CAMERA HUNTING AMONG THE BIRDS AND ANIMALS OF ALGONQUIN NATIONAL PARK IN NORTHERN ONTARIO
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIEApril11912
HOW WILD THINGS LIVE THEIR LIVES
CAMERA HUNTING AMONG THE BIRDS AND ANIMALS OF ALGONQUIN NATIONAL PARK IN NORTHERN ONTARIO
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
UP north in that vast wild known as the Ontario Highlands, rests the big playground and roamingground of the wood and water denizens; one million acres of little lakes and shaggy uplands about which the Government has placed a protecting arm and to its wild things granted immunity. The place is called Algonquin National Park. Throughout this wilderness, all year round, roam vigilant Rangers, whose part is to see that the law is lived up to and that the wild things are not molested by hunter or poacher. The trails which these men follow are long and arduous trails. Some of the Rangers drift back to civilization twice, perhaps three times a year. Others keep to the trails from year’s end to year’s end, seldom glimpsing at a human face during their sojourn, seldom hearing a human voice, still seemingly content with what they derive from the great Freemasonry of their environment. Most of these Rangers have choseiiytheir vocation fhr a purpose.
Many of them are men of education and refinement. One, with whom I trekked the snow-trails of his solitude, was a doctor who had lost his health in a smoky city and who, to use his own expression, had “come home to stay.” His youth had been spent in the forest-lands of Maine. To-day his eye is clear, his blood clean, and his muscles hard as iron. Another Ranger, I learned, was a botanist; and I scarcely think it would be possible to find one of them to whom the mysteries and solitudes of the forest do not strongly appeal.
In this great wilderness of wood arid water is to be found every variety of northern animal and bird, and here the lover of wild things may study them to his heart’s content.— provided he knoivs how. For the world of the untamed is not a zoo, into which the hunter with the camera and pamphlet may step and calmly take his pleasure; this fact is borne home to the novice after many ineffectual attempts to procure photographs of those shy
birds and animals that have a knack of appearing so suddenly and disappearing more suddenly stil-1. It takes more than one season in the woods to teach one the art of proper observation. It requires infinite patience and much self-denial to learn a great deal about the shy, elusive wild things to whom Nature 1ms accorded such matchless intuition and cunning.
THE SPRING AWAKENING.
As to the best season in which to study bird and animal life, opinions differ. Much, of course, depends upon climatic and other conditions.
Spring is invariably the nature student’s favorite season for the work.
To him who has followed the wood-trails of many shaglands and to whom the denizens of forest and stream have appealed most strongly, there is somet h i n g indescribably beautiful about the great and mystic drawing together of the kinds, when (lie fore A aisles are greening and the white lakes are waking. All about is life and sound. The tiniest morsel of animation
seems to fit harmoniously with the perfect whole. A chic-a-dee Hits from sapling to sapling, a feathered atom no longer than a butterfly, his little soul alive and his throat swelling as he calls. From a far valley comes an answeringnote and he darts away.
A striped chipmunk, feathery tail erect, shoots from stump hollow to log and sits up to blink at a mossy patch on which rests a coverlet of strained sunlight, Tie leaps for it, digs his little claws into it in ecstasy ; bathes in the yellow lake of warmth. Then he bounds away towards a sound, inaudible to us, which his watchful ears have caught,
’Tis the mating season of the wild things. The woods are full of dank, sweet smells of doty wood, damp leaves, and spicy pine needles.
A wee tree-mouse, round ears protruded inquiringly, and long whiskers a-tremble, peers out of the doorway of her winter home. Just above her dozes her old enemy, the screech-owl. She knows he is there, hut she knows also that in the daytime she has nothing to fear from
him. She creeps out carefully, watchfully, and scampers across the damp, warming earth. By and by she returns to her home in the tree-trunk. In her mouth she carries a bunch of soft dried grass.
Deeper into the woodland, a ruffled grouse stands motionless and erect, her brown body showing in marked contrast against a charred, fire-licked stubble of trees. Throughout the summer and autumn she held to the brushland whose
grey shoots blended so well with her markings of grey and brown. Now, as though anxious to be seen, she stands beside a blackened stump, neck stretched and ears and eyes alert.
FIGHTING FOR A MATE.
Just a little way beyond her two cockgrouse are contesting her ownership. They stand facing each other, heads low and necks vibrant with anger. They will fight until one or the other proves his
mastery ; then the victor will take the brown, waiting bird for mate. These battles for the possession of a mate are common enough among the feathered and furry creatures of tangle and water. Frequently, particularly among the smaller animals, the fight is to the death; while many of the larger ones, such as the bull-moose, dog-wolf, and buck-deer, frequently succumb to the wounds received in fierce battle with their sex and kind.
Others of the animals seem to find the choosing of a mate an easy task and one requiring little or no proof of superiority. The muskrat, that industrious little roamer of the marshlands, seldom fights with his neighbor or disputes his claim. Possessed of an easy, tranquil nature it seems that he would prefer remaining a bachelor to fighting for a mate. Nature would seem to have robbed him of all ferocity and to have implanted it in the bosom of the female; for she will fight
from the time she begins bossing the building of their round rush home until her young, ten in number, are born and able to take care of themselves.
The beaver, a kingly relative of the muskrat, many times removed, seems al-
so to possess his small cousin’s peaceable disposition and kindly nature. I have watched these animals at all seasons and I cannot say that I think their wonderful powers of reasoning or their marvellous instinct have been at all overrated—something I cannot conscientiously say of many of the other animals and birds with which I have had a long and happy acquaintance.
SOME ERRONEOUS IMPRESSIONS.
Without in any way wishing to criticise the writers of what are called NatureStories, I cannot in justice to my little friends pass over certain erroneous impressions that have been given regarding these industrious animals. Some natur-
alist may be fortunate enough to learn in a single day what another may fail to learn in a lifetime concerning a certain animal, but even the most careless observer cannot fail to discover that wild things are endowed with greater or lesser
degrees of intelligence and cunning, and that in á family of animals is always to be found one of cleverness superior to that of his brothers and sisters. The master architect of a beaver colony is not always the largest and strongest beaver, either. He may even be a stunted member possessing no exterior qualities to commend him, but with a wisdom far superior to that of his subjects and a power of generalship that is Napoleonic. He directs because he was born for that purpose.
The industrious little citizens of Beavertown do not, as is commonly supposed, use the tail as a trowel in building operations; their two forepaws do the work instead, and when swimming the fore-
feet are seldom used at all. Neither does the male member of that marvelous home of tooth-cut logs and twigs, standing dome-like above the deep water behind the dam, control and direct his household. On the other hand, he is a mightily submissive and hen-pecked individual indeed. He hews and carries for Mrs. Beaver, keeps well to his own apartment of the home, and is occasionally allowed to see—NOT TOUCH—those wee fat babies, from two to six in number usually, which the fond mother suckles and cares for so affectionately.
Deeper into the tangle where the swift streams glide and whirl beneath a canopy of over-reaching trees, and where the daylight is strained to a blue whiteness resembling twilight, one may, by long
and patient perseverance, see others of these wilder and shyer water animals at home. The fat otter, whose disposition, compared with other inhabitants of the shadowed streams, is happy and care-free, has her home hidden away in some im-
penetrable nook of the denser gloom. Fortunate indeed is he who has witnessed this fond mother training her kittens to swim and dive and catch the darting fish of the tiny bays always close to her den.
Further into the darkness the mother mink has her five blind babies hidden, far in a crevice beneath a great tree-root, fearfully gurading them and venturing forth along the shores or in the waters in search of frogs or clams but seldom, for fear the mate, from whom she hides, will spy out her habitation and put an end to her kittens in her absence.
Down the stream comes swimming another little animal. She is about two feet long from the tip of her lifted nose to the end of her tail, fringed with long, black guard-hairs. When she lifts
herself to a sunken log her soft steel-grey fore-part glistens in the sunlight. Her sloping body terminates in a rich brown. Between lier white teeth she holds a still struggling frog. This is the “fisher,” one of the fiercest little fighters among the
smaller fur-bearing animals. Like the mink, she has securely secreted her four babies from the prying eyes of the unnatural father.
Far down where the forest growth is thickest and where the stream narrows to spraying swiftness between high boulders, on the shore of a white-capped eddy stands another animal, a little smaller than the fisher. Her den is in a deep crevice of the rock close beside her. This is the martin, one of the shyest little rodents of all the wild bushland. She is a
beautiful little animal, the color of her fur being a commingling of light canary, orange, and light arid dark brown, deepening to almost black in places. Her hair is extremely soft and full, the guardhairs being long and very glossy. In her mouth she holds a wee three-days’-old baby. She is moving her family to another hiding place much as a cat moves her kittens when she fancies danger threatens.
And so all down the lake and water chain of that deep Algonquin wood one
may find much to see, much to wonder over, much worth while among the wateranimals. When spring is gone and the verdure of tree and bush has broken into fuller bloom, the naturalist will experience greater difficulty in his search of the wild. Only on the more sparsely-wooded uplands will he be able to follow the lives and habits, in a small measure, of those shy denizens of the forest.
High above, on the branch of some giant tree, he may mark the nest of the great eagles, a dark blotch against the
faint green of springing leaf. Beside it, peering down at him and occasionally sending him a screech of derision, sit the great birds, master and mistress of the boundless, cloud-flecked air-lanes.
Perhaps, if lie possess his soul in infinite patience, lie may, by selecting some spot along white waterway, lie rewarded by a glimpse of a timid doe and her fawn, or by following that stream down to a point where the waters widen and grow sluggish, he may see a young fox litter issue from a hole in the embankment, to furtively
creep into a neighboring thicket, there to play and roll and bite—for all the world like happy puppies. Or, through great good fortune, he may see that wise wild stalker of the shadows, the lynx, sprawling on the moss, his vigilance for the
moment relaxed, after the appeasing of his hunger in a meal of fat rabbit.
So much for the wild things and their environment in the growing, calling springtime. It is all a wonderful story, the reading of which requires something
of art, much of patience, and a world of love and sympathy for the little friends 'we would know the better.
But to one who has known the wooded realm in all its seasons and has studied the birds and animals in mating time and
prowling time, the winter season of the savage thing and wild thing is the most enchanting. There is something unspeakably beautiful about this great realm of sleeping timber and frozen lake and snowblanketed upland ; an unnamable charm
that draws the old bush-lover back along those white-filled trails, there to know those animals in their time of devastation.
STORIES ON THE SNOW.
One reads an old and always new story cn the snows and learns to read in the criss-cross lines of tracks the petty triumphs and failures of the food-seekers; the little forest tragedies on padded and befeathered snow. One sees in the loping track of fox or wolf the eager searching for the scent of the game. There are the harrowing lopes that mark the trail of the seeker, the deep imprint of the clawarmed feet that marks the spring, and then the finis in the blood-sprinkled snow.
The old, old story of the forest; the old tale of seek, tear down, destroy.
Winter holds that vast solitude in silence deep as her grip is strong. Scarcely a sound comes to the wanderer across
the frozen lake or snowy rise, save, indeed, the occasional chatter of a red squirrel or the plaintive little note of the snowwren. And he actually sees little of the life that goes abroad through the night alone, the dark hours claimed by the food-hunters, but rarely catching sight of browsing deer, creamy ermine, whirring grouse, or snowy owl—that amber-eyed night-rover whose plumage matches the white cloak of his hunting-ground.
But at night, when the day wind rests and the aurora borealis drifts upward in the northern skies, are heard the voices of the night-roamers calling. From the swales come the wavering yelps of the wolf-pack, from the uplands the shriller bark of the trailing fox and the snarling whine of the stalking lynx.
And in the morning one may read again the story the wild things write upon the snow.
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