This piece is written from the perspective of the animals that we tracked on Saturday, March 5, 2016 in the Bells Lake Conservation Area.
The quilled shape clings to a thin branch that arches away from the dense boughs of the conifer tree. It remains motionless; the result of a lethargic lifestyle or perhaps the quiet sense of relief imbued by a narrow escape. Its hind end, armed with defensive quills, faces the trunk of the tree. A predator had been moving below the canopy only moments before. Deep, soft snow blankets the ground surrounding the snow-packed porcupine trails. The trails are a maze of red herrings leading the predator astray. The snow is stained with deep orange and the strong smell of
porcupine urine is overwhelming. A grizzle-furred, male fisher now moves northward along the porcupine’s snowy, trough-like trail. The porcupine is safe, for now. There is little wind and the temperature is close to 10 degrees below zero. It is early evening and a light snowfall dusts the landscape. The snow sparkles under a waning crescent moon. The male fisher, an agile hunter lopes swiftly over the snow-plowed porcupine trail. This groomed trail network helps the fisher conserve energy and includes the added bonus of a potential meal at the end. He pauses in the middle of the trail and waits. The warmth of his body melts the snow, forming a compacted disc shape in the soft trail. The snow naturally absorbs some of the mud and dirt embedded in his fur. Would a porcupine be coming along the trail? He continues to wait, conspiring to surprise his prey. He grows weary. The night is getting colder and it is time to bed down. He follows the porcupine trail to the base of a spruce tree. Sniffing the air, he picks up the scent of another prey animal. The snow hangs on the limbs like bannock wrapped around a roasting stick. He jumps up to the lowest branch and knocks the snow off. He stays close to the trunk as he continues to climb. Finally, about 8 metres up, he finds a ball of cedar bark, mosses and sticks. It is a red squirrel dray. His investigation causes bits of cedar bark and moss to fall to th
e snowy ground below. He finds no squirrel to eat. He uses the dray as a resting place for the cold hours of the night. The snow continues to fall lightly. At dusk, he rises with the sun and continues his foray into the pine and cedar forest. His trail leaves the porcupine trough and mixes with snowshoe hare tracks. He travels uphill to a ridge. He bounds across the open snow and then slows to a walk as he nears the low branches
of the spruce and pine trees. He climbs up another spruce tree, riding the branches upwards. His hind feet turn 180 degrees and he climbs down the tree headfirst like a squirrel. The lower branches are thick so he jumps off, like a snowboarder, leaving a print of his body in the snow below. He continues overland. The alarm call of a goshawk alerts him to the presence of humans coming from the upland forest. He heads south. His trail width is just under 6 inches as he lopes towards a lowland area of silver maples and the possibility of food elsewhere. A few metres away, a mink slides headfirst down a steep hill, colliding with a small cedar tree in his path. He too, continues to lope towards the lowland area. His trail weaves alongside a female mink as they travel together in a romantic foray through the forest. The tracks and trails of animals are threads of connection, that pull us along. As we gather the clues, we weave them together into a blanket of stories; giving us a glimpse into the animal’s lives and also into our own.
Written by T. Anderson – 2nd Year Earth Tracks Tracking Apprentice