August 11, 2008

New Outdoor Teaching Area

Posted by Jason K.

Sunday's work part went well! We finished the outdoor teaching area by adding benches around the fire pit. Here it is:

Thanks to everyone that showed up to help!

Trailing Elk and Black Bear

August 2008 Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship field day

Posted by Jason K.

We had a fun and productive field day this month. The day was spent practicing trailing skills, partly in preparation for upcoming Trailing Evaluations taking place in October. Trailing is the art of following tracks, often with the goal of catching up with the animal.

The morning was spent following elk tracks throughout the forests near Mount Si. Elk populations have significantly increased in this area, creating places that have numerous elk trails, beds/lays, and feeding zones. Following elk tracks can be a lot of fun since they are such large animals and leave a distinctive track. Here's a photo of an elk track (a six inch rule is in the frame):

The small marks behind the primary part of the foot are dew claws, which are smaller digits found further up the foot. They usually only register when the animal is running or walking through deep substrate (such as the soft sand in the photo).

We discovered black bear tracks in the afternoon and chose to spend the rest of the day back-tracking the bear through the swamp to learn about where it had been. It was amazing to discover that it had crossed a small log (maybe four inches diameter) over a swamp.

We finished the day up the day by going over some of my slides on small desert rodents (pocket mouse, kangaroo rat, woodrat, pocket gopher, etc...) in preparation for next month's class which will be in the Columbia Basin desert of Central Washington.

Woodrat Tracks

August 2, 2008

Hike to the Lakes

Posted by Steve N.

Friday I went hiking. All day. The forest changes so quickly here. Plants that weren't even sprouted 3 weeks ago now litter the trail. A lot of berries are bursting into existence as I write. I snacked on huckleberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, almost baneberry (that would have been bad), and trailing blackberry on my way to Tomtit lake, located about 5 miles east of the Alderleaf property.

At Tomit, I noticed a massive amount of cedar waxwings fluttering about, singing, and posing on stumps for me:

A thriving waxwing population is a good sign. Since they survive mostly on fruit (thanks Jason), it tells us that there are lots of vitamin-packed wild edibles in the area. The lake is loaded with cattails as well, a great survival food. I uprooted one and tasted my first corm, a cone-like structure protruding from the roots. I ended up only eating one third of the food I brought because of the amount of wild edibles available trailside.

On the return trip, walking along an old overgrown road which tangents Lake 1 (an un-named lake, the closest to the property), I thought I smelled something strange and there were bird calls very unfamiliar to what I had been hearing all day. I froze mid-step and heard a big splash in the lake. From a fallen hemlock at the lake's edge I watched this fellow:

An American beaver, whose lodge was at the other end of the lake, swim swiftly in a snaking pattern, diving and thumping his tail on the surface every now and then. As I watched I noticed more cedar waxwings, tons of them, fluttering about the edge of the lake. How wonderful it was to be share the space with these beautiful birds. I felt at peace. All of the sudden, another splash about 40 feet to my left. My head turned quickly to see a hawk (most likely a Cooper's hawk, anterior plumage orange-brown, posterior brown, 1-2 feet in length) with a struggling cedar waxwing in its talons. The raptor saw me, clamped down on his catch, and took off into the conifers. I couldn't believe my eyes. It happened so quickly I couldn't even turn on my camera.

Nature has a strange way of revealing her secrets to us in moments we least expect them. Tom Brown writes about how Grandfather always told him not to get so wrapped up in the task at hand that you block out the whole scene in front of you. This was a perfect example of me getting wrapped up in the swimming beaver and missing the actual catch of the small bird by the big bird. I feel fortunate, however, that I saw what I did.

The walk home was a bit hurried because I couldn't wait to tell the folks about the sightings. But I did find something that is rather unusual, a perfectly registered black bear track, amongst others, along the logging road.

Black bears, unlike humans, have the largest of their digits on the outside of their feet. This is a front track. Rear tracks have palm pads that connect to the heel pads, making for a longer track. Black bears have hair between their palms and digits, which usually splay the track significantly, but this one is very defined.

There is so much going on back in the forest behind the property. A good quarter mile section of the trail is lined with bobcat scats and scrapes every ten feet. Belted kingfishers are now hunting along the water's edge, coyote are making their way to the east meadow, and hawks are eating cedar waxwings!