Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tracking and The Art of Seeing

The title of this post just happens to also be the title of one of the BEST identification and tracking books ever written on common North American wildlife. For those that walk in the woods (be they north, south, east or west) and want to know what some of those tracks are, this is the book to have on hand. The full title is: Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks & Sign by Paul Rezendes.

This is my second copy. The first fell apart since I use to take it with me.

So, why the excitement over a very old dog eared book on my abundant bookshelf?
Because it was needed yesterday not for just one set of tracks, but two!

I had a lovely ride yesterday.

Slow, steady and with lots of time to really "see". In fact we kept seeing some large odd shaped tracks that due to melt and such had some distortion but darn if they didn't look like elk tracks and once I got home I double checked. They were indeed elk. We also kept crossing another set of tracks running south to north as we meandered on trails that run back and forth east and west.

It wasn't until we came down from the trails to the gravel road on the property next door to us that we got a clear picture of just what they were.

These tracks dropped down from just about the point we crossed them on the ridges, headed north up the driveway towards the back of the property and onto the back of our property. And they were fresh, within 24 hours. The snow had been soft when they were made, probably the late afternoon before, froze overnight and had not yet distorted with the daily melt. It's late November and there is a bear in them thar woods!

In all my years riding up here I have never seen bear tracks this late in the season. Gene and I spent the rest of the day speculating why a bear would be up and obviously very mobile when he or she should be hibernating. We have a theory and it goes like this.

Oregon has gotten some money for fire suppression and this year a local treasure known as Tub Springs State Wayside has under gone a transformation. The woods have been cleared of dead fall and ground debris, the trails have been improved and trees have been cut and judiciously cleared. Many good strong snags have been left for local wildlife but the burning of brush piles and the chainsaws have been a steady fixture over the last month. We think all this activity has disturbed what is probably a younger bear, maybe his first winter alone. When I rode over there yesterday the crews, some in singles and some in pairs were working on the far end of the park, a part that really is much wilder and more protected. I usually skirt the park on the trails that border it, but don't get over to that side as often. I did yesterday because all the burning brush piles and smoke made a for a very good training situation. You never know up here just how close to a fire you might get and having calm horses who have built up a measure of trust in that situation could save their life. The fire really doesn't bother Cooper, he's been around that and chainsaws and such for years, but he's a shy horse and strangers in the woods do bother him. I never worry about a stranger trying to approach me saddled as Cooper will not allow it unless coaxed by me. That's fine. It can be good and it can be bad. Anyway, as usual, I digress...

Now I wasn't terribly concerned about the tracks. Cooper did notice them and as is typical gave a sniff or two as we rode along, but it didn't put him on alert any more than he was in other parts of the ride. We did not follow them though. Today on foot I might hike up to the back and see where they have crossed.

These last photos are of my boot print next to one of the tracks.

My 7.5 sized foot encased in a large bulky neoprene winter riding boot that makes it look close to a size 9. You can just see the depression around the actual paw print that would have made up the full size of his hairy paw.


  1. That's a BIG bear!

    Happy Thanksgiving, Theresa -

    Web-sters Carol

  2. Whoa - when I first saw the tracks, I immediately thought bear! What a big foot they have! I love your thought about training. I think that also - this is practice for an emergency...

  3. That book is a really good one!! We use it too!

    I didn't know that you had elk in your area. I somehow thought they were in the Rockies only.

    Beautiful pictures with the snow and evergreens and blue sky!!

    Whoa - big bear tracks!! That's a wee bit scary. What type of bears live in your area? We just have black bears and they're very skittish. Any time I've seen one, it's been running away from me.

    Happy almost Thanksgiving!


  4. Sue,

    We have black bears and they are usually shy too. I've seen one running briefly and one on the far side of a mountain meadow..briefly. That's the best way.

    Jennifer, yes, I like to take advantage of things that could be practice for emergencies. The snow offered such a spot on clear set of tracks, usually when you see bear sign around here, it's a couple of muddy prints or scat.

    Hey Carol, you have a great Turkey Day too!

  5. Some really beautiful photos Theresa. Whoa - that's a big bear foot print (or you just have small feet!) I was on our land one year and saw some huge prints - came home and told Jim - we went back out to see them again - Jim informed me they were big dog prints! duh - I guess I should pick up a book like yours!

  6. Very cool; thanks for sharing! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. :-)

  7. I always feel sad when we encroach.

  8. Hi - I was wondering where you bought your copy of this book? It looks good and if I can get one in time would make a great christmas gift! They are available on amazon, but might take too long to get here.

    Thanks! Evelyn