Program leads with study of lagomorphs

First Tracks & Signs program of year to explore habits of rabbits and hares

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2011

Most people have to travel long distances and pay the big bucks to get a chance to see places like Juneau, but residents of the capital city have the chance to enjoy the world outside on an everyday basis.

With so much to see and so many things to do around the Southeast, organizations like the Juneau Audubon Society provide a chance for people to enjoy the outdoors while being educated on the inhabitants of the local ecosystem.

The society’s Tracks and Signs Program will meet for the first time this new year on Saturday at the West Glacier trailhead with the goal of tracking lagomorphs — better known as rabbits and hares — in particular, the snowshoe hare.

“This is a program the Audubon Society did starting last winter as a fill-in for summer bird watching,” Juneau Audubon Society Education Director Kevin O’Malley said. “We’ll be talking about the hares’ habitat and also how to identify tracks.”

O’Malley will take guests on a two-hour nature walk, from 10 a.m. to noon, where he will talk on several different topics, including the difference between browsing and grazing, as well as why they often practice coprophagia — the consumption of their own scat.

“We never know what we’ll come across, but I know we’ll come across something,” O’Malley said. “I like to promote it as more of a walk than a hike, or anything else extreme.

He said while the focus is on rabbits and hares, walks are always fairly dynamic.

“We meet in the parking lot past skater’s cabin, and when we start the walk we don’t always stay on the trail depending on what’s going on and what feel I get for the area,” O’Malley said. “We’ll look at snowshoe hare scat, we’ll talk about the many predator-prey relationships and what kind of animals are coming in to feed on the hares, as well as what it’s eating.

“So we’ll talk about its habitat, its relationship with other animals in our area and we’ll talk about numbers,” O’Malley continued. “It’s interesting as they seem to go through birthing cycles where there’s a lot of them, then there’s few.”

The habitat in Juneau offers so much to many different species of animal, and O’Malley said this is something that’s always been a passion of his.

“I almost find the tracks and signs even more interesting than actually seeing the animal because you can follow tracks for a while and see what it’s doing without disturbing it or even seeing it. It’s like a mystery,” he said. “That’s what I really find interesting about it, and I find that’s a big portion of why people that do tracks and signs regularly. They want to learn more about Juneau and the excitement of that mystery that’s out there.”

O’Malley said he will most likely hold one event per month through April, or until the summer bird watching season begins. For more information, go online to the Juneau Audubon Society’s website:

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