Michael Kresky, a skilled animal tracker, points out how plants are able to hold even trace amounts of water on their leaves — even in arid climates. (Robert Bernstein photo)

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Animal tracking expert Michael Kresky recently accompanied the Sierra Club Santa Barbara group on an outing to the “secret” Buena Vista Benches above Montecito. His expertise made the hike especially educational and enjoyable!

Kresky is a skilled tracker who literally wrote the book on the subject, as in the Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California.

The highlight was when he found a perfect bear footprint after seeing bear signs on the trail!

Kresky not only knows animal tracks, animal poops and signs of animal activity, he recognizes a wide range of bird calls and knows the local plants and even the invasive non-native plants. He explained that to track animals it is essential to use every clue available. The plants can be valuable clues about which animals may be present.

He also pointed out the corridors where animals are likely to travel as vital clues.

A few poop notes: Cats are pure carnivores. If there are any seeds, it is not a cat. Lizards and birds have one opening for urine and feces. The uric acid is a white section added to the poop. He said domestic dogs introduce a fungus that grows “hair” on many poops seen on the trail.

The hike was shrouded in fog, eliminating the sweeping views usually seen on this route. But the compensation was a pleasant hike feel on a trail that can be brutally hot. And the ethereal feel of the fog was magical!

The hike itself was fairly short, just three miles round trip. And the elevation gain was just 700 feet. But it is really steep! Most of that elevation gain happens in about a half-mile! That is a 30 percent grade, as steep as the steepest street in San Francisco! It is one of the few hikes where I strongly recommend a hiking pole or stick!

We started on the Romero Canyon Road trail and soon branched off onto the Buena Vista Trail.

Click here for more information about the Sierra Club Santa Barbara, and the nonprofit group’s schedule of local hikes. Click here to make an online donation.

Robert Bernstein, a local photographer and frequent Noozhawk contributor, is a member of the Sierra Club Santa Barbara Group executive committee. The opinions expressed are his own.