Algonquin Tracking!

Tracking in Algonquin, February 2018

February’s tracking weekend took place in Algonquin Park. Our focus? The sexy area megafauna: Moose, Wolf, Otter and Marten. Here’s a phrase not often associated with Algonquin: Not much snow! Temperature fluctuations this winter have created a snowpack just a foot deep, most of it melted snow that’s frozen again, covered by a few inches of powder. Fortunately, that meant excellent tracking conditions and no need for snowshoes on the first day. But more on that shortly.

The apprentices met up at the Wildlife Research Station on Saturday morning. It had snowed lightly but constantly since Friday night, and Alexis and Lee had found a fresh trail they wanted to explore. But because most of us had been sitting in cars since very early in the morning, we spent the first part of the day investigating the area around the station.

Lee had seen some tracks just up the road — skinny, draggy tracks that wove through spindly branches. The trail would stop in one place, then start again a foot later. It was made by none other than our friend the Ruffed Grouse, eating Beaked Hazel, and flying through the air so fancy free.

Otter slide


But that’s not all! On the same side of the road we discovered a long, curving slide in the snow, interrupted every so often only to resume once more. One went all the way down from the road into the river. It was our first sight of an Otter slide. Friend Otter knew that ice below + powder above = sledding bonanza! It was this trail we followed to as we walked deeper into the trees. Truly the Otter did not put its feet down except to push whenever it lost momentum. When it did, its feet landed in a 3×4 lope, and in places we could see all five toes clearly. Did you know Otters spend 85% of their time on land?

The Otter’s merry jaunt took us from road onto Bat Lake. We saw more grouse tracks and possible Southern Flying Squirrel tracks along the way — southern because of the tiny 2” trail width and boxy track pattern.

Southern Flying Squirrel

In classic tracker fashion, as we were trying to make our way back, we were completely sidetracked by the trail of a Red Fox. Last month’s gait discussion continued: What gait was this? Was it fast or slow? Where were the fronts and the hinds? And so on. As we mulled over these details, we had to ask: Why was this fox running across the shore? Was it running away from something? Intrepid Asian tracker Christina needed to find out more.

Following the trail back into the forest, it went from gallop to lope to side trot to direct register trot. So the fox was speeding up as it left cover. Why? We think these photos tell the story: The Fox was doing its thang when it heard a noise. It stopped and listened, then (1) abruptly turned left. (2) It crept towards the sound in an understep/stalk walk, (3) sat down to listen to where the sound was coming from, and (4) leapt into the air and dove nose-first into the snow! We found the tracks from a David Attenborough nature special, y’all!

Fox 1

Fox 2

Fox 3











Fox 4    



So did the fox leave the hunt in a hurry because it was successful or not successful? Discuss among yourselves.  The morning was wearing on, so we hopped into our cars and drove to our next destination: Kearney Lake. Alexis and Lee had seen some wolf tracks they wanted to follow. We did a circle in the parking lot then began investigating this new trail, two wolves travelling side by side through the campground.

From what we could tell, the wolves seemed relaxed. We found the places where they sat and wagged their tails. Maybe this was where they had stopped and howled to the rest of the pack! The pair used the human paths to make their way to the lake, and we split up and followed each one. Like most wild canids, their dominant gait pattern was side trot. Evelyn and Arlene explored how each foot would fall in those tracks.

 Our group trailed the wolves onto a frozen lake, over a spit of land, onto another lake, and then up the shore into some white pines. Alexis was just saying that he had found some beds here a few years ago when the luck of the tracker struck again: We discovered two wolf beds, and tracks leading out of them to roll marks in the snow. Jackpot!

Each bed measured 18” x 15”. The wolves’ body heat had melted the snow down to the pine needle duff, and the apprentices had little difficulty picking out wolf fur from the frozen edges. One bed had a drop of estrus blood in the bottom, and in a flash, we knew that we were tracking the Alpha male and female. Mating season for wolves begins at the end of January and continues throughout February. The pair typically leaves the rest of the pack to socialize solely with each other — kind of like a honeymoon!

Unsure of how fresh the tracks were, the gang stopped for lunch, in case we were pushing the wolves away. Then we followed them inland, onto Kearney Lake, and across the ice. The wolves trotted one right after the other close to shore. Most of the way, we could not tell that there were two animals, or that there were four sets of tracks in each print. Every once in a while, one wolf would break from the pattern and leave a scent mark. It seemed like they were depositing urine every 50 to 100 metres, and the female’s was red with estrus blood. Notably, they went to every single beaver lodge and scent-marked nearby.

On the other side of Kearney, we followed the wolves over a portage to Pond Lake, where we found our first moose sign: spaghetti feeding on maple. We also found a young balsam fir that had been the victim of a moose antler rub. It was completely debarked from top to bottom. No tracks, though.

By the time we got to Pond Lake, it was late in the afternoon and snowing heavily. We would have to turn back soon. Alexis asked if we wanted to stop and do a howl, then a sit, and the apprentices agreed. Each apprentice walked out to a spot on the shore, and our fearless leader led us in a call of the wild, a call to the wild.

In moments like these, I sometimes find myself entering a sort of trance. Time slows. The sky deepens. I feel my heart beat in time with the earth.

Moments later (or was it years?) we gathered again. It was time to go back.


Christina Yu


Sunday Tracking in Grey County

Tracking Apprenticeship Jan 21, 2018

There is so much to learn from our Tracking apprenticeship.

I am still discovering ways in which tracking is teaching me, not just about animals and nature, but about the basics of what is it to be a conscious human being in the world.

It has been years now I have been coming out on these trips, and yet there is always new experiences, and new depth to the experiences.

I do find it a real gift to awake on-site on these excursions, not only because I’m super grateful for not having to commute, but more so for enriching experiences, sharing food, good times and banter with the crew of trackers.

Before heading out for the day, we took some time to go over gaits and trail patterns. Alexis explained how to interpret various gaits and which animals we may see use them, while Evelyn helped us visualize the mechanics of motion via her awesome animal forms display.

We headed out for the day, and didn’t have to go far before we found a plethora of super-sweet trails just around the property.

A quick scan revealed more than half a dozen different kinds creatures passing through over night;

coyotes, cats, crows, and the chickens, squirrels, skunks, voles and more!


We were pretty stoked about the clear fresh skunk trails so we took elaborate notes and measurements of some trails, and spent time working on our Tracking Journals.


After lunch we head to a forest just down the road where we took a walk along the (thawing) icy edge of the creek.

We soon were in a jungle-gym of interwoven trails of so many creatures it made some of our heads hurt. Creatures like coyotes, shrew, mice, racoons, fishers, mink, short tail weasel, and quite possibly a least weasel. It was a really sweet group wandering – we saw so much in such little time.

The frozen ice above the creek water level was stunning, it made us pause for a moment to appreciate the beauty before us.

To top it off, there was a super sweet raptop track on the frozen icy edge of the creek!

Raptor Track




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.



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


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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