Oct 29, 2006

Fall Tracking
BRUCE TRAIL - off of Dunby Road

Meeting Report & Photos by Alexis Burnett

This late October morning brought sunshine, strong winds and a couple inches of snow that had fallen overnight. It has been a wet fall and the sun and glistening snow was a refreshing change.

Three others -- Alexa, Paul, Trudy and myself ventured out this blustery fall day down the Bruce Trail and into the northern portion of the Hockley Valley Nature Reserve. The cover of the coniferous trees provided much needed shelter from the wind and provided us with many tracks and 'mysteries' to uncover.
Shortly into our walk we came upon a meadow with many Hawthorn trees in it. Covered in ripe, red berries they are quite a food source to many species of wildlife. We observed the differences between a couple different species and talked briefly on some of the uses of these shrubs. They continued to intrigue us throughout our walk.

Under the cover of the Red Pine trees we also stopped to look at some deer tracks/trails as well as some Red Squirrel 'digs'. We speculated on the habits and caching abilities of these rodents at different times of year and different food sources. As the day went on we began to look at the ground on a ery detailed level.

We found this track moving down the center of the trail. It was less than an hour old as it had stepped in the women's tracks who went down the trail ahead of us. It was moving in a diagonal walk and the tracks were three quarters of an inch length and width, roughly. Some groups appeared to have four toes and some five? Do you know what it was? It was tricky at the time, we all had our opinions.
We also came upon this old antler rub. This area on the edge of the forest showed many signs of "feeding" activity by many animals including deer, cottontails, red squirrel, coyote, etc... We talked of the different browse signs left by different mammals and looked closely at the ground looking for tracks. Paul found what looked like a small red squirrel track in the middle of the trail among many other compression shapes of various sizes. So much activity in this area!
As we descended into the lowland cedars we found this one that had had a lot of its bark stripped by red squirrels. They strip this bark to line their 'nests' for the winter. Upon close observation we could see tiny four toed claw marks in the branches.
The ground was very wet and 'springy' in this area, full of water after the fall rains. Paul found a small deer antler from last year that showed signs of rodents gnawing on it. We moved closer to the small stream that had generated from many tiny springs in this area. Fresh cold, clean water.

Under one of these magnificent cedars we found porcupine scats and saw evidence of their claw marks on the trees. These trees have been used by these animals for a very long time.

This was a big old yellow birch that we came across beside the stream. This area was full of some amazing old trees. Truly a very special place.
There were also many small trees beginning their lives here. Many trees were dropping seeds. Providing a huge food source for many species of wildlife. Everywhere you looked on the forest floor was covered in seeds.

We spend some time examining the Hop Hornbeam seeds and talking about their "techniques for survival".

Along the stream just out of the forest we found some wild mint and reveled in the smell of this plant. We followed a deer trail up the other side of the valley and came upon an area with a lot of cottontail sign. On the deer trail we found this 'scrape'.

Upon closer investigation you could see claw marks and toe pads. It was made by a canine. By the size it seemed to be from a coyote. Have you seen wild canine's doing this? What purposes do you think it serves?

Later in the walk we came upon 4-5 coyote scats of various sizes. One contained strictly apples, while the others were full of deer hair. This one was huge. It was found in a meadow along a deer trail. All the others were placed on/beside deer trails as well.
Under some large hemlock and cedar trees we also found a favorite 'roosting' site of the local wild turkey population. On the ground in the area were many feathers and piles of scat. This area provided optimal cover, especially from the west wind. It was very exciting to run around collecting feathers and finding areas where these large birds had spend many nights in these trees.
We all had a great day in the forest and learned a lot from one another. We moved at a slow pace and looked at things in detail. It was great to spend the day with such inquisitive, curious and thankful individuals. I thank everyone that made it out this day and look forward to seeing you again in the future.

Happy Tracking

Alexis Burnett

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