Mar 4, 2007
Mono Cliffs Winter Tracking Day
Meeting Report & Photos by Alexis Burnett
Four of us set out
from the northern portion of Mono Cliffs Provincial Park on
Sunday. With sunny blue skies and a stiff west wind we
'post-holed' through the crust layer and deep snow for the cover
of the trees.
Only one of us was
light enough to stay on top of the snow, the rest had to work a
On the edge of the
woods in a small Hawthorn tree we found this small nest that had
a thick layer of ice in its depression.
We looked closely
at the material used to build this nest, it's location and
pondered what bird had built it.
Our intention for
the was to find some fox or coyote tracks, trail the animal and
learn from it as it moved across the landscape. We were not sure
if we would be able to locate one of these animals, but were
open to whatever tracks we could find. As we moved into the
cover of the hardwood forest and walked down a slight hill we
came across a set of tracks moving in a direct register trot
with a stride measurement of 19-20". We were in luck.
Judging by the depth and detail of the track,
gait pattern and stride measurement we were pretty sure we were
looking at either the trail of a fox or a coyote. We decided to
follow it and see what evidence we could find to verify the
species of the animal who left these tracks. Not too much
further down the trail we had some clear prints and with some
more measurements and further investigation we were pretty
confident that we were on the trail of a coyote.
This animal was
traveling through the hardwoods at the top of the escarpment in
a northerly direction. In this area we also came upon some
snowed-in deer beds and Trails crossing a small clearing. There
were sign of browse on the staghorn sumacs and an antler rub at
the trail junction as well. Just before this location we also
found the tracks of a raccoon up looking for food as the days
were getting warmer. As we continued on the coyote trail we
could see where it would occasionally fall through the crust
layer and plunge into the deep snow. It is a lot of work to move
through this snow and this coyote was moving slowly and
cautiously for the most part.
At many points
moving in an over-step walk. As we tracked this coyote we also
came across many other animal trails and it was hard not to get
side-tracked and begin to follow a new mystery deeper into the
We came across tracks of both Red and Gray
squirrels and noted the differences in the size of the tracks as
well as the trail widths. We passed through areas where both
habitat zones for these two animals existed and they were both
present with their trails side by side each other. We saw a
couple red squirrels, but no visual sightings of the grays.
There were also chipmunk tracks in this area as well and it was
interesting to see the difference in size of these three animals
through their tracks. We saw a chipmunk and wondered how long
this animal had been up from its winter slumber.
We continued to follow the coyote, but could
not cover too much ground as the snow made the traveling pretty
slow. This was alright though as we spent plenty of time looking
at the different gaits that this animal was moving in as well as
the differences between front and rear tracks and lefts and
rights. Interestingly enough we didn't come across any signs of
urine, scat or scent marking. But at the same time in a few
hours of tracking this animal we guessed that it had covered
this ground in under 20 minutes. These animals cover an
incredible amount of distance in a night and are built to cover
a lot of ground while trotting. Just how far that coyote
traveled this night we will never know.
As we moved closer
to the edges of the cliffs and the cedar trees we came upon some
fresh as well as old sign of porcupine chews. Places where they
had carved off pieces of bark with their "chisel-like" teeth to
get at the sweet cambium layer. We also noticed many cedar trees
that showed signs of their claws as they climbed these ancient
trees to eat the needles during the winter months. The limestone
cliffs and caves in this part of the park provides ample shelter
for these prickly animals.
A little further
along the escarpment we came upon these cedar trees that have
had some of their bark stripped from them. Under one of them we
also found some shredded bark that looked a lot like a tinder
bundle. It took me a few years to figure out who was doing this
and what for. Do you know? Next time you are in a cedar forest
look for this sign on cedar trees and see what you come up with.
From here another
canine trail joined the coyote trail we were following and they
both dropped down the slope and headed off onto private property
across the road. This is where our tracking stopped and we said
'good-bye' to this trail that had kept our attention for so
long. We were thankful for this trail left by the coyote on this
day and look forward to learning more from these animals in the
future. Thanks to all who were out on this beautiful day.
Bonus Tracking Question: Do you know
who left these bite marks and why?
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