How Do You Like Them Apples?

 In animal gaits, Apprenticeship, classes, deer, earth tracks, mammals, naturalist, nature connection, nature education, tracking, TrailingOntario, training, wildlife tracking, workshops

Approaching our meeting location for the day, the veil of fog I had been driving in for an hour seemed to be lifting with the rising sun that had began peaking through the clouds, just up over the treeline in the horizon. I was taken by the beauty of the first rays of light hitting the frosty landscape of rolling hills and tree lines. The fine layer of ice that had developed overnight, covering the autumn vegetation, was reflecting the rays of the rising sun in a way that makes you really feel grateful to be alive. Everything on the landscape was glistening sunlight.

Deer Track in debris

We met up on the side of the dirt road and promptly decided we should tuck into the other side of the Cedars to escape the chill of the wind. This brought a first lesson in starting to think more like an animal, seeking natural forms of cover to conserve energy and help provide cover. The winds were strong and blowing from the North-West so we made a plan to head over to the eastern edge of the cliffs and along southward so our scent would be blowing away from our target destination as we approached.

We were focusing on trailing today so we needed to be especially quiet. We agreed to travel in scout formation, travelling as quietly as possible and communicating with hand signals.
As we began, the morning frost was just starting to thaw, making the deer trails stand out with an amazing clarity. The leaf litter was moist, helping to soften the sound of our footsteps, and the winds blowing the melting ice of the trees provided gusts of dripping sounds that help muffle our noise. Alexis got us started on the first trail, pointing out various tracks, lays, scrapings, browse and fresh scat. We switched leads, and I began following whatever trails seemed to stand out most to me. I felt in a different mode following a trail silently and focused. At some point I heard the snap of a branch to the East of me, and I remembered that I was in a group. Two small deer scampered out in front of me and took off ahead as Tamara, the eastern wing, emerged from the ridge just behind them.
We circled up to share and make a plan of action. We continued to follow the trails southward to the edge of the habitat and we began feeling like the deer were Eastward. We switched leads again and headed East and within minutes, I knew something was up as the lead froze and slowly lowered. Miriam had spotted a group of 5-6 deer heading South-East. We waited before following the trails along silently for some time, until we came to a sunny spot just along the ridge that a few deer trails passed near and we thought, “this would be a sweet spot to bed down and soak up the warmth of the sun, if we were deer.” Naturally, we decided to break there.
After sitting in the sun for

Porcupine Den Site

Porcupine Den Site

a while, I realized the leaves were no longer damp, the frost had melted and the sun had begun to dry out the leaf litter of the forest floor. It would be a lot harder to travel as quietly now. Alexis reminded us to try to think like a deer. How we walk is important. When deer break a branch as they are walking, they freeze and check their surroundings before they take another step. Although we couldn’t be completely silent, we could change the rhythm of our footsteps to be more like the deer, careful, with intermittent pauses.

Porcupine scat & quill

Porcupine scat & quill

Following the trails, we found an old porcupine den, piles of fresh raccoon scat, signs from various woodpeckers, flying squirrel scat, and half-eaten apples stashed up in tree limbs. As we worked our way to the apple trees, we saw various animals had been feeding on the huge abundance of fruit. We compared measurements of the incisor marks on some apples, discussed what was possibly eating them and debated what was likely the creature(s) that had left the marks on the specimens in our hands.


Red Squirrel Incisor Marks

Red Squirrel Incisor Marks

As the day came to an end, we headed back North, slowly, along the Western edge of the field as the sun was beginning to make it’s was to the other horizon. Once again, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for the natural world, and the abundance of gifts, lessons and experiences Nature has to offer.

Written By:  Lianna Vargas – 2nd Year Wildlife Tracking Apprentice

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