December 7, 2003

BRUCE TRAIL - off of Dunby Road

Meeting report & photos by Alexis Burnett


Skeet, James and I met on this fine Sunday morning on the Bruce Trail access located on Dunby Road in Mono Township. The Sun was shining, the chickadees were singing and there was a calmness in the air. We were ready to explore this area and learn from the animals through their tracks that they left in the snow.


About 20 feet from the car we came upon these beautiful Gray squirrel tracks and stopped to investigate, looking for answers to such questions as who left them, When were they made, what time of day was it?


Not much farther down the trail we stumbled upon another mystery. There were many Box Elder seeds that had been fed on and dropped from the tree to the soft snow below? Was this sign of a bird? A mammal? Hmmmm? Who feeds on these seeds we wondered? We came up with a few possibilities, What do you think judging by the chew/bite marks?

Along the trail we seen a lot of Eastern Cottontail sign including tracks, browse, trails and scat. We did some measuring of some of the tracks and talked about some of the differences between Snowshoe Hare and Cottontail tracks, habitats, etc... We also looked at some of the human tracks on the trail and talked about aging and other aspects of tracking ourselves and fellow Homo sapiens.


We then came upon a place where a Cottontail had been eaten by at least one coyote. There were approx. 3-4 coyote trails in the area and at least one of them dined on rabbit that evening. There was lots of hair around including the tail as well as part of the intestines along with coyote scat.


As we moved into the large meadow at the top of the north side of the Hockley Valley we could see sign of many mammals moving and feeding in the area. There were deer tracks criss-crossing the meadow along with Cottontails and Coyotes. Many birds had been taking advantage of the seeds left in the different plants including viper's bugloss and milkweed. The Milkweed plant is a huge larder for many species of birds and mammals at this time of year (not to mention a great cordage plant).


We came upon a couple deer beds that were roughly 2 days old and also another large and very smelly coyote scat. Boy the coyotes sure are working this are, I wonder why though? Not like there is a shortage of food in this specific area! There were some fairly fresh(1-3 days old), coyote tracks, including some super-splayed tracks made while trying to stay on top of the snow.
By the afternoon the sum had raised the temperature a little, but it was hovering around the freezing mark in the shade. We each took a few minutes alone to soak it up and revel in the beauty of the surrounding hills. In the valley bottom there were lots of deer and cottontail tracks along with some "hunting" coyotes and foxes. Just in the cedars a little there was also a porcupine resting high up in a Hemlock tree.
Near the spring area there was evidence of something that was digging up a cattail? The only tracks around were cottontail and deer, did one of these animals dig here or did we miss something all together? There was also some small Mustelide tracks here too? Were they made by a Least, Short or Long-Tailed Weasel we wondered? How can you tell these animals apart? Closer to the stream there was a lot of sign of the deer eating the water-cress and water mint growing in the water, Mmmm Mmmmm Good! Cottontails were also feeding on the Horsetails as well. Throughout the day we noticed that many trees were dropping their seeds, including: Cedar, White Spruce, Ironwood and Yellow Birch among others. What a huge food source these seeds make up! Next we came across some beautiful Red Fox Tracks and followed them to a smelly scent post that was marked by the Fox. No mistaking that smell!

Most of our time was spent off-trail and we were very thankful for the animals who left their tracks for us to follow. We all learned many lessons and were able to look a little deeper into not only the lives of these animals, but to within ourselves as well. As we returned to the vehicles the Sun was setting in the WSW and the Moon (soon to be Full) was rising in the ENE. As this day drew to a close so too did our time together.


I would like to thank Skeeter and James for sharing this special day with me and would like to encourage all of you who have an interest in Nature to come and explore our world with us on our next Tracking Day.

Until then...


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