April 11, 2004

BRUCE TRAIL - off of Dunby Road
Sign Tracking

Meeting Report & Photos by Alexis Burnett

As we arrived at this section of the Bruce trail we were greeted with a flock of approx. 10 wild turkeys on the trail. They gently moved away from our gaze and proceeded to cross the open farm field away from us and the road. It was an amazing spring day in the Hockley Valley as the sun shone brightly and the sky seemed a little 'bluer' than the past few days/months! These are the spring days that always succeed in raising your spirits and helping your hearts soar like the beautiful voices of the many birds that seem to arrive on a daily basis.
As we walked down the trail we passed by many redwing blackbirds and singing sparrows along the fence line. We came upon a place where many cottontails had fed on this apple tree over the previous winter.
A little further down the trail we came across an old coyote scat from last winter that contained a lot of hair from both cottontail and small rodents. There was also some kind of unknown bone/bone fragments in this scat as well. We couldn't tell where these had come from?

I remember when this scat was fresh on this trail in Jan/Feb. and it sure looked quite different now!

Across on of the farm fields we could see the movements of the wild turkeys as they seemed to 'sense' our gaze from a great distance. Off to the side of the trail one member of our group found some unknown seeds that seemed to be 'stashed-out' in a woodpecker hole? We wondered how they got here and by whom? These questions remain a mystery?
As we rounded the bend we could see the wild turkeys soaring over the ridge and across the valley to the cover of some cedar trees. For such large birds they sure are graceful in flight (perhaps more so when they are soaring). It was cool to watch 10 of them glide to to the safety of the cedars. As we walked the meadowlarks and sparrows continued to sing as well as the flickers calling in the background. There was a point on the trail where a deer had jumped the fence and we studied the splayed feet and imagined where it had walked through the dried grass. Over the hill a ways we also came upon an old cottontail kill-site and examined the remains of the story. Since I had seen this site before in the winter when it was fresh I was pretty sure that it was a red fox who had taken out this particular rabbit. In this area there was a lot of feeding sign from rabbits and deer. Both in the summer and winter. The apple trees had been browsed quite heavily.
In this area there were a few green plants beginning to resume growth including a beautiful mullein plant that had many snow fleas gathered in the center of its "rosette".

At this point we talked a little about the excitement that we all felt about the plants that would soon grow from the earth and the many uses of these gifts.

Around this area there were also a lot of ant hills, some old and some new. A couple of them seemed to be 'ripped' apart and we speculated that it may be the work of skunks, flickers, grouse, etc... There really are a lot of ant hills around when you begin to look for them. As we descended into the cedar lowland we passed a lot of red squirrel midden consisting of white spruce cone scales. There were many piles at the openings to hole and on high mounds that sported a good view of the surrounding area. This area sure had a lot of food for these 'noisy' little rodents.

Up ahead there was a grouse 'drumming' trying to round up the available females of this species. As we moved slowly across the landscape we stopped many times to look at the 'little' things and soaked up the sun and the beautiful countryside as much as possible. On a ridge we found some large porcupine chews in the bark of some red and white pine trees. There were many snow fleas and insects stuck to the sap that was seeping out of these wounds.

In this area we also found part of a jaw bone of an unknown mammal? Judging by the suture markings and the sharp and unworn condition of the teeth we judged it to be from a young animal. Just down the hill there was what remained of a dead porcupine. It was hard to tell if this bone was from this same animal? Just inside the cedar forest someone found a skull and bone remains of this animal. Can you tell what mammal it is? The skull measured 4-3/16"

There are some good indicators of what it is in this picture. 40 teeth in all. We had some good questions and a pretty good guess what it belonged to.

As we moved along we passed by many areas where there were signs of the many animals that lived in these forests. Chews, rubs, wallows, tracks, scat, etc... Going through the middle of a sumac thicket there was a really well-worn cottontail trail! Very straight and narrow. As we continued on we found an old maple tree and decided to climb and hang out in it's branches for a while. There were a few raccoon scats in its limbs as well as a cherry and elderberry tree growing out of the crotch of the tree itself. How do you think these were 'planted' here? hint, hint.

At the base of this tree was a huge old rock pile and a few of us experimented with some flint knapping for a while.

As we moved on we stopped to take a quick group photo.

What a merry bunch!

As we entered the hardwoods there were signs of a few wildflowers beginning to emerge from the forest floor. Including spring beauties and trout lily flowers. The robins were digging under the leaves and moving about in small groups on the forest floor. there was also many chickadees, a pair of downy woodpeckers and flickers off in the distance. It was a very peaceful place to be and we all could feel the sense of re-birth that was taking place in this environment as we moved about. Soon we were at the creek where we found many signs of a lot of wildlife. There were tracks, scat and sign from such animals as raccoons, fox, coyote, deer, wild turkey, squirrel etc...
As well there were many insects visible in the dead grass along the creek including crickets, flies, ants and spiders (wolf?). A sole garter snake was also in this area. No doubt dining on this buffet selection.

There was also a rotten log that looked like it had been ripped apart by a skunk or woodpecker or perhaps both. There were round holes and some small claw marks on the log.

All in all there was a lot of information received from the natural world on this day and we all felt blessed and thankful for the chance to interact with this place in such a positive way. I would like to thank everyone who came out and extend my invitation to all those to join us in the future in our continuing study the earth.

Until then....Happy Tracking



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