Nights are full of intrigue at Ontario Parks. Under the cover of darkness, park wildlife lives in a world that humans rarely witness. On winter mornings, clues animals leave behind are easier to spot, especially after a light snow. Tracks, traces and trails tell us fascinating park stories. The ancient art of tracking is part-scavenger hunt, part-science and it is a fun way to explore Ontario Parks in winter.
Learning animal tracks is a good place to start. Much about an animal's identity including its species, speed, gait and direction of travel can be determined by examining tracks. Scat tells us what an animal eats. Traces of feathers, blood and urine left on the surface of the snow may signal a life or death struggle or an animal trying to attract a mate. Trails can lead to animal habitats or caches of food. This Park Blog post highlights some of the common tracks you see in Ontario Parks in winter and includes photos, http://www.parkreports.com/parksblog/?p=3164
Winter night life in Ontario Parks is remarkably active. Mice and voles forage the earth's surface under a blanket of snow in hollows in what is known as the subnivean layer. Even though the mice and voles are invisible, owls and foxes have such exceptional hearing that they can find their prey through deep snow. The Lynx hunts the Snowshoe Hare on winter nights; both are so well-adapted to winter in northern Ontario Parks that they actually have feet with toes that spread further apart to accommodate softer snow, acting like snowshoes.
In February, several Family Day events are planned in Ontario Parks across the province and an adults-only Valentine's hike is being offered at Bronte Creek. Guided wildlife hikes led by park naturalists include the ancient art of tracking and winter adaptations that evolved in plants and animals. Some of the events are described in this Park Blog post, http://www.parkreports.com/parksblog/?p=3176
Snowshoes make it easy to track wildlife in winter! Off-trail or on-trail Ontario Parks makes for a great winter outing. Over 400 km of cross country ski and snowshoe trails are in Ontario Parks and over half of them are groomed and track set. Wasaga Beach Provincial Park has recently created a display of tracking tips at their Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Centre. Be sure to take a look for it before you hit the trails!
The Park Ski Report is updated regularly, http://www.parkreports.com/skireport/. Cross country ski and snowshoe rentals and roofed accommodation are available in some provincial parks. Check listings using the park locator search tool at http://www.ontarioparks.com/english/locator.html.