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Some Scat

I thought I’d post a scat entry with photos.  Some I’m sure of, many I’m not.  Not all have size references.  Sorry about that.  I’m now starting to carry around a penny which I’ll put with future photos.  A penny is exactly 3/4″ in diameter.

Breaking up scat helps in identification and is a window into what the animal was eating.  Smelling scat (do not smell raccoon scat as they can carry a parasite that is fatal to humans) also holds clues.

Animals communicate vast amounts of information through markings and scat.  Many times I’ve watched Koda intently smell an area, then urinate on it.

Koda with his nose in a squirrel hole

Koda with his nose in a squirrel hole

One time he was smelling a log that had no obvious scat on it.  Because he is still a pup, he started licking the log to ‘uptake’ the smell better.  I got down and smelled the log and was overpowered by a extremely pungent smell.  Other times he spends a lot of time smelling an area and when I put my nose to the ground, I can’t discern anything.

One time in California I was at the tracking club meeting.  We were circling a large field and found mountain lion scat.  The group leader advised everyone to get down and sniff it.  One whiff of that scat and you’ll never forget it.  It made the hairs inside my nose stand on end for a long time.  Imagine your kitty litter box, then multiply that smell 10-fold.

Last year in the spring I had both my dogs with me in Wyoming.  My old dog started making a beeline for the woods.  I followed her to a fairly fresh turkey kill, probably from a coyote.  The kill was in the nearby vicinity of the cabin and the magpies were already on it.  The 2 dogs spent lots of time chewing and further demolishing it. Early the next morning, on the walkway in front of my house, a coyote left his fresh scat.  My old dog smelled it, but before I could hardly look at it, the 6 month old dog gobbled it up.  Koda was still learning about smells and scats, and eating it is another way to really remember it.  (I, personally, will not go that far!)  I had the distinct impression this particular scat was left for my dogs as a calling card, as if to say, ‘this is my territory and that was my turkey you fooled with.’

I’m a crazy beginner at this.  I find it’s a fun way to explore what’s happening around me. Learning scat takes practice and lots of direct experience.  I take photos, then go home and look at Mammal Tracks & Signs by Mark Elbroch.  Elbroch’s book contains tons of color photos throughout.  He includes photos of tracks, scat, as well as sign.  The book is thick at over 750 pages. Too bad he doesn’t include ‘scratch and sniff’.

Unknown scat

This one's unknown, found in the woods nearby

Marmot in hole with scat above

See Marmot scat at top of photo. Marmot's in his hole.

pack rat scat

Years of pack rat scat.

Canid scat

Could be coyote or wolf. 25% of wolf scat is coyote size.

Bobcat I think.  Smells like it.

Smelled like a cat. Bobcat I think. Cat's digest 90% of the bones.

Owl droppings

Owl on tree. Notice the white droppings.

Bear sweet smelling scat in the spring

Big pile of bear scat. All forbs/grasses. They clean themselves in the spring with grass.

Mustelid I think.  Smelly and strong.

Some kind of mustelid I think. It was skunky smelling.

Another mustelid, I think.  On the same trail as the other scat.

Another mustelid, I think. On the same trail as the other scat.

Getting to know my neighborhood at twilight

There’s a wonderful little forest next to my house.  Its where seven springs emerge out of the limestone that feed the cabins around here.  A trail leads through the woods to the meadows beyond.  Even though these woods are not large, and are surrounded by cabins, its a bustling place.My Little Woods

Deer, turkeys, coyotes, moose (on the lower end its marshy with willows), black bear and sometimes grizzlies, and plenty of small mammals frequent the area.  I’ve been trying to get to know my neighborhood, so I walk through the woods, exploring its smells and tracks, at least several times a week, mostly at dusk.

Last week I called a Great Horned Owl.  We had a nice conversation, back and forth.  He was roosting somewhere on the hillside, when a band of turkeys came noisily through the brush.  Maybe he didn’t like them scaring his potential dinner every which way, because he burst through the trees and flew down to the lower ends of the forest.  I did have to wonder if some of those turkeys’ young would be a nice meal for him this spring.

Several years ago, after the Point Reyes fires in California, the Park Service obtained money for Spotted Owl research.   I was lucky enough to help in the three year study.  My area was in a State Park with Redwoods and Douglas Fir, some of it old growth.  The first season was about locating the owls.  We learned to imitate their calls.  Owls, I found out, don’t care how exact your call is.  If I kind-of sounded like a spotted owl, they’d call back.

The next season we ‘moused’ the owls in order to find their nests and estimate the number of breeding pairs.  We brought lab mice into the field.  Since we already had an idea of the territory of the owls from the year before, we hiked to those areas, called in the owl, put the mouse on a stick and the male would take the mouse back to the female on the nest.  The third year we counted mature chicks.  The main predator of Spotted Owls is the Great Horned Owl–“The Lion of the Night”.

Helping with that study I learned a little about looking for owls.  The best way to find an owl is to spot their droppings around the base of a tree. Droppings at base of trees indicate owl roosts I’ve looked for this before in those little woods and easily found the roosts of Great Horned Owls and their pellets.  Pellets are not owl scat but the undigested parts of their food, regurgitated up in a large pellet.  If you open the pellet up, the evidence of their meal(s) is right there in the form of bones and hair.

Tonight though I was in for a surprise.  I was tooling around the woods at dusk like I do several times a week.  I decided to follow a deer run under some brush when I spotted some droppings at the base of a snag.   I bent down to get a closer look, and spooked a bird out from the top of the snag.  The bird flew to a nearby tree.  I felt there was something unusual about this bird so I told the dog lie down and I slowly crawled out from the low hanging branches and looked up.  It took me a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the dim light and understand what I was seeing, as at first the bird seemed like a large robin.  It was a small owl, about 7 inches long, just as curious about me as I was about it. I adjusted my eyes I sat down on a log, watched and talked to the bird.  I found a pellet beside the log, about 1/2 the size of a Great Horned pellet.  After a long time, I crawled around and hung out with the bird from a closer and better angle. The owl wasn't afraid The owl wasn’t afraid at all.  In fact, he reminded me of Spotted Owls.  When we did our study, I was sworn to secrecy as to where the owls were located.  Spotted Owls are so tame that they can easily be approached and because they are endangered, we were especially careful.  This owl even started falling asleep while the dog and I sat there (Spotteds spend a lot of time sleeping too).

Hanging with that owl, I could see why there is a lore about them being ‘wise’.  Looking in his eyes, so close, he had an intensely calming effect on me.  Koda and I bade our goodbyes for the night and I went home to look up his name.  The Northern Saw-Whet Owl. I know Screech Owls also live in those woods because I hear them frequently.  But so does the ‘Lion of the Night’.  Stay safe little owl.Northern Saw-Whet Owl