On a recent misty coastal morning, a group of 25 adults formed a circle on the beach in front of the UC Davis Bodega Bay Marine Lab. We sat cross-legged with our field journals in our laps, toes digging into the cold damp sand and jackets zipped up tight to keep out the salty breeze. We were all paying close attention to our instructor from the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center who was unraveling the mysteries of animal tracks and sketching them for our benefit in a large field journal. She was setting the stage for our morning activity: to explore the sand dunes for animal sign.
As we took copious notes, she described the wide diversity of animals that might use the rocky intertidal areas, sandy beaches, lagoon mudflats, tidal saltmarshes, sand dunes, coastal bluffs, coastal scrub, and freshwater wetland communities that occur in the near vicinity. She demonstrated how we could discern which was a front or hind foot track, left or right side, why and how one might determine what the animal was doing in that location, and more. She left some questions unanswered, encouraging us to explore, observe, draw, and discuss what we found. She told us to share our observations and piece together the stories, so off we eagerly hiked to explore animal sign.
In less than an hour we found raccoon, deer, and myriad bird tracks, nibbled vegetation, an endangered red-legged frog, a recently deceased shorebird called a phalarope, and a large…
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