California Center for Natural History: Tracking!

This past weekend, the youngest hiker and I partook in an “Animal tracking for families” workshop at Lake Merritt, put on by the California Center for Natural History and Oakland City Parks and Recreation. Participants met at Lake Merritt and spent two hours learning how to look carefully at the world around us to begin to learn how to identify various animals who have passed through.

The California Center for Natural History is an all-volunteer organization whose mission is “to facilitate inquiry into the past, present and future of California’s diverse ecosystems; create communities of culturally and experientially diverse naturalists; and illuminate the interdependence between humans and California’s wildlife.” I’m honestly not quite sure how I found them, but they are an organization worth putting on your radar, as they offer various events, most free or low-cost.

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Pluses of the day included an extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic leader named Marley. I now feel fairly clear on the difference between dog & mountain lion prints (see header image for the drawing, but there was a great explanation that went with it). He was clearly passionate about helping people pay attention to all the ways we can learn about the other species who share our very particular little patch of the universe. During the time we were there, we barely moved from the Edoff Memorial Bandstand, and we saw lots of different animal prints in the mud. It was a brilliant reminder that there is absolutely no need to travel to find the natural world– it’s pretty much around us every day.

Marley spent some time helping the group get excited about examining scat. (For those of you who are of the non-scientific persuasion, that would be poop.)  He even brought along wooden skewers and had us poke around to see what was in said scat. While I’m not sure I’m quite up to working on my observation skills with the dog’s poop (a suggestion from our passionate guide), I will probably stop and encourage the kids to do more poking of poop (with sticks, of course) on the trail.

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The one thing that I would caution about this was the “for families” title. I think it would be absolutely great for kids ages 8 and older. It was great for me, and I learned a lot that I’m definitely going to use on our hiking adventures, so the three year old will benefit from it, and she had fun for the first 15 minutes or so. Then it was kind of like our experience with bird watching at Rush Ranch— she was ready to go on to something else, and re-examining MORE mud didn’t really make much sense to her. (Also, she was exhausted so probably had less focus than she might have in the morning, because she wasn’t even interested in poop, and that’s usually a major focus of her talk.) This is also a fledgling organization though, so I would be willing to try another time– I think it’s possible they may figure out how to balance more ages.

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As we walked back to the car, we stopped in at the Rotary Nature Center, a very, very kid-friendly interpretive museum right at the edge of Lake Merritt. I had no idea this free little gem existed. It was perfect for a quick dip into nature– one room with various stuffed local vertebrates (from taxidermy, not plush ones from Target), and a touch table. They also put on summer camps and put on a bird count in early February.

Overall, this is the kind of thing we started this blog for, though. Opportunities to learn about nature, right in the city? Yes, please! And free? Even more yes! I hope CCNH continues to expand their offerings–their mission is certainly one we can get behind.

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