Friday, January 7, 2011

Scene Of The Crime

My MooseBoots education has been gaining pace rapidly.  A month or so ago, I had the privilege of attended a mentoring class at the Maine Primitive Skills School.  It was an amazing download of information.  Had I been paying attention and had time to read it, I would have found that much of the material is presented in their book, The Invisible School: Playing Hard and Growing Smart.  It certainly would freed me to pay attention to the discussion instead of taking so many notes. 

Regardless, one of the exercises we did was a linking exercise.  Quite simply, the object was to find a disturbance in the forest and link other things to it.  For example, we found a tree that was blown over.  Its top had been broken off.  We observed many other trees in the area with similar damage.  Then, we notices that there were many small pine trees.  Counting the sets of branches (because a pine tree will put out a new set for every year of growth), we determined that the trees started growing about 12 years ago.  We made the assumption that the trees started growing because of the new opening in the canopy.  We then decided that this was all caused by the ice storm of 1998 that Maine suffered.  It just so happened that one of the instructors had been around then and confirmed this for us.  It was a great exercise.  The following is a similar exercise that we, homeschooling parents and students alike, had here at the Wyvern Heath on the drive out to the dance school.

At first glance, it might not seem obvious.  The tiny gray, white, brown, and black feather were strewn about it a rough circle about 8-10 feet in diameter.  A second look revealed some small seed dropped into the snow ... melted in a bit, but there.  What could it all mean?

First, we figured that the feathers are probably those of a chickadee.  The reasoning, which was not argued against, was that the colors and the sizes are about right.  Further, chickadees are numerous in our yard, especially this time of year.  Most often lately, we have been seeing chickadees, blue jays, and crows.  The other two do not fit.

Second, the seed was located directly under our black cherry tree and looks like the appropriate seed for the tree.  It must have fallen onto the snow and slowly melted into the surface.  This seemed fairly reasonable as the weather has been warm and the seed is dark colored.

Third, we also assumed that, given the large number of feathers, that the bird became someone's breakfast.  There were no blood drops, however.  And, there were no tracks into or out of the area. 

So, these are the simple facts.  The rest is our theory and the explanation for it.  First, we discussed the distribution and pattern of feathers on the snow covered ground.  The feathers seemed evenly spread in a circle.  This circle was too large for the attack to have taken place on the ground.  Additionally, there was no sign of struggle or tracks in or out.  So, we concluded that it happened above the ground.  The inclusion of the seed, indicated that perhaps the chickadee was perched in the black cherry tree eating seeds.

This seed eating could only have happened on tiny end branches were the fruit grows.  So, our culprit was not a raccoon, opossum, cat, or otherwise because they would have been too heavy to make it out to the bird.  Besides, these animals would have left a blood trail.  But, there was none.  So, what could it have been.  Then,we remembered that we saw, for the first time this year, at least one red-tailed hawk in the neighborhood.  That must be our culprit for the heinous day lit crime.  We did talk about owls, but as chickadees are diurnal, we ruled them out.  Besides, we have not found any owl pellets around here.

So, here is our theory ... the black capped chickadee was out foraging for food in the bright morning light.  It lit upon our tree and was nibbling the black cherries.  While he ate, we was spotted by a red-tailed hawk.  The hawk swooped in and caught our chickadee unaware.  This released a cloud of feathers and caused the chickadee to drop one of the seeds.  There was no wind, so the feather fell straight to the ground beneath the tree, as did the seed.  So, it was not really a criminal act after all, but a simple act of survival in nature.

This find and the ensuing discussion was amazing.  It engaged the whole family.  It required that know the species around us ... what they eat, where they live, when the are active.  We needed to think about what we saw and reason out how the things got there.  We thought about the recent weather and the impact it had on the "scene".  In short, it demanded that we be aware.  This is the type of awareness and understanding of the natural world that I seek on this MooseBoots journey.  It is amazing how powerful a few simple questions can be! 

I look forward to your comments, for or against the theory.  I certainly encourage you to play these types of games, as they present themselves.


  1. What's most amazing about the experience is that I realized, for you and me, it took conscious effort to stop, look around, and think about what we were seeing. For the girls, it was almost intuitive, and I think it's remarkable that they just "get" things without having to really think about what it was they just saw.

    Someimes I envy them that.

  2. Fascinating! I will definitely look at the woods in a different light, now!

  3. Sounds like the case is solved, and for once, the butler didn't do it ;) There are always stories laying about, if you look for them....I often look at tracks in the snow (much easier than in leaves!) and try to determine what type of animal, what it was doing, how quickly it was travelling...Last night, there was a set of tracks in the deep snow leaving my uncle's house in the city - at first glance, I thought it was a neighbour's cat, but on closer inspection, and seeing the size of print, figured it had to be a bigger animal (my aunt confirmed they have raccoons in the neighbourhood). Sleuthing 101, love it ! ;)

  4. Wendy, they are incredible! Homeschooling seems to suit them ... to use a southern term.

  5. Leigh, I am pretty sure that you were doing some investigating recently, too. Possums don't like my yard ... it is a little like the paparazzi ... I chase them around with a camera three inches from their noses.

  6. Julie, enjoy it! I really am trying to pay attention and "read the sotries given." We really had a great time with this.


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