A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Lions and Deer Flies and Bears, Oh MY!

I spent a week taking a class at the Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Washington.  The class focused on mentoring youth in nature.  As a part of the class we spent a lot of time out in the woods exploring and getting to know the land.  For me this meant the opportunity to do some tracking and get to know the local wildlife.  On one of my jaunts out in the woods we were plagued with deer flies.  These are the flies that don’t seem as quick as other flies and always seem to land right in your hair.  I inevitably caught one burrowing into hair.  Upon removal I was amazed at how beautiful, although annoying, these little guys really are.  Their compound eye is composed of thousands of smaller lenses causing the light to reflect differently off of each lens.  Pretty cool for a pest.

On the same trip out in the woods,  (when I say out in the woods I’m talking, off trail bushwhacking through thickets of salmon berry) we came across an animal trail.  Now I’m certainly not an expert tracker but I knew there was something special about this trail.  There was green foliage broken off and still very fresh.  The trail was shorter and wider than a deer but too big to be a rabbit run.  As I started to crawl down the trail I began to get excited because I fit right into it.  The trail cut a perfect path through thickets and dense thickets.  We crawled for about 50 feet and knew the trail had been used withing the last 12 hours.  We came to a muddy spot in the trail and my suspicions were confirmed.  There in the mud were some very large tracks of a black bear.  The impression of the bear’s haunches made a perfect impression in the mud and the front paws were just in front of that.  We had been crawling down a bear trail and found a wallow.  Seeing these simple impressions in the mud I could picture the bear sitting for a moment in the mud to cool off.  It was a very cool experience.

We returned to camp and I was feeling pretty good about our discovery.  The next day my friend Alex and a staff member of the camp were out doing some tracking of their own.  They heard a twig snap and silently stalked up to the source of the noise.  What they found was an adult black bear feeding on salmon berry.  The bear saw them and hesitated for a moment before running the other direction.  They say that the bear looked like it was making that critical fight or flight decision.  After their hearts slowed down a bit they began trailing the bear.  As they walked down the trail the birds went silent and an eerie calm overtook them.  They knew the bear was still there waiting to see what they were going to do.  They decided to turn around and follow the trail later.

Lucky for me I was the only other person they invited to pick up the trail of the bear.  We skipped dinner returned to the last known spot of the bear.  We tracked it right down the hiking path and around a bend.  Around the bend was a stretch of soft mud for about 30 feet.  We found perfect bear tracks straight through the mud.  Perfect in the sense you could see the impression of the hair around the ankle and in between the toes.  This was a sweet find for anyone let alone someone who considers themselves a tracker.   THEN!  As we followed the bear tracks we started seeing another set of tracks going the other direction…

At this point we simply started giving high-fives and were all giddy as kids at the ice cream shop.  What we now had in front of us were PERFECT bear tracks right next to cougar tracks that were only a day or so old!!   This is extremely rare to ever find.  The home ranges of these animals can be up to hundreds of square miles.  The chances of finding tracks, let alone perfect tracks in soft mud, is extremely rare.  This was truly a once in a life time opportunity.   It was also humbling to know that these two apex predators were both right where we were standing.  It was a moment of humility knowing we were not top of the food chain.  Nature in it’s purest form.

Tomorrow:  Plant Sex!

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