Walking In Their Footsteps: Looking for Wildlife Tracks in Coyote Valley

by Paul Ledesma, Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Last Sunday morning was bright and crisp. The sun was low in the sky, casting long shadows and causing the morning dew to shimmer on the hillside. Conditions were perfect at the Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve for tracking wildlife. Recent rains turned the ground into a thick clay gumbo, and even more recent sun had dried it out, naturally preserving the impressions of paws, feet, and hooves.

Setting off on the Arrowhead Trail. Photo credit Paul Ledesma.

25 hikers gathered at the start of the Preserve’s Arrowhead Trail. The walk was guided by Tanya Diamond and Ahiga Snyder, the co-principals of Pathways for Wildlife, a research organization specializing in identifying and monitoring wildlife movement. Tanya and Ahiga’s passion for understanding the movement of the valley’s coyotes, bobcats, deer and other animals was contagious and the group stopped every few yards to observe and identify another paw print or piece of scat left by one of the Preserve’s inhabitants.  Questions arose–were we looking at a coyote track or just someone’s pet dog that was (improperly) let out on the trail? Which direction was a deer leaping? Is that the scat of a coyote or a bobcat or…something else? Everything the wildlife left behind became an opportunity for Tanya and Ahiga to teach.

Currently, Tanya and Ahiga are tracking bobcats by fitting them with radio collars to better understand the movement of medium-sized animals in Coyote Valley. They have collared 25 bobcats to date and are mapping their collars’ radio signals remotely. On this day, the duo were bound and determined to find bobcat tracks for the morning hikers.  As the sun climbed into the bright blue midday sky, the group at last found the elusive bobcat track. Partially obscured by the grasses growing on the trail’s edge and about the size of a silver dollar, a feline paw print had been set in the hard clay.
How to identify bobcat tracks: a guide. Photo credit Paul Ledesma.

By understanding how bobcats, foxes, deer and others move through the valley, policy-makers and the public can make informed decisions about how best to protect the Coyote Valley ecosystem. As we learned on Sunday, this understanding is valuable for anyone who enjoys learning about their connection with the wildlife around them

To learn more about Tanya Diamond and Ahiga Snyder’s research, come to their presentation “How Wildlife Move in Silicon Valley.” The talk will be on Wednesday, February 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Mitchell Park Community Center, on 3700 Middlefield Rd., in Palo Alto. It’s a free event but space is limited. Go to www.greenfoothills.org/event for more details.

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