What the Raven says . . . and other fortuitous tracking moments

 In apprenticeships, deer, earth tracks, fishers, mammals, naturalist, nature, nature connection, nature education, Ontario, tracking, training, wildlife tracking
Guess What happened to this guy?
On a snowy December day, we were in the Boyne River area heading up a steep, steep deer trail as we began the morning. Following deer tracks on a slope placed perfectly one after the other is a hilarious thing to try and do as a human. The snow was wet and heavy and there was a tiny layer of water/ice that made us slip, slide, and wonder about the amazing ability of deer hooves to grip this wild substrate – no boots necessary for the creatures of the wild. 
Following the rambling deer through the forest, we came to an interesting little intersection. On one side tracks were leading from a bramble covered thicket with willow and dogwood in the background and then headed towards a cedar grove. What was that little miss-step that happened in the middle of the trail? The stride of the deer grew by almost a third, and as we put together pieces, you could almost see the deer emerging from cover, stopping, looking and quickly moving through the clearing to get to the dense cedars on the other side. How often do we do this when crossing the road? Human nature or deer nature?
Later, after identifying the sex of a deer based on back legs and urine location, we crossed back down the hill and over the road. From a distance, this wet bog held the allure of some exciting beaver evidence. Fresh chews and trails perhaps? As we walked closer, there was an even more exciting find – a shed antler?!?? Looking closer, this antler appeared to be attached to a big lump covered in snow. . .a whole deer! We had found a dead buck, completely covered in snow, with hair that detached from the hide easily, dating it a week or more old we thought. With a beautiful big rack and thick, strong, neck, we puzzled about its death whether through harsh conditions? old age? car accident? This mystery held us in its grip for a while before we moved on to the beaver trail and found a spot to lunch in among the cedars at the edge of the wetland. 
As we munched and chatted, we heard a strange squawk from where we had left our friend the deer. Who was that and was he saying? Squawking/gurgling/shrieking – the raven had come down to announce this bounty of the deer carcass for anyone who was within earshot. Listening to ravens can be tricky business, but in this case it seemed clear to all of us that he said “Yes! look what I have found!”
After lunch, we hiked past the edge of the wetland, trailing deer to see who and how many went which way. We past evidence of grouse life, and insects burrowing and engraving the trees, until we came across another mystery – what were those snails doing on the snow?? As we investigated the live snails laying across the top of the snow, we wondered – how did they get here? Why? There was a tiny mammal tunnel that led to where these snails looked like been tossed out the window of this subnivean creature. Alexis thinks he knows what it was – ask him if you get the chance.
Fisher Tracks
But the deer trails pulled us forward, and we ventured up the hill to find fresh deer beds, and some bounding deer going – you guessed it- right up a steep and slippery slope. 
Porcupine Trail
Almost at the top of the ridge, there was an interesting interloper. This trail led west down and towards the road, and had five perfect toes in each track. A fisher! This was the biggest mustelid we had seen evidence of this wild and crazy weasel weekend. We followed it over hill and dale, up and down, noticing where it had dug a snack from below the snow – old deer bits? – and where it finally disappeared into thin air?! Or perhaps that shadow up overhead in the spruces was where the fisher napped?
After looking on the ground for an arboreal predator grew tiresome, we found some tracks that looked like a tiny cross country skier had come by – a wild turkey in the deep snow can really help one appreciate the dexterity of their toes. 
As we came to the edge of a field, we found a wide porcupine trail and a den underneath a rocky cliff clinging cedar. Slip sliding our way down to walk the road back, I thought about the sleeping fisher, the walking turkey, the cold snails, the dead deer and the hungry raven and I was grateful to have met them all. 
Written by Lee Earl – 2nd Year Earth Tracks Tracking Apprentice

Porcupine Trail to den site

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