Monday, December 19, 2011

Coyote Tracks in Dishman Hills

canis latrans

It's becoming something of a ritual for me this winter. Every Saturday I wake up to a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee (Seattle's Best at the moment), and head out for some hiking in the Dishman Hills. It makes sense for me because I live so near to the hills, literally a 5 minute drive to the dirt parking lot down the hill from Camp Caro. I feel like I want to get to know the Dishman Hills. I want to know the trails; the main ones and the more confusing side ones too. I want to know the ravines and the rocks and the trees. I want to know the animals. It's hard to see animals in the wild especially when you're on the move, but there are other ways to get to know them.

 I became interested in tracking after I read a book called The Tracker by one of the most famous modern day trackers Tom Brown Jr. It made me want to pay closer attention to where I was walking and what I was looking at while I was in the woods. Sometimes when you're hiking you can feel yourself slip into autopilot. You put your head down and stare at your feet and power forward, and before you know it a couple miles have slipped passed and you didn't see anything. That is not the way I want to hike.

Scat on top of a small pile of pine needles near the trail

 I wan't to see and feel and be apart of the woods. I want to be able to identify a ponderosa pine when I see one, and look at tracks in mud or snow and know what animal they came from. Seeing tracks while hiking is something that constantly happens. Whether I'm in the Montana backcountry or a park in the middle of Spokane, I am always seeing prints on the trail, and I am always wondering; where do they come from? So I picked up a book on animal tracks a few months ago to try and get some basic education in tracking.

When I'm up in the Dishman Hills (or anywhere in the woods) I'm always looking, and always trying to be mindful of where I'm stepping and what I'm looking at. So it was exciting to me when I realized that I was on to a coyote last Saturday. First I came onto some scat that was sort of laying right beside the trail on top of some pine needles and other debris. It was almost as if it was placed there to be seen like a signpost to other animals. The area I saw the scat however didn't really have much snow so I didn't see any tracks. About maybe a hundred feet further the trail wound deeper into the forest and the snow from a couple days before still lay on the ground, and sure enough between all the boot prints and tire tracks I saw what looked like small coyote prints almost skirting the edge of the trail. Ha! I was totally elated. Okay actually I was still really unsure if what I was looking at was a coyote or a domestic dog, but I consulted my book and now I can say with confidence that it was a coyote.

I never knew I could get so excited over a few prints and pile of shit, but I did! Even though I lost the tracks after a few feet it still felt really cool to know that I found them in the first place. Can't wait to go back next Saturday.
Coyote in a slow side trot.

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