Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

In today’s post, environmentalist Corina Brdar shares the “best part of [her] job.”

I’m an Ontario Parks environmentalist. When people ask me what exactly I do, I have a hard time answering: my work is very diverse and interesting.

That’s why I like to give the example of my favorite job: conducting winter deer tracking studies.

Why carry out monitoring studies in winter?

two deer standing in the snowy forest

In some parks, we need to understand how many deer use the park in winter and how that changes from year to year. In these parks, we have noticed that deer appear to be very abundant and are affecting the park’s plant communities. To manage parks responsibly, we must understand how plants and wildlife interact within the ecosystem.

Scientists use many different methods to estimate how many deer there are in an area. It’s more complicated than it seems: unfortunately, they move!

deer footprints

Of course, they move from day to day like most animals, but they also move in reaction to weather, season, food, humans, and predators.

In winter, they tend to stay in an area that has food (such as juicy shoots of trees and shrubs) and shelter (such as large conifers). This is the time of year when they can also have a big effect on the forest as they nibble on those delicious buds.

A winter survey 2017/2018

Ecologist standing on the winter trail, everyone bundled up

We were lucky to have an early snowfall in Eastern Ontario this year, followed by a day or two of clear skies. I took the opportunity to go out and do my first deer track study.

See also  "What the hell is that?!": when #AskanOPNaturalist

tracks through the snow

The procedure I use is based on one used in other parts of Canada. I walk (or sometimes ski or snowshoe) along a predetermined trail and count all the deer tracks that cross it (in short, they also involve some fancy calculations).

White-tailed deer

I also keep track of potential predators, like coyotes. I mark each location with a GPS so we can map deer activity in the park.

By doing this year after year, we can see if deer are becoming more common, less common, or staying the same in our parks. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s interesting to note where their favorite places are, who’s out with friends, and who’s a loner, based on what I see in the story in the snow.

Are you doing winter tracking on your own? Here are some tips for winter wildlife detectives!