I got up around 6:30 this morning and lounged around until about 8:30 when I headed out to Woodland to join my coworker, Charlotte, and her group for the tracking field trip at Conaway Ranch.
Chris, our guide for the day, first started out telling us about what we should be looking for when we were out tracking, and then gave us a demonstration of how to measure tracks, how to check the stride of the animal making the tracks, and how to tell the difference between tracks left by a male deer and female deer. He showed us his walking stick, which had been gradated into inches, so he could use it for measuring, and had rubber fittings on it that he could roll up and down the shaft to help as measurement markers. He also talked about cattail down and how it could be used as both insulation or as tinder to start a fire. ((And he showed us how to start a fire with hand sanitizer… Purell is mostly alcohol after all. Hah!))
Then we were off and tracking… while Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Swallows sang all around us, and Sandhill Cranes flew overhead in ragged formations and gave off their loud distinctive crackling calls. We saw raccoon tracks (including those of a mama and her baby), coyotes tracks, and large beaver tracks; and several different kinds of scat — some filled with feathers and fur, some filled with shells and crawfish parts. He showed us how animals make their own pathways through the grass, and at several points showed us areas where raccoons and beaver climbed up the side of a ditch, crossed the road, and then slid down into the big pond on the other side of the road via their animal-made muddy waterslides.
Along the way Chris identified some plants, including White Flowering Hemlock (all parts of which are poisonous), and Bull Thistle. He pulled out some petals of the soft purple head of the thistle and said that Native Americans often chewed the white ends of the flower’s petals into a sort of gum.
Later, we saw a mouse, several different kinds of beetles, tiny frogs and a baby snake; and also saw the leftover holes of crayfish chimneys, mole dens, and rabbit warrens…
All in all, the tour took about 2 hours, and Chris had some great survival stories to tell. I had fun, and saw some things I hadn’t seen before. But the pace of the tour was little too fast for me, so I felt I missed a lot of photo opportunities. I would have liked to have spent more time with the tracks, and scat and whathaveyou — to really look at everything and examine it; and when we found the snake there were a lot of colorful beetles that were up-earthed at the same time, but I didn’t have a chance to catch or examine any of them before they all scurried away. A slower pace and more time to investigate each sighting, I think, would have made the trip more fun and educational for me… But I understand that the trip wasn’t for me, it was for the teens. Still, I was intrigued enough that I’d like to go back some day to do some tracking on my own.