Sunday, March 25, 2007

A wild morning in Huntsville

This post is a little off-topic, considering that the theme of this blog is canoe-tripping in Algonquin Park. However, I did have two extraordinary wildlife sightings this morning that I thought the faithful readership would be interested to read about.

A little context first: currently, we still have a good foot or so of crusty snow on the gound in the Huntsville and Algonquin Park area. With the exception of us heavy-footed humans and the pointy-footed deer, animals can travel quickly and easily across the frozen surface of the snow in the early part of the day. And, yes, the lakes are still frozen but big lakes near Huntsville are looking a little grey, which means that break-up is not far off. Living where I do, at the end of a dead-end road, bordering on a large expanse of undeveloped woodland, we see lots of signs of wildlife, including wolf, moose and bear. By evidence of tracks and howls, I am convinced that we have a resident pack of wolves down in the valley below our house. This morning, I finally saw one.

Like most pet owners in rural areas, I habitually let the dog out for a short time after getting up in the morning. The cat seems to enjoy being outside too, so I often let him out at the same time, though only on a string. I had just put the cat back inside when Utah (the dog) went off, barking like I'd never heard him bark before. It was hard to believe such a big noise was coming from a small dog. He was standing on snowbank beside the house, hackles raised, trying to look bigger than his 28 pounds, sounding like a german shepard. By the time I got the cat indoors and walked back to see what was up, he had advanced about 10 feet from house, still barking and growling.

I looked across the yard and there was a smallish grey and white wolf, standing at the edge of the woods, about 60 feet away. As Utah barked, and I called him to the the house, it backed away and calmly walked off into woods. The dog had the sense to come when he was called and not go roaring after his wild cousin. This is the same dog that was chased and almost caught by a wolf a last winter.

Utah takes on his large cousin Tor.
The wolf would be less tolerant, I think.

Later, we went for a walk. I couldn't see the wolf tracks on the crusty hard snow but Utah's keen nose could certainly smell the trail. We went down the bush road that extends off the end of our road and goes down into the above-mentioned valley. I was standing at the crest of the hill, gazing about, when Utah marched off into the forest, looking very alert. At the same time, I heard an odd mewing sound coming from the same direction. I peered into the fog to saw an unusual creature loping off down the hill. At first I thought it was a huge otter, then maybe a wolverine (which I very well know don't live around here), then it dawned on me that it was a fisher, the largest local member of the weasel family. I'd never seen one before and it looked bigger than the dog! Utah wisely chose not to chase it. He might have a slim chance with a wolf but a giant weasel is quite another thing, especially one that is famous for being one of the few predators that successfully hunts porcupines. Seeing the fisher un-nerved me more than the wolf, as there are many stories, local and elsewhere, of these crafty predators taking house cats. Maybe the cat won't go outside for a while!

The fisher - common in our region but rarely seen.

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