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Day of Awesome Discoveries

The fog Sunday morning was heavy and damp, you could hardly see 3 metres ahead.

Circumstances led me to finding a recently-hit snowy owl on road while on my way to our location. It was an amazing blessing, needless to say, I was in shock and awe.

We had such an incredible opportunity to see such a beautiful creature up-close, in such detail. Lee gave us some ID and diagnostic details, this had been a young, very hungry bird.

   The colouring of the feathers was typical of a female, presumably a young adult as the adult colours hadn’t yet become fully defined. After blowing on the bird, you know, like most normal people would in the given situation, Lee showed us the little spot between the breast bones where birds store up their fat – this owl had absolutely none.

It was a pretty sweet gift to start our morning, and the day seem to be full of such awesome discoveries.

As we began our journey in, we called to noticed all the cherry trees along the fence-line. Alexis brought up how the birds, raccoons, and some small rodents like to eat on and around those fence lines so they have certain patterns of distribution of the fruit’s seeds they eat and excrete.

Soon we spooked a grouse who had been very close by, which gave us a better sense of our volume and disturbance levels, and we got to see some super fresh feeding sign.

Sign of the fruit tree bark beetle

In that area, there was some unidentified amber-orange frozen substance that we wondered if it was frozen pee, jelly fungus or cherry sap? Taste could only tell for sure – it was cherry sap.

Lee explained about the bark beetle sign on the cherries, how they lay eggs, the eggs hatch and grow as they feed, then eventually exit. Apparently there are 4 local bark beetles in our area, we looked up which bark beetle this would be – the fruit-tree bark beetle.

Throughout our wander we saw plenty of deer scrapes, rubs, nips and browse along our trails through the landscape.

We found some feeding sign on golden rod gall grubs. Is this sign of a downy or a chickadee, or something else?

We saw deer beds, with signs of hare feeding on the grasses, and pooping in the deers’ beds.

We decided to move slowly, quietly, with intention to potentially see more.

We soon found a fox dig and tracks in some sand, a lot more deer scrapes and rubs, a racoon dig that may have originally been a chipmunk excavation at some point?

We wandered downhill to the springs, and as we were going to begin heading further, we stopped as we hear deer snorting at us nearby. We walked as slow and quietly as we could, hoping to catch a glimpse of the deer.

We made our way down to the river for lunch, where we sat by the water and shared in discussion.

Almost as soon as we began moving again, we came across super-cute sighting of raccoons napping up in a tree! Some of Nature’s sweetest moments…

There were some pretty well-worn deer trails in muddy spots, where we also found some super- texture-defined porcupine tracks, and nearby, coyote tracks, and another fox dig. Following the deer trails, Alexis and Lee warmed their chilled hands over the warm deer scat…

THEN we found a classic bear bite!

THEN, as we were calling it a day, so satisfied by all we had seen, we found on our path, signs of that infamous elusive creature, the BOB CAT! Fairly fresh, figuring not more than a couple days old….

What a day, so jammed full with awesome sightings and discoveries, but also so gentle, quiet and free flowing… Tracking is always such an amazing adventure that brings forth so many opportunities for learning in an experiential way. What an amazing day.

Oh! We also saw tons of Cedar seeds caches,

a large beautiful Mullein growing out of a fallen trees roots,

a wicked huge little room under some old Cedar and Yellow Birch roots,

and one of the largest colonies of Turkey Tail I’ve ever seen.

Amazing.

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Rainy Beach Tracking

Saturday June 17, 2017

On Saturday June 17, we headed to the shoreline of Lake Huron north of Sauble Beach. We were greeted with a light rain and very high water levels. The terrain was a mix of sand and marsh along the shoreline, and a mix of cedar, white pine and tamarack within the treeline.

Our first discoveries were not mammals, but frog tracks and a grub. The mystery around the frog tracks was around the orientation of the front and rear tracks. Some folks thought the rear tracks were oriented in the opposite direction? It reminds me of a Hound Dog story I heard:

     My hound dog was so keen, he leapt off the porch straight after a coon. Runnin’ across the field he run through a scythe. Split it clean in half. I got to it fast as I could, slapped him back together and sewed him up tight. Poor fella took a good month to mend, ’till he was as good as new. Cepten’, in my hurry, I done put him back together back to front. Now he runs on two legs, and when he gets tired, he flips over and runs on t’other two.

Anyway, the second discovery began as a mystery in the sand. There were veins of different diameters running in the sand. Alexis took a tracking implement to break off the top to reveal a tunnel. He then pushed it to the end of the tunnel where he pushed a burrowing grub the size of half a little finger. I wonder if its edible.

     As we headed back along the breezy shore, we crossed the body of a woodcock. Aside from the insects, the body was intact; no sign of predation. Apparently they will fly straight up if spooked. Just within the treeline Alexis and a couple of others flushed out a snowshoe hare. I don’t believe them. I didn’t see nothin’.

We lunched on the rocks at the shore to escape the muskitas. Then we headed out onto one of the peninsulas that frequent these shores. In spite of zigzagging, tiptoeing and plenty of oohs, and ohs, few managed to keep their feet dry in the flooded grass. And if they did, the downpour that hit us later sorted that out. In spite of that, many endeavored not to get their wet feet wetter on the way back.

There were a couple of finds of note on the peninsula. First were what appeared to be large chicken eggs. They were whole, except for one inch holes. Alexis noted the small holes in the lining of the shells, suggesting that they were preyed upon by birds. Jays, crows, ravens? the eggs belonged to geese. The second was a couple of pieces of strange bone or cartilage with pencil eraser shaped bumps on one side. Todd later contacted me with some info. They turned out to be teeth that are located by the gills of a fish – pharyngeal teeth. Now I have the satisfaction of knowing something no one else on my block knows. Thank you Todd.

     A good time was had by all.

Written by 2nd Year Apprentice Victor Ceni

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Trailing Deer in Boyne Valley

Saturday December 2, 2017

Saturday was our first day at the Boyne River Park. The air was still and the frost rested on the sumac. Among our intentions was to discover the habits of the deer. We found the first of many deer scat, tracks and other signs alongside the river.

This day we found
Small scat, big scat
Black scat and olive scat.
Scat in bits and
Scat in clumps.
One scat was a
Confusable scat.
Deer?  Maybe not. It contained what looked like berries, or rather, buckthorn seeds. Do deer eat buckthorn berries? Do raccoons?
Between river and road was a tiny copse of cedar. In the cavity of one of the cedars we found a hive of feral honeybees. On the opposite side of the tree was what appeared to be the scat of two animals: deer and ?  Turned out they were two scats of a raccoon who had eaten two different meals. From the evidence of mouse scat and seeds within a pileated woodpecker hole, we figured the mice used it as a feeding spot.

beaver tracks

Further down the river within another cedar grove and next to a large cattail marsh we made a rare find: along a beaver trail were two reasonably clear beaver tracks.
Now it was time to get our feet wet meandering along spruce and marsh. We found a soft pile of birch and cedar bark; a red squirrel nest blown down from some perch. Then came words of longing, “Now I want to smell porcupine pee.” Trackers. What can I say? Near the fallen squirrel nest we did indeed smell pee. Our two most expert noses had different opinions. Alexis went with deer; Lee with porcy. Somebody went with deercupine.
It was time to head away from the river and up onto dry land. We climbed the first in a series of ridges and spurs within a large hardwood stand with an open leaf littered floor and occasional copses of conifers. A perfect spot for lunch.

red squirrel nest blown from tree

As we set out for the afternoon, we found a big, beautiful, juicy coyote scat. It contained deer fur and fresh grass. Why would coyotes eat grass?  Nearby were the tracks of a buck that had halted at the crest of the ridge, scraped with its hind feet, and made an about face. Did it find the scat, or its author? We trailed it in into and up the adjacent reentrant  toward a copse of white spruce.

Coyote scat 

We followed the crisscrossing trails of numerous deer over a couple more spurs until we found one clear set of tracks. This prompted a discussion on front vs rear tracks, and left vs right tracks. Out came the field guides, and a helpful email with photos from Christina. We learned that the dew claws (toes 2 and 5) on the front feet stick out at greater angles than on the rear, and that they are closer to the hooves (toes 3 and 4) on the front than the rear. Regarding left and right, toe 4 (the outer toe) is slightly longer than toe 3.
We shifted from trailing to nerding out on a set of tracks and back to trailing. We finally left the woods, crossed a meadow dotted with deer beds, and climbed the lookout hill for the view, a rest and great stories.

Written By 2nd Year Apprentice Victor Ceni

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Bittersweet Weekend

By Ann Schletz

On the weekend of November 25, the 2017 Plants Apprenticeship group gathered for the last time. We spent our time together making plant medicines from many of the plants that we had met during our eight months together. There was laughter and gratitude, learning and sharing and good food for all.

We crafted some infused oils, tinctures, lip balms and salves. Fire cider created some excitement as many of us hadn’t tried this tasty recipe before. Jars filled with colourful, pungent herbs soon lined the counter.

There was a lesson about the art of mixing herbal teas and a chance to create our own blends. Kelly and Lee shared their recipes for tasty elder flower cordial and healthful elderberry syrup. For those of us feeling a bit under the weather and fighting coughs, Alexis shared a recipe for cough syrup.

In addition to all the bustling activity of creating good medicines, there was also the opportunity to read through the well stocked herbal medicine library provided by Alexis.

On Saturday evening, many people shared the projects that they have been working on as part of their learning adventure. I think that it is safe to say that everyone was inspired by the hard work and thoughtfulness that went into these projects.

Thank you to everyone who shared their photos for the power point presentation put together by Kelly. It was a really nice reminder of all the experiences that we have shared together.

As the weekend came to a close and we gathered around the table piled with the bounty that we had created, we shared gratitude one last time for the plants that we had learned about and for one another and the gifts that each person brought to the group.

 

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Roots Just Everywhere

Roots just everywhere, can you find them! This weekend was a blast, the fall weather was present and I was fascinated by the variety of roots we discovered. The underground world is a true mystery to many of us and getting a little taste of what happens underneath our feet is a true blessing in disguise. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. On a day like today, there was hardly any leaves left on most plants and trees, therefore digging up roots makes it even more special because we all had to use a keen eye on the signs of remaining plant parts. We learned about the way roots are used for utilitarian, medicinal and edible purposes. Burdock for example, has a taproot which often anchors itself quite deep and firmly into the soil. If you successfully and respectfully removed the whole root, it is edible and also holds valuable medicinal properties.

I love the feel of different soil textures and questioning how and why plants are adaptable in specific environments. For example, we dug up dandelion roots that were in a forested habitat that had very rocky soil, I personally struggled uprooting these dandelions. In other occasions, I’ve managed to dig dandelion roots far more easily because of their environment which was in a park which had soft smooth soil.

Throughout the course of the day we also had the opportunity to look at various seeds prepared by plants for the upcoming winter season. We observed wild coffee, blue cohosh and wild asparagus seeds apart from many others and they were incredible. During lunch time we warmed up with a cup of white pine tea and many great conversations stirred in our group. Our day ended on a high note, I felt inspired, grateful and curious about many earthly mysteries from our time spent together – clearly there’s never a dull moment with Earth Tracks!

-Annie

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