Yesterday we looked at some of the plants we may see on the campout. Today we shift to the animals. It is easy to see birds and insects, and we will likely see deer, but many of the other mammals we will only identify by their calls, tracks, scat, and other traces.
Birds: On the hike, the birds may flit between the trees, but down by the water, they are much easier to observe. Look for the Great Blue Heron and Great Egret wading along the shoreline, and for cormorants drying their oil-less wings on a stump. You are likely to hear the Killdeer before you see them running along the muddy banks, while overhead an Osprey may fly by, looking for fish. Back up by the campsite, our two vultures often fly together, the Black Vulture identified by its black head, pale wingtips, and shorter tail, the Turkey Vulture showing a pink head, pale trailing edges to its wings, and a longer tail.
Insects: Down by the water, you will without a doubt see tiger beetles hunting (if you look closely at the fine sand further up the shoreline, you can even see the beetle tracks). You may see a migrating Monarch Butterfly, or swarms of American Bird Grasshoppers. Flying overhead are hunting dragonflies, like the Black Saddlebags (named for its wing markings). If you are lucky, you may see a Rainbow Scarab, a brightly colored, reflective dung beetle with a little horn.
Tracks, Scat, and other Animal Signs: Get up in the morning, or watch near dusk, and you will see the Deer grazing nearby. You may also see rabbits (including long-legged jackrabbits), and may see an armadillo, raccoon, coyote, or even a fox. But most of the time, you will only see signs of their presence. It may be burrows, or places they are digging for grubs and worms, it may be their scat, which also helps identify what they are eating, or you may see tracks in the dry sand or in muddy areas. Study the signs of tracks before you go, and you may be better able to identify the footprints you encounter.
As we study rivers, sometimes you can find runoff patterns that give you miniature models of the way larger rivers form, move, and cut the earth. Look along the river bank for runoff trails - they dig deeper where the slope is steeper, then as the slope flattens out, the water begins curving, even forming miniature oxbows, and fanning out into tiny deltas as they reach the river. Further up the bank, you can see some deep erosion furrows where the recent rain cut through the cracks in the mud.
The SAIL Pathfinder Club will be debuting the new movie "The Secret of the Fossil" in January as a club fundraiser. More information coming soon!