Belwood Lake Mudflats

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Belwood Lake

Belwood Lake is a 12-kilometre-long reservoir created by the construction of Shand Dam in 1942. The reservoir was built to prevent flooding for communities downstream and to regulate water flow during times of drought. The drawdown of water in the autumn to make room for winter melt and spring rains creates a fantastic terrain for tracking on mudflats and open shoreline.

The tracking apprentices seized this tracking opportunity in early December. The wind was quite cold from the Northwest. We observed track and sign from muskrat, coyote, deer, fox, skunk, beaver, red squirrel, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and had 4 live sightings of Bald Eagles (3 adult and 1 juvenile).

Natural Sunscreen

An interesting conversation occurred at the beginning of our tracking hike. We observed the white powder on the bark of Trembling Aspen trees and discussed its use as a natural sunscreen. It was suggested that the white powder could be a wild yeast. A research study into this possibility reveals that the white powder is actually from the aspen shedding mature bark cells. For more information, check out the following article:

Shorebird Tracking

Leigh brough a fantastic pocket field guide with some great ID tips for identifying shorebird tracks. It is called: Bird Tracks by Jonathan Poppele.

We learned that a good tip for identifying Great Blue heron tracks that Toe 1 is offset to the inside. We also learned that even though sandpipers and killdeer have similarly sized tracks, the difference between them is that a killdeer has an asymmetrical track while the sandpiper has a symmetrical track with Toe 1 registering a dot.

“I like long walks on the beach…”

We followed a couple of fox trails along the north shore of Belwood Lake in the afternoon. The trails appeared to travel side by side. One of the foxes appeared to have long claws while the other did not. This sparked a conversation about retractable and protractible claws. Mark Elbroch is now using the word protractible in his writing (2nd Edition of Mammal Tracks and Sign). I found the following definition to describe this (for cats):

Cats’ claws are protractible, but often (incorrectly) described as retractable. When the muscles in the foot are relaxed, the claw is retracted or sheathed. When the muscles in the foot are contracted, the ligament attached to the claw forces it out of the sheath and the claw is protracted.

One could interpret the posturing in the two fox trails as a sign of courtship, “I like long walks on the beach” where one of the foxes was relaxed and the other not so much. Maybe “excited” is a good descriptive word for the fox with protracted claws whose tracks were also larger in size (a male?). We found marking behaviour along the trail, the sesame oil-like smell of skunky fox urine.

The natural world is amazing.

Fox Track

Showing 2 comments
  • byron

    Awesome. Wish I was there.


    Thanks Tamara – great write up and research. Thanks for doing this,


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