After work, I helped my coworkers Jordan and Lori a little bit with their Animal Tracking event at the Conaway Ranch.
I helped to check everyone in, and then spent the rest of the event taking photos and answering questions. The turnout was fantastic; they had 48 people show up: families, a troop of Boy Scouts, and some Down Syndrome kids from Yolo Beautiful Minds and their parents. Thankfully, all of the kids behaved themselves really well.
After a talk from Chris Stephens (a survival expert and decorated veteran) about why animal tracking is an important skill and how to recognize specific kinds of tracks, each person was given a sheet of aluminum foil and told to press their own track into it. It was a very simple thing to do, but even the parents thought that was fun because it was something they take home with them and show their other family members how to do.
Then we all went on the trail, and each group or family was given a Ziploc bag of dry plaster of paris. When they found a track in the ground that they liked, we poured water into the bag, and they mixed the plaster up by squishing the bag with their hands. Then they poured the wet into the track. While the plaster was setting, Chris continued talking about the different animal tracks they might find on the ranch and why that particular setting (rice fields abutting a narrow strip of riparian habitat and a pond) attracted so many different kinds of animals. He also showed the kids different kinds of scat.
The kids and adults were thrilled by the large flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds that were singing all around us, the tiny Tree Frogs (brown and green) that they saw, and even a tiny grasshopper that one of the younger adults let perch on her finger. When the event was over, and everyone was walking back to their vehicles, they stopped to pull up the now dry plaster to see if they were able to get a good cast of the track. Some of the casts were fantastic. Everyone seemed very pleased with the event, and some even offered donations on the spot.