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Field Note- Winter 2023

By Daniel Hansche

20 minutes of silence and stillness

Early. Dark. Cold. Again. We sat in the meadow with a thicket at our back to conceal our human forms. It grew light and long; perhaps we’d miss them today–then suddenly the distant dark spots appeared hundreds of meters away emerging from the forest. They moved steadily and surprisingly quick. Soon the view was between us and the wood line. The three bulls slowed down and cracked ice, maybe to access a drink. This was the longest sighting–they lingered and fed. My fingers would freeze with the use of my binoculars, then retreat to my pockets–a frequent routine. I was relieved when the bison moved into the forest as my fingers were ready to be released from the tension but it would also have been easy to sit there all morning in the overcast dawn.

Bison Dust Bath

With an hour remaining for our morning session, we headed to a site found the previous day. An unlikely location for some–the recent digging of a foundation on the edge of the village had left a huge pile of lofty sand and somehow a bison had wandered to the right place and left some gorgeous footprints. While a German shepherd barked loud and without reason, we mixed and poured plaster and left it to set in the tracks. Curiosity lingered as we puzzled about the origin of the tracks–where had these bison come from? Surely there would be a nearby forest from which they had emerged. We back-tracked them into a distant meadow where there were far more bison prints than we had yet seen, and straight to the wood edge.

Bison Rubbing Post Photo credit: Lee Gutteridge

Within meters of the edge, there were multiple rubbing posts full with so much fur that it had fallen in clumps onto the ground. The trails were wide and beckoned our curiosity further into the woods. We moved silently but as we moved onto a fresh trail, we wondered whether our pace was slow enough. We came upon some wallows and a dust-bath larger than a car. After a pause, listening for what may have been the sound of bison movement, we ignored the possibility and moved forward quietly and then we saw two forms spread in opposing directions. They moved away but perhaps not far. Their beds were still warm & soft and they had left some gigantic droppings which let off heat when we held our hands above.

We stayed still and silent for 20 minutes and allowed them time to relax and bed down again. With one more chance to spot the now-wary bison, we moved forward knowing we would not pursue them again if they spooked. A few hundred meters later, though very slowly, we moved slightly too quickly and they showed themselves one last time.

These are the moments of feedback and selection. How slowly must we move? When is it time to turn around? How are they feeling? We saw a curious area blocked by some large fallen spruces. Those of us who wished, could move as slowly as we now felt we needed to in order to view wildlife without causing a disturbance. We would only move 20 meters or so, and practice extreme care in our slowness. Our footsteps remained silent but our pace was seriously reduced.

About 10 meters along the way, someone said in the quietest tone possible, “f o x . . . ” “f o o o x . . .” There was a fox trotting along a spruce log not 10 meters ahead of our group. This fox was entirely unaware of our present as we stood so still. They hunted along and around the corner, as silent as us. The wind had been in our favor and the fox had now given us its feedback: slow enough! An epic climax to a lovely field session.

A wildlife tracker & mentor with over 25 years of field experience, Daniel’s work in conservation & education has taken them to wolf dens, elk herds, rhino encounters, & lion trails. They are a Track & Sign Evaluator with Tracker Certification North America and are certified in Eurasia & Africa. Daniel has intensively mentored well over 100 wildlife trackers and taught many hundreds through workshops & trainings. Brimming with creativity, their approach to mentoring is unlike any other. Everyone has unique gifts, needs, & styles. One of Daniel’s virtues is in learning, respecting, and serving each student’s needs while tending to a group’s cohesion. After decades in the US, Daniel moved to Germany and founded Spur Wander to further offer high-quality experience & trainings to wildlife trackers worldwide.

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