Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Spring Time Tracking at Mono Cliffs

Saturday, May 23, 2015 - Day 1

Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

Our group gathered into a circle under the shade of an old Sugar Maple at the edge of an open sunny field. We shared our goals, intentions and gratitude as we watched the wind blowing through the landscape, passing over the tall grasses and through the aspen/poplar leaves in a playful fashion. We watched a couple of Northern Harriers fly over the field, triggering a discussion on sexual dimorphism and hawk ID features, followed later by a Wild Turkey hen cautiously wandering out from her nest to feed.

After our sharing, we got up to prepare to head out into the field for our first day of tracking but right beside where we had been sitting, we noticed some really neat tent caterpillar webs on some young cherry trees! What type of cherry where they; black, choke or pin? We spoke a bit on how to tell cherry species from the shape, size and spacing of their flower clusters.

As we headed into the field, we looked back to our shady spot and saw just how much our own impressions on the land (where we had sat) resembled deer beds.
We didn't get more than 15 or 20 meters into the field before we stopped to look at some of our first animal sign. Alexis crouched down and pushed some grass aside, revealing a tiny trail carved into the ground underneath the tall grasses. He showed us a tiny piece of grass stalk cut on a 45 degree angle, indicating vole feeding sign. We spent the next while unveiling the intricate network of vole trails through the field. We wondered how large the territory range was for these tiny creatures, which according to Mark Elbroch, is 1/10 to 1 acre!
We saw plenty of large holes scattered over the field around some of the vole holes going down into the ground. Had someone like a fox or coyote been digging here to feed on the voles?

We stopped around a rock cropping looking for signs of weasel activity and talked about defining features of various local members of the weasel family.

Then we pushed towards the edge of the field along the tree line where we found some huge scars on the younger aspens from past deer antler rubbing. We stepped into the wooded area and began to travel along a deer trail that ran South, just a few feet into the forest. We took a look at some of the claw and teeth marks on various trees. Showing signs of porcupine and raccoons who had climbed these trees in the past.

We soon came to a spot where we noticed someone had been eating the trout lily greens. Who was the culprit, turkey, deer, rabbit? We took note that the greens were cut flat and sometimes slightly frayed. Then we found another clue, a hair that kinks when it is bent, indicating the eater's hair had a hollow core. A clear track then confirmed our suspicions.  White-Tail Deer.

We found some holes carved out of dead wood, triggering a lesson on how to differentiate between local woodpecker species from the signs. We were really able to bring home this lesson as theory was confirmed as we found examples in the field of signs from nearly each type of woodpecker throughout the course of the day!
In the afternoon, we made our way along some beautiful cliff ridges carved out around 11 000 years ago by some great glacier melts, providing breathtaking views of the valley below. We sat watching and listening to the birds together,  sighting some rose-breasted grosbeaks, red-eyed vireos, chickadees, turkey vultures, ravens and a few different warblers. We split up for some grounding sit-spot time long the cliffs before embarking on the descent back down towards our meeting point.

Throughout the remainder of the day, we wandered through the woods, talking about trees and plant ID, deer rutting behaviour, predators of ant hills, grouse vs wild turkey dust baths, what the deer have been eating and how to assess the age of forests based on the plants and trees growing there. It was truly a day full of many lessons, tying academic information in beautifully with experiential learning in the field.

Written by:  Lianna Vargas - 2nd year Tracking Apprentice

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