A Million Little Things and One Big One

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“Not only is an animal an instrument played by the landscape, but the landscape is an instrument played by the animal. Thus the spheres of animal, plant, and land come together to form a whole.” (Tom Brown Jr.)

On Sunday, July 17th the tracking group went to Allen Park. It was a hot, humid day. The sandy slopes and trails provided clear tracks and sign. The cool forest provided shade and compelling discoveries.

I will go into some detail for three of the discoveries, even though the day was filled with a million little things and one big one.

Scat Dissection

Meadow Vole Incisor

Upon closer inspection of a predated turtle nest, Rachelle and Stephanie noticed a fox scat at the entrance of the dig site. They decided to investigate the scat further and discovered a large tooth. We wondered how a sharp tooth like that could pass through a digestive tract without injuring the fox.  The compact casing of fur around the bones likely provides protection and helps clean the digestive tract on its way through, like a J-cloth. The tooth was yellow, indicating a member of the rodent family. It is one of the incisors. The width of the incisor was 0.90mm – 1.1mm. This measurement overlaps with the measurement for a meadow vole (0.86 – 1.36mm) in Mark Elbroch’s Animal Skulls guide, page 95. After looking at pics of meadow vole teeth, I am leaning towards it being a top left incisor. The tooth has a nice curve to it at the tip that reminds me of a polar bear claw, used to grip seals on ice or in this case, maybe gripping slippery seeds or bark?

Fawn Tracks

Fawn Trail

Another compelling find was a trail of crisp fawn tracks, accompanied by at least one doe. After reading “Behaviour of North American Mammals” by Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart, I learned that at 3-4 weeks old, the fawns are too active to sit still and hide from predators while the mother forages. At this stage, the doe and her fawn are reintegrated with family groups.

Hammer-head Shark Invertebrate

Soon, we ventured into a beautiful forest of maple, basswood and hickory. There were spring peepers, red efts and old flying squirrel nests to explore. Underneath one particular log, there was a white, alien-looking, hammerhead shark-like invertebrate. It wriggled around and we had no idea what it was. Later on, we found a similar-looking invertebrate that was black, under a carcass and guessed that the creature was a larva from a species of carrion beetle.

Mystery Larva

Forest Minotaur?

Along the ridge of the forest, Alexis noticed a pile of sand at the bottom of a steep forest slope. Byron went to investigate and did not return. We called down, “Byron! Is there anything interesting down there?” to which he replied, “Yes! Lots of bones!”. We ambled down the steep slope, noticing a myriad of bird and mammal carcasses strewn about. Were we in the labyrinth of a forest minotaur? We soon became enchanted by the largest coyote den that I have ever seen! It looked like it had been used by many generations of coyotes. In front of the den, there was a sandy throw mound that must have been several metres high. The den was facing southeast, shielded from the cold, northwest winds by the forest slope behind it. There was evidence of little digs in the sand. I imagined bright-eyed coyote pups barking and playing on that sandy mound, waiting for their parents to return from hunting forays. The spring sunlight would have warmed their downy coats after cool nights.  During the summer, coyote families move to “rendezvous sites” or above ground dens and some may disperse in the autumn and early winter.

What a fantastic day! Looking forward to our next tracking adventure 😊

Coyote Den
  • Diana Clements

    Wow Tamara. Thanks for the great post. I was really sad to miss this weekend. I’ve never seen, or at least recognized a coyote den, so wish I could have seen it!

    See you in all in August.

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