Monday, Feb. 18, 2008
Submitted by Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
by Cliff Bennett
Snowshoe trekkers explore winter forest and enjoy campfire at beaver dam on MVFN’s Annual Winter Walk
Snowshoes were the order of the day as over a dozen members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) ventured into the deep snow to participate in the club’s annual winter nature outing, on Sunday, Feb. 17. Led by MVFN naturalist Joel Byrne, the group explored a Lanark County forest property on County Road 16 near Poland, known to the club as the Gunn Creek Trail.
A snowshoe track through the property was established the day before, making Sunday’s trek through the virgin winter’s deep snows much easier. The trail meandered through a red pine plantation, hardwood knolls and a hemlock grove before lowering onto the frozen Little Clyde River to eventually conclude at a designated campfire spot at the end of an old beaver dam.
Along the way, Joel Byrne explained how different types of trees handle their winter sleep, harboring hibernating insects and egg clusters, providing available food for winter birds such as chickadees, kinglets, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Noticeable was an absence of small animal tracks, especially of squirrels. There didn’t seem to be evidence of a very healthy seed and cone crop this year.
A few small vole tracks and one set of weasel prints were found in the forest by the trekkers along with some white tail deer trails. Even along the river shore, there were few animal tracks although a wonderful set of coyote tracks meandered along the far side leading towards an exploration of the beaver dam.
At the beaver dam, an exciting discovery was a river otter slide leading into a hole in the dam where the water poured through into an opening of rushing rapids. Otters use this avenue to collect small fish and crustaceans for their winter sustenance. Although no tracks were found, there was recent evidence of beaver activity as witnessed by a large maple tree half chewed through.
The nature group concluded their expedition around a campfire where many participants cooked such delicacies as sausage, toasted cheese sandwiches and even a pizza. Before leaving for the outside world, the forest echoed with a round of applause for Joel Byrne for leading the group and imparting his ample naturalist expertise.