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Mar 4, 2007
Mono Cliffs Winter Tracking Day
Meeting Report & Photos by Alexis Burnett

 
Four of us set out from the northern portion of Mono Cliffs Provincial Park on Sunday. With sunny blue skies and a stiff west wind we 'post-holed' through the crust layer and deep snow for the cover of the trees.
Only one of us was light enough to stay on top of the snow, the rest had to work a little harder.
On the edge of the woods in a small Hawthorn tree we found this small nest that had a thick layer of ice in its depression.
We looked closely at the material used to build this nest, it's location and pondered what bird had built it.
Our intention for the was to find some fox or coyote tracks, trail the animal and learn from it as it moved across the landscape. We were not sure if we would be able to locate one of these animals, but were open to whatever tracks we could find. As we moved into the cover of the hardwood forest and walked down a slight hill we came across a set of tracks moving in a direct register trot with a stride measurement of 19-20". We were in luck.

Judging by the depth and detail of the track, gait pattern and stride measurement we were pretty sure we were looking at either the trail of a fox or a coyote. We decided to follow it and see what evidence we could find to verify the species of the animal who left these tracks. Not too much further down the trail we had some clear prints and with some more measurements and further investigation we were pretty confident that we were on the trail of a coyote.

This animal was traveling through the hardwoods at the top of the escarpment in a northerly direction. In this area we also came upon some snowed-in deer beds and Trails crossing a small clearing. There were sign of browse on the staghorn sumacs and an antler rub at the trail junction as well. Just before this location we also found the tracks of a raccoon up looking for food as the days were getting warmer. As we continued on the coyote trail we could see where it would occasionally fall through the crust layer and plunge into the deep snow. It is a lot of work to move through this snow and this coyote was moving slowly and cautiously for the most part.
At many points moving in an over-step walk. As we tracked this coyote we also came across many other animal trails and it was hard not to get side-tracked and begin to follow a new mystery deeper into the forest.

We came across tracks of both Red and Gray squirrels and noted the differences in the size of the tracks as well as the trail widths. We passed through areas where both habitat zones for these two animals existed and they were both present with their trails side by side each other. We saw a couple red squirrels, but no visual sightings of the grays. There were also chipmunk tracks in this area as well and it was interesting to see the difference in size of these three animals through their tracks. We saw a chipmunk and wondered how long this animal had been up from its winter slumber.

We continued to follow the coyote, but could not cover too much ground as the snow made the traveling pretty slow. This was alright though as we spent plenty of time looking at the different gaits that this animal was moving in as well as the differences between front and rear tracks and lefts and rights. Interestingly enough we didn't come across any signs of urine, scat or scent marking. But at the same time in a few hours of tracking this animal we guessed that it had covered this ground in under 20 minutes. These animals cover an incredible amount of distance in a night and are built to cover a lot of ground while trotting. Just how far that coyote traveled this night we will never know.

 
As we moved closer to the edges of the cliffs and the cedar trees we came upon some fresh as well as old sign of porcupine chews. Places where they had carved off pieces of bark with their "chisel-like" teeth to get at the sweet cambium layer. We also noticed many cedar trees that showed signs of their claws as they climbed these ancient trees to eat the needles during the winter months. The limestone cliffs and caves in this part of the park provides ample shelter for these prickly animals.
A little further along the escarpment we came upon these cedar trees that have had some of their bark stripped from them. Under one of them we also found some shredded bark that looked a lot like a tinder bundle. It took me a few years to figure out who was doing this and what for. Do you know? Next time you are in a cedar forest look for this sign on cedar trees and see what you come up with.
From here another canine trail joined the coyote trail we were following and they both dropped down the slope and headed off onto private property across the road. This is where our tracking stopped and we said 'good-bye' to this trail that had kept our attention for so long. We were thankful for this trail left by the coyote on this day and look forward to learning more from these animals in the future. Thanks to all who were out on this beautiful day.

Happy Tracking!!

Bonus Tracking Question: Do you know who left these bite marks and why?

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