Just because animals can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t tell stories. On a brisk February evening, staff from Credit Valley Conservation, Halton/North Peel Naturalists Club and local volunteers visited Rattray Marsh Conservation Area to find animal tracks and learn about each animal’s unique story.

Don Scallen and  Fiona Reid of the Halton/North Peel Naturalists Club led the walk. Don explained how animal tracks can teach us about an animal’s behaviour and the landscape they live in. Despite frigid temperatures, the group was excited to learn more and surprised by how active many animals are during the height of winter.

Don stopped the group and pointed to a squiggly imprint in the snow beside the trail. The freshness of the tracks revealed that we missed a mink on a mission by only moments. Mink slide across the snow to conserve energy in winter, which was why we didn’t see any paw prints. Mink search for openings in frozen rivers or creeks to hunt crayfish. We learned how easy it is to miss the untold tales of nature.

The red arrow shows how mink conserve energy by navigating in different directions along fresh snow
The red arrow shows how mink conserve energy by navigating in different directions along fresh snow.

It’s not every day you see a group of people eagerly gathering around a pile of scat (otherwise known as animal poo). Scat is an important part of animal tracking. It can tell us about an animal’s diet and the plant diversity in their habitat.

Cotton tail rabbits are very active in winter. They breed three to four times a year, so female rabbits are often in their nests tending to their young. Park visitors often see these rabbits coming in and out of their homes to look for food and keep an eye out for predators.
Eastern cottontail rabbits are very active in winter. They breed three to four times a year, so female rabbits are often in their nests tending to their young. Park visitors often see these rabbits coming in and out of their nests to look for food and keep an eye out for predators.

The scat that was found in front of a tunnel belonging to an eastern cottontail rabbit, an animal commonly seen at Rattray Marsh. One volunteer asked why an animal would poo right in front of its home? Don explained how sometimes it’s difficult to interpret whether an animal is marking its territory, fending off predators or simply going to the bathroom where it pleases. Like every good story, a bit of mystery leave much to the imagination.

Eventually Mother Nature turned off the lights but there was one track so big it could be spotted with just the moon’s glow.

9
10

Deer are the largest mammals at Rattray Marsh. They leave large, unique tracks. As they step, they drag their hooves along the surface of the snow, creating lines that look almost like train tracks.

In total, the group observed animal tracks from seven different species:

  • white tail deer
  • deer mouse
  • eastern cottontail rabbit
  • red squirrel
  • grey squirrel
  • mink
  • coyote

Each track was as unique as its owner. No matter the time of year, a new story lies just below your feet.

The Rattray Marsh Protection Association hosts its Spring Cleanup event on April 11. It’s an opportunity to volunteer and help preserve this natural oasis. Register online today.

Scroll to Top