Twilight Tracking

Tracking Club took a brief pause during the summer months and started up again in September for two evening tracking programs in Kiera’s Forest, near the Guelph Lake Nature Centre.

One member brought a hummingbird nest to share with the group during one of the Tuesday outings.  We were amazed how soft the inner lining of the nest was.

Showing a hummingbird nest (September, 2014)

Showing a hummingbird nest (September, 2014)

After crossing Conservation Road and heading into the wilds of Kiera’s forest, we encountered a “snake board”.  We did not find any snakes underneath the board but we did see signs of Northern Short-Tailed Shrews.  We noted a well-used shrew trail dug into the soil and signs of chewing, made by tiny incisor marks carving into the corner of the board.

Shrew Chewing (September, 2014)

Shrew Chewing (September, 2014)

Underneath a second snake board, we discovered the remains of a bird and a broken egg shell.

September 2014 007

After finding several vole highways across the trail and looking for evidence of vole scat and vole nests, we wandered over to Deer Hoof Pond.  This pond is a great spot to look for leopard frogs and deer prints.  We were able to see the tracks of a mother doe and her fawn moving across the muddy shore of the pond.  A resident raccoon shared evidence of his travels as we noted his prints along the slippery banks.

Invertebrate tracks captured our attention while we wandered beside the woodland sunflowers.  We stopped to observe a leafroller caterpillar that had rolled its pupae into a Staghorn Sumac leaf.

Leafroller on Sumac

Leafroller on Sumac

The trail continued to meander up the hill towards the Memorial forest grove and we paused to look closer at potential signs of the American Woodcock.  We noticed beak marks probing into the soft soil beside the muddy laneway – a woodcock in search of worms most likely.

American Woodcock Feeding Sign

American Woodcock Feeding Sign

At the top of the hill, we enjoyed a glorious view of purple, gold and white asters in full, fall colour.  Near the lookout, a clear deer print pointed like an arrow, eastward towards the adjacent farm fields and we decided to follow it.  At this point, twilight began to settle in and we walked parallel with a line of old maples, ever watchful of the nearby fields.  We discussed how Northern twilights are long and beautiful compared with short twilights of the South.  I noticed how the air temperature changed significantly from one place along the trail to another – pockets of warm and cold air.  I wonder if this is caused by natural features that absorb more sunlight (and heat) during the daytime?  I also wonder if this is something that wildlife are intentionally aware of, when they build their dens, nests and burrows?

The trail descended close to the forest.  Suddenly, we noticed a deer out in the grassy field – in grey and brown winter colouring.  As our eyes adjusted, we saw 3 more deer grazing.  We watched the deer as the light slowly disappeared.  A brown bat circled overhead and a quick movement to our Northside, revealed a woodcock flying over the wildflowers and up into one of the large Maple trees nearby.  Then another shape flew by, to the South of us.  It flew low and quick, heading Northward with narrow wings and a long tail. It was a Nighthawk!  These amazing birds flash white patches out past the bend of each wing as they chase insects.  I learned that Nighthawks are not hawks but instead, are closely related to Nightjars.  Nighthawk numbers are also unfortunately, declining.  I read that they have one of the longest migration routes of all North American birds – migrating as far as Chile, where they spend their winter months in South America.

Twilight Tracking

Twilight Tracking

While walking back to the cars, we definitely enjoyed listening to the chorus of crickets, grasshoppers and toads trilling.  Sleeping birds rustled in the branches as we walked past their evening roost. I was also quite content watching and hearing the sparrows and goldfinches gather together during the last light of the day. They must have been eager to share the day’s news with one another and reconnect – just like us!  I am grateful for the Canadian twilight in September and as always, for fun friends to go tracking with.

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