January 18, 2004

Mono Cliffs North Side: 25th Sideroad entrance

Meeting Report & Photos by Alexis Burnett

There were 3 people who came out on this windy day to explore the northern portion of Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. The temperature had risen from the previous week of cold weather to about -10 C and there was a cool northwest wind that would bite at any exposed skin. However, once in the cover of the forest the wind seemed light to almost nonexistent as it rushed through and past the tops of the trees. Two totally different worlds between the openness of the meadow and the protection of the forest cover. We were pretty sure there would not be too many animals moving in the more open areas on this day. Our theme for the day was originally going to be Foxes and/or Coyotes, but with the snow overnight there was little sign of fresh tracks. Instead we wandered the landscape taking in the many beauties of the forest in winter.

With close to 4 inches of snow in the last 24 hours there was not a lot of fresh tracks from the previous night. As expected, running along the top of the escarpment we found some fairly well-used deer trails from the last few days. We were graced with a sighting of a white-tail deer coming down the hillside only to find us looking back at it. The deer seemed a little stunned to see us and quickly trotted a few meters away before stopping and turning to get a better look at us. As we continued on we came across some small rodent tracks leading from holes in the snow to under trees, logs, etc... From the size and pattern we judged them to be meadow vole, but were unsure of their exact identification.

Atop most of the cliffs there was also fresh sign including chews, trails, urine and scat of the many porcupines that inhabit this area. As we peered in many of the small caves and crevices we could see lots of porcupine scat and could detect the distinct odor of this animal. How many of them live in these cliffs during this time of year I wondered? There was a lot of sign of them feeding on cedar, maple and especially the tops of the birch trees. Some of the sign was fresh, while some of it was from previous seasons. I cannot help but see this area as "the land of the porcupine".
We did some exploring among the cliffs and crevices and reveled in the beauty of these limestone walls and elder white cedars.
From the top of these cliffs there were some amazing views of the surrounding countryside and park. The sun, when felt out of the biting wind, was a much appreciated gift. In the valley bottom there was a lot of old (2-3 days) tracks and trails of deer and cottontails. As we discussed some of the differences between cottontail and porcupine trails we turned to see a cottontail bounding up the hillside. There was a lot of sign of feeding of these two mammals on the apple trees in this area. Years of bud and bark chews spoke of the healthy population of both of these mammals.
While scouting along the bottom of the cliffs we found some fresh (1-5 hrs.) deer tracks and back-tracked them for a while. Some of the hoof prints were quite large and seemed to "meander" through the forest.
We came upon a scat pile that was still fresh and unfrozen. The scat seemed larger than normal and we wondered if this solitary animal was a large buck? Judging by the size of the tracks and scat this seemed like a good guess. Perhaps we will see this beautiful animal at some point in the future?
Throughout most of the day we were graced with the presence of singing chickadees in the trees over our heads. There were also a few woodpecker sightings and signs of their presence, Hairy, Downy and pileated woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.
On our way back up the hill we crossed some more deer tracks coming down and we back-tracked them. Wondering if this was the deer that we had previously seen? As we came over the top of the hill the trail led into some tight brush, where we found a fresh bed and scat. The spot was situated perfectly with good cover and view of the surrounding landscape. The scat was fresh and we wondered when this deer had gotten up? The tracks leading to the bed seemed a little older. They zigzagged through the brush, almost looking or "sensing" for the right spot to bed down. "She" seemed to find it. With a little more back-tracking we discovered that this was a different deer from the one that we had seen earlier.
By this time we were close to the cars and near the end of our day. We quickly crossed the meadow in the strong, cold winds and soon were on our separate ways through the oncoming snowy weather. The blue skies had now faded to over-cast and a winter snow flurry was setting in from the west. I thank John and Daniel for enjoying this day with me and look forward to our next Winter Tracking Day.

Alexis Burnett

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