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Everyone needs a Study Area

Everyone who is interested in nature needs a study area.  Jon Young recommends a ‘secret spot’ that you go to everyday and sit for 45 minutes to an hour.  While you sit you listen, possibly take notes, then journal upon your return. You will get to know one area intimately–the birds and their alarms, the movements of wildlife through the area, the seasonal changes.

This winter I was with a friend who is an excellent tracker; so much so that he has started doing tracking studies for a living.  A property owner might be curious who is visiting his land.  Richard goes to the site several times over the course of a month or more and studies the sign left by the wildlife.  He showed me a map of one site he’d done.  That excited me and I thought I could do that in my little woods during the winter months.  Then I realized that I’d been doing something like that, informally, all along.  Every time I walked through the woods, I mentally noted who’d been visiting, either through tracks, other sign, or even my trail camera.  So I decided that I’d do a more concentrated and documented study.

In some of my past entries this winter, I’ve noted what I found: lots of martens and weasels, cougar sign, meagre rabbit sign, wolves, coyotes, etc.  I tried putting some of this into a map.  I thought maybe if I could map it, then I might be able to determine how many martens inhabit my study area or how many weasels.  By knowing where I saw the sign, then I could use others science on the approximate square area a weasel occupies.

Study area 2013

This is my hand drawn map of my study area. Different colors relate to different animal tracks. Dashed lines are trails Hatched lines are fences.

My study area covers approximately two square miles, some meadow with sparse limber pines, lots of hillside with mostly douglas fir, and wetlands that have logged spruce.  The mountain I traipsed through regularly is structured like a wedding cake, tilting and falling over on its side.  Layer upon layer rises up as a series of platforms, reaching into a scree area.  The top layers are decorated with large boulders.  The icing is snow that leaves a record of all the guests.

What did I learn?  Plenty!  By walking regularly through a defined area, I feel I came close to entering the secret world of animals.  I became privy to their goings on–where the bobcat hunts and where he rests; the high energy rhythms of the weasel moving from tree to tree, hole to hole, looking for voles; the mysterious interactions of cougars and wolves; and the exuberance of resident coyotes who’ve been hiding and silent when the wolves were here, but when the pack returned to the park, they began their singing once more.

The YNP wolves visited Sunlight this winter for a few months.

The YNP wolves visited Sunlight this winter for a few months.

There is an entire world, separate from the narcissistic preoccupations of human society, occurring simultaneously.  It has its own language.  The animals understand that language, yet I have to relearn it.   I found that it wasn’t about watching one animal alone, but the relationship between all the wildlife that was fascinating.  Wildlife are well aware of each other.  Only us modern humans are deaf to this living web.  By combining oneself with the ‘natural’ world,  possibly a door might unlock to another way of seeing the world and its Mysteries altogether.

Mysteries of the Universe captured in sound

Mysteries of the Universe captured in sound

3 Responses

  1. And you live in the perfect place to do something like this!!


  2. […] 50 degrees, the next a few inches of snow that melts off.  Last winter I began in earnest a systemic, almost daily, investigation of a specific area near my home.  Using tracking methods, I plotted out where the martens lived, the size of an […]


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