By: Sherwood “Woody” Wilkes
A Walk in the Woods
Look along the edges! Where the meadow meets the forest, the water meets the shore or where the lawn meets the sidewalk. All of these places are what biologists call ecotones. Whenever one habitat meets another type of habitat the greatest number of species can be found representative of both habitats.
This is where the greatest amount of food opportunities will be found and creates a natural “path” through the environment. Trails are another type of ecotone. Trails through the forest provide a “trapline” for predators as various animals use the path to travel from their bedding area to their feeding area or traveling in search of new areas to live, find a mate or raise their families. Think about it…where do you normally see the most wildlife!
Experienced nature observers, wildlife photographers, hunters and fisherman all know to look for the edge. They know that their greatest opportunity to find whatever animal they are seeking will be along an edge. The behavior of deer is a perfect example. Hunters position themselves within the forest hidden from the approach of the deer when they come to feed. The deer know that the edge of the forest gives them a quick escape route from predators and at the same time an opportunity to feed on the fresh new shoots of plant material growing along the edge. Fishermen fish along the shoreline or around “structure” to find their quarry such as largemouth bass. A voracious predator, the largemouth bass knows that if they hide along the edge of a log, a rock or a weed bed, that sooner or later their prey will come along to feed. Even the current in a stream creates an edge that allows prey to move along with the predators just outside of the current waiting to pounce.
City critters are no different. Just walk outside your home or school. Look along the edge of the building or the sidewalk. You will be amazed at how many living creatures you will see using that edge to move from one place to another. Insects, especially ants will always be found using the crack in the sidewalk or the seam of a building to move from place to place often carrying food back to their family. It will be along this same edge that you will see their predators hunting or laying in wait for their food to come to them. Even that lonely tree in the yard will attract more attention by the resident wildlife than the middle of the lawn. The animals know that their best opportunity to find food and shelter will be along the base of the tree, in the seams and ripples of the bark and branches or in the cracks and holes of the tree itself.
The next time you are out looking for wildlife, always look toward the edge. If you do you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more wildlife you will see than if you simply take a walk through the woods. How many different types of animals can you find along an edge? Happy nature watching!
Sherwood “Woody” Wilkes is a Naturalist from A Walk in the Woods, an environmental education company that provides child friendly outreach wildlife programs to schools, birthday parties, and the general public. For more information please call 704-436-9048 or visit http://www.awalkinthewoods.us.