Category Archives: Tracking

Nature Connection through “Story of the Day”

This week I missed nature group; I hurt my back and didn’t get out of bed for three days. On Monday, I sadly watched the kids walk out of my room with Trevor in the morning.

Nature group is the only thing our family doesn’t skip – ever – unless we are very sick. And, honestly, I was bit jealous the kids were going with another mom to spend the morning at the beach with Tod. I was also jealous of their ability to sit, stand and walk…clearly, I needed to stay home!

The pleasure of my day (and the end of my moping) came when they returned and rushed into my room. Cambria sat down and immediately launched into the story of their morning, with Elijah adding in extra details. The excitement in their voices was infectious —they had tracked a bobcat ALL morning. Over two hours and one mile down the beach.

Their details and highlights poured out: the bobcat walked across the creek; it walked along the edge of the dunes; it walked through the dunes; they lost the tracks three or four times; Cambria re-found them; Elijah and a friend re-found them; Tod re-found them…perhaps it was more than one bobcat…it jumped down a small cliff (which was pretty high!); it walked over rocks and then we found the tracks in a small sandy area; it walked by a bunch of jellyfish; we tracked it for a MILE in sand!

All of this came gushing out with more details, interruptions and such pride at the extended tracking, that I couldn’t help getting excited. What a wonderful day at the beach! What a thrilling story! They were so passionate about this absentee bobcat, which had led them on a tracking journey. It was like they could see the actions of the bobcat, as it went about its business on the beach.

Without realizing it, they had told me the “Story of the Day”, which is part of nature connection and a Core Routine according to Jon Young in his book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. For millennia, story telling was the main way of communicating between groups of ancient people. We do this all the time, around the kitchen table or on the phone with a distant friend, about our day-to-day lives. However, in the “Story of the Day” a nature experience is the focus of the story. Our nature stories don’t tell us where to find our next meal to survive, but they do share an experience full of discoveries and builds our knowledge of an area.

Tod uses “Story of the Day” at the end of each group meeting. He asks us to tell about our favorite thing. It’s an enlightening experience to hear what each adult and child found important during circle time. We are reminded of parts of our journey that were exciting, but forgotten in our personal moment of telling. Cambria and Elijah did this together, building the story of their “Bobcat Tracking Expedition”.

Field Guide Browsing & Study

We have many field guides that are left out in the living room for exploration, browsing and study.  Learning happens at random – hence: skulls, birds and LEGO…



Or, in an organized fashion, as we recently explored several guides to research Snowy Plovers (Charadrius alexandrines nivosus).



Having a variety of guides available stimulates curiosity more than the single, short paragraph in our main bird book.  The guides give us more information on skulls, tracks, nesting, young, habits and habitats.  We compare pictures, drawings, maps, graphs and diagrams.  These books, combined with several websites ( and, give the kids and me opportunities to find more details and discover the exact variety of bird (plant, animal, fungus) that lives in our area.

In these organized “assignment” studies, we pull out all the guides which apply to our subject and mark each book with tabs.  Then, we assemble our journals with the information we each find most interesting.  The kids are getting good at using reference materials!



We spent several hours on our Snowy Plover journals.  It’s amazing to see the kids’ focus and involvement in the research.  I always feel a bit excited by this intense learning!


Snowy plover journals.

Animal Signs and Tracks at Gazos Beach

We found great animal signs and tracks at Gazos Beach last week.  While we were having our opening circle, we watched a rabbit nibbling on some plants just a few feet away.

IMG_0008We investigated its snacking spot and we were able to see that it was eating some plantain.


The rabbit’s bite marks are diagonal, because of the difference between its bottom and top teeth.  The plant has a clean cut, not a torn look, like the grass we found on the beach a little later.


The edges of the grass were relatively straight across, but ragged, as a deer would take a mouthful and pull away to tear its bite from the plant.

As we continued down the beach, we followed deer tracks toward the creek.  After crossing the creek, we found coyote tracks!  Cambria has wanted to cast tracks for a while.  Unfortunately, remembering the supplies and finding great tracks have not coincided.  Until now!


In addition to the coyote, we found bobcat and rabbit tracks which were clear enough for Cambria to use her Plaster of Paris.


I like looking at this side-by-side comparison of the bobcat and coyote tracks.  We can clearly see the difference in overall shape (round vs. oval) and the lack of claw marks in the bobcat’s track.

Lastly, we found a natural mystery.  The coyote tracks came and went from these animal remains.

What is it?

Observe Before You Speak!

We enjoyed a beautiful day at the Marsh this week…the weather was gorgeous and the waves were enormous, giving us hope that rain was on the way.

At one point, we saw this mystery bird on the marsh shore.

Photo by Tod Haddow.

Photo by Tod Haddow.

Someone asked me, “What’s that bird again?” and I instantly answered, “It’s a Godwit.”  And, for the thousandth time, I was remind to think before I speak.

The bird wasn’t a Godwit.  It wasn’t big enough, the coloring was a bit different and the bill was straight, not curved upward.  Everything was different on closer observation.  Note to self – close mouth, open eyes!

After looking at the pictures Tod took, reading about several birds and noting the quick probing beak motion (repeated, straight up and down), I think it was a Long-Billed Dowitcher, but don’t quote me on that!

Regarding bird identifications, I was greatly entertained, later that afternoon, by my brother’s Facebook post.  He is considered an expert birder across the country.  He was commenting on some pictures he had taken of a bird and the incredible (sometimes nasty) discussion surrounding the ID-ing of said bird by many “experts”.  The experts couldn’t agree, came up with countless suggestions, and insulted other’s suggestions along the way.  It was comforting to know even the experts can spout answers, though mudslinging seems unnecessary!

We avoid mudslinging in our group, but we did sling some sand for our beautiful sand art…

And, we found some sand slinging by a raccoon searching for its dinner…


Photo by Tod Haddow.

(PS – My brother just confirmed the Long-billed Dowitcher identification.  However, he was more specific – it’s in juvenal plumage, which is noticeable in the wing feathers.  Thank you Tristan!)


Tracking Cats, Birds and Humans

Cambria, Tod and I found feline tracks along the Gazos Beach bluffs where we had tracked the bobcat in the spring. They were tiny and, while there were other larger, sunken circles in the sand, we didn’t find any clear tracks the size of a bobcat’s. The tiny prints were about the size of a domestic cat’s prints and we couldn’t determine if it might be a feral cat’s prints or a bobcat kitten.

photo 1

Bobcat kitten? Domestic cat?

When we got home, Cambria studied her cat’s feet and we decided to take a track from her cat.

Mama Kitty's track.

Mama Kitty’s track.

They look similar, though the beach track is more compact, round and a bit smaller.  I’m not sure if that’s the sand consistency or the weight of the cat or the many other factors that could effect our non-scientific analysis!  It’s fun to think it was a bobcat kitten on the beach, following its mom who we tracked in the spring.

We also found many bird tracks on the beach, the highlight being this one:

photo 2

We had seen a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in this area from the parking lot.  Clearly it stopped to poop and then walked away toward the lagoon. It was a special find!



Bobcat journals…

Elijah is frustrated right now with his sketches. He’s definitely entered a developmental stage of realizing his sketches don’t look exactly like a photo. It’s so hard…he erases over and over, even when I re-iterate that this is for science, not art class. This week, I tried a new tactic – no drawings, just a bulleted description, and tracing paper for the skull and tracks. Here’s his journal:

photo 3




Today we did a tracking activity.   Tod made a series of tracks in the sand behind us.  Our goal: figure out the story of his tracks.

photo 2

There are three sets of tracks, parallel to each other.  The one on the left has the same stride as the one in the middle, but the tracks are slightly deeper, mainly in the front.  The last set on the right is deeper, blown out the back and the stride is longer.

We started the process by saying “I notice…” and the kids talked about the depths, blow outs, pressure points and strides.  They quickly decided that the middle tracks were Tod walking and the right tracks were running.  The left series left them guessing.  Several kids said skipping and Tod sent them off to compare their own walk and skip tracks.  Definitely not skipping – the strides were much different.

Hmmm…Identical stride to walking, but deeper prints.  Can you solve the mystery?