September 21, 2011

Tracking wildlife on the Sonoma Coast . . .

 Marbled Godwit and Willet. Bodega Bay Winter Migration ~ Photo by Tom Reynolds

Bobcat at Spring Lake ~ photo by Tom Reynolds

A big draw for people who visit and live on our Sonoma Coast is the vast open space, rolling tree studded hills, abundant creeks and waterways, and bountiful wildlife. Those of us who live here and hike the hills regularly, often don't think about the diverse population of wild creatures that live among us. One of the animals that call the Sonoma Coast home is the often maligned mountain lion. 

Photo from Felidae Conservation Fund

In August, a blog reader left a comment about a mountain lion sighting in the Bodega Dunes Campground here in Bodega Bay, CA. I responded to the comment by contacting Zara from The Felidae Conservation Fund and tracker Jim Sullivan. My email to Jim prompted him to go out to Bodega Dunes and check the site for tracks. 

The following is Jim's email response to me:


I went out to the Bodega Dunes campground yesterday and spent an hour and a half walking around the perimeter and some of the densely vegetated areas in the center.  I found tracks and scat of bobcats, coyotes, raccoons and foxes, but no sign of a cougar.  I talked to one of the maintenance people and he hadn’t heard about the incident...and thought he would have.  There is plenty of good habitat there in which a big cat could hide.  But lots of people camping out there have dogs, which I suspect would make it undesirable for any but a very young, hungry cat. Usually when there is a cat around, the dogs bark more or less all night.  (There have been lots of sightings east of the highway, so I don’t have any problem imagining a cat in that area.)

Your story about the raccoons is relevant...they make a horrendous scream and lots of people have confused that noise with cougar screams, including me when I was younger.  Your contact mentioned that they saw deer tracks going through the campsite...if you do make contact with them, try to get them to describe these tracks...normally tracks from deer who are not frightened will be fairly evenly spaced and not more than a couple of feet apart.  If a cat was chasing a deer, the tracks would be clustered in a gallop or pronk pattern, with quite a bit of space between groups of 4 prints.

(Incidentally, the ranger I talked to told me an interesting story.  He was in the bar at the Tides restaurant (Friday evening, I think)  and everybody saw a buck trapped in the mud out in the middle of the bay, just standing there.  After about an hour or so the tide came in enough to float it, and it swam away.)"

Note: 'pronk' means to "jump straight up" similar to a kangaroo.

haven't heard back from the reader who left the comment. They indicated that they moved from the campsite they occupied. Jim offered to talk with the person and had more questions about what they saw and heard.

JIM SULLIVAN is a 4th generation Sonoma county native, lifetime naturalist, with a degree in Biology.  He graduated from Notre Dame, studied in Vienna, UC Santa Barbara and San Francisco State, as well as on going studies at SRJC and SSU.  A long time environmental and social justice activist, he served 4 years in the Infantry and was instrumental in launching the Natural Foods Movement..  He is a retired Landscape Contractor, an award winning Plein Air landscape painter, and an internationally certified tracker.  If you're interested in working with Jim, he can be contacted through his website: Animal Tracking and Bird Language.  Jim offers: animal tracking, guided tours, bird language, species hikes, workshops and consultations.  

I highly recommend a tracking experience with Jim Sullivan. A couple of years ago Jim took my family and a friend out for a day of tracking. Jim is an engaging and interesting person with a curious and playful spirit. The day was fun and rewarding for all of us.

Osprey eating breakfast ~ photo by Tom Reynolds