Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Chapter

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PNWHerper
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Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Chapter

Post by PNWHerper »

So, I wanted to share with ya'll an excellent example of why tracking herps matters. I was out this weekend in Central WA state (Mostly Grant County) with some students doing an overnight field trip focused on wildlife tracking. We went to a location I had never been before, that included some sandy roads and open sandy areas interspersed with sagebrush and rabbitbrush.

While exploring this area, the sun warmed the surrounding more and more, till there was an air temperature close to 60 degrees. The ground was significantly warmer. I honestly did not expect to see any herps on this trips, in part because it had actually snowed a few days ago and there had been a lot of cold, rainy weather.

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While we walked along, we found the tracks of many things, like coyotes, magpies, sage sparrows, pocket mice, beetles. Then we reached a spot where I saw this mound created by ants. The sand was neatly sprinkled with tiny pebbles that the ants had thrown out of their burrow as they excavated. I knew from experience that this was a promising area to look for a particular species of lizard.

And, sure enough I saw a trail that I immediately recognized from a previous encounter with this animal under these conditions. Here is the trail. Notice where the red arrow is pointing? That is where it emerged out of the sand and where the trail travels away from.

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Here is a close up of the trail itself showing the belly drag and marks of the feet. In this case direction of travel is left to right, indicated by the dragging toes.

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When I saw the trail, I got very excited and challenged the students to follow it out and tell me what they see. In short order we found the animal peacefully at the end of the trail, soaking up the warming rays. :beer:

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I got a huge thrill out of finding this, the pygmy short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii) at this time of year. It was on Saturday, March 9. According to the sources I was reading, they are generally not active till April. At first I thought this might be a fluke, but as we wandered around more along the dunes we found a bunch of trails just like this one. So there was activity from a bunch of these little pygmy horned lizards. This is the earliest I have heard of them being active in WA state.

Here are a few more things from that first horned lizard we found...

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Notice the trail comes out of the right and ends at the little pit in the sand. If you look close you can see the impression of the lizards tail and hind legs where it was laying.

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These are the tracks made when this little guy decided he wanted to be out of sight and buried himself. They are pretty quick and can disappear in a few seconds.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/QtSCV1NsTOw[/youtube]

There is the video I shot of the process. The little butt wiggle at the end is pretty funny to watch. Does the job of covering with sand pretty well, though.

And here is the final photo I have, of him poking his head out to take a look at us.

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All in all, the point I wanted to make was that without the focus I had on the tracks I would have never seen this lizard nor been aware of the others out in this environment. My own biased expectations of it being too early in the year for this species to be active did not stand in the way of finding them because I was curious enough to study their tracks and to remember what their trails looked like under different conditions.

Had the conditions been different, the trails would have been harder to notice. But, the advantage of training yourself to look at minute details as field herpers easily translates to tracking and vice versa. These are very complementary practices, and tracking has really helped me be a much more successful field herper. I hope that with time, others here see the value of it and learn to use it in their own field outings. I am not the best or most experienced field herper, and am only a slightly better tracker. But, I do have a passion for both and hope that it will be infectious! :thumb:

Hope you enjoyed!

Fil

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Rich in Reptiles
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Re: Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Cha

Post by Rich in Reptiles »

That is so awesome!! If Tennessee had more sandy areas i would love to try this out and get good at tracking herps.

corey.raimond
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Re: Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Cha

Post by corey.raimond »

Nice! I had read something about horned lizards in Kansas not coming out until May, I was thinking it was untrue, but now I know it must be untrue.

-Corey

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ratsnakehaven
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Re: Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Cha

Post by ratsnakehaven »

Fil, I had thought the same thing about regal horned lizards in Southern AZ, but found a juvenile out and about a couple weeks ago in my yard. Maybe it had been disturbed by me hanging out it the same area, but I think herps are often out earlier than most folks give them credit for. I remember once watching an adult Blanding's turtle sitting near the shore of a pond, under water, waiting for the ice to melt along the edge.

Terry

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Jeremy Westerman
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Re: Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Cha

Post by Jeremy Westerman »

I must be tired I tried to "like" this as in Facebook and searched for the thingy to click in dumbfounded frustration before I realized I have been up too long. Well here you go :thumb:

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PNWHerper
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Re: Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Cha

Post by PNWHerper »

Thank you all for the wonderful comments! :beer: :D

Rich in Reptiles,

What you do have in Tennessee is muddy spots. Keep your eyes open and you will find tracks and sign to help with you herping. I think that tracking can be used in any environment, but that it takes practice to figure out what the most practical search images are in your area. It might be checking muddy spots and looking for scats and sheds.

Corey,

You should investigate it for yourself and see what you find. I bet you will have a blast looking. :thumb:

Terry,

I agree. I think that is part of the advantage of and potential scientific purpose for field herping... seeking out the herps whether or not our expectations and biases say they should be there at that time of year. The most present we can be with what is actually there, the better we can understand the world around us.

John,

Thanks! I appreciate hearing that from you. :D

Jeremy,

You crack me up! :thumb:

Jkinnally
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Re: Why Tracking Matters (Finding Herps): Repost from NW Cha

Post by Jkinnally »

Thanks for a great post PNWherper. Great pics and thank you for sharing i have been teaching tracking for years now and once someone starts it is a skill set they will have forever. One of the greatest benefits of tracking is you will never look at the world the same, and that skilled observation will carry over into many other aspects . All new students say to themselves i wish i had learned this a long time ago. which i am sure you can agree with me on.

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