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The Critter Camera – All Scavengers Invited

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The Critter Cam was setup by a group of middle-school age students during a Swamp Exploration-Wild About Wildlife program. The trail camera was positioned over the remains of a recently harvested and butchered white-tailed deer to catch the mix of scavengers that might take advantage of an easy winter treat and forest feast.

Within the first few days and nights the camera captured coyote, fox, red tail hawk, vulture, crow, red bellied woodpecker, blue jay and deer.

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Dead Deer Decomposition – Bone Collection

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I often find deer skeletons while walking in the forest, most likely a result of car collisions. I collect the bones occasionally for simulated archaeological digs with students when studying Native Americans and dinosaur dig birthday parties with 4 year old kids who swear they found dinosaur bones. Some of you may collect skulls/bones for display, educational purposes or for primitive tool projects so out of curiosity for the decomposition process, this past spring I dragged a recently dead deer into a spot where some of my environmental science students/campers and I could make observations. Below are a few pictures of that process.

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Forest Skulls

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Walk the landscape long enough and your sure to come across some interesting findings. Chief among them are the white washed sun bleached skulls of animals.

While I try to leave some items behind for the next person or animal to discover I have over the years collected a few skulls to share with students, scouts and campers as part of a hands-on Wild About Wildlife program. Some have also been gifted and traded to me over the years including a cat, beaver and opossum skull. Some like the fox above were left behind by a trapper at the edge of a wildlife management area.

Making Plaster Animal Tracks – Set it and Forget it.

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Exploring with groups of children you often find more evidence of wildlife than you actually see wildlife.  They see us, hear us, smell us – all long before we make much distance into the forest.  You might think of our presence as creating outward concentric rings alerting the animals to potential danger.  The birds sound the alarm call, the squirrels scatter, the frogs plop down below the surface of the pond. Because of this we often act as wildlife detectives and focus on their evidence including the tracks animals leave behind.  You can capture the individual tracks in detail using Plaster of Paris.

Making Animal Tracks using Plaster of Paris

Step 1. Find Animal Tracks.  You may choose to place a collar sleeve around the track to hold the plaster although it is not necessary.

Plaster Track Ingredients

Plaster Track Ingredients

Find Animal Tracks

Find Animal Tracks

Step 1. Plaster Raccoon Track

Step 1. Sleeve Placed Around Raccoon Track

Step 2. Add a little water to the plaster and knead it in a bag until wet and mushy. Cut the corners of the bag and squeeze it into the track.  It will begin to harden as soon as it is wet so do not hesitate or you will have a bag of hardened plaster. I like to give each child their own bag once I have clearly demonstrated the process.

Step 2. Plaster Raccoon Track

Step 2. Plaster  Poured Into Raccoon Track

Step 3. Return in thirty minutes and carefully remove the plaster from the ground.  Wash the plaster clean to unveil the track.

Step 3: Raccoon Track Taken Out Of Bottle Sleeve

Passaic River Raccoon Tracks in Plaster

Passaic River Raccoon Tracks in Plaster

Group Plaster Tracks Ready for Pick-up

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

Tracking with Kids – Uncover and Discover

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One of the activities I use with children when tracking includes helping them to recognize clear print classification or the ability to recognize a clear animal print in substrate like mud, sand, clay or snow. Using plaster outside with tracks that you find or air dry clay inside with replica animal tracks you can create a “Match the Track” game to quiz for nature knowledge.  I like to slowly show the animal track and allow students to touch it before providing increasingly obvious clues as to the animal who made it to help all the students make the connection. The game below allows for individuals to test and expand their nature knowledge with or without an instructor available.  At the end of the lesson children get to make and take their own animal track or set of tracks.

To make your own: 1. Roll a ball of air dry clay a bit bigger than a golf ball.  2. Press your open hand on the clay ball to flatten it.  3. Press the animal track into the clay.  4. Use a pencil to place a hole into the track if you want it to be worn as a necklace once it has dried solid.

Clay Animal Tracks

Clay Animal Tracks

Animal Track Identification Game

Animal Track Identification Game

Animal Track Identification Game Answers

Animal Track Identification Game Answers

Bull Frog Track in Clay

Bull Frog Track in Clay

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula. He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

Coyote Scat with Pheasant Quills

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Bird hunters show-up in big numbers when pheasant and chuckers are stocked by the state in wildlife management areas.  It’s no surprise they wake up early for the day because the birds that are not harvested that day most often become quick prey to owls, hawks, foxes and coyotes.  When walking through an area days after a stocking I found what I believe to be coyote scat with pheasant quills sticking out of it.

Coyote Scat

Owl Tracking

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Walking around Mahlon Dickerson Reservation Natalia found the print of where an owl may have captured some prey in the snow.  We did not notice tracks entering the print so were unable to piece the full story together.

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