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Tracking Club of Marin at Point Reyes

Sorry I forgot my camera.

This morning I finally made it to Tracking Club, a group  I used to frequent when I lived here full time.  The last Sunday of every month the club meets out at Abbots’ Lagoon in Point Reyes.  The club leaders are fabulous, many schooled personally by Jon Young, Tom Brown, or Mark Elbroch. Stations are set up beforehand, people divided into groups, and off we go.

Abbot’s Lagoon is part of Point Reyes National Seashore and a protected sandy dune beach full of habitat.  Its a mile walk out to the lagoon and the tracking often begins with the hike out.  A deer watching us from the shrubs, brush bunnies run bye, and lots of tracks and scat to explore along the way.

My first station with John took the group up along a bluff overlooking the Lagoon.  As we slowly ascended, John pointed out some scat at a crossroads of trails.

“If you were an animal, which way might you travel here?  What would you be doing?  Why do you think the scat is right in the middle of several trail crossings?”  The method is to question, not to answer.  The technique is to get us to think, explore, be interested, become the animal itself, whatever one it might be.  Looked like an old bobcat latrine to me, marking his/her territory.

Higher up we saw some small holes and a ledge with bird droppings, what looked like old pellets, and nearby on the same outcropping was mustelid type scat.  John asked us questions about color, aging, smell, and what we thought the story might have been here.  “Look at the whole environment, all the surroundings”, he kept gently reminding us.

The next station was a muddy trail full of wonderful tracks, some perfect.  Perfect sets of skunk tracks abounded there and a discussion pursued regarding skunk gait–this was a 3-4 gait–and what a lope really was.  Richard got on all fours and demonstrated a skunk lope and how the gait in the mud was so different then the one we always see in the sand.  Besides skunks, there were birds and several types of rodents running around that mud.  “Even mice slip in the mud” Richard observed humorously.

In the final station, Melissa had us investigating an interesting set of large tracks that were grouped like a four-square.  She asked us questions like “Which do you think we the hind feet?”  “What differences do you notice between front and rear feet?”  “How do you think this animal moved?”  Three sets of tracks with long strides eventually made their way into the lagoon.  “What animal might be comfortable going into the water?”

After this, without revealing the animal, we went farther up the dune where a party of these animals had taken place.  Seeing the same tracks made on a slope in dry sand (vs. the wet sand below) was interesting.  What the tracks looked like going uphill vs. downhill was informative.  You could see where the animals finished by sliding down the dune into the water.  What fun.  Otters at play.  And the kick-off was seeing where they had peed, scratched, then rolled in it.  We all smelled that strong mustelid odor.

Later, one of the participants commented that he saw an otter in the water nearby watching us.  I wondered if the otter thought it amusing that we all were smelling his pee.

I love tracking club.  When I started with it, over 3 years ago, the attendance was small, less than 10 people at any time.  Today there were more than 30, including kids, coming from all over the Bay Area.  I love the method of questioning, and taking in all the animal and plant interactions interpreted through track and sign.   This will be my last class this visit.  I can’t wait to do some snow tracking in Wyoming, coming up soon.

So, today we saw tracks/sign for at least these animals that I could figure out:  Skunk, Otter, Coyote, various birds, assorted rodents, deer, Bobcat, Brush Bunnies.  All this just in the small dunes of Abbots Lagoon.

3 Responses

  1. What a great club! I love the various gaits of the weasel family–they run like the intelligent, creative creatures they are.


  2. Hi i am interested in attending the Tracker Club tomorrow but the number listed in the article does not work – do you know a contact or someone I can call to be sure it’s happening (I live about an hour away)…?

    thanks so much


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