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Monday, February 29, 2016

Unusual Bird Tracks

Algonquin Provincial Park East Gate
2/16, Ontario Canada
My wife and I recently made the 325-mile trip to Algonquin Provincial Park to do some wildlife watching and cross-country skiing. We succeeded in both. I have been focused on increasing my tracking skills lately and took the opportunity on this trip to study the trails of American marten, snowshoe hare and red squirrel. But it was the bird sign that we encountered that got me to write this post. I present here two "unusual" tracks.

When most people think of a track, they think of a footprint. But trackers know better. A "track" can be any number of evidence an animal leaves behind,

Ruffed Grouse tracks and body print
2/16, Algonquin Park
EXAMPLE ONE: Ruffed Grouse body print. While skiing the Pinetree Loop Trail, Laura and I spotted Ruffed Grouse tracks crossing the groomed trail. When the bird hopped/flew up from the hard packed trail onto the powdery shoulder, it left an imprint of its entire body as it landed. That impression, called a sitzmark by some, is a track just the same as the peace-sign footsteps that work their way through the snow.

Each step carefully placed before the last, these tracks always remind me of a zipper.
Ruffed Grouse tracks in snow
2/16, Algonquin Provincial Park
EXAMPLE TWO: Birds on a fence.Wherever we went in the Park, we seemed to encounter birds that were used to being fed. Black-capped Chickadees mobbed us at the end of a road.

Gray Jays are notorious for readily coming to the hand and these were no exception.
Gray Jay
2/16, Algonquin Provincial Park
We left the parking area and hiked for a bit looking for open water and signs of river otter. We ran out of time before finding much of either. A few inches of fresh snow provided an hours-old blanket that had wiped most of the slate clean. And when we returned to the parking area, the birds were there to greet us. And it was the very freshness of the snow that made me notice the gaps on the gate.

Each rail of the gate had patches of snow missing. Some of the patches were shapeless while others looked like the photo above: two slots. I remarked to Laura that they looked like legs. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was on to something. We stood back from the gate and watched as birds landed and made new gaps in the snow. These were in fact bird tracks! And we got to watch them being made.

The larger shapeless gaps were places where the bird landed multiple times.

In the photo below, a Chickadee lands in a new location on the gate.

And here are the tracks it left behind:

I was proud of myself for being observant and seeing these subtle signs the Chickadees were leaving behind. Tracks can be so much more than footprints.

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