Our first visit to the Cross Conservation Area Pine Creek watershed was back in June. Against a backdrop of tall, green grass and leafy trees, a multitude of insects, toads and birds blessed us with natural “music” over the course of the day.
Things were a lot quieter during our second visit to the site, which took place in late September just after the students (now in grade 8) returned to school from their 3-day/2-night fall Outdoor Ed camp. The students were less boisterous than usual. A couple of ducks landed on the pond and took off a short while later. But most of the sounds were from a tractor and a crew of volunteers hard at work stockpiling small, felled trees and large branches at various locations around the pond, measures aimed at giving the beaver family (mature male, mature female, a juvenile and two 2012 kits) a better chance of making it through their first winter at the Pine Creek pond.
We noticed a couple of major changes in the area since our last visit. First of all, there’s a new fence between the pond and the rolling grasslands, designed to keep cattle on the range land this winter a reasonable distance from the pond (and creek). Secondly, volunteers put in a lot of effort over the summer to improve access from the current pond outlet to the creek, in an attempt to reduce the beavers’ exposure to predators as they enter / exit the pond.
Last spring, the students’ main focus was on gathering baseline information on the vegetation around the pond and along the creek downstream of the pond. This time out, they did water quality testing (at the pond and along the creek), created a second set of photos for each of the 5 fixed “photo points” that will be monitored over the course of the 3-year study, and did an informal search for signs of animals (tracks, scat, fur, feathers, etc.). We made sure to note that we spotted a red-tailed fox on the access road to the Cross Conservation Area that morning – one of the highlights of the day!
|Searching for animal signs, the students noticed ungulate tracks (probably deer), strands of fur (such as this clump caught in the fencing), scat and other animal signs.|
|This as-yet-unidentified feather is one of the animal signs spotted by the group of students I accompanied.|
I wonder how much the beavers will have changed things by the time the grade 8 students return to the Cross Conservation Area for site visit #3 in the spring of 2013? And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be one of the lucky parent volunteers to accompany them – with my camera in hand, of course!