December 17, 2012

Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship

Alderleaf Wilderness College teaches many classes, one of which is the 10-weekend long Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship.  This is an in-depth extended study into the field of wildlife tracking that includes both basic and advanced tracking concepts.

During the second weekend in December, students in the class spent Saturday focusing on ecological tracking: looking at wildlife evidence in the landscape such as trails, beds, chews, scrapes, scats and other sign. On Sunday, the students spent practicing the skills of trailing.

Saturday started with a close look at a skull found near the creek on the Alderleaf property.  We all looked closely, and worked together on determining what species the skull belonged to and what predator likely killed and fed upon it.

This is the skull of a Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii), and the likely predator was a weasel, as demonstrated by the chew marks and indentations of the canines in the brain case.  Weasels often feed on the brains of small mammals, as the brain is a very fat-rich organ.

Students then headed to the field and very quickly located some fresh coyote scat in a meadow.  Upon closer inspection, we noticed that the scat contained a segment of a tapeworm in it!

In the same meadow, students found 4 different kinds of vole sign, including: trails, scat, feeding sign and a vole nest.  Then, as we were walking into the forest we ran into a tiny insectivorous mammal.

This little Trowbridge's shrew (Sorex trowbridgii) is one of the smallest mammals in the world, and is a very active insect hunter that hardly ever stops moving.  We have seen their tracks before, but it was great to see the animal itself in action.

We ended our day by exploring the edge of a beaver pond, and watching a kingfisher catch and eat a small trout.  It was a wonderful day in the field, and we all left excited to learn more.

Watch for more updates soon!

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