Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bobcat, Tomtit and Dagger Lakes Adventure

Jason, Steven and I hiked out way back into the forest East of the Alderleaf property today. In preparation for the school year, Jason wanted to show me around the lakes up there.

While we were moved some large outdoor mats from the open grassy area near the barn, we found an interesting creature under the very first one.

This little fellow with the black spotted throat is a western toad (Bufo boreas). It is a species that is in serious decline in many places in the PNW region. I was very excited to find this toad. Jason and Steve had recently found another, larger individual on the property. This is likely an indicator of the relative health of the land on which Alderleaf makes its home.

I made a temporary cover for this little toad's burrow system which was exposed by the moving of the mats. Then it was off for an adventure in the woods.

While we were crossing the natural log bridge over McCoy Creek, Jason spotted two raccoons crossing. They had been foraging but bolted when they saw and heard us. We back tracked to see if we could spot them and see what they were up to around the creek.

We did not see them again, but Jason found some extremely fresh water tracks left on a dry river boulder. Look close and you can see the little paired hand and feet prints of the raccoons.

Not far off the property we made an exciting discovery. See if you can spot what made me exclaim with excitement...

See those orange, glowing things popping out of the mossy ground? If you said mushrooms, you'd got it! These were a beautiful patch of perfect chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius).

We came back and collected some from this patch at the end of our day and split the spoils 3 ways. They will make a great meal. I plan to dry mine for later use during the darker, rainy months.

Further down the trail - while we paused for a momentary brake - I spotted a furry little creature hanging upside down on the side of a giant horsetail plant. This pretty little caterpillar is the larval form of the yellow-spotted tiger moth (Lophocampa maculata).

We traveled down old logging roads. Some were very over-grown and we had to hack blackberry vines with machetes to get through. We did some bushwhacking off the roads as well, as we tried to find shorter routes to the lakes. On some of the roads, there was muddy silt which had settled in puddles during the rains. These were excellent spots to look for tracks. And tracks we found!

If you look really close you can see a large, fairly old cougar track in the mud. This was the clearest cougar track we saw today, but it was not the only one. Notice the distinct heel pad, 2 lobes on top and 3 on the bottom. The quarter in the shot gives you a sense of the size of this cat's tracks.

As we traveled on, we kept our eyes scanning the ground for more tracks. We reached a beautiful spot on a small bridge, over looking a swamp West of Tomtit Lake.

Underneath the bridge we spotted some nice little trout swimming around in the shadows. This spot also provided our first good views of Haystack mountain, which is a tall peak that overlooks the Alderleaf property and adjacent land surround and including the lakes.

Difficult to see in this photo, there is an old beaver dam separating one part of the swamp from the other. Beaver dams help create habitat for many wetland plant and animal species.

As we walked from the bridge and headed East towards the largest of the 3 lakes we visited, we kept an eye out for more tracks. We found some interesting thing including a pair of chipmunk tracks and more really old cougar tracks. We poured some plaster casts of tracks we found along this stretch and left them to be picked up later. We also found this interesting scrape. See if you can figure out what mammal left this calling card.

This scat was laid down in a scrape created by this animal. Note the quarter to give you approximate scale. The scat is strongly segmented, with mostly blunted ends and is tightly packed. When poked with a stick, it was quiet firm.

There was between 30 and 40 such scrapes seen on our adventure, especially along one particular moss-covered road.

We left the fascinating scat behind to check out Tomtit Lake. The lake is good sized, edged with mature forest and cattails. You can see Haystack Mountain raising above it clearly in this photo.

Isn't it a gorgeous spot? We certainly thought so too! We watched trout jumping, their ripples breaking the near perfect reflections of the fluffy clouds lazily passing above the lake. The distant call of a mourning dove floated to us, barely audible on the breeze as we sat and ate some lunch.

It was hard to leave that spot, but we wanted to see Dagger Lake today as well. So we picked up and hiked on. Steve spotted a very nice pair of bear tracks in some muddy patches along our path. There were the tracks of a mature bear, and the much smaller and shallower tracks of a cub.

Look close to see the cubs tracks in this photo. One is above the quarter, the other is located to its right and slightly below it. Can you count all five toes on the clearer of the two tracks? Notice the bobcat track below one of the bear cub's tracks?

Not far from these we found some deep, squished tracks of a Douglas squirrel surrounded by a bunch of deer mouse tracks. Also, we spotted the trail of a young raccoon who's feet were about half the size of a typical raccoon track.

We reached Dagger Lake and found it really beautiful as well. There was one home on the far shore of the lake and there were clothes drying on a line outside. Jason thought he saw a river otter jump from a log into the lake on the far shore opposite of us. I spotted a few bullfrogs floating peacefully on the pads of western pond lilies. It was a nice spot, but we did not feel it was appropriate to stick around given we did not know who owned the area around the lake.

On our way back we found an excellent set of bobcat tracks. They were very good for plaster casting but we were out of time for the day, as we still had a good 2 hours of hiking to get back to the Alderleaf property.

Past the really nice bobcat tracks, we followed an unknown road and to our surprise ended up back at the bridge near the swamp. So we trotted over to inspect our plaster casts. We left the mud attached and stuck them in safe pockets for the trip home.

All in all it was an amazing day, full of new discoveries. We did not forget to grab those scrumptious chanterelles on the way back.

...and yeah, the plastered tracks came out wonderfully!