April 25, 2013

Cybertracker Evaluations

During the week of April 17th, Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program students took their 2 day Cybertracker Track & Sign Evaluations.  Students spent several months studying and preparing for these rigorous evaluations.

Small groups of students took their evaluations on different days, pictured here are some of the highlights from various days. 

The evaluator was the inspiring teacher and experienced tracker Casey Macfarland.

Students listen intently as Casey explains the answer to one of the questions.

Student, Yusef closely inspects the bounding tracks of an eastern cottontail.  Some questions on the evaluation are of relatively clear tracks like this, but many were obscure or otherwise very challenging.

One of the track makers seen during the evaluation.  Its called a giant stonefly or salmonfly.

The scat of a coyote, containing the fur and claws of an aplodontia.  Identifying the scat was one question, and identifying the aplodontia claws was a bonus question on the evaluation.

The happy faces of students after an intense, 2 day tracking evaluation. The evaluations are done entirely in the field, and are based on the knowledge of what is found there.  

We are very proud of how well our students did.  Congratulations to all of them for the effort and success!!

April 17, 2013

Tracking Apprenticeship in Juniper Dunes Wilderness

The Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship students visited a arid wilderness area known as the Juniper Dunes.  This beautiful location is a set of sand dunes which has the northern most stand of western juniper (Juniper occidentalis) trees in the world.  This landscape is home to a variety of mammals including badgers, coyote, kangaroo rats and many other creatures.

Here are some of our photographic highlights.

Here, student Andrew A. walks up a sand dune in the early morning light and looks closely for tracks.

A small scat composed of the shiny, metallic-looking parts from tiger beetles.

The armor-like remains of an adult mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex).  This invertebrate is actually a member of the group known as katydids, and is an abundant insect that feeds many other kinds of animals.

Students spend a few hours trailing mule deer through the varied terrain.  Some parts of the dunes were barren, while others were well vegetated as you can see here.  It was challenging following the deer through a variety of substrates.

The perfect hind track of a porcupine.  Look close and you will see the claws as well as the pebbly texture of the foot pad.

Here students Chadd, Andrew J. and Rob discuss the evidence of feeding on this skull with instructor Michelle.  There were signs of both coyotes and porcupine chewing on the antlers of this mule deer skull.

Much of the life in this semi-arid region is small.  One example is this little, harmless scorpion (Vaejovis confusus) which was found under a piece of plywood.

It was a wonderful place, and we look forward to returning there in the future!

Watch for more posts from Alderleaf very soon!

April 15, 2013

Urban Permaculture Class

Students in Alderleaf Wilderness College's Instructor Apprenticeship spent Sunday, April 7th learning about Urban Permaculture with guest teacher, Jenny Pell. The class visited several sites in Seattle where urban permaculture projects are being implemented, including Seattle Tilth and the Beacon Food Forest.  The urban environment presents some very unique opportunities for applying permaculture - including special micro-climates and numerous opportunities for community partnerships. Pictured above, Jenny Pell is showing some espalier fruit trees. Here's a few more photos from the day:
This shot shows some of the perennial gardens, paths, and a passive solar greenhouse at Seattle Tilth.

Polyculture planting is a key concept for food forest planning. Creating a diverse community of different plant species creates multiple crop yields, confuses pest insects, helps conserve water, acts as a green mulch, and improves the health of the soil. The sign and a polyculture demonstration garden at Seattle Tilth is pictured below.
Learn more about permaculture - check out Alderleaf Wilderness College's Permaculture Courses and Permaculture Articles.

April 12, 2013

Bird Language and a visit to NW Trek

During the week of April 9, students in the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program had an opportunity to closely study a variety of amazing wildlife.

The first location we visited was a wildlife hotspot in Seattle.  This urban wetland is loaded with wildlife.  Students were asked to apply the bird language skills they have been studying all year to make observations about the bird life in this area.  We were especially interested in observing feeding, courting and nesting behaviors.

Here are a few of the highlights from our day in the field.

Here a great blue heron stalks fish in the shallows of Lake Washington.  We observed this heron catch multiple small fish in a matter of minutes.  It was a skilled stalker and hunter.

A beautiful constructed bushtit nest made of lichen and spider webs hanging among the blossoms of red-flowering currant.

A displaying male red-winged blackbird perched atop of a cattail.

An American crow boldly mobbing a juvenile bald eagle.  Notice the size difference between these 2 birds!  In this case, the crow was defending the area around its nest from the passing eagle.

On the next day, students got an opportunity to visit a local zoo and educational center called NW Trek.  This facility houses only animals native to the Pacific Northwest.  It provides an amazing opportunity for students to closely observe many of the animals that they have been studying through tracking and through their homework assignments.

Here are a few of the highlights of the creatures we observed.

A massive grizzly bear sits and observes students, as they observe the bear.  Notice the thickly built legs and huge claws of this bear!

Here a captive male cougar wakes up, yawns, stretches and then marks a tree with its claws.  So many of the behaviors we observed were the same you might see being performed by a house cat.  Only this kitty is about 180 pounds and can hunt creatures up to the size of elk!

Here a keeper brought out an opossum for us to observe up close.  They she gave the opossum an old bone to chew on, which it did with gusto!

Lastly we observed this pair of raccoons play-fighting in a tree.  They one decided to rest and observe us after the rough-housing was completed.  It uses its hand-like paws to easily grip the branch that its perched on.

The week of closely observing so many amazing animals was deeply rewarding.  We learned a great deal about their habitats, movement patterns, and what aspects of their environment were most important to them.

Watch for more updates coming soon!

April 11, 2013

Scout Skills and Habitat Restoration

We are enjoying the sunshine over here at Alderleaf.  The birds are singing and the buds are popping out.  If you haven't eaten a Salmonberry flower yet, well... you should!  We are gearing up for one of the funnest weeks of the year - scout week!  So this past week of classes we did scout training.  We also had a great day of habitat restoration.
Animals are our best teachers of how to move stealthily.  Here students practice scout animal forms.

Blindfold training, team building and communication.  These skills will come in handy on scout week when teams of students will have to navigate through the wilderness in the dark.

Alderleaf instructor, Heater Swift teaches about habitat restoration.

A garter snake! (Note: although they are common in gardens, they are "garter" snakes, not "gardener" as they are commonly called).

Alderleaf students Nick and Ethan plant a tree.

A job well done!

Stay tuned for more updates soon... 

April 9, 2013

Cybertracker Specialist Evaluations

Over the break we had a blitz of tracking evaluations.  Alderleaf instructors Michelle Peziol and Connor O'Malley traveled down to San Diego for one evaluation, then back to Washington for another one the following weekend.  Both of us scored over a 100% in San Diego earning our Track and Sign Specialist certificates!  Only 20 people in North America have earned their Specialist certificate and Michelle is the first woman in North America to do it!  Big congratulations to her.  In fact, only four women in the world are certified as Track and Sign Specialists.  It is quite an honor to have her here at Alderleaf!  Congratulations to Nate Harvey and Preston Taylor who also earned their specialist certificates and congratulations to everyone else who took the evaluations - it was a great group of folks to go tracking with.

Here are some pictures from the evals:
Evaluator, Jonah Evans explains some red-tailed hawk tracks.

Bonus question: greater yellowlegs.

Here is where a flicker landed and left impressions from its tail feathers in the mud!

Lizard tracks.

Slug feeding sign.

Stonefly tracks and exoskeleton. 

Small mink tracks.  

Grass ball marked by a beaver.  

Old black bear sign feeding on cambium. 

Here is where a female elk marked a tree with her incisors.  

More incisor marking from female elk.  We can tell that it was not feeding because there was a pile of bark scraps on the ground.  Female elk will mark trees this way because they don't have antlers like the bulls do.  
Congratulations to all and special thanks to Mark Elbroch, Casey McFarland and Jonah Evans.

April 1, 2013

Central WA Trip (Take 2)

During the final week of March, the second cohort in the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program took their trip out to central WA state.  They had an amazing time, great weather and unforgettable animal encounters.  Here are a few photographic highlights.

Here student Caitlin picks her way carefully across a large beaver dam in a beautiful canyon along the eastern slopes of the Cascade mountains.  This sturdy construction was still being added to, as you can see by the small stream flowing down from the far side of the dam.

Here students Chad and Dan patiently stalk carp with their primitive fishing spears.

A female black-widow spider hanging out near the entrance of a burrow that contains her web.  Students were excited to find this famous spider species and observe her respectfully.

These are the brilliant red shoulder feathers from a red-winged blackbird. All the other feathers on the body were a dark black color.

A wild porcupine hanging out in a tree found by students in central WA.

Students Gabe, Yusef, Celina and Chad (just out of frame) sit and closely observe the beautiful landscape of central WA.  Muskrat, mink, a variety of waterfowl, painted turtles and flying sandhill cranes could all be seen from this basalt pinnacle.

Student Sammy found this beautiful painted turtle shell on the edge of a small lake in central WA.  Notice the impressions left by the scales that once covered this shell, and the suture lines where the bones come together.

We had great adventures in central WA and learned a great deal about the drier landscapes and their inhabitants.  Many other great things were seen and experienced in those 4 days.

Watch for more updates from Alderleaf soon!