“Here kitty, kitty . . . . Wait – What’s that Flesh?”

 In animal gaits, classes, earth tracks, mammals, naturalist, nature connection, nature education, Tailing, tracking, wildlife tracking, workshops
A study of animal Gaits
Story of the Day for Jan 18
On a snowy Sunday morning, after many icy kilometres, our little tracking crew found itself on the edge of the Kreug Forest. A great piece of land preserved through the years by the Kreug family and then donated as a preserve, some of us reminisced about beautiful native plants we had seen here in other seasons. But top of everyone’s mind was the potential for bobcat! Twice over the past year there had been potential bobcat scat spotted on the scrubby edge of the wetland. Now, with snow all around, we were excited to see if we could find evidence of those beautiful tracks!
Snowshoeing through the cedars on the edge of a pond, there was lots of evidence of deer walking, feeding and sleeping. An old cedar stump held the claw marks of a squirrel and maybe a raccoon. Claw marks reminiscent of tiny hieroglyphics in an obscure forest language – hard to say how long they have stood there.
As we head out carefully across the ice (a foot went through on more than occasion that day:) ), we find an aged trail of what looks like a starfish? With splayed toes at all angles, and a regular rhythm, this animal had crossed the pond to the shore. Although difficult to see individual toes, the wild shape of these tracks could only be attributed to Ontario’s only marsupial – Virginia Opossum!
What track pattern do you see here?
Sticking to brushy, covered edges of the wetland, we came to a crossing where multiple deer had gone from forest to forest, changing gaits in rapid succession as they crossed the open ice. The thin layer of slush on under the snow, provided great contrast for this in-depth analysis of cervid movement. After Saturday nights in-depth whiteboard studying, we were able to pick out an individual deer as it moved from a transverse gallop to a bound to a rotary gallop (the fastest gait I know of). Using the tracking text from Elbroch, we drew out fronts and hinds, and compared the lightning bolt shape of a transverse placement of feet to a rotary placement which is more C – shaped.
Picking up the pace to get out of our heads, we came across a tiny least weasel trail over the ice, so snowed in we couldn’t count toes, but saw the characteristic 3×4 lope that this family loves. On land, a tiny ironwood sapling showed signs of fresh browse. On a little island in the snow, someone found what looked like a rib bone.
Porcupine Den Site
After lunch and snow fight with a conifer (wherein said tree suddenly dumped snow all over unsuspecting snacking adults), we headed towards some fresh porcupine chews. We found a little “snow plow” trail of the porcupine leading into an active den at the base of a beautiful old sugar maple.
What is that up there?
Our group dispersed a little amongst the open hardwoods and saw little shrew and potential short-tailed weasel trails. Wait – what is that? A little 2×2 loping trail with a tiny piece of scat? Ropy scat and little further down a piece of flesh? As we trailed this tiny predator, we found another and then another scrap of flesh. Under a log, over the snow, across the hill until it seemingly disappeared. The worn trail told of us the tiny weasel hunter who must patrol this patch of forest. Although he (presuming from track size) was not the cute and fluffy cat we had hoped for, we were all left with the wonder of this carnivorous creature . .

Written by Lee Earl – 2nd year Tracking Apprentice – (also certified  Level III Track and Sign!  Whoo-hoooo!)

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