Tracking Detectives - Story of the Day

May 21, 2017

Greetings, Earth Natives!


It's been an epic day of adventure, exploration and detective work! We all made friends quickly after arrival this morning and had a blast exploring the many wonders and mysteries of our nature museum together. We even worked together to create a magical creature that had a furry shell, a long striped tail, six heads and a horn! Next we gathered around the fire pit to share introductions and to bring our minds together. Then each of us shared our name, nature name (if we had one) and something that we were excited to do today. All of the kids were excited to explore the land and were hoping to see wildlife. Following this, we had a discussion about natural hazards and how to keep ourselves and each other safe. Areas of focus were plants, animals, weather and people. Poison Ivy and cactus, stinging insects and venomous snakes, high winds and lightning and unsafe behaviors were all considered. Together we determined that by remaining aware and by respecting the land and wildlife, ourselves and each other we would be sure to stay safe and have fun all day! We also talked about the importance of listening to our bodies and taking good care of ourselves by staying hydrated and nourished. With those things in mind we were ready to begin our day of wildlife tracking!


Before we set off into the woods we learned a few important things about what it takes to be a tracking detective. First, we considered the qualities of a good detective: curiosity, patience, perseverance, honesty, sharp instincts, focused observation and well tuned senses (owl eyes, deer ears and fox feet). We all felt confident that we were detective material. Next we learned some strategies for being successful trackers: clear your mind, be quiet, let go of time, slow down, stay curious, take a look at the unfamiliar, take a new path, give yourself the confidence to see tracks. Now were were ready to make some amazing discoveries! Before we could head off on an expedition, however, we needed to focus on self-care, so we made a trip to the bathrooms. No sooner had we shrugged off our packs than we found our first mystery, a dead yellow jacket on the porch step! Where had it come from, we wondered. We looked around, high, low and in between, but didn't see a nest. Had the nest been knocked down? While we searched for clues the kids drew the yellow jacket in their nature journals. Suddenly there was an exclamation from the bathroom; one of the kids had found a big, gorgeous spider high up on the wall! Field guides were referred to and the beautiful creature was identified as a wolf spider. This specimen was also drawn and notes were taken. Then, as we were getting our packs back on there was another exclamation. Someone solved the mystery of the yellow jacket. We had to lay on our bellies to get a clear look, but when we did we saw that there was indeed a nest tucked away under the porch. We could even see that it contained eggs. The mystery was solved! We were proud of our detective work, but eager to put distance between us and the nest, so with that we headed away. 


As we made our way down the trail we remembered to take it slow and use our owl eyes, deer ears and fox feet. We stopped to examine tracks here and there. We learned then that there are six core questions to ask ourselves when we are tracking wildlife : who? what? when? where? why? how? Who made the track? What was this animal doing? How long ago did this occur? What direction was the animal moving and where is it now? Why were they engaged in this behavior? How was the animal feeling at the time? Soon, we found a lone track that we thought might be coyote or fox. We considered the size and shape and concluded that it was most likely coyote, but we couldn't find any other tracks. So, we'd answered the question of who. We talked a little then about substrate, or what the ground environment is: sand, mud, dirt, snow. Our substrate in the case was hard packed, damp dirt. We were not sure weather the track was old or new. After awhile of close examination our curiosity led us on up the trail. We quickly found a trail of very strange tracks. We followed then slowly up the trail. We just could not figure out who made them! They looked relatively fresh. We continued to follow them on and on. Then the kids spotted something in the trees. It was a mound of leaves, about two feet high, with a round opening on one side. We all ran over to investigate. When we looked more closely we saw that the leaves were piled over a frame made of sticks. The kids decided that this must have been built by a possum. They even asserted that they saw a possum inside, hunkered down for the day! I peered in, and I may have actually seen a pair of eyes shining back at me! As we started back on the trail we saw another of these structures. This one was larger and the architecture of the frame was impressive. At this point it was decided that these were human made structures, and in retrospect, the trail we'd followed was a human trail of hiking boot tracks! We kept on and turned down a trail that opened into a clearing. In this clearing were more of these structures! The kids spent time exploring this area and the surrounding woods with their journals in hand, recording observations and solving nature mysteries. 


In this clearing we took a break for lunch. We were so excited to keep with our detective work that we didn't want to stop, but we agreed that it was important to nourish our bodies and rest to keep our energy up. After lunch the exploration continued. We found a large teepee frame in the woods and spent awhile playing inside of it. We also learned that beauty berry was abundant in the area and that it's leaves had natural bug repellent properties. We pulled leaves from the bushes then and rubbed them over our arms and necks. Some of the kids brought extra home to share!


From here we made our way down into a creek bed by way of a steep slope lovingly referred to as "butt-slide hill". In the sandy creek bed we saw more coyote tracks which we sketched as we attempted to answer the six core questions. One of the kids caught a baby frog while we were there! Then on we hiked, slowly, through the creek bed and up til we reached a big field. Here, we were inspired to play games. First, we practiced our awareness and sneaking skills with a game called Cougar Stalks Deer. In this game, a few deer graze in the distance while cougars try to creep toward them without their movements being detected. If a cougar touches a deer without it's movement being see they win! If a deer sees a cougar moving they send them back to the starting line. Next we tried a game that required strong detective work. A "detective" was blindfolded while a couple of the other kids made tracks and sign in the sand. The detective then had to determine who had made the tracks and what they had been doing. This game proved pretty difficult and we were eager to see more tracks and wildlife, so we abandoned the field and headed for the creek!


As we approached the creek we saw a beautiful snowy egret swooping by overhead! We found a place to drop our backs and made a beeline for the water! Tracking was momentarily forgotten as the kids were so inspired to run and splash, but soon we found a mystery and we were back on the case! This time we were able to answer all six of the core questions. We saw large tracks around a big area where the muddy sand had been dug up and overturned. The tracks were round in shape with two hoofed toes. We referred to the list we'd made earlier of the animals that are present on this land and agreed that the most likely culprits were wild hog. It was then determined that multiple hogs were digging for food,feeling hungry and that the tracks were less than a week old. That left only to discover where they'd gone. We looked more closely and saw another track and another. Down the creek we followed them until they crossed the inlet and disappeared up the steep bank on the other side. Clearly they had gone home!  Solving the mystery of the hogs was a great accomplishment and some  determined detectives were ready for more. They were given the challenge of finding tracks and answering as many of the core questions as they could, for which they would receive points. Some of the kids had moved on to their own important tasks like building snail communities and log, target practice. For the rest of our time together we tracked, built, raced, had throwing contests, bombarded, dug and painted our faces until it was time to return to for our closing circle.


As we gathered together once more we shared our Roses, Buds and Thorns of the day. We had such an amazing time together and I hope that we will all share an adventure or two again!