Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tracking in the Sauble Beach Area

Saturday, June 13th, 2015 - Story of the Day

Congregating at Alexis’s place before starting our drive to Sauble, we travellers arrived with stories of our adventures.  Sue, Aster and Luke had stopped to investigate some road kill, get hair samples and pull the bodies to a more peaceful resting place. Miriam shared her experience watching the fireflies come out the night before and was grateful for the peaceful misty morning drive. Following a quick tour of the beautiful place we’d call home for the weekend, we set out.
Arriving at our destination we headed to the sandy areas to look for tracks.  We passed some yellow lady slippers that grew just off the path – a cheery welcome. A chance meeting with a grandfather and his grandson concerned about the debris being dumped in the area made us mindful of how important stewardship is to our interaction with this land.
How rewarding it is to find an animal at the end of the track you are following…and so it was with one of our first finds….a millipede (North American maybe?) A close look afforded a view of the tiny leg tracks. Close by was a curious raised line that when uncovered exposed a wee round tunnel a mere 1/8th of an inch in diameter.  Clearly the makings of a creature much smaller than the millipede.

Off at the edge of the wooded area Luke and Sue located what they suspected might be lagomorph signs. Investigating further we discovered more clues including prints, a small enchanting opening into the cedars we crouched to look through, and some intriguing scat. Lagomorphs are “coprophagous” which means they eat their first scat to glean nutrients from the undigested material contained therein. By comparing two scat samples we think we might have found some uneaten first scats. Is there a story behind this? Might the nearby fox scat, though older, be a clue?
Back onto the sand we found more lagomorph tracks. Cottontail or  Snowshoe Hare? Careful measurement of trail width, track size and stride length helped us to place our bets on cottontail. Drawn by the activity of the egrets and crows in the distance we set off to see what we might find of bird tracks, and of course anything else of interest…bear tracks were on all of our wish lists.
Lunch at the point was a lovely time of spectacular views, ideal weather (Alexis wished he’d brought his bathing suit), and happy companionship. After lunch Luke went to look for frogs, Miriam and Aster investigated the area barefooted in the cool water, and Sue and Alexis went looking for the nest of the killdeer we’d sighted. Though the nest was never located, when we all joined up again to move inland we suspected we must have come pretty close to the nest because the killdeer performed its characteristic broken wing diversion trick. A female redstart sighting led us on a journey into the woods in search of more bird sightings…male redstarts? and if we were lucky maybe a redstart nest. Alexis drew our attention to a tree rising proud above its neighbours, spreading its almost leaf-bare arm-like branches out to the side. An attractive perch for large birds? Binoculars allowed us to see the worn bark in places and confirmed our suspicions. The base of the tree beckoned…what treasures might be found? Luke found a skull that remained a mystery even after consulting the skull book later on. Lots of white wash. A green feather! Heading back came across a few egg shells – of a similar mottled colouring but of a much smaller bird than the killdeer eggshell we found earlier.
Out in the open again we encountered clusters of pitcher plants. Like all carnivorous plants, pitcher plants grow in locations where the soil is too poor in minerals, especially nitrogen and phosphorous, and/or too acidic for most plants to survive. The digested insects, and sometimes larger creatures like mice and frogs! provide the pitcher plants their needed mineral nutrition. More bird prints. Having encountered a number of prints throughout our journey we were able to compare and contrast our findings and use these comparisons and our resource guides to help us distinguish, in particular, sandhill crane and great egret tracks. Noting the toe positioning was helpful identifying some smaller prints as likely corvid tracks. What a treat to then come across some turtle tracks! A fun experience trying to identify them…the penny dropped for all of us when Alexis gave us the hint that he didn’t think they were mammal tracks.  The drag marks and ambling gait finally made sense if it was a turtle!  While inspecting the turtle track we encountered tiny frog and vole tracks too. What day filled with richness.  From the tiny millipede tracks to the grand wingspan of the great egret in flight passing overhead. From the close inspections of the finest details of our finds to the expansive vistas out over the land and water.

Back at Alexis’ place we enjoyed a potluck dinner of delicious food and story sharing. Under a starlit sky we ended the day spending time together around the campfire before heading to sleep to the sound of the night creatures.

Written by Miriam Snell - 1st year Tracking Apprentice

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