Who uses the 2.5 acre woodland and wetland that adjoin our school? The 5th graders at Cowern Elementary explored their schoolyard habitat looking for animal sign and predicted which mammals we might capture in our cameras. We learned, through historical records and pictures, that the land was once an oak savannah with scattered wetlands. When the school was built in 1952, a creek was dug to drain the wetland that is now our playground.
At first, the gray and red squirrels were the dominant captures during the day, with a few cottontails and raccoons at night. Soon we were capturing white-tailed deer, opossum, and red fox. A short-tailed shrew was captured moving through a runway in the snow; a cottontail was captured sniffing a white-footed mouse; and the busy activity of the squirrels tripped the camera and captured a muskrat on the frozen creek.
With the cameras, we could follow the unfolding stories of the white-tailed deer. A young fawn became a frequent visitor; first appearing with its mother and then traveling independently. One day the fawn appeared with injuries that we suspect were from a barbed-wire fence. As the fawn grew, we could see the pedicels (nubs) on his head that told us he was a young buck. Other frequent visitors included a doe with twins, a six-point buck, and a ten-point buck. When the ten-point buck appeared in December, he had lost his right antler.
During the final week, we caught our last mammal species, a coyote. He was sniffing the ground where a cottontail was sitting just two minute earlier.
Mammals were not our only wildlife captures. The cameras also recorded a variety of birds including white-breasted nuthatch, American robin, dark-eyed junco, American crow, blue jay, mallard, black-capped chickadee and northern cardinal.
Our data are available from fall 2010 . Note that the graphs will open in a new window. Close the graph window to return here.