Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Trail Detective

It has been a week since I was able to go for a good outdoor walk. The weather has been stormy and the last two days have been bitterly cold. The dog usually likes to sit our on the deck for a while when he goes out, but his trips to the backyard are completed hastily right now.

The bird feeders have been busy. On the weekend, a Downy Woodpecker sat huddled on the deck. The suet basket had been downed by the squirrels (when do they hibernate??) and the woodpecker was wondering where his food had gone. He barely moved as I retrieved the suet and hung it back up again.

When I walked in the Huron Natural Area last week, there were few other people about and it was eerily quiet. Other than a few crows, I saw no birds or other wildlife. The beaver pond was covered with slushy ice and a sign warned people to keep off the surface. Around the beaver lodge the water was open as the water rushed under the bridge and the creek continued free of the barrier of logs that had slowed its flow.

On the ice surface, sets of track were seen, left by invisible creatures who could not read signs. I recognize a few animal and bird tracks now, but these were unfamiliar.

In another area, a set of small tracks appeared from nowhere and ended suddenly. My large Yaktrak covered boot prints go from right to left and the small prints go from the bottom of the picture upwards. (click photo to enlarge)

All winter I have been looking for different woodpeckers. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are very commonplace but Red-bellied, Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers are far more elusive. They have been seen occasionally by other local birders. I came across this tree, running with sap and freshly excavated. What a large set of holes! I would guess that a Pileated Woodpecker did the carving. I stood quietly for quite a while, listening and watching, but all was silent. This particular nature area has not been good for bird watching. I find the river trails far more productive. However, there were signs of life, of birds and mammals hiding and watching me play hide and seek with them.

This trail will be accessible only with skis or snowshoes after our recent snows, but because of some steep and icy sections, I will not be back for a while. Life is hard for the residents of this bush at this time of winter and finding food or conserving energy is a full day's work. The Indians called February's full moon the "Full Hunger Moon" and it spoke of the lack of food for humans and animals alike. The next full moon is on February 20th and then we begin the journey to the "Full Sap Moon" as the sun's warmth is felt by the trees and winter starts its retreat.


  1. Interesting tracks--I'm afraid I'm no help.
    (I did use a very helpful snow-tracking book when I saw tracks earlier this year.)
    Have you solved the mystery yet?

    The second set almost looks like whatever made it was hopping. (or had one leg)

  2. Anonymous9:10 pm GMT-5

    Thanks for the quiet nature walk, Ruth. The woodpeckers keep busy here too - excavating. More snow for Toronto, I see, but we are enjoying mild weather for the time being.

  3. I appreciate your view - so different from what I see here. Your "dead of winter" is far more severe than ours. Thanks for donning those boots and heading out there. Wishing you sunshine...

  4. Interesting about the moons - I hadn't remembered hearing about it before.

  5. Thanks for sharing your great tracks and signs!

  6. Nina- I have to find a book that helps me ID these. The second set really puzzles me too.

    April- Our weather is milder but still well below freezing and more snow is on the way. I hope to find this excavator someday!

    Mary- Thanks. We had beautiful sunshine today and I will accept it as a fulfillment of your wish.

    Jean- We hardly notice the moon,do we. The Indians' lives were completely in sync with the seasons.

    Monarch- Someday I may be able to share answers instead of questions ;-)

  7. Ruth,

    I love pileated woodpeckers. There was one living along the canal near here a couple years back. I'm not sure if he is still there or not.

    We have a redheaded woodpecker that lives in the tree at the end of our driveway. He is beautiful but he drives us crazy when he tap-tap-taps at 5am in the morning. LOL

    Enjoyed the snow photos.


  8. Anonymous7:46 pm GMT-5

    I think the second set of tracks looks like chipmunk. But the first set is hard to tell...

  9. Anonymous7:47 pm GMT-5

    P.S. There's supposed to be a lunar eclipse on the 20th!

  10. Jennifer- I wouldn't have even considered a chipmunk, as I haven't seen any around this winter at all. But I did find a picture of bounding chipmunk tracks in the snow and it does look a lot like the ones in my photo.
    I didn't know about the lunar eclipse, I remember I was up at 4:30 AM watching the last one. I wonder if the sky will be clear...


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