Ever wonder about the story behind the tracks in your garden or local park? I certainly have, to the point of taking a tracking course with the world famous Tom Brown Jr. It was thrilling to learn the language that reveals who was there just hours before me and what they were up to. He even helped us see tracks in the finest dust and in grass!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I only scratched the surface of finding, let alone interpreting, these markings…and I forgot a fair bit of it, too. But from time to time I’ll stop and look and have a guess. Take this past weekend for example. I went for a wander in my garden and noticed tracks of animals I knew; snowshoe hare, squirrel, mice…but I also found some mystery tracks. The look of the individual track reminded me of a fox or coyote because of its dog-like shape and pad imprints. But I wasn’t sure about the size and I had thought foxes made a single straight line like a cat, unlike the ones I found.
The next day a red fox went strolling by, along the very same route! I managed to get photos of it and its fresh tracks (with a toonie at the side to give perspective). While the pattern was different, the individual tracks looked identical to my amateur eye. Paul Rezendes, in his wonderful book Tracking and the Art of Seeing, explains that foxes do make a single line of tracks when walking as “the hind track registers directly on top of the front”, but that when they go a little quickly as in a trot or gallop, they make different patterns.
The Ottawa River is the next river I’ve chosen to highlight. The Ottawa River begins deep in the wilds of Quebec and heads west to Lake Temiskaming then turns south and southeast to the St. Lawrence River, flowing 1271 kilometres in length. The Ottawa River is the second largest river in Eastern Canada!
This beautiful river was the earliest route of commerce for the Northern Company and eventually for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Today it is home to many nationally or provincially at-risk species including the spotted turtle, loggerhead shrike, American ginseng, and the least bittern. It provides habitat for more than 85 fish species, 300 species of birds, approximately 53 mammal species and 33 species of amphibians and reptiles. You can also find at least 14 different species of freshwater mussels in the Ottawa River.
While the Ottawa River is impacted by more than 50 major dams and is threatened by wastewater, urban runoff, agriculture, wetland loss and shoreline development, the resilient Ottawa River is used for a variety of recreational activities including white water kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and fishing, while it’s riverside trails offer cycling, running, walking, and cross-country skiing.
This is certainly a gem for those that have experienced it.
Thanks to the mature hardwood trees that remain around CWF headquarters in Kanata, Ontario, we have a variety of birds that come to feed and live. One is the huge pileated woodpecker – Canada’s largest woodpecker!
I hadn’t seen or heard them in the trees that surround our parking lot since the early autumn, but Aaron Kylie, CWF Publications Manager, caught site of one on Friday. I could tell he was impressed by its size, as are most people that see this impressive insect eater. They average 17 to 18 inches long (43 – 45 cm) – a whole lot larger than its cousins which are anywhere from 6 to 9 inches (15 – 22 cm), although the northern flicker comes closer at 13 inches (33 cm). Their vocalizations are loud, as is their drumming which can be heard from far away and their holes are a vertical rounded rectangle.
Canada is blessed with an abundance of freshwater so I’ve decided to feature a Canadian river or lake the first Friday of every month. It may be a hidden gem or one that is better known.
Bonaventure River is the first river I want to highlight. This is a river in the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec and is approximately 120 km long. It was called ‘Wagamet’ by Mi’kmaq aboriginals which means “clear water.” Today the river is still known for its crystal clear water, beautiful scenery and Atlantic salmon, referred to by some as a “wilderness paddler’s dream” and “the prettiest canoeing river in Quebec”.
Make sure to check back next month to see if the river or lake I feature next is from your area!
The salt we use around our home in the winter to melt ice and snow can damage our lakes and rivers harming fish, insects, plants and all the other organisms that live in these water bodies.
To reduce your impacts this winter consider:
· Removing as much snow and ice from your driveway and walkways as possible before applying de-icer is one of the best actions you can take. Salt and other de-icers work best when there is only a thin layer of ice and snow to melt. Be careful however as shovelling heavy snow and over-exerting yourself can lead to a heart attack.
· Reducing the amount of salt you apply. If there is salt on your driveway after the snow and ice melts this is a sign that too much salt has been applied.
· Applying de-icer before snow falls to reduce the amount needed.
· Urea-based fertilizers are often recommended as an alternative de-icer; however, these contain nitrogen and when washed down driveways and storm sewers can cause harm to fish and other aquatic organisms.
· Sand or other grit such as fine gravel is a good alternative to chemical de-icers. Use sparingly however, as excess sand can clog storm drains and accumulate in streams.
· On dry days sweep up any excess salt and de-icer to prevent it from entering water bodies.
· On extremely cold days (below -20° C) there is no point of applying salt as it will be too cold for it to work. At this temperature sand or grit is your best option.
· There are a lot of products claiming to be eco-friendly. The best advice is to read the labels and research the ingredients used in the product.
Despite the treat of a few warm days, we’ve also had our share of nights that dip below freezing. Those days, on my drive to work in the morning, I’ve noticed wetlands sporting a thin layer of ice. Time to empty my rain barrels.
Both my barrels are full, so I’m gradually using up water on plants I’ve recently dug in the ground to overwinter – plants like rosemary, my year old parsley (which can go for 2 years) and other plants that resided in pots this summer. If I have the time, I also water some nearby trees, as I like their roots to have a good drink before winter. Next, with a mighty heave I’ll push the barrel over and jump quickly out of the way, hoping to avoid the freezing water that’s pours out. The barrels then spend the winter upside down, to prevent cracks from winter’s freeze/thaw, which would happen if I left the water be. Visit our Wild About Gardening website to learn more about rain barrels or check out our gardening calendar for other autumn job ideas.