Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Morning

Luther Marsh, February 2015

“Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; he will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow.”

Nature Guelph Tracking Club (Luther Marsh, February, 2015)

Nature Guelph Tracking Club (Luther Marsh, February, 2015)

There were no tracks at first as the Nature Guelph tracking club headed west along the shore of Mallard Pond. A blue jay called several times from the Northwest, deeper into the conifer forest ahead. The snow was deep. There was a little wind but far less than a few days earlier. The temperature was below freezing, around – 10 °C. It was mid-morning and the clouds were like a blanket of white across the sky. Between the woods and frozen lake, the group headed toward where the Jay had been calling.

“The only other sound’s the sweep, of easy wind and downy flake.”

There were deer tracks at the edge of the forest. We followed them into the forest and found 3 deer beds. One deer bed looked like it had been only temporarily used. There were sticks poking up through the snow and it looked like the deer lay down and then got up again to choose a better location. There were signs of browsing along the trail. The deer had been eating dogwood.  The droppings appeared fresh. There were deer hairs in the beds as well. The deer trails headed west into the forest. We followed one and the pattern of tracks turned into a bounding pattern. Did we cause that to happen? We did not want to push the deer so we left the trail and followed another set of tracks that led to a porcupine den in an apple tree. The porcupine was inside the hollow tree. Lucky find!

Porcupine Den and Scat in an Apple Tree (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

Porcupine Den and Scat in an Apple Tree (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

Another nearby trail caught our attention. It was a coyote trail. The coyote trail split into two trails and we noticed that the coyotes were also bounding in the deep snow. The direction of their tracks headed toward the deer beds. The two trails had subtle differences. The deer trail was neat and narrow. The coyote trail was a little wider and less tidy. The trails had been made around the same time, possibly earlier that morning. We realized that the deer had probably bounded away from the two coyotes. Did the coyotes try to ambush the deer while they were resting in their beds? I was reminded of a moose carcass that I had seen in early February near Highway 60 in Algonquin Park, where I had observed the tracks left by a pair of wolves ambushing a moose while it was bedded near a hillside. The wolves had been successful, unlike the coyotes this time. Marnie spotted an old maple tree in the middle of the forest. There was a hole in the tree about 10 metres up. Sure enough, from within the hole, a raccoon lifted its sleepy head to take a look at us. The raccoon was piled on top of a jumble of furry bodies. Two other raccoons were sharing the same den.

Raccoon Den (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

Raccoon Den (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

We continued on and found a fresh deer mouse trail bounding on top of the snow and a fisher trail. The fisher’s 2×2 lope turned into a walk as the fisher headed west into the forest. Shortly after the fisher trail, we had lunch at the stone farmhouse ruins.

As we headed back to the parking lot, we found a mink trail skirting the edge of the pond. While driving home, we spotted a Snowy Owl on a hydro pole overlooking the snowy farm fields. It was a good day.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” (Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, 1923 by Robert Frost)

Snowy Owl Photo by A. Schletz (Luther Marsh, 2015)

Snowy Owl Photo by A. Schletz (Luther Marsh, 2015)

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