I would not immediately think of this bird. Many birds feed this way. Trackers have to be aware of the local species when looking at sign (and tracks).

This is a Golden Plover- Pacific, I believe (Pluvailis fulva). It was a quiet bird, hardly moving from this spot. I liked the bright yellow and black markings.
I took better photos of this Black Oystercatcher (Haemotopus bochmani), but this is the only one that shows his bright orange beak and his pink feet. What a mismatched bird! I'd love to have seen the tracks it would leave, but it seemed to favor the rocks. Those toes look like they would leave some awesome tracks!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Alien Life Forms

The best way to describe the amazing creatures at the Seattle Aquarium is to simply say that my Missouri eyes were overwhelmed by color, form and variety! I felt as if I'd landed on a distant planet, surrounded by the unusual, the beautiful, the downright odd...often as I admired something pretty, I'd suddenly become aware that it was moving! The pile of sticks above is actually a sea star!
These creatures, whose identity I do not know, had florescent coloring that truly glowed...I really need to do some Kamana journaling on sea life!
These beauties are one of the many types of anemones that I got to touch in the tidepool exhibit! Kids of all ages are allowed to gently touch the critters...I was surprised to find many of them were soft and squishy! The starfish has a sandpapery feel.
Cyndi and I enjoyed the day so much! It was great fun to take a day off work and be a Seattle tourist! In order to share more pictures of our day, I will post another message tomorrow with bird pics!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A DAy Off!

I'm excited to be going to the Seattle Aquarium tomorrow! I'm taking a day off mid-week, and meeting a friend there. I have 2 free bus passes, and a buy one, get one free coupon for the tickets, so it will be an inexpensive girl's day out.
I hear it's a cool place to spend a day, and I've been wanting to go ever since I arrived here 3 years ago. It's about time...I'll take lots of pictures to share next time I post.
We intend to catch the marine mammals talk and the one on octopuses. And I hear there's a tide pool exhibit where I can touch some of the smaller critters!
Tomorrow, I play!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Urban Wild Things

Early Sunday I walked down the hill to pick up the Seattle Times, and was treated to quite an interesting array of critters! Just a couple of blocks from my apartment, I found a pair of little bucks, velvet now gone from their antlers. The larger of the pair sported a sharp pair of spikes that did not quite clear his ears...I did not realize the other was a buck until I looked at the photos I'd taken. His antlers barely showed at all.
Around the corner and near the highway, I saw a large doe and 2 smaller deer, all standing broadside as if taunting me. They were on the far side of the pasture that backs up against the Starbucks parking lot just around the way...They saw me, and all three animals watched as I continued on my way...the fog was light, but did complicate getting a good photo of the threesome.
Paper purchased, I started back up the steep hill. I hoped to see the deer again, as I'd only been 10 minutes or so in getting the paper. But they were gone...
Just at the crest of the hill where the pasture meets the brushy edge, I noticed something grey and stopped to bring my camera up and use the zoom feature to look...The coyote saw me and bounded into the brush! I only got a glimpse of it, but was happy to know that my run 0f coyote sightings is not over yet!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Coyote Song

I realized just the other day that I have not seen a coyote in a very long time...for a while, I was seeing them everywhere. I had my camera in hand and ready last Sunday when I walked down the hill to get my paper...No coyotes. I think the grass is too high in most of the fields right now for me to see them.
I know they are still around. I heard them howl just after 12:30 this morning...Since I wasn't sleeping, I was happy to hear them sing! I was trying to finish a book , "A New Earth" by Eckert Tolle, and I have to say that I was not enjoying it all that much. The coyotes were a reminder that I needed to put it down and go to sleep...but I expected to get the latest by Suzanne Arruda in the mail today and have it for the weekend. However, it did not arrive :(

Oh well, something to look forward to...and I still have to finish the Tolle book. Parts of it have been good and inspirational, but I just think he's a bit "out there". Or perhaps I was too tired to appreciate it. At any rate, another 20 pages, and I'm done. Tonight the coyotes will have to sing to themselves.

Monday, August 24, 2009


I met these guys on a recent walk near a small pond not too far from my apartment . I heard them first, and stopped in the middle of the street to identify the noisy pair in the tall Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata).
The young raccoons (Procyon lotor) seemed as interested in me as I was in them! Raccoons are interesting critters, and I remmember them well from my Missouri childhood. They are frequent visitors to my side yard here in Washington state. Raccoon tracks of ten look like little human handprints!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Crazy Busy

Wow, life gets busy and crazy all of a sudden...end of year stuff at work, staff retreat coming up the 26th-28th, new school year about to begin...Yikes!

I keep forgetting to bring in my disk with photos from my visit with Missouri friends a couple of weeks ago. Pike's Place Market in downtown Seattle with Madonna and Dave, with lunch at Lowell's overlooking the water..then an afternoon on the deck of the B&B where they were staying.

I had a great time, enjoyed catching up with my friends, and loved the quiet of the deck after the noise and commotion of the Market. Even on a Friday it was crowded and loud!

I don't think they got the ultimate Seattle was sunny the entire week they were visiting the Hoh Rainforest, Victoria and Seattle. It was actually hotter here than back at their St. Louis area home. They should come back in November and get the rain!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cool Story About WAS on MSNBC!

I got a photo credit on MSNBC!!! There's a cool story written by one of our recent participants in an adult program, and one of my photos was chosen to illustrate it!
Go check it out...the link takes you to the correct story. The photo is of Laura, a fellow staff member here at WAS. She was in my Residential Program class, too.

The story is about a Walkabout - a wander across the landscape finding water, food and shelter where you can. It's quite a bit more strenuous than most of our classes...and there's no cook. It's a fun trip for the type of person who is interested in survival skills.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Friends in the Area and No Rain

My friend Madonna (no, not that one) and her husband Dave are over on the Olympic Peninsula this week, and it's so hot and dry...who visits Seattle and does not get rained on? In the rain forest???

She sent a photo from her phone today, and the sun is shining in the Hoh Rain Forest...It's been shining for a very long time...I LIKE the rain. I miss it, and hope it comes back soon.

I've been aflicted with little migraines of late, and I'm sure it's because the sun has been shining for 2 and a half months.

I'll be taking off Friday to meet Madonna at the pig on the corner by Pike Place Market...I'm happy about that, and hope that we get some real Seattle weather, otherwise she'll think it's just like Missouri.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Waterbugs, Earthworms and Slugs

Interesting critters I've seen recently....this is a really pale Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus). A biiiiig worm!!

And a waterbug....with a cool shadow....I never know what I'll see when I head out for a walk.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


One of the best things about living in western Washington is the amazing bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables - the only thing I've found that we do better in Missouri are tomatoes.

Right now I'm snacking on ripe red Chelan cherries delivered to work by one of our Community School families. Some of my friends gave me a gift certificate for fresh produce and it seems I have a credit! I love the just-picked, locally grown (or just brought over the pass) goodies...Soon, the Bings, my favorites, will be ripe. The Rainiers are the most beautiful of the cherries with their yellow blushed skin, but the darker red cherries are my favorites.

Duvall has a wonderful farmer's market on Thursday afternoons, and I made a point last year to try new vegetables every week. Now I know that I like the Jerusalem artichokes, the chard, the kale...but the fresh fruits are what I crave the most...and the pie from George's Bakery in Fall City...they make pie crust almost as good as Granny did!

I love summers here...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Books, Books, Books!

I was up waaay too late last night trying to finish a book - like that's never happened before:) Now that I have a bit more free time, I've been tackling the precariously tall stack of books I've picked up at garage sales and the library used book table.

Last night I had to give up around midnight with only a hundred or so pages left in "Memoirs of a Geisha", by Arthur Golden. I'd resisted reading it for a long time because I've often found popular novels to be boring or just awful but I've been enchanted with the story. It's well told, and filled with fascinating bits of history...some of it said not to be quite true. And it's a bit depressing to be reminded of all the things women historically have had to do when men abandon them.

Tonight I'll finish those last hundred pages easily, and then it will be time to choose the next book from my stack. I wonder which one I'll choose?

Here are some recent selections I've enjoyed:
  • "The Fellowship of the Ring" by JJR Tolkien - you may remember that my friend Madonna sent that one to me a while back...I'd forgotten how the books differ from the movies! It was nice to revisit Frodo and Sam and the gang.
  • "High Country" by Nevada Barr - I enjoy the Anna Pigeon mysteries, each set in a different National Park. This one visited Yosemite, a park I have yet to see.
  • "The Mastery of Love" by Don Miguel Ruiz _ don't ask me why I'm reading relationship books...I found it at the library used book table, and had enjoyed his "The Four Agreements" some time back.
  • "The Grand Finale" by Janet Evanovich - not her best one, and pure fluff. Check out her Stephanie Plum novels for better reading.

As you can see, it's an eclectic reading list...just the kind I like.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Rock, Part II

Thanks to Whitt, who explained the rock to me...
It's igneous quartz, volcanic, and quickly cooled. The divots and channels are from air bubbles! That's so cool...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wish I Knew Geology...

I found this really cool rock while we were testing on the sandbar...At first I thought it was a sort of Quartz, but it has a funny texture...

It almost seems to have been pitted by something rubbing on the surface...and the bottom almost looks like some segmented creature was trapped there a while. Anybody know geology?

Tiny Little Feet

These are the smallest deer tracks I've ever seen! We were excited to find them on the sandbar at Chinook Bend near Carnation, WA during the tracking evaluation.
This little black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) fawn must have frolicked all night in the sand...these little tracks were everywhere! Casey, our evaluator, said that it messed up several of his questions for us...and left a few interesting ones for us to figure out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Tracking Evaluation

I've just gotten in from an intense 2-day Cybertracker
evaluation, and I'm worn out, dirty, bloody from blackberry brambles and mosquito bites...and really, really happy!

My official score was an 84, high enough to make me a Level 2 Tracker...and better than that, all 8 of us taking this test scored a Level 2 or better! It was really cool to see people I've been in class with all year doing so well...and a mark of the quality of tracking education we got in this year's Tracking Intensive class at Wilderness Awareness School.

I'm headed home for a shower, and some homemade soup followed by a glass of wine to celebrate! It's been such a fun year and I've learned so much about tracking and wildlife, and myself...and after these past two days, I see how much more I have to learn...I love that tracking is a never ending learning experience!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Another Graduation

I'm kind of excited that I'll be graduating from the Tracking Intensive program tomorrow...and sad that the year is over. I'll take the trakcing evaluation next week, but that's a seperate thing.
When I was a kid, graduation meant the end of something...I see this one much like I saw my graduation from the Residential Program in the beginning.

I used to think that once I'd set out on a path there was no changing my mind, no second chance, no do overs.

Now I know better.

From this point onward I can call myself a tracker, and know that it's true. When I was a kid, I used to dream about being someone who could follow marks on the ground, read the stories written there by hoofs and paws...Now I can do that - some times anyway. I'll learn more with experience. We always do.

One thing I'd ask, if life is being kind to you right now, is to go to the web site at and make a donation to our yearly scholarship fund. We have an opportunity to double your gift up to $20,000.00 and every bit helps.

I would not have had the courage to come here and do this remarkable thing I've done without the help of the scholarship I recieved - it made a world of difference to me...I hope we can offer the same gift to many other students in the next year. I'm giving $25.00. How about you?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Who's Been Eating the Trees?

Some of the most interesting signs birds and animals leave are not tracks, but feeding sign. Trees seem too big to be "prey" for critters, but I've seen some pretty cool "tree tracks".
In the top photo, taken at Frenchman's Coulee, a porcupine has been taking chunks out of the bark. I've yet to see a complete and clear porcupine track - the ones I've seen have been in loose sand, and not at all clear. However, the clear incisor marks on this tree indicate that one (or more) lives nearby. There's likely a den in the rocks somewhere along the basalt cliffs. It would be worth spending a day there looking for the piles of scat that pour out of a porcupine den...a nice fall or early winter trip. The east side sun will be brutal there in the summer months.
The second photo shows the work of the red-breasted sapsucker...this bird drills holes in the bark to collect sap which then traps insects. I see lots of sapsucker sign here in Washington...On my walk to work -about a mile and a half - I know of 20 trees just along the street that have been worked by these birds...I even saw one once!

Monday, June 1, 2009


I just finished up the final weekend of the Tracking Intensive class. Saturday I got to present my dog tracking project to the class.
I spent a lot of time worrying about it. Public speaking has never been my thing. I knew I was on to something, and that my research was valid...and the thought of standing up and telling my classmates and instructors what I'd found was frightening.

One thing I've learned here at Wilderness Awareness School is that people will support you if you ask. My instructor, Dave Moskowitz, reminded me that everyone in the audience would be very interested in the project. I also arranged for a couple of my classmates to tackle me if I bolted for the door!

What really helped was that some of our Elders came in to support me! Many thanks to Pam, Jenn, Walt and his wife Katy, and to Auntie Barbara who all took time on a sunny Washington Saturday to come out and witness my presentation. I had other friends in the room, too. Ellen and Jonathan came - Ellen's dog Taz was in the project, and Jonathan is a tracker and former Rezzie and TI student. Current Rezzie Shondell, who helped with some of the dog tracking was there to support me, too.

I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it! I guess speaking about something you're passionate about is a little different than an assigned topic...I never would have belived that it would be fun.

My Missouri friend Madonna says I have to start owning my power...Yeah, I Rocked!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Pretty Bird Picture to Share

A recent hike in McCormick Park brought me the chance to take this duck ID is shakey, but I believe it's a Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). I had another post in mind today, but did not bring the proper photo disk...Oh well, another day.

Big News! Saturday is the day I give my presentaion of my dog tracking project to the Tracking Intensive class! I believe it's a good one, and that my research is sound...and I'm scared to death of standing up in front of the class...Yet another thing I'm doing for the first time since the Residential Program.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cougar Tracks With a View

On Sunday, May 3rd, the Tracking Intensive class crossed Snoqualmie Pass to the drier, warmer eastside of the Cascade range. The top photo is Mt. Stuart on the left and part of the Stuart Range as seen from the rest stop at the top of Indian John Hill. It's one of the most beautiful sights on that stretch of I-90.
The third photo is looking back down Tanum Canyon from the trail where we were tracking elk, mule deer, black bear, and cougar! Given that I suffer from fear of heights and a bit of vertigo, I was proud of myself for staying with the group on that sometimes narrow and always steep bit of trail that hugged the mountain.
The fact is that we were seeing such incredible animal sign and tracks that I often forgot to be scared...Our second day with Sue Morse was just as fun and educational as the first had been. I learned so much that my head still spins with new information.
The 2nd photo is the track of a large male cougar - and yes, there was enough information in the track to be certain of the gender. It's exciting to be gathered around a track like that and know that the animal hunts the very road you're standing on...and while we didn't see any really fresh cougar (or bear) sign, it was obvious that they hang out there often.
The only wildlife sightings we had were 2 elk crossing the paved road below, a pair of mule deer sneaking away from the parking area, and as we were loading into the vehicles to leave, another mule deer running along the crest of the hill. That one was moving away from a moutain biker. I got a quick photo, but it's not very good. The deer was moving pretty fast, and was a long way uphill. Still, that's more than a group our size usually sees...I wonder what saw us?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Story in a Mud Puddle

The shallow puddle was about 10 feet long. Our instructors found the opposum, black bear and elk tracks earlier in the week. Another class had been at the site on Friday. We found the cougar track early on was new.
Our Tracking Intensive class is winding down -only one more weekend session to go. The guest instructor was Sue Morse of Keeping Track in Vermont. Her specialty is predators, and we spent a day near Carnation learning about black bear (Ursus americanus). The cougar track was a bonus! I'll have more about the cats later.
It's amazing what you can learn by following a naturalist like Sue through the woods on a sunny day. Along with bear fact, she threw out nuggets of information about our local Aplodontia (Aplodontia rufa), elk (Cervus canadensis) and blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus) as well.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

And the Answer is....

Thanks to Madonna and Filip for playing my "name this track" game. It was fun. Filip is correct - an Eastern Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensi) left these beautiful tracks.

Compare them to the tracks of the Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) to the right. It's interesting how different the tracks are considering that they are very similar animals...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can You Guess Who Left These Tracks?

I stopped so suddenly that I almost hurt
myself when I saw these tracks on my
way to work recently...They were so clear and gave good front and back prints - I usually only find one or the other. I had to check with my Tracking Intensive instructor to make sure I had the ID right before I shared with you.
I'm still unsure when I first see a new track, and even though I thought I knew what it was after checking the field guides, I doubted myself...mainly because I thought I had a resident one of these mammals in my yard!

Turns out I was wrong, and after a closer look at the track photos I'd taken in the snow and realized that my resident critter is a different member of this family. My neighbor hood critter is smaller, and is a Pacific Northwest native. These tracks were in a residential area, just a few blocks from the office. This tasty animal lives back in Missouri, Arkansas and Oaklahoma, and is really an introduced species no reason for all my friends back home not to make a guess about it...I'm not telling until someone leaves a guess in the comments area...Click on the word comment below, and give it a shot!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Knotweed Crisp

The weather has been lovely here the past few days, and I enjoyed getting out on Saturday to play with the Tracking Club...They make me be a station master, which is kind of fun, and really scary...I don't feel like I know anywhere near enough to tell other people anything about tracking. My station was a nice set of rat tracks in the sand on the riverbank.

I picked some Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) , enough for my favorite spring treat. Knotweed is an introduced and invasive species, one which the state of Washington would love to get rid of, so I do my part by eating as much as I can before it gets too big and tough. I only pick the young shoots, no higher than my knee, or bigger around than my thumb. I clean off the leaves, wash and cut into inch long sections. It can then be added to your favorite Apple Crisp recipe. Mine goes something like this - its a very forgiving recipe, so the measurements don't have to be exact. Knotweed has a taste similar to Rhubarb.

(Be sure you have properly identified Japanese Knotweed before you harvest it. Folks who can't eat Rhubarb have told me that they can't eat this plant, either, so use your common sense and try a small amount to see if it agrees with you before you go crazy.)

Linda's Strawberry/Apple/Knotweed Crisp
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 91/2 x 13 pan. In that pan, toss:
  • One package of frozen strawberries, thawed until they can be cut into halves or quarters.
  • Three apples, cored and cut into 1 inch chunks (can be any type - I use what I have on hand)
  • An equal (more or less) amount of chopped knotweed.
  • Sugar to taste - about 1/4 cup for me

Top with a mixture of about 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup packed brown sugar, with a stick of butter cut in. The mixture will be crumbly and dry.

Bake in oven until the fruit is done - about 30- 45 minutes. Top warm crisp with vanilla ice cream for a real treat.

It's easy, and a bit tart...and a good way to use a noxious weed! (Jonathan tells me he has used the leaves in stirfries, but I haven't tried that yet.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Hare-foot Dog

left to right - Hoss, Surley, and Addie - Addie's hind foot, showing the elongated structure
Addie is just 2 weeks off the race track!
I was begining to think I'd never get a hare-footed dog for my project, but Ellen Haas gave me the name of someone who is active in greyhound rescue, and I took a chance, e-mailing a request for help.
Moira Corrigan bravely agreed to meet me with her own 3 greyhounds, 2 she's fostering, and her 10 month old Great Dane, Cheif, too! Anticipating that it might be somewhat crazy, I also asked Shondell Kelly, one of this year's Rezzies, to go along to assist with the measurements.
Moira began by telling me that I might not want to track Hoss, as he's missing a toe...OH Yeah, I wanted to track him, and I'll share those photos later...
The dogs were delighful and we quickly laid down tracks because the weather was a bit uncertain. Shondell proved to be a great scribe, and it's the first time I didn't get my papers wet, sandy, and messed up. Should have thought of that before.
Did I learn anything? Oh yeah - the elongated hare foot has a HUGE gap measurement! This was proof that I'm on the right track with my original idea...It was exciting! Now I have some real data to work with and am so glad I got brave enough to ask - and that Moira was brave enough to respond.
Here's the link to the web site for the rescue group...they are in need of donations, supplies, foster families and forever homes for retired racing

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Olympic Firsts

Since my last check in I've had some interesting 1sts in my life!
  • First and second ferry rides - the Tracking Intensive folks said that Norfolk Lake in Arkansas didn't count! It was really COLD on the deck, but I enjoyed watching the gulls and cormorants! The return trip was the best-sunny and great views of Mt. Baker and Rainier. The Space Needle looked like a toy from the far side of Puget Sound.
  • First trip to the Peninsula!
  • First time in Olympic National Park!
  • First mountain lion tracks! At the Sol Duc snow...It was funny because they were of a size that could have been big bobcat, but as Marcus pointed out, the stride was 3 1/2 feet long.

Wonderful trip, good weather, fun group. I love TI weekends!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Off on Another Adventure!

I'll be leaving in about an hour for the Olympic National Park, yet another place I haven't been!
With luck, we will find tracks of the fisher ( Martes pennanti )...a rare animal that looks somewhat like it's kin, the mink and weasel. I'm hoping for clear tracks, and good weather...right now the sun is shining, but we are about 5 hours and a ferry ride away from the campground. I'll report back next week!

Monday, March 30, 2009

12 and Counting...

I've now tracked 12 dogs for my Tracking Intensive project! Only 88 to go...I think they will have to hold me over and not let me graduate this year. Oh darn, that would be a shame...not.

Here's the list:
  • 2 Chihuahuas
  • 2 Shih Tzus
  • 2 lab mixes
  • 1 Basset Hound
  • 1 Great Pyrenees
  • 1 Boxer mix
  • 1 Groenendal mix
  • 1 English Springer Spaniel
  • 1 Leonberger

It's fun to see how the various breeds move and how their tracks differ...I could spend a lifetime and not get to all 400+ breeds of dog. I have to get busy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Bighorn Tracks For Your Enjoyment

It's been over 2 weeks and I'm
still absolutely astounded that
we had such good tracking conditions...This pair of tracks left in the mud may have been a ewe and her yearling - or it might have been a front (larger) and rear track. It's kind of far off to the side to be the front and rear of the same animal. We did see 9 Bighorns (Ovis canadensis) cross the valley ahead of our group. And it's an area that the animals use all the time. These tracks were not crossing the valley, but were going down the trail in the direction of the bridge and parking lot...others were going up the valley trail.
Bighorns are diurnal, meaning that they are active in the daytime. They typically sleep in beds on the hillside, and so I doubt that they gather in the valley at night when people are less likely to be found there.
The canyon is a big draw to hikers, fly fishermen, rockhounds, and dog walkers. I'm surprised - and blessed -that we saw the animals and found so many tracks.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Almost Like Cheating

The WAS Tracking Intensive class went to eastern
Washington this past weekend and had such an awsome time. On Saturday we tracked mule deer at Frenchman's Coulee, and then moved on to Bighorn sheep along the Yakima River.
The weather was sketchy, but we went hoping to find tracks...and as we pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted by this little band of 9. There are a couple of young rams with this group of ewes and last year's young.
We watched as they ran down the hillside and across the valley we were going to be hiking into! It seemed almost unfair to watch them and then go find the fresh tracks...almost, but not quite. How many times do you get to trail 5-minute old Bighorn tracks?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sex in the Neighborhood

There was a pair of amorous raccoons in the Cedar tree by my bedroom window yesterday.
Clara, my cat, directed my attention out the window...I noticed that she was intent on something - her tail was thumping against the window in irritation.
At first, I only saw the one...and she was not happy that I'd intruded. She's hissing at me...this photo was taken in poor light, so I played with my "fun" options on my Easy Share photo software...I kind of like the cartoon effect, and it seems to fit the situation.
It was a first for me, watching a couple of raccoons go at it in a tree. They were about 25 feet up, and on a precarious-looking limb. Sort of reminiscent of satin sheets on a water bed...
I'm not even going to speculate on what it says about me that I watched...and took pictures. I'm claiming "naturalist curiosity".

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Checkin' In...

Spring is trying to come in, but the cars coming down from the hills were topped with a bit of snow this morning.
Otherwise, the early flowers are popping up, and trees are budidng. The afternoon sunshine warms me nicely as I walk up the hill toward home.
Two Sundays ago, I saw the 11th coyote just down hill from my place. He - given the size of the critter, it had to be a male - was sneaking along the tree line at the back of a line of houses. I don't think the woman who came out dressed for church even saw him at the back of her lot. He saw me. We played a game of hide and seek as we both moved up hill. Neither of us bothered the other, but we were aware.
Then, last Friday evening a co-worker and I watched in fear and amazement as coyote number 12 made a mad dash across 3 lanes of rushhour traffic on eastbound I- 90 near Issaquah. We were on the way to Seattle for an event that didn't happen...and just in the right place at the right time to see the foolishly brave animal make his move. It had to be a male, right?
I've never seen a coyote move so fast. Ears back, hunkered down, racing across the highway...I don't kow how he managed to get to the median. As we passed, we had to laugh at the way he shook off the experience like a dog just out of the bathtub. The expression on his face made me wonder if he'd done it for fun. I guess coyotes get spring fever, too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Anniversary of Note

It took me a long time today to
realize why I've been in such a
strange mood the past week or
so. As I was preparing a bank
deposit around noon I had to
enter the date, and then it hit me.
February 17 used to be my anniversary. This would have been 30 years...The Ex left in the summer of our 24th year, and the divorce was final just 3 days before our 25th Anniversary...Oh, that's it. That's why I've been unusually distracted and even a little bit ... not sad, exactly... I can't even think of the word that would cover the feeling I've had this past week. There must be one, and I bet my friends Madonna and Sally will e-mail it to me right away. It probably has something to do with moving on.

What I do know is that once I got the connection I put on my coat, and because I now have the sort of job that allows me to do so, I took a long walk...and decided that I needed to mark the occasion in some way. Not a celebration, exactly, but a rememberance of sorts.

There's a grocery store down the street...I wondered around for a while, looking at the
marked-down Valentine's Day candy...that didn't seem exactly right, but I craved something sweet. What I took back to the office to share with my coworkers was a big box of Pepperidge Farm cookies...the Entertaining collection...9 different kinds of cookies...the ones I don't often allow myself. It felt decadent! It felt really good to offer my friends a sweet treat and to be able to tell them why I felt the need to mark the day. Best of all, it felt really good to be able to do it without the swans in the photo today, I feel like I'm finally moving on.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wolf Howl Video

The Tracking Intensive class went to Northwest Trek on Sunday, Feb. 15th. It was a great day to be out, as the animals were active...I'll be posting photos on my WebShots page in a few days! Today, I wanted to share the wolf howl I caught on video. I apologize for the camera noise...and the shaky video.

The howling was very exciting! I heard a coyote yip from the nearby pens, and first wolf made a really low, deep howl...that's when I turned on the video. You can hear the coyotes in the background, and they really set the wolves off! Just pretend that you don't see the fence in the background.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Just a Quick Update....

Wow, what a crazy week...I'm putting in late nights at work, but in return I'll have a new QuickBooks file that's going to make life easier in the future. I have to finish tonight because tomorrow is the Community School spaghetti dinner and silent auction.
I'll be there, straight from work and hungry. Last year I got a few cool things at the auction, and the kids made enough money to go to Utah! The photos they took were stunning with the red rocks and sunshine. It's a pleasure to see how hard they work and how happy they are to be able to plan another class trip.
These eagles were right outside the office a few weeks ago...I can't believe how lucky I am to be here. I love that I can run outside on a workday and take a few photos of these magnificent birds.
Tracking Intensive class is this weekend, and we will be learning about animal skulls and on Sunday will go to NorthWest Trek, which is down by Mt. Rainier. It's a long drive, but a cool place to go. It's a rehab center, but some of the animals are permanent residents because they are not well enough to be released.
My WARP class went in mid February in 20o7, and the cougars were mating...loudly...and often. I really enjoyed watching the paniced parents of young children try to pull the kids away once they realized what was going on. Perhaps next week I'll have "dirty" pictures to share.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Just Go Outside

It's a beautiful day in western Washington...I took the morning off and went to Monroe for some errands. It was a real treat to have to find my sunglasses as I headed north. Can't say I got everything done I needed to do, but did hit the used books at the library and added to my pile of "must reads". I do have to be careful that books don't keep me inside too much - It's a great time of year to just go outside.

The big disappointment was that the dog park by the river not only flooded, but seems not to be repaired in the aftermath. I'd hoped to make some connections there and find dogs to add to my Tracking Intensive project...but now I'll have to look elsewhere.

On a happier note, I was able to pick up enough Black Cottonwood (Populus nigra) buds to start a new batch of oil for making salve in the fall.

Just to spend a little while outside in the sun was fabulous! I've also noticed that the evening sky stays light a little bit longer - I'm so happy that spring is getting a little closer each day!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Nice Surprise Today!

It's always nice to find a package in the mail! Today I got one of my favorite gifts - a book. My friend Madonna sent me a second editon copy of "The Fellowship of the Ring" by J.R.R. Tolkien. It's a wonderful book, and one I haven't read in many a year. I'm delighted to have it, and will enjoy it all over again.

It's the second book she's sent me recently. "The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging" by Arianna Huffington and friends arrived in time for my birthday although she mailed it from St. Louis on December 12th. Given our record snows in December I'm surprised it's not still in a drift somewhere. It's a good book, and I have been using some of her hints in this blog. Madonna says I'm going to get rich off it someday. I could live with that. It's a great book if you are thinking about starting your own blog. You might want to check it out.

I've recieved other books as gifts this year, too...One of them I'll feature in another "episode" of my blog because it's a cool naturalist/travel book from my friend Laurie.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Vision for the Dog Tracking Photos

This was Jackson, my last dog, and his tracks in the snow...It would be better if he was standing and outside, but you can see his body type, and his feet are visible...the track photo is not bad. The pink ruler stands out, and there are both front and back tracks in the picture. Can you tell which is which?
Jackson was a 40 pound mixed breed - my vet though Shar Pei and Jack Russell among other things...Don't ever do that on purpose! He was healthy, except that he was born with a shallow right hip socket, which caused muscle loss and pain in that hip. He limped badly when tired.
I think it will be fun to see how many dog and dog track photos we can collect in one place...we might even learn something. If your dog has any type of foot, leg, hip or shoulder injury or disease, please mention it, as we might see it in the tracks!
To be included in the experiment, send photos as a jpeg attachment in an e-mail to me at ...
I'll start putting them up as they come in.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Domestic Dog Tracking Project

I've been wondering if anyone would like to play along with my Tracking Intensive project...Here's what I have in mind.

What if I invited you to take a photo of your dog and a photo of your dog's track?Would you e-mail them to me so that I could put them in a photo album on our new school "Village" web site? It might be fun to see a bunch of dogs and their tracks all in one spot.

Tomorrow, I'll have an example of what I'd like to see you send. I'm thinking a full body shot of the dog (no people - I'm not tracking people) and a good close up of the dog's tracks, preferably with something for scale - a penny works great if you don't have a ruler in your camera bag.

Is anyone interested? Let me know!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Substrate Happens

I bet you never thought you'd
be looking at a photo of cow
poop on my blog...
In tracker lingo, it's scat, not poop. In this
case, it's the only trackable substrate I found in Arkansas last week. Apparently the rainy season here in the Seattle area is not the rainy season 3 hours northeast of Little Rock.
My sister promised the opportunity to track armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) while visiting...I was excited because they are unlike any other North American mammal, and are the only living member of their family Cingulata. They are native to Central America, but have moved up through the Southern states. The order Xenarthra also contains anteaters and sloths...none of which I'll get to track in the Pacific Northwest.
This is not the track of an armadillo...I didn't see anything that I could identify as such...the red clay, rocky soil was too dry for me to see anything resembling armadillo tracks. I did find this nice front and back track of another Midwest mammal. Can you guess what it is? I believe a fat groundhog, or woodchuck (Marmota monax),passed through this nice round bit of "substrate" before it was completely dry. The closest thing I'll see here in Washington is a Marmot (yellowbellied or hoary), so it's still a cool track photo to have in my collection.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Travels of a Tracker

So here's the story I've been wanting to
tell for a couple of weeks, but couldn't.

My old Missouri friends sent me a surprise for my
birthday, and I couldn't blog about it because I didn't
know if my Mom reads my blog or not....and my sister and I have been planning a surprise 70th birthday party for her for months. She thought it was a party for Andrew, my great-nephew who turned 6 on the 5th!

My hospital co-workers sent me a banner that nearly 50 people had signed with good wishes and kind thoughts...They also collected $110 in one and five dollar bills to help me get to Arksansas for the party! I'm not the "msuhy" type, but their kindness nearly made me cry. I had been a bit worried about how I would eat on the trip...the tickets were bought, but I would be short on traveling money. You could say that it really met a need!

I flew out of Seattle just ahead of a storm that would cause record flooding in my part of the state, and which would have kept me from going at all if my flight had been 24 hours later. It was a bumpy ride out of SeaTac, and my seatmate was a twitchy fellow who wanted to talk all the way to Dallas/Ft.Worth. I hoped to sleep on that part of the trip because we left just after midnight, and I had worked most of Tuesday and was tired.

There was a 2 hour delay while our pilot to Little Rock found a plane that he liked - I'm not complaining...if the pilot doesn't trust it, I don't want to be in it. I was really gald to see my sister Susan at the gate.

It's still a 3 hour drive to Violet Hill, where she and Mom live, so we stopped to have a bit of dinner on the way. Out here in Washington, they call it lunch, but I always had breakfast, dinner and supper, so that's what we had. It's been a while since I enjoyed steak and loaded smashed potatoes with sweet tea...I have to say that Pacific Northwest cooking doesn't come close to Southern meals...I miss the food more than I realized.

Mom was truly surprised...and happy. We had a big combined birthday party for the two of us and the 6 year old. I bet that Andrew still has blue lips from the frosting on the cupcakes!

On Thursday, Mom followed me around for a couple of hours while I tracked 4 more dogs, and found groundhog tracks in a cow pie in the pasture. We spooked a whitetail doe from the old slave cemetary . No armadillos or tracks were found, much to my dismay. Susan had promised I'd see and/or track them, but the ground was dry, hard and rocky, and we didn't even see any road-killed ones to check out.

Since Tracking Intensive class was this weekend, I flew home on Friday. About 130 miles out from Seattle, the pilot noted that we could see Mounts Rainier, Adams, St. Hellens and Hood all lined up against the horizon! What a beautiful welcome home it was.

Saturday we learned about bird feathers, and on Sunday we played in silt under bridges at Fall City and thing about floods is that the tracking is really good when the water goes down. Look for more photos soon!

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Happy Birthday" as sung by the coyote choir

January 3rd was my 50th birthday. I celebrated by taking a long walk in McCormick Park. The path was still quite icy and I walked really slowly, enjoying the bird activity. Only the Stellar's Jays had been active in my neighborhood, and the robins I'd seen earlier in the week looked so stressed by the cold and snow that I worried about their survival.
I saw several small flocks of Trumpeter Swans, and was able to get one quick photo before they flew out of range. The Chickadees were busy and entertaining. I spooked a flock of Mallards off the water, and watched a noisy Kingfisher fly past.
The highlight of the walk came when the fire department sirens went off. A coyote howled from the brush on the hillside to my left! More than one, but probably fewer than 5 answered from my sounded as if I was surrounded by coyotes! It was the best verse of "Happy Birthday" I've ever been privileged to hear.
I walked a bit further and saw coyote # 10, the lone voice on my left. He was limping, but still actively hunting the hillside. I wondered if he'd hurt himself on the ice...I was limping a bit myself, having slipped (again) on an icy patch. He lives close to the highway, with cars always a danger, and at least one frequent dog walker braggs about letting her labs chase the coyotes in that stretch of park. Whatever the reason for his injury, he looked in good condition...I hope to see him again soon.

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"