We are participating in a Track and Sign Evaluation next week, so the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program began this week with a review of the mammal, bird, and reptilian tracks of the Pacific Northwest. We trekked down to the Skykomish river banks at a new sandbar filled with awesome track and sign. Jason threw a few practice questions at us down there and everyone learned something new. Species ranged from Stellar's Jay to Opossum. One tricky set really humbled me. These looked like picture perfect otter tracks, right on the bank heading toward a small slough. The only reason I hesitated was that the tracks leading to and coming from the question prints were raccoon tracks in the water. I went with my instinct and it turned out that this particular question required a little further investigation. We consulted a field guide and saw how raccoon prints register when they move at high speeds... like nearly perfect otter tracks.
Thursday we were introduced to some birds that will be migrating to our region this Spring. Some species we have seen and heard on campus already. On our afternoon bird walk we spied a Rufous Hummingbird and an Anna's hummingbird not to mention a Band Tailed pigeon and a Red Tailed Hawk amongst White Crowned Sparrows, which we learned from Filip have only one song they repeat over and over again. He taught us that as territories change amongst this species, their songs vary. We finished the day exercising, first our sense of hearing and feel by leading each other through the woods blindfolded, then by playing one of my favorite games, Eagle Eye. This is a form of hide-n-seek where the seeker has to stay in the "Eagle's nest" and try to spot the prey, which must keep at least one eye on the eagle at all times. My shoes were visible each round, telling me I need to keep my whole body on a lower plane while scouting, not to mention practicing with more natural camoflouge... I wondered why Dark Eyed Junco's have been following me around... to teach me lessons in becoming invisible in the landscape!
Friday was a Fun filled Frank Sherwood day. We learned about numerous primitive hunting methods, as well as ethics and what it takes to become a good hunter. One of these lessons in bow hunting is selective shooting, which is only taking a shot that has a high percentage chance of striking the kill zone, ending the animal's wild and free and good life quickly, with little pain. We got to practice throwing rabbit sticks, bolas and rocks from a sling. I especially like the rabbit stick because of its simplicity. The best part of the day was when we made our own Atl-Atls, a primitive weapon bridging the gap between throwing stick and bow & arrow. A survivalist uses one piece of wood to fire another, but without a string. We all used Alder because it is easy to work and readily available on Alderleaf's land. The handles we made about a foot and a half long, with a near 30 degree branch shooting up nearly two inches with a pivot point on them. The other part of the tool is a 7 foot long spear as straight as can be. Each of us, by the end of the day were at least able to fire them spear point forward in a general direction, but with practice we could be getting us some bunnies next Easter!