Wildlife Tracking Program 2014

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Hello Everyone

Well…..It has been a while since we have posted to this Blog!   Time to ‘blow of the dust’ and get some action on here again.    Sharing some of the many things that are happening here at Earth Tracks.   We are entering our 8th year and are super stoked about the many new and exciting things coming up for us this year.    To start with, we have just begun the Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship program and have 9 new folks who will be joining us on our journey into the Art and Science of Tracking.   We had a great first weekend and below is a ‘Story of the Day’ created for each day last weekend by our 2nd year students.  A special thanks goes out to Christina, Lee and Malgosia for putting this together.

Enjoy the Spring everyone.  Many local birds are setting up territories and beginning the nesting season.  Be sure to tune in and perhaps locate a few nests to keep an eye on as we move into this beautiful time of year.

Happy Tracking/Birding


Mono Cliffs Provincial Park (May 10, 2014)
In the field, we encountered signs of Meadow Voles (runs, scat, chews, castings, and debarking). We spent some time looking closely at each sign, exploring how they were made and how they look different from similar sign. For example, could these grasses have been eaten by mice? How do we know it was voles who ate this bark? We saw three kinds of tunnels made by voles: one half in the soil, one in the soil, and one made over the winter that had melted on top of the grass.
Our group headed into the trees on the far side of the field, passing by antler rubs and skunk digs. Before long, we spotted a set of marks on a sugar maple and asked, who made these? Was it a squirrel, a raccoon or a porcupine? How could we tell them apart? Why would they be up in this species of tree? There were sets of claw marks on two more trees. We were able compare thicknesses of claws and frequency of use.
Further uphill, we saw the work of a Pileated Woodpecker, a Downy Woodpecker and a porcupine. We saw a young Red-Backed Salamander and a Wood Frog. There were several turkey scrapes in the leaf debris, and when we looked closer, we could see that their beaks had left triangular-shaped nips in the wild leeks. Nearby, deer had also grazed on some leeks, and it was interesting to compare how wide the deer’s grazing was to the turkey’s.
An old fox den on the side of a hill brought more mysteries. Who was using it for a latrine? Was it one species or more than one? Was the den active? In the end, we figured this spot was a hub for several species travelling down to and up from the valley. It would be the perfect place to let your neighbours know that you’re in the area, and find out who else is present.
Alexis wanted to show us some cliffs that he often visits when he’s in the area. The group climbed up, then down (there was still snow and ice!) and got to see some rare and special ferns. We passed under a Turkey Vulture’s nest and saw lots of fur and fibre on the ground (to line the nest? Or was it dinner?). We stopped by a pool of rainwater that had collected on the valley floor, and it was teeming with either mosquito larvae or Fairy Shrimp.

One concept we talked about was Owl Eyes – relaxing our eyes and seeing to the edge of our field of vision. We didn’t spend a lot of time on it, but we were encouraged to use it at appropriate times to try to catch those little flickers of movements out of the corners of our eyes.

·         Is Beech Bark Fungus getting better or worse?
·         Do birds (turkeys) ever pee straight liquid?
·         Black lichen on Maple

By Christina Yu

We spent the second day of our first weekend at Lockyer Pits in Orangeville, a large sand pit area surrounded by cedar and hemlock woods and grassy fields.  It was a sunny, clear, warm day following a few days of rain, ideal conditions for finding clear prints. 
We didn’t need to go very far to find a wealth of tracks. Across a field from the road where we parked our cars was a sandy trail leading slightly uphill to the north, criss-crossed with bird and mammal tracks.  We spend a few minutes marking tracks with popsicle sticks and then set to work examining, measuring, discussing, listening, consulting field guides and writing notes.  We examined a set of clear turkey tracks, then had a long discussion over a set of canine tracks: were they coyote or fox or domestic dog?  Our measurements and some of the defining features of the tracks established that we were mostly likely looking at a red fox moving in a side trot.  Two very different sets of bird tracks highlighted some characteristics of robins and of the corvid family (crows, ravens, jays).  And a set of mammal tracks in a bounding pattern taught us about the distinctive J shape in the hind tracks of lagomorphs (ie. rabbits and hares).
So much intense focus!  Someone pointed out it was almost noon, we all stretched, drank water, re-applied sunscreen, talked about the birds whose songs we were hearing, nibbled on snacks, and pulled ourselves away from the tracks on the path.  We headed uphill, aiming for the shady cedars and a place to eat lunch.  On the way, we came across the remains of a blue jay, with a bird pellet beside it.  Was the pellet owl or hawk?  Why was it out in the open and not near a tree?  Was its story connected in some way to that of the jay?

After lunch in the cool shade of the cedars, we walked out into the sand pit.  The heavy rain earlier in the week had left one large pool of water, and another recently dried depression that drew us to all the tracks at its bottom. We explored the pit in all direction. Some of our group went up the dune to see the view from the top. Bank swallows swooped all around. Occasionally a dirt bike roared past. We spend some time debating a series of what looked like distinctly patterned scratches in the bottom of the dried pool. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that they were the tracks of a frog or toad, possible even tracks of an amphibian swimming in a shallow pool with feet hitting the bottom. 
Other highlights: a long string of toad eggs covered with silt in one of the pools, a large Green Frog swimming nearby, clear toad tracks under water, and lots more bird tracks to study and compare. In the sand we found canine tracks that again highlighted the differences between fox and coyote – it was coyote this time!  And nearby, something that looked very much like coyote again.  But wait: there was the J pattern we’d seen earlier on hare tracks.  Hare tracks, but at high speed, stretched out into a long line, at first glance so easy to mistake for something else. 
Most of the afternoon had passed; we again needed a break from the intense sun.  We set off into the cool cedars and hemlocks once again, had a water break, and talked about some of the species we had seen and heard or whose tracks and sign we’d found.  Our day was almost over, we started to head back, but on the way out we stumbled on one last big discovery: a wild turkey carcass, female, with parts eaten away and feathers strewn in two areas.  What was the story here?  A mystery to end the day.  Also a chance to learn from the turkey, to study its feet and compare them to tracks we’d seen, to examine its beautiful feathers. 
We ended the day with gratitude to the animals and to the place, to the sun and shade, to Alexis and to each other.  It was a day characterized by bright sun, intense focus over a small area, and lots of detailed learning.

By Malgosia Halliop

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