February 3, 2002

Hockley Road at 2nd Line

Meeting report by Alexis Burnett
Photos by Walter Muma


Our hike started out up the Bruce Trail heading north into the Hockley Valley Nature Reserve. We were a group of 10 people out to explore this beautiful area.

There was one and a half inches of light snow on a thin ice layer which provided a good tracking medium. We found some beautiful fox tracks shortly after we ventured up the trail and stopped to investigate. Upon close examination, we discovered the 'chevron' shaped bar and the presence of hair on the bottom of the paw. A very straight trail led around the bottom of the hillside into the open field, where we lost the trail because of the newly fallen snow.

From here we all decided to stay off the trail for a while and see what we came across. We noticed a couple antler rubs, one older one and one that looked a lot fresher (most likely from this fall).  

Just ahead we came upon some more cottontail and squirrel tracks as well as a mystery tree that we could not positively identify.

A few of us thought that it could possibly be a hickory of some kind, but were not sure. We took note of the location and will hopefully be back in the spring! 

This area had a lot of sugar maple and beech trees, as well as some scattered eastern hemlock and yellow and white birch. The landscape is quite hilly, full of gullies and drainages. 

Light snow fell periodically throughout the day along with short breaks of blue sky and sunshine. A beautiful winter day!

We soon found some raccoon tracks and trails and decided to follow them to see where they came from or until we found some other trail to follow. As we followed the meandering trail of the raccoons we also noticed a galloping trail pattern of what could have been a fox or coyote. It seemed too small to be a deer and about the right size for a canid. Hmmm? We followed the raccoon down a steep hillside as the trail 'curiously' moved through the landscape. A few people said they smelled a 'skunk-like' odor as we descended. Not far ahead we came upon two sets of canine tracks. They could have been made from the same animal at different times. Possibly fox or coyote was our best guess. 

In this area there were two large beech trees that had grown together. Joining to form a huge single canopy!

We had a short lunch near this spot. 

One member of the group noticed some leatherwood growing in this area as well.



Shortly after lunch we came upon what we at first guessed to be either a raccoon or porcupine den site.

There were tracks of both animals around as well as some hairs found too. Lots of dirty tracks that were lightly covered with fresh snow. Many trails came and went from this central location. 

Upon close examination it was Walter and Julie who found the porcupine tracks as well as some scat and small claw marks on one of the trees.

There seemed to be a spot where what we thought was a porcupine jumped down from the tree into the snow. The tracks seemed to mysteriously end shortly after. Could something have killed it?? If so where were the tracks? An aerial predator? Did we miss something? 

Another unsolved mystery!

Part of the group split apart not long after this location to head home while a few of us stayed behind to slowly wander back. We came upon a beautiful set of fox/coyote tracks. This one line of tracks contained many different gait patterns this animal used from a slow walk to a gallop up the embankment. They were also quite fresh, there was some good detail in the tracks themselves. There seemed to be two trails that merged together, perhaps two animals or one retracing its steps? There were also some small rodent tunnel/trails in the snow along with squirrel tracks too. 

There was a beautiful red fungus of some kind growing out of a dead white pine that looked really sweet with all the snow everywhere.

As we neared the trail we picked up our pace a bit and were on our way back to the vehicles. As a couple more separated there were just Walter, Julie and myself left as we took in the view of the valley with the falling snow and blowing wind. 

Near the road we found some very fresh Mustelid (weasel and relatives) tracks in the snow with the characteristic 2-2 bounding pattern of this family. We followed them to where they jumped over a branch and slide in the snow. Under a Scots pine we found a small blood stain in the snow and wondered what had happened here? 

There were also fresh cottontail tracks (seen in the photo here) and an old rabbit scat.  

It looked as though something had sat in the snow here as the body heat had melted the snow and packed it down slightly. This is where the blood was as well! The mustelid tracks came and went from this area, along with the cottontail. The mustelid then crossed the hiking trail and went down into the bottom of the hillside where it followed another fresh looking cottontail trail. They both went over a fence into an area with lots of debris and plenty of hiding places. 

Was it following the scent of the cottontail? Or just the trail? Neither of them seemed to be running fast, but both sets of tracks looked quite fresh. 

Our best guess for the blood was that the mustelid had caught a small rodent in the field and brought it to the safety and cover of the Scots pine to eat it and them go on its way. We did not find any hair/fur or anything else besides blood at this location, so it left us wondering? 

It's funny when you leave a scene like this and go home and think about it later, how much 'closer' you wished you had looked at things! There is always information that is there that seems to go by unnoticed.

We all had a great time on this day and wish to thank everyone for coming out. See you next time.


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