On our third weekend together, we explored the Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve, a huge property that was donated to the Ontario Field Naturalists by the Krug Brothers in 1998. It is 281 hectares, and includes several different habitats: wetlands, evergreen forest, hardwood forest and field. Once we arrived, we had a quick opening circle to set our intentions for the day – Bobcat! – then ducked into the cedar forest and began looking for tracks and sign.
As a group, we mostly followed the edge of the marsh. In one spot we found the patterned feeding sign of a Yellowbellied Sapsucker, and right underneath, a raccoon latrine. Beaver chews showed on several tree trunks. We wondered why beavers would debark a patch of bark on some trees, and on others they would cut them do
wn. Following on the same topic, was a woody scat nearby from a beaver or from a deer? Or could it be grouse or porcupine?
Alexis led us to an open area on higher ground. One of our themes on Saturday was finding tracks in forest debris and following them as far as we could. Tracking through leaf litter can be tricky; moisture from dew or rain can affect whether something simply bends and bounces back, or snaps. Alexis showed the group how to measure the distance between two “known” tracks using a tracking stick, then how to use that distance to determine where the next track might be. Led by Matt and Mark, we practised following the deer through the cedars, finding signs from beaver, shrew, vireo, and a coyote and mink scat as we went.
On the way back down to the edge of the wetland, we found an enormous scat pile left by our friend the porcupine. This one had decided to make a hollow tree its home. It slept “upstairs” in the upper part of the tree and used the “basement” for its bathroom! Then at the water’s edge, we found a yellow pond lily root. It had a fascinating diamond pattern that reminded several of us of pineapples.
After lunch, we began heading to our next destination: the hardwood forest. This was uphill, away from the wetlands. The cedars gave way to beech, cherry, ironwood and sugar maple and green plants rose from the orangey-brown debris. On top of a small rise, if we looked carefully, we could see the junctions of several deer trails. Alexis asked us to pair off and use our own tracking sticks to follow a trail for as long as we could. This was going to be a focussed time of patterning our brains on what deer tracks looked and felt like.
For the better part of an hour, we were absorbed in what was essentially a tracker treasure hunt – except “X” didn’t mark the spot so much as an upside-down “V”! As luck would have it, Jeff and Alex each found some other neat tracking mysteries to show us at the end of our exercise. Alex found a possible marten scat with interesting fishy contents, and Jeff found the feathers of a Northern Yellow-Shafted Flicker.
After a quick bit of orienteering, we were on the move again. In a short time we began to see a series of scrapes in the soil, some deep, most quite shallow. Alexis pointed out that some of the Jack-in-the-pulpit stems had been nipped, and who likes to eat those? Wild Turkey. Almost as soon as he said it, Malgosia found a beautiful turkey feather on the ground. We found more feathers and some turkey droppings just past the edge of the trees, as we emerged into an open field. The turkeys probably roosted in the branches above. We were picking apart the droppings to examine its contents when Jeff called us over to see a bird’s nest he had found – with the baby bird still inside! In the fork of a Y-shaped branch hung a small nest woven out of strips of bark, just low enough that we could reach it with our arms. A quiet and likely very nervous nestling looked out at us as we gently pulled the branch down so that we could look at it. Afterwards, Tamara determined the nest likely belonged to a Red-Eyed Vireo.
The last part of our hike took us a across field, then parallel to the forest, and we were curious to see patches and patches of yellow flowers at their feet. When we looked closer we realized it was St. John’s Wort – lots and lots and lots of it! We had never seen so much in one place. As if that weren’t special enough, at the end of the trail we found an as-yet-unencountered scat: 7” long, with blunt ends and many segments that stunk to high heaven – BOBCAT. Our wishes had been granted! What a great way to end our day!
By: Christina Yu – 2nd year Tracking Student