Rocky Mountain Field Seminars
Learn ♦ Explore ♦ Adventure
Life Signs: Tracking the Invisible
May 15, 2013
Course Level: III Course #: 3055
Instructor: Kevin J. Cook
LOCATION: Rocky Mountain Nature Association Field Seminar & Conference Center
1895 Fall River Road, Estes Park, Colorado
Course Description: A swelling on a twig or a hole in a stem, a stray feather or a piece of eggshell, an abandoned nest or a mound of soil: so many different things tattle the comings and goings of secretive creatures that otherwise remain invisible. This seminar will demonstrate how to acquire then develop the observation skills necessary to read wildlife signs as if they were a newspaper.
Course Level: III
Moderate hikes of less than five miles per day with elevation gain of less than 1,000 feet
Brief Instructor Biography (additional information available at www.rmna.org): Since 1974, Kevin has explored Colorado to experience its wildlife firsthand. Realizing that no species lives alone, he studies all plant and animal groups with a special enthusiasm devoted to the myriad connections among all life. To understand these connections, he studies fungi and protists as well, taking his passion from the textbooks and journals into the field to find the creatures for real. He writes natural history columns for newspapers and magazines, edits technical articles for scientific publications, leads wildlife observation tours, and teaches various bird and wildflower classes. He contributed one of the essays to Houghton Mifflin’s 2007 book, Good Birders Don’t Wear White: 50 Tips from America’s Top Birders.
Expectations: Professional conduct will be expected from participants at all times. Individual ideas will be respected. Except during course breaks, cellular phones, pagers, and personal entertainment devices are strictly prohibited in the classroom and during field sessions.
Car-pooling: Rocky Mountain Field Seminars utilize car-pooling to limit vehicles traveling into the Park. Car-pooling makes it easier to keep the group together, reduces transit time, and allows courses greater access because fewer parking spaces are required at destinations. In addition, it provides an opportunity for participants to discuss course material in small groups during transit. Typically, a few participants from each course volunteer the use of their vehicles for car-pooling to course locations.
Tentative Course Schedule:
8:30 AM Welcome and introduction to RMNA.
Meet participants. Seminar description, expected outcomes, and procedures for the day.
8:50 AM Introduction to “life signs” emphasizing behavior-driven categories.
Tracks: prints and spoors, stride and straddle; gaits.
Scat: size, shape, content; aggregations into “scat piles.”
Cover: escape, reproduction, resting, thermal.
Eating: food groups and eating specializations; food debris; foraging signs.
10:00 AM Break.
10:10 AM Summary of “life signs.”
Introduction to acquiring and developing skills necessary to find, observe, and interpret “life signs.”
Applying tracking skills to different wildlife groups: birds, insects, mammals.
10:45 AM Depart for field experience to engage process of deliberately finding, identifying, and interpreting “life signs.”
Noon Lunch break.
12:40 PM Continue field investigations.
4:10 PM Summarize day’s seminar.
4:30 PM Seminar concludes.
SCHEDULE NOTE: Weather conditions will dictate the actual timing of seminar activities. If safety indicates going afield in the morning, the schedule will be modified accordingly. Light, misty rains are just a part of being a naturalist in the field; however, thunder and lightning will keep us indoors, where specimen material will be available. Lunching will flex with progression of the schedule and what works best for the circumstances.
Hand lens to examine small materials such as galls and food debris. (Good hand lenses are available for purchase at the RMNA Seminar Center.)
Binocular to survey more territory than can be covered on foot and to search for “life signs” up in trees, across streams, or in other inaccessible places. (Bring it if you have one, but do not buy a binocular just for this seminar.)
Small plastic ruler that includes inches on one side and centimeters-millimeters on the other. (A 6-inch ruler that comes standard in dissecting kits is perfect. Make one by marking the back of a favorite bookmark.)
Clipboard or sturdy three-ring notebook for organizing and using worksheets in the field
Notepad and pen or pencil for taking notes.
A small flashlight to illuminate detail in shadowy places. A large D-cell flashlight is overkill but will work. A pocket-sized or pack-sized AA-cell flashlight is perfect.
Remember to Bring the 10 Essentials:
Rocky Mountain National Park recommends that hikers always carry the 10 essentials in their daypacks.
Raingear Map & compass Flashlight or headlamp
Sunglasses & sunscreen Candles Matches or other fire starter
Pocketknife First-aid kit Extra layers of clothing
Sack lunch, snacks, & water
Note: Rocky Mountain Field Seminars recommends that participants for all courses dress in layers and wear comfortable, sturdy hiking boots/shoes. Participants should be prepared for sudden changes in temperature and weather conditions.
Teacher Recertification Credit:
Most seminars are eligible for teacher recertification credit through the Centennial Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES). The fee is $25.00 per seminar (.5 units) or $25.00 per series of threaded seminars (1.0 - 3.0 units). A list of threaded seminars can be found in the Field Seminar catalog or online at www.rmna.org. Participants must enroll in all seminars of a threaded series in order to qualify for the $25.00 multi-unit fee. Please be prepared to pay for this credit with a check, made payable to BOCES, on the first day of a seminar or on the final day of a threaded series of seminars.