Thursday, August 25, 2005

Experiencing nature at work

If a survey was done regarding the top 10 reasons why people go on canoe trips, I would predict that seeing wildlife would rank in the top three. In Algonquin Park, most visitors really want to see moose and are often rewarded with a sight of these large, odd-looking animals going about their daily business. Smaller animals like squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, ravens, jays, otters and mink are often seen as well. Despite the relatively large number of them in the park, bear sightings are not that common. Sightings of the park's top predator and possibly most charismatic creature, the wolf, are very rare.

The canoeist or hiker is generally rewarded with a view of an animal feeding or moving from place to place. Rarely does the casual observer see animals engaged in what are the really important parts of their life: hunting, being hunted, birth and death. These wildlife sightings fall into the "once in a lifetime" category, and the story below is about one them. This account is written by Dan Strickland, one of our neighbours in Oxtongue Lake, and someone who has spent a lifetime observing wildlife in their natural habitat. Now retired, Dan was the Chief Park Naturalist of Algonquin Park for many years. I can't imagine more credible witnesses to the incident described than Dan and his daughter Sarah, one of our long-time summer employees and an excellent canoe trip guide.

You will find the following event of interest. It occurred at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 10 on the Rock to Louisa portage in Algonquin Park as my daughter Sarah and I were going in on an overnight fishing trip to Lake Louisa.

Sarah, who was about 5 minutes ahead of me at this point (22 year olds are faster than 63 year olds) first heard two loud vocalizations that sounded like those of a child yelling "WAY" (although Sarah was perplexed that a child could be on the portage that late in the day). She was shortly confronted by a fawn who ran noisily up to her, its sides heaving, and stood just a few feet from her right on the portage. When she moved, it two or three times ran noisily away but circled back again stopping just feet away from her. Sarah saw blood on the fawn's head and, of the two possible predators, she was imagining bear. She also saw something else moving in the woods but not well enough to see what it was before it passed out of view. When I arrived, the fawn was in the bush about 6 feet from Sarah who was on the portage. When she saw me, Sarah yelled "Hey dad, this fawn is acting like it's on drugs" (referring to its noisy and clumsy forays into the bush and somewhat alarming rapid returns so close to a human). We then had several more demonstrations of this behaviour during which the fawn several times got hung up on logs, saplings, and the boardwalk, before breaking free and continuing to tear through the bush while making a tremendous amount of noise (but no further vocalizations after the two Sarah heard). We noticed a conspicuous bloody spot on the portage which Sarah later told me was a place the fawn had stood right in front of her for a particularly long time (more than a minute) bleeding.

I finally had the presence of mind to get out my camera and take a few shots but the low light levels compromised their quality. Only two nearly identical flash shots were reasonably good. Shortly after I took them the fawn bounded up the trail on its last movement away from us. It had its "flag" up and seemed to be jumping conspicuously high in the air. It stopped about 30 feet up the trail from us and Sarah simultaneously spotted the wolf (which she was then sure was the animal she had seen earlier). The fawn took off at high speed south of the portage at about a 45 degree angle in front of us and seconds later the wolf followed, also at high speed. As it crossed the portage, we both saw that it was collared (i.e. it had a dark discontinuity or disturbance in the pelage around the neck). We heard more crashing-through-the-vegetation noises, briefly terminated by a fairly loud but non-vocal exhalation. There were then more noises of something moving through the vegetation but going directly away from us. A minute after the cessation of these noises we walked into the woods to see what we might see or learn but found no clues or signs in the rather thick brush. We left, concluding that we had heard the wolf finish off the fawn and then move away from us, holding its prey in its jaws. On the way out the next day, at 4:45 p.m. we howled in the same area but got no answer.

This is as close as I have ever come to actually witnessing wolf predation, although I have twice seen adult deer pause close to me with their tongues hanging out and in one of these cases a wolf appeared a minute or so (?) later following the same trail as the deer. What was remarkable about the present observation was the fawn's persistent returns to stand close to us after its frantic, seemingly panic-stricken forays into the bush. Could deer have been programmed to seek refuge from predators by fleeing into the presence of bigger animals (their mothers in the case of fawns but perhaps also other big animals (e.g. humans, mastodons, ground sloths??). Such behaviour might possibly have deterred further attack, at least some of the time with some predators, and could therefore have been evolutionarily rewarded (?).

Dan Strickland
Oxtongue Lake

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Unsolicited praise for AO

Every now and then, we get a nice letter from a customer, telling us how much they like us. We are always happy to get tehse and now we have a forum to share!

Here's one from a longtime, loyal customer, reprinted with permission:

Some thoughts about what Algonquin Outfitters has meant to me and my family

I have always experienced great excitement every time I see the two A/O billboards telling me my favourite Wilderness Outfitter is just a few miles away. For the last 10 or more years, A/O has been my outfitter of choice for both my family canoe trips and also for my 'marathon' canoe trips with my cousin.

A/O delivers great 'Service': knowledge, patience and attention to detail. They CARE about their customers and it shows. Where else do you find a sales person that spends whatever amount of time it takes for a customer to be comfortable with his or her ultimate choice in paddles, gear, etc.? That advice has extended to canoe route planning and canoe rental recommendations.

When winter comes, we are lured back to experience the Annual A/O Winter Assembly. First my wife and I, and then we returned with our children and their family. There is always good fun, a warm bonfire, snow shoeing, dog sledding, and just good winter enjoyment.

My family and I have had nothing but wonderful experiences at A/O. I look forward to my next return to my favourite Wilderness Outfitter.

Jay N. R.
A Grateful Customer