Written by Doug Hoy.
Late February—a time of year that can remain stuck in winter, with fierce late season storms, or it can be the best of winter, with the clear, cool skies of a stationary Arctic high but the warm rays of a sun two months past solstice. Deep snow for snowshoes or skis makes travel easy and provides a virgin page for nature’s daily diary of animal tracks.
Such was the scene for our annual winter Macnamara Trail hike. While people gathered at the trailhead, our leader Gord Vogg filled the time interpreting the most obvious feature at hand. A few minutes later the group started down Maclean Avenue with a new appreciation for Manitoba Maples. The shortcut along Maclean went by a number of small gravel pits that residents had coaxed into rock gardens (probably pretty in summer, but ironic posed against the natural richness of the Nopiming Reserve). It also delivered the group to Goodwin’s Bay where an interesting assemblage of plants poked their heads out of the snow. Even dried and blasted by icy winds, Buttonbush, Sneezeweed, Hobblebush, Leatherwood and Sweet Gale were identifiable, while further into the marshy area St. John’s Wort and Turtlehead were seen.
Steve Duffield had prepared a cheery campfire where everyone stopped for a drink and snack before continuing along the trail. Out of the breeze, the late winter sun was strong enough to make the going comfortable, maybe even a little warm. Both Red and Burr Oaks were seen and the inevitable polypore fungi were starkly obvious on tree trunks. At the feeder the usual Chickadees and Nuthatches were joined by Pine Siskins, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a Goldfinch.
Animal tracks were plentiful and included White-tailed Deer, Fisher, Rabbit, Ruffed Grouse, and unspecified shrews, mice and weasels. Steve even found Otter tracks, and has photos to prove it. Near the Walking Fern stop was a Porcupine den but as is often the case, its owner was out. Cedar trees showed evidence of rabbit browsing and scattered twigs and cones on the ground beneath hinted at Red Squirrel harvesting higher up. Clearly there’s a lot of animal activity that only becomes apparent with winter tracks (and great guides to help decipher those signs).