With Friday off work and a desire to visit somewhere new, I decided to visit Bon Echo Provincial Park located north of Cloyne. If you read the last post on this blog, you’ll know that I met my friend Rick last week when he and I went Touring Around Arden. During that last visit, I had noticed signs for Bon Echo, as it is only about half-an-hour from Rick’s place and so I decided that it was somewhere worth a visit. I invited Rick once more and so it was that I faced another grueling early start and another 3-hour drive. I woke a little after 4:30am and was somehow on the road shortly after 5am.
I really need shares or some kind of discount program for Tim Hortons, whose breakfast I shovelled down my face once more. As we reach the last day of September, the temperature has noticeably dropped this week and the local radio station spoke of frost advisories in a number of towns located an hour or so north of Toronto – like Orangeville. I drove for over an hour before the sun even began to show itself, and as it did so, wisps of mist revealed themselves rising over the lakes and swamps along the side of Highways 401, 37 and 7.
One of the key sights at Bon Echo Provincial Park is the cliff face of Mazinaw Rock, rising 100m (330ft) from the water of Mazinaw Lake. By taking a canoe or kayak out to the rock face, you are able to see a couple-of-hundred pictographs – images painted by indigenous peoples several hundred to perhaps around 1000-years-ago. Without a canoe and rentals unavailable for a few more hours (*whisper* plus Rick doesn’t like the water!), we began to explore the park on foot. I will likely return here in the spring and explore the rock more closely with the missus.
Arriving at the park not too long after 8am, mist still rose from the lake as the rapidly warming morning air began to flow over the colder water.
Our first hike was along the 2.3km (1.3mi) High Pines Trail, which circled through forest by way of three-or-four moderately steep inclines. A couple of ascents were about 80m (262ft) and, as the sun began to touch the leaves of trees, we heard plenty of Red-breasted Nuthatches and the foreboding sight of Dark-eyed Juncos (a sign that winter is approaching).
We heard the loud “laughing” call of a Pileated Woodpecker, which flew past us through the trees. No photos of this guy, but for my British readers, this is a huge bird upon which is based the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker! There were also a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, including the handsome specimen pictured below, that were hunting the last of the small flying insects.
As can be seen from the GPS track shown below, the trail makes its way through tree cover towards Mazinaw Lake, though not really close enough to ever really get good views of it. A few flowers and plants are still around, especially those in the Aster family. There are still ferns, though they carpet the forest floor more sparsely than the summer heydays now past.
I won’t include photos of every plant I saw, but there was Bluebead Lily, showing its round blue fruit for which the name derives. The leaves of Patridgeberry were abundant in places, along with the occasional red berry, food for some of the ground foraging birds found in the area – Wild Turkey, Grouse etc…
The Shield Trail
A couple of trails are currently inaccessible at Bon Echo Park. The Abes & Essens Trail is on the longer side at 13.7km (8.5mi), but May 2022 saw a significant wind storm throughout Ontario, taking down many trees. The trail hasn’t been cleared yet. The Clifftop Trail, which negotiates the top of the aforementioned Mazinaw Rock, is normally accessed by a ferry boat that takes you across Mazinaw Lake. That ferry is not running in 2022, though I suppose you could access the opposite shore by canoe. Therefore, we next hiked The Shield Trail, named for The Canadian Shield I mentioned earlier, which presents itself through numerous outcrops, ridges and rocks along this course.
Although the next photo was taken on the previous trail, some of the rock here had a little quartz mineral running through it. I’d mentioned to Rick that my step-sister was a fan of rocks and fossils. It would be at least bad form to take a rock from a Provincial Park, possibly illegal, but Rick found a small sample of quartz THAT WAS DEFINITELY FOUND OUTSIDE THE PARK, YEAH? and gave it to me for my step-sister, who I will see in a couple of weeks.
We began The Shield Trail, advertised as 4.8km (2.98mi) on the Ontario Parks Website, but 8.2km (5mi) on the sign at the trailhead! My GPS says we did 4.11km (2.55mi), so who knows? The route takes you through mixed deciduous forest of birch and maple, patches of cedar forest, a beaver pond, and an elevated view of another lake – Bon Echo Lake. The fall colours are certainly approaching their peak, even compared to when I was in the area on the previous weekend. Sugar Maples see the boldest change, starting a strong green before reaching a striking red from which, of course, the Canadian Flag is influenced.
There was a variety of fungi along the trail, but identifying individual species in this kingdom is not a strong point of mine! There were coral fungi, capped mushrooms, puffballs, something similar to turkey tail, and plenty more. There were still felled trees from the aforementioned storms in May, including a couple blocking the trail and this huge beast with Rick stood next to the soil-encrusted roots for scale.
At the beaver pond, Rick spotted a small bird amongst branches on an island. It was quite distant, but had a striking white eye-line and was hunting insects on the wing – a Palm Warbler. The various warblers are tough to identify in fall when their plumage is less distinct compared to spring, when they are searching for mates and defending territory. There were also dozens of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies mating and laying eggs in the water. Dragonflies mate when the male places sperm on his abdomen and then grasps the female behind her head with his claspers at the end of his body (how chivalrous!). The female will bend her body around and underneath to take the sperm and fertalise her eggs. They may remain “in tandem” during the egg-laying process and beyond, like these two who are basking on the shield rock with the male (left) still clasped to the female’s head.
This trail featured a little more elevation and was a good workout. Burning thighs all-round! We did see a few other bits and pieces. Earlier in the day, we saw a decent sized Eastern Garter Snake and at the edge of the beaver pond was a smallish American Bullfrog and a handsome Northern Leopard Frog. There were certainly plenty of American Red Squirrels around, very territorial creatures and loud for their size, frequently scolding us with their squeaky chittering. They were fairly elusive to our cameras until one individual decided to apparently sunbathe on the end of a sawn log.
Though we did not see any beavers, there was an excellent example of a beaver dam as the trail turned away from the pond and made its way past Bon Echo Lake and finally back to the car. Since this was a quick day trip and I had a long enough drive ahead of me, this would be our final trail of the day. We grabbed lunch at a nearby general store (oh, the calories!) before I dropped Rick off at home and faced the Friday afternoon traffic.
Our last trail took us about 1hr 40mins, including a few stops to take photos or watch out for birds along the way.
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