Of howls, and skeletons in Chelsea, Quebec

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by Nikki Mantell on February 10, 2010

Lucky Larrimac residents. Two editions ago we reported how Chelsea, Quebec night owl Rick Hofer was startled to hear a loud oooooowwwwww in the wee hours of the morning. He, and some of his neighbours, report hearing the call of a nearby wolf (though, disappointingly, it did not respond to Hofer’s return howl greeting). Larrimac backs onto the Gatineau Park, as does Wakefield, where more reports of wolf prints and howls are coming in.

Although Nature Chelsea’s Carolyn Callaghan says there are maybe two packs in the park, alas, I have never heard or seen a wolf. But I was lucky enough to happen upon scene of a dramatic event that I assume confirms at least one pack.

For those of you who haven’t explored it, the far west end of Gatineau Park is a hub of forest activity. Last week, three cross country ski buddies and I drove to the Eardley Rd to try out Trail 56. After a frustrating snowmobile-packed first kilometre, the 56 turns into a lovely ungroomed trail through hills, forest and frozen marsh.

The first thing we noticed were the patterns on the snow. All eight km of trail was crisscrossed by tracks of hare, deer, smaller trails that might belong to a fisher or fox, and what I first assumed to be the padded prints of dogs.

The busier end of the park, even just a few kilometers away at Lac Phillipe, are barren of animal life in comparison. Even the birds sounded different out here.

But it was on the way back, only a few kilometres from Renaud cabin that we came across a sight I’d never seen before in all my years trekking through the park.

The screeching crows tipped us off. One circling overhead dropped something from its beak. Peering into the forest I saw it: just 10 metres from the trail lay the ribcage and spine of some largish animal.

We took off our skis and walked in for a closer look. We had stumbled across the aftermath of a dramatic scene worthy of Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness.

The ground was packed down by the prints of what looked like to be many animals. The snow was soaked with blood; fur was scattered for metres around. Beside the spinal skeleton were the deer’s two forelegs; sprays of urine and fecal matter also marked the scene of the kill. The head was nowhere to be found.

We walked the scene, trying to piece together how the kill went down. Judging by the what we guessed to be the first drops of blood on top of a large boulder, one or two wolves had first attacked the deer up the hill, other pack members then swooping in to drag the body down the side of the boulder, judging by the sliding marks on the snow. From there the body was been torn apart, divided up among the pack members. At the latest, it had taken place the night before, perhaps the early morning.

“Wow, nature sure is raw at this end of the Park,” I gushed to my fellow skiers decked out in our Mountain Equipment Co-op gear.

Indeed. It amazes me that after growing up in the area there are still trails to discover, wonderful natural surprises like this to encounter. The Gatineau Park is a wild and beautiful gem we are so lucky to have.