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Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Early Spring Trip on the Link Trail

A day like late June in CNY, even though it's really late March. All snow is gone from the trail, even in the hedgerow from Ingalls Corners Rd. to the old rail corridor.

Six people from the Bullthistle Hiking Club (from Norwich, NY) and two guests from the CNY Chapter of the North Country Trail Association started hiking about 9:30 am after having spotted cars at Mt. Pleasant Rd. parking area--our destination.

I'm out to just enjoy the trail after having spent the last 10 years building trail, but I can't stop myself from noticing that Steve and Mike's brute work on creating stone steps from the edge of the escarpment down to the old rail bed have held up well over the winter.

We turned north past the abandoned quarry and paused to wonder over the stone structure looming over the taril---what was it for? Lime kiln? Support for a (wooden) water tank for the steam locomotives?

There were a few tiny coltsfoot on the barren March ground and as we approached the Quarry Rd. crossing I noted with pleasure that the buzzards are back. All summer they spiral and float along the edge of the escarpment here, riding the rising air waves. There are usually half a dozen or more; today we see two.

There is a new wind generator right next to the trail. One of our member trail workers has installed it behind his house. Though we can feel no breeze at our level on the trail, the blades and turning fast and quietly.

Soon, the trail swings east and we are in the very bottom of a valley drainage, with wetlands and small streams on each side. The stream are the upper waters of Canastota Creek and we marvel how they (in the 1800's) built a railroad here, in a wetland, in the very apex of the valley's drainage. And the sky looked like a laute June sky...

East of Nelson Rd., at the base of the ledges, we found a few hapatica already in bloom. What marvels! We had lunch at the waterfalls on the outlet to the old Canastota Reservoir. Had to believe this was onece the water supply for the village. It'd almost filled with sediment now and is only a pond. Remnants of concrete conglomerate just belwo the dam, and traces of a wagon road on the other side suggest that a road once crossed on the earthen dam.

We were at Mt. Pleasant Rd and our cars before 2 PM, even with the liesurely lunch and stopping to look at marvels along the way.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Winter's last gasp

For more pictures, see the PicasaWeb album for this hike.

Grace and I had an hour or two before sunset, so we decided on a quick hike south from Perryville. At the Freber/Hodge Road trailhead, the white skein of clouds in an azure sky contrasted brilliantly with the brown desolation on the ground. The snow cover had all but melted, leaving the grit and scum of winter amid the remains of last year's wildflowers. The still-green grass had not yet regained its vitality, and this year's shoots had yet to poke up through the litter. Overall it seemed as though the landscape was spent from its exertions in enduring the winter; the promise of spring was certainly in the air, but first it needed a minute to lie, panting and damp, and catch its breath.

As we walked, we saw here and there a last holdout of snow and ice: to our left a strip of white traced the path of a small stream tumbling down through its rocky channel. To our right, the sun turned the occasional rivulet into a vein of flaming brass. An ice stalagmite still stood within the sluice of water pouring down into the ravine near Carey Hill Road. But the mystery of that day's hike lay beneath our feet.

Every few minutes we found a type of animal dropping we'd never seen before. Its shape was much like dog droppings, but its composition reminded me of owl pellets: it was composed mostly of greyish white hair. The more of these we saw, the more it became clear that it was rabbit hair. Then we began finding some with bones. Clearly a species that frequents the trail had been devouring rabbits more or less whole.

Several times during the next day we came back to the topic of the strange droppings: Birds and snakes swallow their prey whole, but there certainly aren't any around here big enough to swallow even a dismembered rabbit. What animal would be big, hasty, and indiscriminate enough not to bother stripping the desirable meat from the rest of the carcass? We were starting to think that it must have been a pack animal like a coyote, and then I did some Googling and found that we were right.

This site has a good picture that matches what we saw. This one mentions that bobcats, like the rest of the cat family, tend to scratch at the ground in order to cover their scat. Since we didn't notice any signs of scratching, this also points to coyotes. The following excerpt from an article on the Friends of Edgewood Natural Preserve website further supports our conclusion.
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores. They eat mice, rabbits, other small animals, insects, lizards, frogs, fruits, berries and along urban fringes, domestic livestock and/or garbage. Often the only sign a hiker sees of the local coyote population is the scat they leave along the trail. Coyote scat are difficult to recognize from fox scat. Coyote can be distinguished primarily by their size - those 3/4" or more and greater than 4" are probably coyote. Scat change seasonally -- during the summer and fall they have more berries. During winter and spring you will often find more small animal bones. Scat usually crumble apart in a few days. Finding scat on the trail indicates a coyote has been in the area recently.

Hikers often ask why scat are found on the trail. The rangers propose two theories. First, coyotes use the trails because they are easier to navigate; the same reason hikers remain on the trails instead of trying to go cross-country. Second, trails make excellent natural territorial boundaries. As such, coyotes use scat to mark them.