By Robin GOLDSWORTHY
The Rosemont Preserve came to life early Sunday morning – without a single animal being seen.
A small group of local residents joined animal tracker Johanna Turner at the Preserve for a lesson in identifying animals by studying their tracks and scat.
Turner is a self-taught tracker who introduced the group to differences in prints commonly found in the Preserve. These included bear, fox and mountain lions. She brought with her casts of some of these animals’ prints, spending time to illustrate the differences inherent in all canine (coyote, fox) and feline (mountain lion, bobcat) species. She then explained how to differentiate the prints of a mountain lion, for example, from those of a house cat.
The Preserve has several types of animals pass through its acreage, many of whose images have been caught on cameras placed strategically throughout the Preserve and adjacent wild areas. Turner brought some of the images along with her. These sparked conversation as to the safety of the Preserve. Turner was quick to point out that while mountain lions have been known to attack domestic animals, like cats and dogs, people appear to be off limits.
“I would be comfortable going on record that mountain lions don’t attack humans,” she said.
She added that typically bears are not interested in people either, though she cautioned keeping a safe distance if one is seen during a hike.
In addition to providing information about specific animals, tracks can reveal what the animal was doing at the time the tracks were made. For example, when mountain lions are hunting they will try and place their rear feet in the same footprints where their front paws landed, thereby minimizing noise.
Sometimes that doesn’t happen, though. Turner shared a story of a mother mountain lion that was training the art of hunting to her two approximately 6-month-old cubs. Turner said that the adult tracks showed the precision that the mother used in placing her paws to avoid dry leaves and other noise-making vegetation. However, her two cubs didn’t seem overly interested and were running around causing a ruckus evidenced by the scattered ground near the mother’s prints. Most of this comedy was caught on a camera that had been placed in the area.
“The mother was trying to be so stealthy and her babies just weren’t interested,” Turner said with a laugh. “It was funny to see.”
Turner said that the distance between front and rear paw tracks can also indicate what the animal was doing. For example, when a mountain lion is running it creates a broad stride and digs its nails into the soil.
She also said that the contents of an animal’s scat (waste) can indicate what type of animal was in the area. She said that bears are notorious for eating just about anything and that she had actually seen bear scat that had a plastic grocery bag incorporated in it.
After being briefed on what to look for, the group set off deeper into the Rosemont Preserve. Immediately the smell of sage and other native flora filled the air. Turner quickly found some tracks that she had the group gather around. She said it often surprised her how easy it can be to find tracks.
“Go up any of the trails to Mt. Lukens, for example, and you’ll see tracks,” she said, “especially in the morning before people come through.” She added that animals, like people, use the most direct, easiest route, which are often trails.
A little farther up the trail in a clearing was a camera set up with several motion detectors. Turner said these are usually installed at a point where water may flow and meets an animal trail.
Preserve docent Marta Wiggins said that outdoor teachings, like the one provided by Turner, is a good way to remind people that they’re not alone.
“These types of lessons bring awareness of ‘other’ citizens,” Wiggins said. “It’s their home and it’s important we’re good neighbors.”
For further information about upcoming events, visit http://www.arroyosfoothills.org/rosemont/.