The Blue Sky Wildlife
Formed in the spring of 2006 with more than a dozen members, the Blue Sky Tracking Team is sponsored by Friends of Blue Sky Canyon.
The primary focus of the BSTT is to monitor local wildlife, thereby promoting the preservation of wildlife habitat in Blue Sky and the surrounding areas. In conjunction with the San Diego Tracking Team, quarterly wildlife surveys are conducted along a designated transect to monitor the presence or absence of key wildlife species.
Membership in the BSTT is open to anyone with an interest and desire to help preserve and protect the flora and fauna of Blue Sky and the surrounding area. There is no charge to become a member, and tracker/naturalist training (a requirement for performing wildlife surveys) is available for free and/or a low cost through the San Diego Tracking Team (sdtt.org).
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Blue Sky Tracking Team, please contact the team leader, Anna Gateley-Stanton, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes re: Findings During Transect Surveys
What started out as a very chilly day (46 degrees), turned into a beautiful fall morning with a slight breeze and occasional fluffy clouds. The sky darkened once or twice above the five of us, but cleared again. We were all very glad the storm did not produce the threatened downpour we had been anticipating. What a great day to be outside in Blue Sky.
We collected our data working our way backwards again to take advantage of the shadows the morning sun would cast on any tracks we might find. But instead of finding plenty of tracks after the recent rains, our biggest find was that the easement road had again been scraped and graded…this time in preparation for the water district’s new gas line. The thought of all the coast horned lizards that were destroyed was not pleasant, but it wasn’t the first time the road had been graded and will not be the last, either.
Due to the recent rains, the tracks we found were limited to mostly deer, with a couple coyote tracks as well, but our scat sightings were much more productive. We found coyote, bobcat, fox, and raccoon. We even found roadrunner scat again. In one section, we followed a trail a ways and found several piles of deer scat, one of which was very fresh and shiny. This is the first time we have found deer scat on our transect (photo left column, middle).
It took us a while, but we eventually agreed one scat had a few undigested pieces of deer hoof. A couple of other scats had undigested insect parts, which may have been legs. But the best mystery was the yellow scat…one of the scats we found was white at one end and dark at the other, but when crushed, it turned yellow (not sure what had been eaten, but we thought there may have been a chemical reaction).
Watching the ground for tracks and scat makes finding other things easy, like a trapdoor spider burrow on the easement road (see photo, left column, top). This one was built straight down, perpendicular to the road. Before this, we all thought they were built at an angle into the side of a bank!
Of course, we didn’t spend all our time looking down…while climbing up the hill in Section 4, we took a few minutes to watch the graceful hunting technique of a northern harrier.
What an enjoyable way to spend a fall morning!
After several months without rain, the five of us were not expecting to find many tracks, and we didn’t. We also didn’t find scat as we headed backwards along the transect. But we did find woodrat tracks, smelled skunk, and as we were heading down the steep hill of Section 3, someone noticed a doe and two fawns on the east-facing slope, north of the pipeline easement road. What a great sight!
In addition, we found tracks or scat of: bobcat, coyote, gray fox, mule deer, raccoon, and long-tailed weasel. Yes, weasel! This was a first for our transect. All in all, it was an exciting day, even though our evidence numbers were low.
Starting out, the three of us were pretty optimistic, as it had rained a mere four days earlier. The possibility of seeing lots of tracks was pretty good. Unfortunately, we still found more scat than tracks, even with the recent rain.
We had decided to cover the transect in the reverse direction this time, just to change things up, and boy, were we glad. Shortly after starting section 6, we found mountain lion scat (photo at left). We hadn’t found evidence of lion since November 2006. The diameter was slightly less than one inch, but the length, when added together, was 14 inches…definitely mountain lion. We also found more lion scat in the next section, and the total length of that sample was over 15 inches (see photo).
Of course we found the usual scat of coyote, bobcat, and gray fox. Most of the tracks were mule deer, but we also found one area with raccoon tracks.
Shivering in the 40 degree weather, four trackers started out on a foggy morning to see what evidence we could find. The ground was still slightly damp from the rains five days earlier. While we didn’t find anything unusual, we did see lots of tracks (probably because of the rain and mud) and an equal amount of scat. Most of the track were mule deer (photo at right), and the majority of the scat was bobcat, with some coyote and fox thrown in. We found a couple skunk digs (photo left column, bottom), and as was expected this time of year, we found the mule deer had been browsing on grass, deer weed, and sedge.
Two of us (thanks Kathy!) started out through the Reserve to the transect starting point. It had rained about a week before, so we had hopes of finding quite a few tracks, and we weren’t disappointed. We found about as many tracks as we did scat, which is unusual. We found several raccoon tracks and a skunk dig. Of course, we also found scat and tracks from the usual Reserve residents—mule deer, coyote, bobcat, and gray fox. We also found evidence of cottontails, ground squirrels, and other small rodents.
While we were heading down the slope that makes up Section 4, we spied a family of three white-tailed kites all in different trees. Two of them were youngsters, and one kept calling out for a free meal, but the adult held fast and never brought any food.
Four of us headed down the trail in search of tracks, scat, and browse, and whatever other evidence we might find. It had rained the month before, but the ground was hard and dry. To our surprise, we found over sixty scat samples from raccoon, skunk, bobcat, deer, coyote, and gray fox. We only found 13 tracks, and those belonged to coyote, mule deer, kangaroo rat, and raccoon. We also found evidence of cottontails and small rodents.
In section 5, we also found two young coast horned lizards, in two separate locations. The first, smallest youngster was hanging out near some harvester ants, anticipating a meal. After posing for a photo, he quickly wriggled under the loose sand and DG, leaving only one exposed eye to give away his position. It was quite a sight to watch how quickly he disappeared.
A little farther along the trail, we also had another good photo op—this one involved a Jerusalem cricket, crawling across the trail. It was not something we would include on our data sheet, but it was fun to look at.
One of the last things we saw was a roadrunner. Of course, it was nowhere near as close to us as the last time we saw this large, swift bird, but exciting just the same.
Due to the recent rains, there was lots of overgrowth on the transect this quarter, but the three of us were determined to complete our task. The only tracks we found were from mule deer, raccoon, and roadrunner. There was an unusually high amount of deer browse on mustard and deer weed. We also found a few skunk digs and lots of scat from coyote, raccoon, bobcat, and gray fox.
Speaking of scat, in sections 1 and 2, we found turkey scat. Yes, turkeys have made it to Blue Sky! While climbing up the hill that makes up section 3, we watched a Cooper’s hawk fly to its nest in a tree. While we couldn’t see them, we heard young hawks begging for a meal.
As we carefully picked our way along the overgrown easement down section 4, we stopped to watch as a coyote headed up the opposite hill in section 5. We tried and tried, but once we were in the area of section 5, we were unable to find any tracks left by our canine friend.
More Tracking team reports