Crisp temperatures (3 degrees) and a slight wind from the Northwest greeted the tracking club as we arrived at the Vance Tract, otherwise known as the Cranberry Bog. Within five minutes, a tracking mystery revealed itself to everyone. There, in the middle of the trail was a bird wing, matted with saliva from a hungry predator. We began to see other feathers nearby that were marked with grey, white, sandy brown and dark brown barring.
After some sleuth work at home, the feathers were identified as belonging to a ruffed grouse. We wondered if maybe a fox or a coyote had eaten the woodland drummer.
The trail then plunged through dense goldenrods where potential goldfinch scat was observed underneath the flowers that had gone to seed. The group headed Southwest through the coniferous forest along a trail that looked wide enough for deer. Along the way, we noticed a squirrel hole in a cedar tree and a causeway between two swampy ponds. Fresh deer tracks were observed along the causeway, near the remnants of a paper wasp nest. The tracks seemed to disappear into the swamp. The group decided not to trail the deer into the swamp and avoid the risk of encountering swamp monsters.
Once across the causeway, we entered a cedar forest adjacent to the Cranberry Bog. There were a few bare patches on the forest floor, where Wild Turkeys had been scratching the soil to get at seeds and insects.
We smiled at some bizarre mushrooms growing in a curved line across the forest floor and then noticed another curved line of mushrooms a few metres away. Had we found a fabled fairy ring? According to folklore, fairies create a ring of mushrooms by dancing. Anyone that steps inside of a ring may become invisible, unable to leave the circle and forced to dance until exhaustion.
After doing a quick head count to make sure that we were all accounted for, we continued along the edge of the forest and discovered a tall, White Elm Tree. We admired the layered bark that looked similar to a coffee crisp chocolate bar, noting a white layer which helped us identify the species of Elm. This elm tree looked healthy except for a cobra canker fungus growing out of its side. I learned that the length of the decay is generally one-and-a-half times the length of the canker. These canker are often centered around a wound or a branch stub and the decay leads to a high risk of stem breakage.*
*Rot, Decay and Other Tree Defect Indicators, n.d., viewed October 26, 2014, http://www.ont-woodlot-assoc.org/sw_tree_defect_indicators.html
The trail meandered through the cedar forest until the canopy opened up into a brighter, red and white pine plantation. We found evidence of red squirrels eating pine seeds on tree stumps and marvelled at the squirrel’s ability to eat mainly one type of seed on each platform.
The forest opened up into a climax forest of oak, beech and maple. Corn cobs were evident on the trail, reminding us to look for masked bandits that had pulled cobs in from the neighbouring farm field. We circled back around to the causeway, and found a calcium-rich deer bone that had been chewed by rodents.
Nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, robins, blue jays and mourning doves made welcome appearances along the route in addition to some lovely plants like button bush, heal-all, knapweed and blue cohosh. As we gathered together at the end of the hike, a red-tailed hawk circled overhead. One of my tracking heroes, Mark Elbroch says, “The earth is like paper, the animals are writers, and the tracks and trails are letters and words left behind for those who are fluent in the language and willing to pause and read.” Thank you for reading:)