Friday, December 27, 2013

Tracker Trains 250 Canadian Soldiers

Local Man-Tracker Trains 250 Canadian Soldiers

Creston Search and Rescue member Bart Bjorkman recently trained 250 soldiers over a nine day period in the science of counter-tracking during an exercise put on by the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright. Counter tracking is how to avoid, deceive or deter trained military canine teams and combat trackers from active pursuit.

Bjorkman commented that it was an honor to be selected to provide the training seminars. The current military philosophy is “Train to Excite” requiring “a publicly recognized individual in the field of tracking to provide distinctive training and expertise to the Canadian Patrol Concentration”. According to the military guidelines, “the purpose of bringing in a public figure of renowned status is to amplify and excite the participants”.

Bjorkman, a professional tracker, is a regional resource for the Provincial Emergency Program. He was featured last year with fellow tracker Darcy Fear in the nationally televised Search and Rescue reality show “Call Out”.

Over the past two years, Bjorkman, who is ex-military himself, has been training Canadian soldiers in “tracking” with fellow instructor Kelly Carnochan from Vernon.

For his work with the Canadian Patrol Concentration, Bjorkman was honored by Colonel Paul and Regimental Sergeant Major Colbert with a “Recognition of Service” to the overall success of the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre’s Wainwright exercise.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tracking Dinosaurs

The problem with tracking dinosaurs is “what happens when you find one”?

 By our very nature, “trackers” track. We can’t help it. For some, it is an obsession. Some groups such as search and rescue, law enforcement and military trackers, track people. Others, such as naturalists, biologists and hunters track animals; but did you know that there is a very specialized group of trackers who actually track dinosaurs? These scientists study fossilized dinosaur tracks. Their mission is to sleuth out not only what dinosaurs actually looked like, but how they lived.

There are a number of sites in the world where dinosaur tracks are found, and Tuba City Arizona is just such a place. The tracks are located 6 miles east of highway 89 on Route 160. I couldn't help but notice a large home-made sign on the south side of the highway that said, "Dinosaur Tracks" (right around mile marker 316). Actually the word "dinosaur" was misspelled on the sign but I got the message. The track site is located about 600 feet down the dirt road to Moenave that heads north from highway 160.  At the site, there are crude kiosks manned by indigenous Navajo native Americans who are more than willing to show visitors the tracks as well as fossilized dinosaur remains.  A tip is expected - and with my guide...well deserved.

The day that I was at the dinosaur track site, the wind was gusting to over 40 miles per hour. As the area is sandy desert, this amounted to being painfully sand blasted. I would really like to return to the site to study and measure the tracks in more detail – hopefully, it will be a day without the strong winds.

The first thing about the location that caught my attention was the lack of controls or security for the fossils. I suspect that there are very few dinosaur track sites where one can actually walk among the artifacts. The second thing that becomes immediately apparent is the number of fossilized tracks; there are literally hundreds of them.

Dinosaur tracks are considered to be “trace fossils”, also referred to as ichnites or ichnofossils. Trace fossils are formed while the ancient animal is still alive.

As a tracker, it was exciting to see a number of successive prints just waiting to be followed. One set of prints I found had at least seven consecutive footfalls. In the jargon used by the scientists, a series of two or more consecutive tracks is called a “trackway”. While we are discussing jargon, “Paleoicnologists” is the term used for the scientists who study these ancient trace fossils.

While checking out the stride and straddle, it is quickly observed that the stride is quite long. According to formulas developed by R. M. Alexander and others (Alexander, 1989) the estimated speed of travel can be calculated by comparing the length of the footprint to the pace distance. Basically, if the length of the pace (distance between successive prints) is approximately four times the length of the actual track print, it indicates that this animal was running. Although this trackway’s prints were not quite the four to one ratio, it is close enough to consider that this animal was moving quickly.

Subsequent research indicates that the tracks were made by a three toed, bipedal, meat eating Theropod from the lower Jurassic period (between 199.6 and 175.6 million years ago). There were a number of similar tracks of varying sizes in the area ranging from eight to fourteen inches long with strides reaching up to about four feet. It was interesting to see that there was not much straddle. This would indicate a fairly narrow pelvic girdle.

The foot falls were neutrally aligned (no toe in or out). It would be interesting to find out if a dinosaur’s gender can be indicated by “toe-in” like with gender differentiation of ungulates - such as deer.

Although technically a four toed beast, the fourth toe of the Theropod is more like a dogs dew claw and not part of the track. According to Tracking Dinosaurs, by Martin Lockley (1991) the odd number of toes in the track indicates that the dinosaur did not have any horns - or if it did - the horn (or horns) would be located midline on the skull such as the horns found on a Rhinoceros. I didn’t notice any sign of tail drag although I suspect that all bipedal dinosaurs would have had a tail for balance. In a couple of tracks, a distinct claw on each of the three toes is observable. I wonder if claws are found on all dinosaurs or just on the carnivorous species?

With so many unanswered questions, the field of dinosaur tracking is certainly worth investigating further.  However, it really doesn’t matter what your specialty is in tracking.  If it is true that “trackers” track, then we should be able to study any track and get a better understanding of what made the “sign”. You don’t have to be a scientist to study fossilized dinosaur tracks, just a tracker.

Just imagine tracking something that existed 200 million years ago…unbelievable. But after all…Adventure is where you find it.

Bart Bjorkman
Northern Tracker

One of the best sites that I found on the internet about tracking dinosaurs is by Glen J. Kuban

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Finding Rock Art - Tracking Hopi Petroglyphs

Adventure is where you find it. On a mountain biking expedition to the southern United States and Mexico, I found a small US Park where there are Hopi Indian petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are pictorial carvings in rock. The meaning of the pictures are open to speculation, but have generally been lost in time.

I have been fascinated by native rock art for most of my adult life and have spent a great deal of time researching the pictographs of my local tribe in the southern Kootenay region of British Columbia.  So faced with the opportunity to see the rock art of the people who are responsible for the most recognized petroglyph in North America – kokopelli – the humpbacked, flute player, I couldn’t resist.

After visiting the Park’s “rock art” sites, I marveled at how the US Park Service was able to protect the petroglyphs while still making access as easy as possible. Paved roads and groomed trails allow for basically anyone, at almost any age or physical condition to view the sites. However…that was not the experience that I was looking for. 

Chatting up the Park Ranger, I asked her if there were perhaps more remote petroglyph sites that a motivated person might view. The Ranger carefully considered my request and was clearly having an internal debate whether or not to tell me. Thankfully, she decided to let me in on a couple of well guarded secrets. After getting me to promise that if asked, “the information that she was about divulge did not come from her”, she told me about some petroglyph sites outside of the park boundaries… on the Hopi reservation. She warned me however, that the Hopi people do not take kindly to trespassers.

The Park Ranger explained that a couple of weeks earlier, a small group of researchers from a nearby University had been studying the petroglyphs. Apparently, the permission to undertake the study was difficult to obtain from the Hopi people and the expedition was done under stringent supervision and rules of conduct.

Following the crude map provided by my co-conspirator, I navigated across the parched badlands until coming to an erosion that my four wheel drive couldn’t cross. With a small pack and my tracking stick, I continued on foot. For a person accustomed to hiking in the lush mountains of southern British Columbia, the desert was awe inspiring.

Contemplating what I was trying to do, it dawned on me that I didn’t know anything about the Hopi people or where to look for their petroglyphs. It also flashed through my mind that I didn’t have the first clue about safe travelling in the desert... A shortfall that I was about to get my first lesson in.

As I walked along, I occasionally crossed the tracks of the researchers from two weeks before. I marveled at how well the desert preserved the sign. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a seasonal anomaly, or if there were times of the year when weather conditions aged the tracks quicker. While observing the signs left by the researchers, I also noticed some ungulate tracks that looked like small deer prints. This was a bit of a shock….how could deer possibly survive in an area devoid of anything green to eat?  Checking my field tracking card, I found that the tracks were actually caused by pig like beast called a “Peccary” or “Javalina”. As the many tracks indicated, these nasty critters roam in small herds. They can also pose a considerable threat to humans, and in fact have killed people. Wonderful…and no tree in a hundred miles to climb.     

Continuing on, I was faced with the reality that if I was going to find Hopi Petroglyphs, it was going to be more by luck then by design. I just didn’t know where to start looking. Then it occurred to me….the University researchers would have known where to look.

While cutting for sign, it didn’t take long before I found the researcher’s tracks. Even though the sign was at least two weeks old, it was not difficult to follow. My hypotheses proved correct. The results were that I was able to visit more petroglyph sites in a day then I could have found in a month left to my own devices.  As an added bonus, I observed ancient pottery shards that the researchers had uncovered.

The feeling of observing ancient artifacts and rock art – especially in the context of the natural surroundings - cannot be described. The outcome was a life altering experience. Although I have no idea if the petroglyphs have a religious connotation to the Hopi, I acted on some sage advice that when in doubt "act as if you are in a church."
After a delightful day of discovery and adventure, I dragged my worn out carcass back to the truck, literally driving off into the desert sunset.

Contemplating the events, sights and experiences of the day, attempting to understand what I had observed, I realized, as I so often do, just how ill equipped I am to understand the wonders of the experiences I encounter….what a life.

Adventure is where you find it.