(Note: There are a number of thumbnail photos in this article).
It was a cloudy day with temperatures hovering around -10 C. K2 and I were hiking without a trace of another human on a trail that meandered its way along a creek that was partially frozen. The trail itself had turned icy on several stretches. I was expecting to find deer at the most, perhaps house finches, and a few other birds that normally liked to spend winters there. I was a bit surprised to catch a glimpse of what I initially thought were two squirrels scampering under the fallen trees along the creek under those circumstances.
Hiking the second day in almost similar conditions, I saw the two animals running under and over the fallen trees again and this time I noticed their brownish fur, which was almost unlikely for squirrels. I continued hiking wondering what those animals were.
It was on the third day that I came face to face with one of their kind. Turning a bend on the trail came a bridge over the creek. As soon as I landed on the bridge, I saw what was baffling me for the last two days – American mink – standing over a frozen part of the creek and this one did not either notice me or was oblivious to my presence there.
I observed the minks throughout that winter and was impressed by their resourcefulness as I found them swimming to get to the new waters for hunting crayfish.
The ravine system
The trail K2 and I were hiking is not located in an uninhibited part of the world. It is part of a ravine system running through a very densely populated urban area of Ontario, with detached homes perched on the top of the ridges.
We used to hike through the valley every weekend observing flora, fauna, or for just letting K2 play in the creek, snow, or ice, sometimes at late night, and for always making friends with families, especially young hikers.
To me, it is not a ravine system. It is a valley, or, still better, a series of valleys, a low canyon if you will, located at an elevation below a heavily populated and traveled area, with a series of creeks flowing through it. Till a year ago, i.e., 2019 few people knew about it, fewer would hike through it, and even fewer would spend time observing what nature had to offer for observation.
It was my refuge from the day to day chores. I would go there to take a break from it all in each of the four seasons, day and night, and use the time for what is known as ‘Forest bathing’.
The list of animals I noted here in the four seasons is long: white tailed deer, minks, beavers, racoons, cotton tails, squirrels, bull frogs, red-tailed hawks, Turkey vultures, cedar waxwings, house finches, mallards, Canada geese, hooded mergansers, pied-billed grebes, cardinals, robins, grey catbirds, cowbirds, starlings, cliff swallows, snakes, etc.
I never saw a coyote, although I could see their tell-tale signs. I had glimpses of musk rats and possums slightly outside of the valley and given that coyotes and minks populate the Valley, it is no wonder why. Skunks were conspicuous by their absence, but are flourishing in the neighbourhoods.
Once, in the month of May, I saw a Cooper’s hawk, who would not leave its rock pigeon kill even though K2 and I stood there for almost 2 minutes waiting for it to clear the trail. Then, disgusted by our constant presence, holding its hunt by talons of one leg, it took off vanishing in the nearby trees.
After my mink sightings, the ravine system was closed by the municipality for the next two winters for maintenance (2018-19 and 2019-20). To my total disappointment, I could see huge construction equipment down in the ‘valley’ throughout the winter period. On a comforting note, I have found recently that it was for extricating invasive plant species.
Then came the horrific COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
Due to the pandemic, it was a complete lock-down initially. The Valley was still closed and I could hardly see any people outside in the streets. However, by June 2020, people had gotten frustrated with the lock-down and they came out in droves. To my horror, I saw the fence put on the entrance to the ravines pushed off the trail even though the signs still read that the trails were not open for public.
The ravine system was completely opened to the public on July 01, 2020. K2 and I entered the valley after a hiatus of almost 1-1/2 years. To my horror, I saw a score of noisy hikers passing through the valley.
Even more shockingly, I heard the revving noise of motorbikes and then a gang of four youngsters showed up on their dirt bikes. K2, getting upset at motorized vehicles in an otherwise peaceful sniffing heaven of his, stepped forward barking in a passive aggressive manner at the leading biker. The drivers halted. In their gentleness and seemingly genuine interest, they admired K2 and asked about his breed.
I responded to educate them on Livestock Guardian Dogs in general and Kuvasz breed in particular, as politely as I could.
I, then, politely added that their motorbikes could disturb the ecosystem and also pointed out that they had no license plates and that the latter could lead them into trouble with police. They seemed to appreciate my advice. Bidding a loving adieu to K2, they left. (Note: I have not seen them on the trails ever since that day).
Needless to mention, my valley, my abode, my place to attain inner peace seems to be under a grave threat. I can see all this traffic having an adverse impact on nature, especially wildlife. Increased traffic is leading to noise, land and water pollution. In one of the pictures below, K2 is taken aback by a floating paper glass.
At my request, the junk was removed by the city staff on the direction of our Ward 11 Councilor – the ever smiling and friendly Mr. George Carlson.
I took my family along all the time, which I continued till August end. I could notice that the animals that I used to see in numbers were nowhere to be seen. And, of course, I did not find my minks.
However, beavers were aplenty and their activities of building dams enthralled all the hikers, including the 4-1/2-year-old, the youngest member of our clan. I started noticing a few photographers with their heavy-duty gear building hides to get good closeups of the beavers at work.
a sort of triumph
On Sunday, November 22, 2020, as my son and I watched an NFL game, I shared about the plight of animals, especially minks, in the ravine system. My son seemed to empathise.
After the game, I decided to go and hike with K2 through the Valley, which I always do on the weekends.
Just before dusk, I observed families after families of Canada geese flying past the ravine system returning from their foraging grounds somewhere in the east of the Valley to their resting place at night somewhere in the west.
I walked past the flood control pond. There was a raft of four mallards foraging. I stopped to observe how they were diving to get to the vegetation. All of a sudden, I saw a brown, furry animal swimming through the raft. All the 4 mallards converged to see what was swimming through them. I took out my camera, but it was close to dusk. I could not get a shot. But I trained my eyes on the movement of the animal. It came out of water on the other side.
It was a Mink.
They have survived after all.
My valley may still be green.