Wildlife Tracking Weekend – Day 2 June 2014

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Sauble Beach, June 15 – Day 2
On the second morning we packed up camp and headed back to the Sauble Beach area.  The morning was sunny and already much warmer than the day before. We started our day on a couple of sand trails bisecting a secondary highway, quickly spotting a canine track coming out of the trees by our parked cars. The tight toes, good musculature and direct trail made for a likely coyote. We followed the tracks across the road and discovered a change of gait. Heading through a more open area of sand, the animal switched to a side trot, characteristic of coyotes and foxes moving through an area without cover. 
Beside the coyote tracks we spotted some fresh-looking snowshoe hare tracks heading in the opposite direction, with the characteristic J-shape in the back track.  More hare tracks showed a sudden change of direction, with shifted sand creating a “plate” behind the track.  We again discussed pressure releases and how to read direction of travel and speed of movement through the shifts in substrate around a set of tracks. In the same area we found clear turkey tracks, chipmunk tracks, and a five-toed animal, smaller than a raccoon, travelling in a lope.  Alexis pointed out some details of the tracks that established them as classic skunk tracks:  slightly circular front tracks, boxy back tracks and a slight break in the back heel pad. 
The area on either side of our trail was covered in poison ivy in all directions, effectively keeping us on the trail, and giving us a chance to examine the hazardous plant and get a good visual grasp of what distinguished it from the more benign plants which it occasionally seemed to mimic (Manitoba maple or sarsaparilla, for example). We headed back across the road, briefly took a break out of the blazing sun, ate a quick lunch by our cars, pulled on bug jackets, and plunged onto the sand trail behind us.

Not far into the woods, an exciting discovery: clear bear tracks directly on the trail, a rear registering on top of a front. The sand tail was again bordered on either side by poison ivy, as well as maples, ferns, wild grape, and other plants.  Further along the trail, the bear seemed to have crossed again, with a couple more tracks registering.  Off to the right of the trail, we spotted a beautiful painted turtle, which we briefly examined.  Was it a female on her way to lay eggs?
We made our way into a more open area, and some of our group explored further while others dropped down onto some shaded grass to rest and rehydrate. Sitting by the field we noticed more plants to add to our list and watched and listened to eastern towhees and other birds around us. The exploring group came back with a couple of mystery clumps of fur. The first: found near a coyote scat with pieces of the same fur in the scat; smooth, shiny and dark brown with soft underfur and long, smooth guard hairs. Beaver!  The second: short, alternating black and brown in very short sections.  Hmm.  Some of us guessed raccoon, but no: snowshoe hair.
It was mid-afternoon and we decided on a final quick drive to the area by the lake that we had explored the previous day. Checking on the tracks from the previous day gave us an opportunity to talk about aging. We then headed out in a different direction from the day before, walking across a stream and into a grove of trees.  The group drifted apart to explore the area, until sudden harsh bird calls drew our attention:  a large bird of prey, with short head and impressive wingspan, being mobbed by smaller black birds, all heading away from us across a field into another grove of trees.  Was it a barred owl? A great horned owl?  Mobbed by grackles?  Across the field, the owl tried to take shelter.  We heard crows joining in with the smaller birds, the owl gradually being pushed further and further away from us, the cacophony of crows remaining constant for a long time.  We tried to follow, a couple of us even taking off our shoes to attempt to cross the water that was in our way, but the jagged stone bottom, along with the late hour, made us turn back. 
We called a closing circle for a last chance to reflect on the weekend’s adventures, and gave some final words of gratitude to the animals, plants and people, to the beautiful land and to the majestic lake, before heading back to our cars to find our roads back home.

Written by Malgosia Halliop

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