Investigating Old Scat

Connor was investigating this old scat that he found on a log, or I probably wouldn’t have noticed it. Although the age seems to have deteriorated the form significantly, making it a bit more difficult to tell what sort of animal might have left it, there are really not too many options for what it could have come from. I suppose the first thing to decide is whether it’s a scat at all – as it did occur to me that I should consider whether it might be a cough pellet. In the end, I don’t think it is a cough pellet because it appears to be full of fibrous vegetative matter, and birds that leave cough pellets like this wouldn’t be eating so much vegetation.

Eliminating birds leaves us with mammals. I think we can eliminate the small mammals just due to the size/volume. It seems conceivable that a mink or marten could leave a scat of this size/volume, and certainly anything larger could, though normally we might expect to see a larger pile. Given the paucity of mammal species on Baranof Island, we’re left with mink, marten, river otter, deer, and bear. The presence of so much roughage would seem to make the mustelids unlikely candidates.

The placement of the scat was sort of odd, though unfortunately I didn’t get a picture that showed it well. The picture titled ‘split cedar’ shows the upper part of the small log it was resting on. It’s possible the log received only a partial pile, though it didn’t seem like there was anything super obvious on the ground around it (although I didn’t check for that specifically). It may be that the stuff that ended up on the log has persisted longer.

At this point, if I were forced to guess, I would say deer. Maybe a smaller one that had a somewhat loose (rather than pellet) movement. The color/consistency seems better for deer, and there’s quite a bit of fairly woody looking material (which I wouldn’t really expect to see with bears, and certainly not with mustelids). The presence of so much woody looking material makes me wonder about the age of this, I wouldn’t expect it to be around for months (especially with as much rain as we’ve had this year), but on the other hand it’s my impression deer don’t do too much browsing of woody material when there’s abundant fresh leafy growth.


  • What do you think produced this scat?
  • How old is the scat?
  • Is it possible to draw any conclusions from the consistency/length of the fibrous material? (that is, if all we had to go on was the fibrous material, would we be able to tell whether it was a deer or a bear that had chewed it up?)

Please leave a comment with your thoughts or ideas on this mystery.

Posted in Mystery, tracking, tracks and sign | 2 Comments

Brown Bear Swimming Hole

I recently got around to processing and publishing some trail cam video of a bear swimming in a muskeg pool. Be sure to watch the whole thing to see the surprise at the end.

Posted in bears | Tagged | Leave a comment

Toads around Town

When I was growing up during the early and mid-80s, I remember finding toads from time to time. They were commonly found at the upper end of Swan Lake (by where there was a playground at the far side of the Moller park track), also in muskegs, and sometimes even just squished on the road. There was one memorable experience I recall of a family outing to Heart Lake when we found bunches of very small toads all over. At the time I didn’t know what was going on, but now I realize it was probably the day they were leaving the lake, having transformed fully out of the tadpole stage of life.

By the time I reached my teen years, I don’t remember running into toads so much. Perhaps I stopped paying as much attention, but even if they were around then in similar numbers, it was not long before they largely disappeared from the road system. After finishing up my time at school and returning to live full-time, I heard many stories of people remembering all the toads that used to be around town, but had not been seen in a while. Locations that featured prominently in these stories included Swan Lake and Thimbleberry Lake. I talked to people who spent time at remote sites (Salmon Lake, Lake Suloia, and South Baranof Hatcheries, for example), and heard that toads were still common at those locations. Over the years, I heard about maybe a handful reports of toads seen around town of single toads. (I just learned yesterday, that someone in my neighborhood had a toad in her yard for 3 years in a road during this time period.) The only toads I saw prior to last year were one on Kruzof Island back in 2006, and a handful of others at remote locations up at West Chichagof or down on South Baranof Island.

Last year Rowan found a couple of toads along Thimbleberry Lake, which was a bit of a surprise to me. This year she found 4 or 5 again in the same location, so I was not entirely surprised when I heard this week that someone had been hiking along the trail and seen a good number (50+) of small toads along the trail (it sounded like near where Rowan had found the larger toads). The day after they had been found (and the same day I heard about it) Connor, Rowan, and I went up to look. We didn’t find such large numbers, but Rowan found 4 or 5, and Connor found another 1 or 2, so that was exciting. I later heard from someone else who was curious about them after seeing a half dozen or more along the trail during a walk.

I echo the sentiments of the person who commented to me that it’s been years since there were (m?)any toads around town, so it’s good if they are coming back.


  • Where (and when) have you seen toads over the years?
  • What caused the decline of toads along the road system?
  • Has there been a small persistent population along the road system, or are the ones we’ve been seeing lately coming from toads that moved back into the area from places nearby where they did not die off?
  • Has anyone started seeing more toads in other locations around town?
Posted in amphibians, Mystery | 2 Comments

Indian River Valley

Connor and I went for what amounted to a conditioning hike up Indian River valley. Motivated in part by an odd club fungus my brother had noticed on our earlier trip, but short on time, we managed to made it to the upper end of the long muskeg and back to the trailhead in under three hours. We could have made it faster if it hadn’t taken a while to find the fungus and then we got distracted by other things. The approach reminded me of how I used to hike more often (before I went with kids most of the time and/or got distracted by too many different things to keep up a good pace). It was actually nice to get up the valley in a hurry, have some time to look around, and then get back in a timely fashion all without feeling like I was going to burst a lung along the way. It feels good to feel stronger and capable of such outings (it seems like it’s been a while). Connor was able to keep up fairly well, though on the way back he was getting tired.

Several of the things I found of particular interest I photographed, and will probably write separate posts on in the coming days (or maybe months, given how things have gone with other intended posts). Non-photographed items I made note of included a green leafhopper or two I wasn’t able to capture, a spider that walked on water (not new to me) and then went down into the water with its own air bubble (which I’ve heard of, but had not seen here before). Also, a Red-tailed Hawk was calling regularly again during the latter part of our time up in the muskegs (presumably the same one as on Monday?).

Posted in daily, photojournal | Tagged | Leave a comment

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Most years Golden-crowned Kinglets are common in the coniferous forests around Sitka. Despite their small size, they manage to find enough enough to keep warm through the long chilly nights of winter. During the day they often seem to forage in loose flocks with chickadees and Brown Creepers. Assuming you can hear the high pitched call notes they constantly make to stay in touch with each other, they are more often heard than seen. If you can’t hear those notes, you may had a hard time seeing them very much at all, as they are constantly on the move and often high up in the canopy. On a recent visit to Sage Beach, I felt fortunate to be able to able to watch and even grab a couple of pictures of some Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging on the spruces and hemlocks overlooking the shore.


  • How long do Golden-crowned Kinglets typically live?
  • Are local birds resident throughout the year, or do they come and go with the seasons, with different birds being present in the winter compared to the summer?
  • What are they finding on the trees?
  • How much do they need to eat each day to survive?

Posted in birds | Leave a comment

An Assortment of Observations

My brother departed after a week-long visit yesterday. During the time he was here, my time was filled with newly restarted school routines and spending time with him. As a result I was not able to keep up with posting entries here. I have several photojournal posts to do which will (hopefully soon) be added (though backdated). In addition, there’s the ever increasing list of posts about various observations and/or mysteries that I find interesting or substantive enough to highlight by devoting a separate post to them. In any case, my intention is to get back into routine of daily posting going forward.

Wednesdays are looking like one of the less busy days of my week this Fall, with only the Tlingit class in the afternoon and ultimate (frisbee) in the evening as part of my regular schedule. This morning I went on a walk around Totem Park. On the way I noticed river bed just below the road bridge seemed distinctly different to me. I’ll try to find some reasonable photos from the past for comparison and write up a separate post on that later.

At the end of the walk, I spent some time with Connor and Rowan at Sage Beach. There was an interesting looking cloud in the distance above downtown. It seemed rather sculpted. We also had a chance to watch some Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging in the shore-side conifers. Several (4-5+) Song Sparrows were in the area, with some engaging in territorial behavior (or so it seemed to me). My current best guess is that things are still shaking out between the birds for winter territories. I also wonder if the day length has something to do with it, as the current day length is similar to when they are setting nesting territories in the spring. Perhaps there is a spike of hormones or something.

I heard a report of 50 or more small toads (probably just emerged after transforming out of tadpole stage) seen yesterday along Thimbleberry Lake trail. It sounded like they were in the same area Rowan had previously found toads. Rowan and Connor were interested in looking for them (especially Rowan), so we took a trip out there this afternoon. While Rowan and Connor were looking, I checked out some of the erosion features along the trail. It appeared that an impressive amount of water had flowed along some sections approaching the large hill up to the saddle. In some places it looked like the ditch alongside had mostly held the water, though there was significant erosion. It was interesting to see some of the different layers that had been eroded through. My impression was a lot of the underlying surface was either placed there when the trail was built, or was glacial till. I’m leaning towards the till. In another section where it was clear the water had simply flowed down the whole width of the trail, I tried to imagine what it had been like last Saturday when the water was moving all the rock and pushing down the vegetation as it moved down the slopes towards Thimbleberry Lake.

Rowan found 3 or 4 small toads and Connor another after a half an hour or so of looking. After I had taken photos (but the kids were still taking their’s), I waited along the trail and ended up speaking briefly with someone who was coming up with another person and a small child. One was carrying a bucket, and the other (who was carrying the child) asked me if I had seen any toads on the trail. I mentioned that while we hadn’t seen any on the trail, my kids had found some nearby. I had the impression he had heard about the toads being seen and they were looking to see some, so I suggested they check out where my kids were. He said it had been years since he had seen toads around, and he was glad they were starting to come back.

On a less local note, there was a report of a likely Black-headed Gull in Juneau today. They also had one back in May 2011.

Acting on a suggestion my brother made in one of our conversations while he was visiting, today the kids and I upgraded our routine of pre-meal gratitude by also included one (specific) thing we are grateful for about each of the others. Connor and Rowan both had a little trouble being specific, and were a little prone to the back-handed compliment sort of things (“I’m grateful [my sibling] isn’t always obnoxious”). Rowan especially had a bit of a hard time coming up with something to be thankful regarding Connor (which reminds me that she had a harder time when we first started pre-meal gratitude a year or two ago). I suspect with a little practice it will get easier.

(photos to come)

Posted in amphibians, kids and nature, photojournal | Leave a comment