March 21, 2004

MONO CLIFFS - 25th Sideroad entrance (North side)

Meeting Report & Photos by Alexis Burnett

There were seven of us that turned out for this day of winter tracking at the northern part of the Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. The blustery north-west winds and the lightly falling snow helped in our decision to quickly venture off of the beaten path and into the woods. With the thick crust layer and dusting of new snow the travel was easy through the forest.
Not long after we entered the shelter of the trees we came upon some canine tracks that had been blown in with fresh snow. After blowing and digging them out we noticed much detail to these tracks that was otherwise non-visible when filled in with snow. We looked at the tracks and tried to determine direction of travel as well as what canine had left them. The group seemed to lean more towards coyote, but it was quite hard to tell.
In this area there were also signs of cottontails and grouse. There was a string of fresh grouse tracks along with a single scat left by this common ground bird. On the nearby staghorn sumac trees there were lots of fresh chews on the branches and we wondered what was making them? The chews were out near the tips of these braches and we guessed that it would have to be a very small animal that made these incisor marks. The small teeth marks were around 1/32" in width. On a previous hike we had seen the same kind of sign on some Scots pine trees in a different part of this park.
As we continued on the coyote tracks, we came upon a large old white birch tree that had apparently been hit by lightning. The top of the trunk was gone and there were many side branches that were bending down towards the ground. There was also a large charred crack down the side in a "spiral" fashion. In the "crotch" of the tree we also found a few scats, one was fresh and contained seeds and vegetation of some kind and the other was full of hair and some small bone fragments. There were also some claw marks a little higher up the tree that showed five toes.
As we followed the canine tracks a little further we found a place where a cottontail had crossed the coyote trail. By "sweeping" away the fresh snow it revealed tracks that were left in the crust layer when it was soft. There was great detail in some of these tracks and we stopped to talk about some of the movements that this cottontail had made. After some discussion we concluded that this animal had slowed to a stop just before the the canine trail and paused before continuing on in a quicker gait and in another direction from the canine. We wondered if this was the result of becoming aware of the nearby wild canine?
We followed the canine tracks for a while before we descended into the valley bottom and headed up the other side. As we started up the steep hillside, we found a sugar maple tree that showed signs of a feeding porcupine. The incisor marks were much larger than the ones we had found on the sumac trees. There were also many other differences in the chews made by these two different animals. Beside this tree there was also a large old cedar stump that was hollowed out. Daniel jumped in to demonstrate that this could be used as a survival shelter in dire need. Quite a cozy spot!
A few of the members of our group were quite interested in the fossils that can be found on these limestone cliffs. We spent a little time discussing the movement of glaciers through this region as well as guessing to the kinds of species that were now forever ingrained in these ancient rocks. It would be great to have a knowledgeable person lead a hike through this area discussing the fossils, etc... that can be found in these limestone cliffs. Perhaps in the future?

At the top of the escarpment we followed a deer trail for a little ways before stopping for lunch in a beautiful protected area with a great view.

Along the deer trail we found a lot of scat of varying sizes and noticed some browse on the hemlock and cedar trees. There were also some great raccoon tracks and we spent a little time mimicking these animals gait patterns and the speed and consistency of their movements. It was really cool to imitate these animal forms.

Along the top of the escarpment there were also many cave entrances and we stopped to warm our hands on the warm air that was being pushed out of the caverns. Some of us even jumped right in to feel the full effect.

There were many red oak in this area as well as a mystery tree that perplexed us all. We had some good guesses as to the identification of this mystery tree. Hopefully some of us will track its identity with some future research. I have my guesses.
There were some rabbit/hare chews on the bark of a beech tree and we talked a little about some of the differences between rabbit, hare, rodent, porcupine and ungulate browse signs. These chews were quite high on the beech tree and we guessed that they were done when there was quite a bit more snow on the ground than there was on this occasion. Some members of our group found a really cool gully/ravine and we explored its depths. There were sign of raccoon, porcupine and grouse using this area.
At the bottom we also discovered a few pellets that were left on one of the ledges in the rock wall. We guessed them to be from an owl, but did not know the species. They contained some small rodent fur and bones along with some longer unknown hairs and leg bones of an unidentified animal. These bones seemed a little large for your average small rodent (ie. voles and mice), but we could not tell what kind of animal they came from. Can you?
As we descended back into the valley bottom we came across the very distinct smell of a porcupine and some of our group were curious as to what these animals smell like. On the edge of a clearing we found some exposed grass and picked up on the impression of a deer bed. What a great spot. The sun had melted all the snow here and there was great southern exposure as well as cover and a good view. It was an "inviting" area to sit and lie down in. By this time the temperature was rising and we were completely out of the wind. It was beginning to feel like spring in this spot! We headed back across the valley and explored around some of the large cliffs and sat at the top of some of them taking in the beautiful view! What a great day.

On the way back we again had the chance to smell the scent of the porcupine and upon scanning our surroundings, found a large sugar maple tree that had been browsed heavily by this animal. Many exposed areas were visible where the bark had been stripped form the tree. We figured that he was close by?

I'd like to thank everyone that came out to make this a great day. Thanks to Rob, Craig, John, Daniel, James and Mike. I hope I get to see you all again soon. Until then.......Happy Tracking!


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