Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tracking Club on Sept 24th

For this club meeting, we had 6 experienced station guides. Our favorite spot to hold tracking club was closed for conservation upgrades to the riverbanks, so we headed under bridge we knew often harbored a wide variety of species.  

We were rewarded with nearly 15 potential stations including bobcat, mink, muskrat, bat, coyote, otter, beaver, and even a hummingbird nest. We also saw track or sign for at least three larger birds including an owl. A beaver had chewed a branch off at a height near our heads, and two animals had left scat in the same exact location. It was an outstanding day, despite the fact that I fell in the river. I did an unexpected otter slide while exploring tracks on an upended tree some little ways off shore. We decided not to use that spot as a station.  

We had a great time talking out the various mysteries with the participants, and Chris Byrd shared no fewer than 5 new vocabulary words for describing dentition on the tiny vole mandible we picked out of an owl pellet.

Dates for future Tracking Clubs and other information can be found on the WAS website under Wildlife Tracking Courses. I’ve also put them here for easy access:  

Dates for 2011-2012 - Saturdays - Sept 17, Oct 15, Nov 19, Jan 21, Feb 18, March 17, April 21, May 19. We meet at the WAS office at 8:45 am. See you there in October for a fun boost to your dirt time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

First Tracking Intensive weekend 2011

Sept 24th-25th:
Great class this weekend. 1st Tracking Intensive class of the year. Students were challenged right from the start. Saturday morning involved classes on foot morphology and tracking principles. They took a shot at tracking and trailing and then reflected on their current skill set. Then the afternoon was spent studying tracks that had been laid out in stations by the teaching staff.

Sunday was a full on day of tracking in different substrates. The team set up a mock evaluation so that everyone would have a chance to test their extent of naturalist and tracking knowledge. Our first part of the day was spent a few miles from north bend near exit 38 on I-90. We found racoon, deer, elk, vole, deer-mouse sign.

Track of an elk which passed under Interstate 90.

Eli inspects the trail of a deer mouse under Interstate 90

Mallory facilitating a discussion around the identity of one of the sets of tracks we discovered.

Then we moved up the middle fork of the Snoqualmie river. Lots of exciting tracks, sign and stations. Students had 40 or so different questions to answer. A beautiful wild riparian habitat was a great setting for the day. There was a lot of great sign. Amongst others the species we came across were raccoon, river otter, great blue heron, stellars jay, jumping mouse, beaver, bear, bobcat and dog. There was a lot of excitement over finding a lot of bear track and sign and everyone had a chance to check out a great example of a bears overstep walk. There was also a lot of debate over a set of tracks that had aspects of cougar but was in fact a large domestic dog. Thanks to all who participated.

Tracks of a Stellar's jay on the banks of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

Mallory looking on as several students decipher the tracks left by a beaver on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Animal Locomotion and Track Patterns

Steve Leckman, who completed the Advanced Path of the Tracking Intensive last year, posted the video he made as part of his independent research project on Youtube. Its an excellent overview of the topic of track patterns and animal movement, not to mention an amazing display of athleticism on Steve's part!

Though there is no sound in this version, he strongly recommends something from the hip-hop genre for accompaniment. Thanks Steve!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A latin quiz

If your smartes you should be able to guess the maker of t his track!

A Linnaeus Nightmare

So there I was, down on my knees in the wet sand, examining a set of tiny tracks. I had just made a suggestion that the teaching team learn sign language for all the most common animals we track, so we could discuss the tracks without giving anything away when students wanted time to puzzle out track ID for themselves. Marcus was there and he mumbled something to Alexia. It sounded like, “zap us.” Was he swearing? Then he burst out with a string of Latin names for small mammals. Now I was sure he was swearing. I got the point, Marcus, really, I did. If I wanted to talk about the tracks I could use the genus and species. As a teacher, I learned that we have receptive language knowledge and productive language knowledge. My receptive knowledge of small mammals species names was good enough to let me know he had suggested I consider vole or deer mouse for the ID of these tiny tracks. I couldn’t have produced the Latin name for vole, but remembered it when he said it. But what was this zapping thing he was talking about. With a far too sneaky twinkle in his eye, Marcus wandered off leaving me to the mercy of Dave, who was only slightly less twinkly. Turns out Zapus trinotatus is our friend the Pacific Jumping Mouse. I hadn’t considered that since I knew the track was vole. But that hadn’t helped me here. I decided it was time to study up.

So I’ve been writing common names on small cards with Latin names on the flip side. Plugging away at it pushing names from merely receptive knowledge into productive and then adding more from the never-knew-in-the-first-place category into receptive. I’ve gotten 33 mammals and a hand full of birds up that conveyor belt now. I’ve been even sending slightly off color emails using the Latin names as puns to torture Marcus and Dave. The mustelids seem fairly easy. Maybe since it’s my second try with them. Porcupine was a cinch having read a children’s book where the main character, a porky, was named Erethizon. Crow sounds like a crow retching (brachyrynchos). Sandpiper is being remarkably stubborn. I’ll keep you posted.