March 13, 2013

Central Washington Field Trip

We just returned from a great field trip in central Washington with our Wilderness Certification Program.  Here is some of what we saw:

This is a very unusual pile of beaver scat.  Normally I find individual beaver scats floating in the water but this appears to be a latrine.  

We found a very freshly killed Great-basin pocket mouse.  As trackers, we always seize these opportunities to study the foot structure and anatomy of these animals.  

Here is some porcupine feeding sign on small willows.

These dots are a "highway" made by the repeated use of pocket gophers from their burrow to a feeding site.

This is a porcupine scat train.  Some people call this a "pearl necklace".

Here is a running pheasant.  Pheasants do not occur here naturally but are released for hunting.

A happy Cohort 1 from the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program.   

AWCP student, Ethan finds a perch on the rock cliffs.

On our final day we did a "mock evaluation".  At the base of these cliffs we found very fresh tracks of a male bobcat.  We saw a lot of kangaroo rat sign, Mallard feathers and breast bone, a raven nest and more.  The students did very well! 

Another fun and educational trip in beautiful central Washington.  I hope everybody has a great spring break and finds some sunshine!  

March 11, 2013

Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship to Columbia River Area

This weekend March 9 & 10, Alderleaf's Wildlife Tracking Apprenticehip program headed out for a two day adventure to the dry canyon lands along the Columbia River.  This arid landscape is dominated by shrub-steppe composed of sagebrush, bunchgrass and rabbitbrush.  It is in great contrast to the lush, sopping wet forests on the western slopes of the Cascade mountains.

We focused on learning the tracks and sign of the wildlife of this dry land in preparation for a track & sign evaluation in June.  We were blessed with good weather, especially on Saturday and got to strip down to our t-shirts and soak up the sun.  The sandy and muddy areas we visited were loaded with tracks and sign.

Here are the perfect tracks of the black-billed magpie.  These beautiful black-and-white birds are a common sight on the dry side of the mountains in Washington state.

Just a few of the skulls and bones found underneath the roosting spot of a great horned owl along the base of huge basalt cliffs.

One of our favorite finds was a pygmy short-horned lizard.  Here student Jeremy poses with the little lizard.

Here is a close up of the lizard itself.  The students got to enjoy watching it demonstrate a variety of different modes of locomotion including walking, running and burying itself.  Here is a short video of the lizard burying itself rapidly in the sand.

Notice the way the lizard shimmies its body makes the sand fall back over it and makes it all but invisible to the searching eyes of potential predators.

Overall this trip was rich in tracks, and we left feeling satisfied and very fortunate for having seen so much diversity.

Watch for more updates soon!

March 8, 2013

Pine Needle Baskets and Forest Stewardship

This week, students in the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program got to learn how to make pine needle baskets as well as learning vital skills of habitat restoration and forest stewardship.  Here are some photographic highlights for the class days.

Alderleaf student Artie shows us his progress on the early stages of a coiled pine needle basket.  The pine needles are wound together using rafia. 

Here another Alderleaf student, Jeremy, shows us a basket that is further along and is starting to show a bowl-like shape.  These baskets can be made to be very tight, and can make a small or large basket.  These can containers can carry a variety of items or wild harvested foods.

Here is an example of a Native style of pine needle basketry that was made of ponderosa pine needles and bear grass.  The perfect pattern shows us this was made by the hands of a master basket maker.

On the following class day, the same students learned a ton about habitat restoration and forest stewardship.  Then they went out on to the Alderleaf property to implement what they had learned.  They checked on the previous years' native plantings.  Then, they located spots to plant more native species.  Once they found a good location, they trimmed back the invasive Himalayan blackberry and set to work getting the site ready.

Here Alderleaf students Andrew and Artie work together to cut back blackberries, dig a hole and plant a shore pine (Pinus contorta contorta).  Once the tree is in the ground, and dirt is filled in around it, a ring of mulch is created to help trap water and retain moisture around its roots.

Here is the tree, after completion.  We will enjoy watching it grow, and each year will monitor its progress and remove any invasive species that might threaten to compete with it for light or nutrients.

This native pine tree is an excellent tree to have at the Alderleaf property, and will provide vitamin-rich needles for tea, shade during the summer, cones and nesting habitat for food and shelter for a variety of local wildlife.

Our other cohort of students will be returning from a trip to the shrub-steppe habitats of central Washington.  Watch for a update on their trip very soon!

March 7, 2013

Cougar at Alderleaf

The Alderleaf Wilderness College campus is a wild place.  It has towering conifers, a fast-flowing creek, and several ponds that all serve as home for many different kinds of wildlife.  Some of the animals that visit the property are large carnivores. Of those, the animal that inspires and excites people the most, is the cougar.

The very thought of one being out there in the forest helps all of us tune our eyes, ears and other senses more sharply to our surroundings.  The presence of such a charismatic and elusive cat gives this place a air of unbridled wildness.  All of us who frequent this land have a secret or not so secret desire to see one.

The closest most of us come is to happen upon fresh tracks.

On a morning during the last week of February, I was walking down one of our trails to go monitor the amphibian activity along the creek.  Having walked the same trail the day before, and having done the usual scan for tracks I had seen nothing but the tracks of some students.  But, this second trip down the trail was different.  Something popped out at me in a deeper mud puddle.

The tracks were perfect, and so fresh I started looking around asking myself,"Where is this animal now?  Is it nearby?  Is it watching me now?"  I got very excited at the sight of these lovely tracks.

It so happens that along this same trail, we had a trail camera set up to take photos of the creatures that use them.  Excitedly, I brought the camera into the office to see what we got, and...

Our camera captured the maker of the tracks at around 1 am the night before!  Looking at the morphology of the track, and the images of the animal we are assuming this is a young male.

To learn more about cougar (also called mountain lion) tracks and sign, check out our free article:

We count ourselves lucky to get to share space with this amazing animal.

Keep an eye out for more updates about the goings on at Alderleaf!

March 5, 2013

Advanced Fire Skills, Blindfolded Activities and More

The final two weeks of February were pretty packed with lots of different skills at the Wilderness Certification Program, including lessons in nature-based education, permaculture and advanced fire skills.

During one class day, students practiced their fire skills and worked with advanced techniques, including the hand drill method.

hand drill fire making method at Alderleaf Wilderness College

Here Alderleaf student Elan shows us how its done, while instructor Steve looks over his shoulder.  Notice the way Elan holds the board with his foot.  This method of holding the fire board down takes a bit of flexibility.

Here two students inoculate some fresh alder logs with mycelium-infused wooden dowels during a permaculture class.  Ethan (on the right margin) drills holes for the dowels, while Sammy pounds them in gently using a hammer.  Then the logs are pilled up in a structure that resembles a log cabin, and left in a cool, shady, moist place to allow the mushroom mycelium to spread.  In a few months or so, we should see some fruiting mushrooms!

On another class day during a nature-based teaching class, some students were challenged to do a blindfolded exercises to get more in tune with their other senses.  This included a blindfolded string  walk through the forest at Alderleaf.  They had to find their way over, under and around obstacles using only their other senses and with the string as their guide.

Students are lead to their blindfolded string walk course in the mossy forest at Alderleaf.

Here students walk carefully along the string course through the vibrant green, overgrown forest landscape.  As they move slowly, the sounds of the forest pop out more clearly and their sense of touch leads them through a diverse world of textures and obstacles.

As the springtime grows ever nearer, students are being challenged with more intense experiences and focused skills.  The more frequent sunny days are helping everyone to feel re-invigorated to learn and explore. Buds are popping and frogs are starting to chorus... there is a stirring in the air...

Watch for another update about the Wilderness Certification Program very soon from the final week of classes before spring break!