January 8, 2006

MONO CLIFFS - 25th Sideroad entrance (North side)

Meeting Report & Photos by Alexis Burnett

We set out from the North side of Mono Cliffs Park heading south through the open meadow and into the hardwoods along the top of the escarpment. The wind was still and it was a mild, overcast winter day. There was an inch or so of new snow, over the rain-crust that formed last week, which made for a great tracking medium.

As we moved through the field we came across some tunnels and small tracks in the snow. A small rodent had come up from under the snow pack and was moving above the snow. There were bounding as well as diagonal walking gait patterns and we took a few measurements as we studied the movements of this small mammal. We speculated that these tracks were made by either a Meadow Vole or a Deer Mouse. The group was split between these two animals. Further research at home should make distinguishing between the two a little easier. The field had many Milkweed plants and we knew that both of these small rodents had been feeding on the seeds of this food source. Perhaps using the 'downy' parts of this plant in their winter nests beneath the snow as well.

When we reached the edge of the forest we came across a beautiful coyote trail, made fresh the night before. Moving effortlessly through the field and into the hardwoods. Again we measured and observed these tracks as they moved through the landscape. We stayed on this trail for a while as it descended the escarpment on a diagonal to the north.
There were many magnificent trees through this part of the forest including; Sugar Maple, Ironwood, White Birch, White Ash, Butternut and cedars among others.
There were signs of porcupines feeding on Maple bark (inner bark) and soon there were many trails moving along the top of the cliffs including Red and Gray Squirrels, Porcupine and an old Fox trail.
There were Chickadees in the trees, and a couple white-Breasted Nuthatches as well. In the Distance a Blue Jay was calling and a couple Ravens talked back and forth beyond that.
I decided at that point to trail the porcupine who was following the cliffs edge and scent-marking as he went.
As this animal moved along the cliff-tops I could see where a grouse had bedded down on the edge and left a big pile of scat under where it was sitting. Not too much further up its trail was the cecal form of this birds scat. Just slightly frozen. There are cedars that grow on the top of the escarpment here and many animals were taking advantage of all that this bountiful tree has to offer. Pileated woodpeckers had carved their trademark holes in these ancient trees providing habitat for other birds and mammals. The porcupine led me down some steep sections and had left a very detailed trail in its passing. Eventually it went into a small cave in the rocks that smelled strongly of this species and I wondered how many other animals were using this protected cover? Walking through this area you could tell by the exposed leaves and warm air coming from these cracks in the earth that they would serve as great places to seek shelter during stormy weather. As the mid-day passed by the sun came out very briefly and a light wind picked up from the east, south-east.
In the valley bottom we came upon a set of Red Fox tracks and began to follow them. They were fresh from last night sometime. This animal was scent-marking and this smell, along with the characteristics of its tracks told us that it was a fox. This animal moved from the opening back into the forest and moved toward the cliff bottom where unsuspecting cottontails were feeding and resting. The fox seemed to walk right in to this area and killed a cottontail that was under the snow in a small opening. 2-3 other cottontails bounded away from this intruder and escaped with their lives. It then brought the cottontail to the top of a small boulder and ate most of it with a good view of the surrounding landscape. All that was left when we got there was the left front foot, part of the hide and a little fur. Did the fox carry the rest of the rabbit off or did it eat it all we wondered?
We continued to trail the fox as it ascended the escarpment in quite an incredible fashion. Bounding up vertical surfaces, scrambling through some very steep terrain and walking across and up a few small logs. This animal made it up the slope with a little more ease and finesse than we did, to say the least! At the top of the ridge this Male Red Fox scent-marked in a number of locations as it moved parallel to the cliff top, before veering off to the west. At this point this fox seemed to move through the forest in a direct route only stopping briefly to mark its passing. There was also another fox that came into the picture at this point and it had a smaller stride and also had slightly smaller feet. was this a female we wondered? This fox followed the other for a while, but veered off on a few cottontail trails only to come back and meet up with this one again. Mating season is approaching, could these two possibly be a pair now or soon we asked each other? We cannot say for sure, but it seemed like a likely possibility.
We were very thankful to these foxes for teaching us many lessons about themselves today. And to all the animals that left tracks for us this day we also send our thanksgiving. To wander these forests and meadows today helped us to see the connection that all life in the natural world lives within. By understanding and being a part of this connection we hope to learn to live closer to the Earth. We are thankful for all that we learned today and for all that were there to experience it.

Happy Tracking

Alexis Burnett

The material on this page is copyright © by the original author/artist/photographer. This website is created, maintained & copyright © by Walter Muma
Please respect this copyright and ask permission before using or saving any of the content of this page for any purpose

Thank you for visiting!