Conservation Scats is a citizen science project started by graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to collect carnivore scat for research. Collecting animal scats is a non-invasive method to gather lots of information about animal diets, habitat use, and interactions with other species.

The Conservation Scats Project is led by Justine Smith, Ph.D. candidate. Justine is studying how the influence of humans changes animal diets by making them more nocturnal and/or reducing their density. Volunteers work with the project team to collect scats from coyotes, bobcats, and foxes in order to better understand how these animals eat and how they compete with each other. This research will inform how to best protect these animals, not only based on where they are, but on what they do as well.

The first step is to clear all study trails of existing scat. This step is very important, because the scats for DNA analysis must be fresh within a week.The second step is to return one week later to collect fresh scats and deliver them to Justine at Skyline Ridge. DNA analysis will then be performed on the scats. See the website for more information.

Justine A. Smith, Ph.D. candidate
1156 High St.
Dept. of Environmental Studies
Santa Cruz, CA 96054


SUNDAY, JUNE 1, 2014 (4.5 HRS, 8.2 MILES)

We met at 7:30 AM for orientation and a one-hour training session at Skyline Ridge Park and then team members went to their respective parks/trails to clear scat. I signed up for Rancho San Antonio.

I hiked 8.2 miles from Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail to Coyote Trail, Rogue Valley Trail, Wildcat Loop Trail (NE), Upper High Meadow Trail, Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail, Wildcat Loop Trail, and back via Coyote Trail and Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail.
I cleared approximately 24 old scats in preparation for next weekend's collection.

SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014 (4.5 HRS, 8.2 MILES)

Today was the collection day for Rancho San Antonio scats. I hiked 8.2 miles from Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail to Coyote Trail, Rogue Valley Trail, Wildcat Loop Trail (NE), Upper High Meadow Trail, Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail, Wildcat Loop Trail, and back via Coyote Trail and Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail.

Two spotted fawns were separated from their mother by a large crowd of people on Rogue Valley Trail. I heard them bleating like little lambs in the underbrush.
Collected 15 scat samples:




I’m also participating in the winter scat collection for Justine Smith’s project at UCSC. Today was the scat clearing day. I started off at 6:45 AM at the Hammond-Snyder trailhead on Cristo Rey Drive and worked my way to Coyote Trail, up Wildcat Canyon to Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail and Upper High Meadow Trail. Then I worked my way back along High Meadow Trail to the Vista Point and then back down to Wildcat Canyon via the Wildcat Loop Trail. I took the connecting trail to PG&E Trail, connected up with Coyote Trail, and then back along the Hammond-Snyder Trail.

There are some BIG coyotes hanging out on the Hammond-Snyder Trail, judging by the scat size. And there are a gazillion ground squirrel holes in that area, so they’re probably eating well. Upper High Meadow and Upper Wildcat Canyon are the key locations for scat. There are a bunch of latrines up there. I saw another scrape with scat in it – I’m now 99% sure these are bobcat scrapes. I wish someone could verify for me.

Clusters of mushrooms looked like tiny mountain villages.

I saw 5 deer and heard red-winged blackbirds, turkeys, hawks, and hummingbirds. The sides of the trails are so green with tender new grass and moss. And the sage is so soft and fragrant up on High Meadow.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 17, 2015 (4.5 HRS, 8.5 MILES)

Today was the 2nd part of the winter scat collection project. I arrived at Rancho at 6:20 AM. The paved part of the Equestrian Parking Lot was completely full and the unpaved lot was about ½ full. It was still too dark to see, so I stayed in my car until about 6:35 AM. It’s amazing how many folks like to hike in the dark. There was a runner who had a headlamp as powerful as a car’s headlights, that temporarily blinded me as he ran past. Other people carried flashlights or just walked in the dark like me. It wasn’t light enough to see well in the forest until about 7 AM. It was a chilly morning. There was heavy fog on Upper High Meadow and PG&E trails. All trails were damp from the fog. Some were slippery in spots.

I collected 16 scat samples (8 coyote, 1 fox, 5 bobcat, 2 questionable). I couldn’t collect all the samples in Upper Wildcat Canyon / Upper High Meadow because I ran out of zip lock bags. I only found one scat sample on PG&E Trail. It was huge (~12 in x 2 in). I thought it might be mountain lion scat, but Justine said it looked more like dog or human to her. (It turned out to be human – YUK!)


I heard two owls – one at the water tank, and the other near the barn. I also heard the ducks and roosters at the farm, as well as a hawk, crows, and towhees. A hummingbird buzzed me – I must’ve been walking too close to its nest. I also saw two deer and 4 newts. I guarded one little newt until it got across the trail – a crowd of people were unaware and almost stepped on it. Wildflowers are starting to bloom. The tender shoots of grass are a vivid green, and the sage along Upper High Meadow Trail is soft and fragrant.

Trails covered: I took Coyote Trail to Wildcat Canyon to Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail and Upper High Meadow Trail. Then I worked my way back along High Meadow Trail to the Vista Point and then back down to Wildcat Canyon via the Wildcat Loop Trail. I took the connecting trail to PG&E Trail, connected up with Coyote Trail at the trailhead, descended to the parking lot and then took the Hammond-Snyder Trail to Cristo Rey Drive. Approx distance covered: 8.5 miles

I delivered the scat samples to Justine at Skyline Ridge. Along the way I saw two coyotes across the highway from Los Trancos. I rarely see coyotes, so this was a treat.


SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2015 (4.5 HRS, 8 MILES)

Today was round 3 of clearing scat for the Conservation Scats Project. I met with another volunteer (Ajai) at 6:30AM and we traveled along Coyote, Wildcat Canyon, Upper Wildcat Canyon, and Upper High Meadow Trails together. We parted ways at the Vista Point. I continued along Wildcat Loop Trail down to the canyon, and then cut across to the lower part of PG&E Trail and back to the Equestrian Parking area. From there, I traversed the Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail. (approx. 8 miles total)

Ajai was surprised and delighted to see turkeys up in the trees.

We found a partial mountain lion track in the mud and scat in two different places in the Upper Wildcat Canyon / Upper High Meadow area. There were lots of bones and teeth and deer hair in the scat. We also saw bobcat and coyote scat and a couple of latrines. Some of the scat looked like it contains porcupine quills. Are there porcupines in this area? Alternatively, they might have been pine needles or possibly very tiny bones in bunches. (Justine said these were bird feathers, not porcupine quills..) There was less fox scat than on previous trips. There was only one scat (on a rock) on the PG&E Trail – it looked like bobcat. We didn’t see any scat at all along Coyote Trail.

Several interesting things about the section of Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail between Cristo Rey Drive and the residences: There was a lot of scat on the hill overlooking a very large community of ground squirrels. Most looked like large coyote scat. A couple samples could have been mountain lion because they were so big. Curiously, the large scats were on top of the round black metal drain covers marked “Sanitary Sewer” or “Water.” There was one old scat that was composed of pure white fur (maybe a coyote ate someone’s cat?) This really stood out because all the others were grayish or black in color. I’ll take 40 ziplock bags with me next week to make sure I have enough bags this time.

There were lots of canine prints in the mud not far from the pond and residences on Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail. I can’t say whether they were from coyotes or dogs. Hard to tell.

I smelled incense from a funeral, hay, and wildflowers behind the cemetery. What a strange combination of scents!

SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2015 (6.5 HRS, 8 MILES)

Today was round 3 of collecting scat for the Conservation Scats Project. I collected 21 samples (12 coyote, 8 fox, 1 questionable).


A flock of turkeys was flying down from the oak trees to join two deer in the meadow and one flew so close to me that I could feel the breeze on my face as it flapped its wings. I saw 3 newts (2 adults and one baby) in the canyon. I saw 2 does on the Upper High Meadow Trail. They were backlit by the morning sun, so I could see the whiskers on their chins. They are so beautiful and graceful.

So many wildflowers are in bloom now – the hillsides are gorgeous and the air is sweetly scented. I saw buttercups, countless star lilies, hound’s tongue, red Indian paintbrush and war bonnet, blue dicks, trilliums, ceanothus, madrone in bloom, and hillsides full of yellow and orange wildflowers. So beautiful! There is still a lot of mud on PG&E Trail.

Conservation Scats Project – Field Notes

• The latrines along Upper Wildcat Canyon and Upper High Meadow seem to have been washed out by yesterday’s rainstorm. I found relatively few scats in the area that has yielded the most samples in the past. And several of the scats I collected from this area were in poor condition due to the rain.
• I was hoping to get a picture of the partial mountain lion track we saw last week in Upper Wildcat Canyon, but it was washed away with the rain.
• I thought I saw porcupine quills in two of the scats, but Justine thinks they’re bird feathers. Makes sense. On closer inspection you can see part of the fluffy feather.
• I noticed two places along Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail where animals have dug holes under the fence to get into the cemetery where there’s a pool of standing water near the fence at the south end.
• One of the coyote scats was deposited on top of horse droppings – so funny!
• One of the coyote scats on Hammond-Snyder Loop Trail has those peculiar seeds/nuts that are oblong with a crease down the center. I wish I knew what those were.
• I didn't see any bobcat scat this week.

Posted on April 30, 2016 07:46 PM by truthseqr truthseqr


No comments yet.

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments