NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

January 10, 2014

Living with predators

Newburyport naturalist to lead tracking session after coyote talk

Tracking animals, a skill usually practiced by hunters, takes on a whole new meaning at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. Here, naturalists track animals as a way to learn what they need to survive, and they teach visitors how to do it as a way of increasing awareness.

“If we start learning more about these local animals, we appreciate them more and help them out instead of always trying to chase them out of town,” said Bob Metcalfe, a naturalist who directs New England Discovery in Newburyport. “What I’d like people to know is there’s really fascinating creatures outside your back door.”

Metcalfe will lead a session on “Tracking Predators on Averill’s Island” from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Ipswich sanctuary.

His program, which is limited to 15, will be preceded by a talk from wolf and coyote expert Christine Schadler, who will discuss one predator in particular: the Eastern coyote.

Metcalfe, who is also a licensed Maine guide, first saw animal tracks printed in a Boy Scout guide but taught himself most of what he knows about tracking.

“I went out with some hunters when I was young, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was on the animals’ side,” he said.

Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to most animals’ survival, said Metcalfe, who grew up in Haverhill.

“My grandmother had a farm on the line with North Andover,” he said. “A lot of woods I used to spend my time in is all condos now.”

To track animals, you need to understand how they behave, which is usually motivated by the need to find food.

“We’re going to focus on predators. I expect we would find fox and coyote, fisher, mink and river otter,” he said. “Mink eat crayfish and frozen frogs. Fox are going after mice and voles under the snow — they pounce on them under the snow.

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