April 11, 2011

Five Trackers receive Track & Sign Specialist Certificates! (Including 3 Alderleaf Instructors!)

Alderleaf Wilderness College hosted a CyberTracker Specialist Track & Sign Evaluation with evaluators Casey McFarland and Mark Elbroch. The CyberTracker Evaluations are the international standard for assessing and certifying wildlife trackers, and uphold a high standard of competency.

It was an amazing weekend full of challenging track & sign questions - from tiny shrew, mouse, & partial frog prints; to robin, sparrow, & dove tracks; rat, weasel, & gray squirrel footprints; male/female, gait, and interpretive questions; many kinds of scat, feeding, and tree marking sign; and much more.

Alderleaf staff and students had a very strong showing. Instructors, Filip Tkaczyk, Dave Scott, and Jason Knight, all scored 100%, receiving the specialist level qualification, along with Marcus Reynerson of Wilderness Awareness School and Chris Byrd. It is quite an honor, as they are now part of only fifteen trackers in North America who've reached the specialist level out of over 700 who've taken the test. Staff member, Steve Nicolini, and student, Phil "Jackrabbit" Johnston, also performed extremely well, receiving level 3 certificates!

It was an intense and exciting weekend, and all came away with a strong sense of accomplishment, learning, and camaraderie! Its so great to be in a region with such a talented crew of trackers, who are so dedicated to sharing what they know and growing the field.

A big thank you goes out to Casey and Mark for taking time away from their mountain lion research project and traveling out from Colorado to facilitate the evaluation!

Interested in attending a tracking class? Check out our Wildlife Tracking Weekend Course and Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship.

Hosting a Hunter Education Class!

Alderleaf Wilderness College hosted an official Hunter Education Class run by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife instructors / master hunters - Sharon Rose, Wes Childers, and Ron & Sherry Poppe. It was an excellent class with amazing staff and a great field course. In the photo above, Wes Childers teaches about wildlife identification.

Here students are learning about safe firearm handling, hunting ethics, and sportsmanship. The course also covers wildlife conservation, bow-hunting, rifle & shotgun mechanics, hunting laws and regulations, basic wilderness survival, first aid, and more.

The students had a great time and all passed with flying colors, receiving their Hunter Education Certificates - a requirement for acquiring hunting licenses and tags. We hope to host another class next spring!

A huge thanks goes out to the instructors - Sharon, Wes, Ron, and Sherry - who volunteer their time to teach - thank you thank you!

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...!