A walk through Mono Cliffs and Hockley Valley is a walk through time. What a beautiful place to reflect on this weekend’s theme of landscape tracking. In his book Nature Observation and Tracking, Tom Brown Jr. says,
“To an experienced tracker, every disturbance and irregularity on the landscape is a track. Every mark is the signature of an animal, plant, mineral, or some atmospheric, geologic or mechanical force. A glacial valley is as much a track as the footprint of a fox”
Tom Brown Jr.
One of the conversations that came up this weekend is the tracker’s ability to look for patterns and read the signs of nature. I think that trackers also see the anomalies – the subtle change or variation of patterns that cause us to look further. Through that investigation, we deepen our relationship with the natural world, find meaning, mystery and a comforting sense of belonging in our rich uniqueness.
What captivated our attention this weekend? Here are a few sweet tracks, sign and live sightings to marvel at…
Praying Mantis, where do your ancestors come from?
A wildflower-rich meadow sparked curiosity only a few metres from the vehicles. We knelt down to inspect a deer bed. As I looked for deer hairs, a bright green praying mantis crawled up my shin. We scooped it up and enjoyed her company in the warm sunshine. Upon further research, I learned that there are three species of praying mantids in Canada. One species is native, the ground mantid (Litaneutriaminor) and lives in southern British Columbia. The other two species, the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) and the Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia) are introduced. Our visitor that morning was a European mantis with an identifying black-ringed white spot on the inside of her front legs. Male and female mantids in Ontario can be green or brown or a mix of both.
Oh gentle horse with orange fruit…
While wandering in a rich, deciduous forest we encountered this beautiful plant! A deer had browsed the top of an Orange-fruited Horse Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum). Further research describes this plant as “rare or uncommon”. One source suggests that it can be used as external medicine for sore feet. I encourage you to read an excellent blog entry about Orange-Fruited Horse Gentian by fellow tracker and radio broadcaster extraordinaire, byron: https://www.toknowtheland.com/blog/whosthisplant
Communal Dust Baths for Turkeys
At the base of a tree stump, there were several wild turkey dust baths. Dust bathing helps distribute oil from the preening gland, keeping feathers conditioned, shiny and healthy. It may also help reduce parasites. Alexis gave an awesome wild turkey performance at the dust baths, as described by Mark Elbroch in Bird Tracks and Sign page 271-272.
Coyote Urine Art
Along the top edge of Mono Cliffs, we followed deer, coyote and wild turkey trails. Animal beds and scrapes overlooked scenic views under a shelter of maple, beech and cedar trees. Marcus pointed out this possible coyote urine mark at the base of a cedar tree. I smile as I picture a butterfly silhouette in the dried-out moss (perhaps affected by acidic coyote urine).
Green or brown, wolf it down…
The meadow beckoned more discoveries. Hugh’s passion for eating bugs led us to the Queen Anne’s Lace plant and a chance to see the Carrot Seed Moth caterpillar (Sitochroa palealis). Though the caterpillar was not green or brown, Hugh did wolf it down. We are waiting for a report on his sampling of this species. I have noticed this caterpillar weaving itself into a silky “sleeping bag” inside the ageing flower head. I often find lots of caterpillar frass mixed with wild carrot seeds in the winter months but no sign of the caterpillar. I wonder when it transforms into a cocoon and where does the cocoon go? Does anyone other than Hugh eat them? When do they transform into an adult moth?
A few more stars…
A Long Horned Beetle (Ribbed Pine Borer) and Bark Beetle galleries captured our attention on both days. Theses insects left trails, tracks, stories and pyramids of pine dust to explore. A bright orange midge larva (Schizomyia impatientis) in a Jewelweed gall was also interesting to see as were woolly aphids on a sumac tree. So many discoveries!