Tuesday I made my weekly trip to the Oyster River hatchery on a chilly Nov. morning. There was no snow on the ground in Campbell River but there was about 3 inches on the ground along the Oyster River. It was too cold to do anything with the fish, so I walked along some of the less used trails around the hatchery site. Icicles hung from some of the overlying branches, built up by the splashing river rapid below. It was a cool, calm, grey morning so I could hear the birds twittering in the underbrush whenever I stopped my crunching feet. On the trail in front of me suddenly appeared a trio of Spotted Towhees, hopping along the old track looking for any seeds that may have dropped overnight. At first I thought they were robins, but they did not have that distinct robin hop, pause for a listen, then hop again. Red breast and grey bodies show similar color patterns, but the Towhee is a bit smaller and has a longer tail. I did not have my binoculars and had only the short lens on my camera, so it took a bit to be sure of what I was seeing.All along the trail I was using were black bear tracks and side paths. The bears have been regular visitors to the area all summer and fall and have been seen many times by all of us. There is a young bear, quite brave, who scours the side channels for any spawned out and dead salmon. Same with a mother bear with two cubs, not quite so brash, but unafraid of the conservation minded humans. All four of the bears will be hibernating under a tree or a stump somewhere in the nearby area. They are all looking for the final calories that will be stored in fat reserves that will be badly needed through, what promises to be, a cold and long winter. I followed some of the bear trails to see if I could find a den site to no avail. They did use fallen trees as bridges to cross some of the water channels. I am not as agile on these snow covered trees, so did not try to balance my way over the ice covered waters. It reminded me of a time I crossed a dead tree bridge with my own kids when Trina slipped and was left hanging upside down over a water puddle. To her chagrin and embarrassment she has been the brunt of many remarks since then.
As I continued my stroll through the tall trees, I could see signs of other animals that use the area also. Mink tracks, ravens and gulls were scouring the river banks for dead fish as well. Squirrel tracks had pounded a skinny trail between a few coniferous trees and cone caches buried in the ground. Deer, wander aimlessly, snitching the tops off some of the course browse they need to keep up their energy reserves. Deer, I think, also chewed off some of the sweet bark from the base of a maple tree. A tiny, brown winter wren rustled through the lower shrubs and salmon berry bushes with it's identifying tail pointing to the sky. Look, up in the skeleton of the big leaf maple is a pair of eagles, watching over the snow blanketed landscape.
There is a sense of peace in the forest after the first snowfall of the year. The tracks in the snow show that the critters have to make a living outside too. Some of them seem to be making last minute arrangements before their long sleep. As I write this story today, a fresh snow fall is burying old sign but promising a whole new crop of tracks to investigate soon.
(let me know if you think something other than a deer could have chewed this bark off this maple tree.)