Imagine donating more than 300 acres to Ontario Nature for land preservation. Well, the Krug brothers Howard and Bruce Krug did just that. Kinghurst forest in Grey county is 370 hectares. It is an ANSI forest (Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) and includes a maple beech forest and 250–350-year-old trees. The Krug brothers also gave a stewardship endowment to help manage the property in perpetuity. They were awarded an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ Conservation Award of Distinction in 2003.
The sound of kinglets could be heard from the trees as we gathered in the parking area. After an opening circle of gratitude, byron invited everyone to investigate a nearby feeding site. We observed a bird wing and three (!) feet. Some of the feathers looked a bit matted with saliva. The identity of the bird was later thought to be an American Woodcock (a.k.a. Timberdoodle). Further into the forest, Marcus discovered the remains of a Canada Goose. Perhaps it had been a tasty meal for a coyote.
The theme of this weekend’s tracking outing was “deer” in celebration of deer mating season or the “Rut”. Alexis spoke to everyone about moving quietly through the forest in hopes of maybe seeing or trailing deer. We followed a fresh deer trail into the Kinghurst Forest, pausing to observe antler rubs on trees, feeding sign on Alternate Leaved Dogwood and ground scrapes. The tips of raspberry plants also showed evidence of deer browse. Leigh noticed an interesting gall on a raspberry plant. iNaturalist indicates that it was built by a species of gall wasp called Diastrophus turgidus. These wasps are parasitoid wasps that induce superficial growths (galls) on plants, inside which their larvae develop and feed.
Mountainous Midden with Bones Strewn About
Soon, Amina discovered a mammal scapula near a red squirrel cache. The red squirrel had created a mountain of pine cones, shed scales from the cones and leftover seeds from feeding. It was a mountainous midden! Leigh found some cached cones in unusual places, like inside a pileated woodpecker hole and another one tucked in behind a funnel web spider’s lair. More bones turned up at the base of nearby pine trees. Closer inspection showed the red squirrel had been chewing on them as a source of calcium. Calcium can be tricky to find in the natural world so bones are a precious treasure to a red squirrel and others… (read to the end to find out who…)
Fellowship of the Wetland
A live sighting of a porcupine brightened our day as we enjoyed lunch in the forest. After lunch, Alexis expertly guided everyone to a nearby wetland and we marvelled at tracks in the mud. There were 5 toed mink tracks, raccoon, deer and even a fisher track! Alexis spotted a buck-sized deer bed near the wetland. Kaya found a Northern Watersnake and Tamara excitedly pointed to a nearby Ribbon Snake slithering on a rock wall. A diversity of fungi, spring peepers, leopard frogs and green frogs also graced us with their presence throughout the day.
Near the end of our wander, we entered a pine plantation. Alistair saw a dark, raccoon-sized mammal “rocket” headfirst down a pine tree. We all froze, hoping to see the mysterious creature. However, it had vanished. After learning that the group had tracked fishers in that exact location last year, I was kicking myself a bit for not paying more attention. Alistair might have seen a fisher! To wrap up the day, deer bones were discovered. Stephanie soon found a deer head with antlers attached. The skull had been chewed by a porcupine(s). We investigated the bones, observed the marrow and imagined deer locomotion. As we looked at the bones of its legs, we considered a deer’s gift of being able to jump 6 feet from a standing position. Amazing. It was a great day 😊