April 5, 2011

Tracking Wildlife East of the Cascade Mountains

Students and staff from the Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship traveled east of the Cascade Mountains to track animals in preparation for upcoming tracker evaluations. We visited the foothills on the eastside of the Cascade mountains on our first day.

As we explored the sagebrush steppe, we observed a herd of elk and big horned sheep. We also saw the sign of these animals, including some huge elk antlers that had been shed this springtime. Brandon demonstrates a magnificent pair of antlers in the photo above. Incredible how heavy and large they are!

We also discovered many bones, including skulls, legs and this lower mandible being displayed by tracking apprenticeship student Phil. Such bones and other signs tells the story of the struggles of the animals that lived in this open terrain. The challenges of winter can claim the lives of many animals. But their death is life to many other animals including coyotes, cougars, bears, and a variety of birds and other small animals. Nothing is wasted in the natural world.

The second day, we found our way to the isolated Juniper Dunes. This location has the northern most significant stand of juniper trees. This dune system was deposited by the giant Missoula Floods of the last ice age.

The dunes are home to a variety of creatures, many of which are cryptically colored to blend into their sandy habitat. One such creatures is the pygmy horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii).

These little horned lizards are sometimes mistakenly called "horned toads." Though, they are reptiles, not amphibians. Their chunky profiles, and large, rounded heads with wide mouths do look somewhat like a toad.

Some of the insects in the dunes are even more cryptically colored. The grasshopper in this image is practically invisible against the sand, and we only noticed it when it moved!

Another interesting find where several egg cases of a praying mantis (called ootheca). We also found these in the cough pellets of a raven! Seeing this distinct insect sign helped all of us be more prepared for the upcoming Track & Sign Evaluations.

What an amazing way to wrap up our spring studies! The 2 day trip was so packed full of amazing encounters and observations that it felt more like a 4 day trip.

More Alderleaf updates coming soon...!

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