In the last few days I have visited some ravine parks in Toronto. The city has a few creeks that join into rivers like The Humber and The Don and many parks and green spaces can be found near these waterways. “Habitat edges”, such as the edge of a wood or meadow, are great places to spot wildlife and these creeks and rivers often have trails running through these kinds of enviroments.
I visited this park and walked alongside Highland Creek several times through the week, including one evening with my friend Gabriel. He and I used to work together in retail and experienced the kind of camaraderie reserved for only those who have either fought in the trenches of a World War or served a number of Christmases in a shopping mall.
The manicured parts of the park get busy with people picnicking and barbecuing, but there is usually some creature or other lurking not too far away from the human chaos, such as this groundhog I saw eating the plants surrounding its den. Their eyesight is generally poor, relying on their hearing and sense of smell, which allowed me to get close enough for a good shot. When they become aware of a potential threat, like most rodents, they will stand upon their hind legs to survey the area.
I saw a few different moths in a grassy area off the beaten path that I sometimes check. I did this on one of the days I visited without Gabriel who was wearing shorts. I don’t advise traipsing into grassland in parks if your skin is uncovered due to the danger of ticks – particularly some of the more exotic ones migrating north due to climate change. I saw a Grayish Fanfoot, a Duskywing (probably Juvenal’s) and a moth that is fairly common but I quite like – a Little Wood Satyr.
2020 appears to be a bumper year for the Tiger Swallowtails found in Ontario. I saw a lot of Canadian Tiger Swallowtails in Algonquin and see Eastern Tiger Swallowtails almost everyday, even just walking through residential streets in Toronto. These two species are very hard to differentiate and the slight visual differences are complicated by the fact that they can hybridise. Location can be a clue, but there is much debate about these butterflies!
What about you? Are you in Ontario and have noticed more Tiger Swallowtails this year? I’m wondering if I am, or if I am just more aware of them! Let me know in the comments.
Gabriel and I were walking and talking catching up on work and life after not getting together for almost three months due to Covid-19. I heard a bird song that I didn’t immediately recognise, so I made Gabriel stop for a moment while I listened! Until now I have only seen a handful of Indigo Buntings and I was pleased to spot this one and get a shot of it hunting for caterpillars.
I saw a few other bits and pieces either on my trip alone or with Gabriel: a juvenile male White-tailed Deer just starting to grow his antlers, a Red-bellied Woodpecker which is one of my favourite birds, a Painted Lady butterfly, a Birch Angle moth, and a heavily pregnant raccoon who offered a cute pose between a couple of tree trunks (as seen at the top of this page). On our way out of the park, I commented to Gabe, as I do to anyone that will listen to me – “Most people just pass nature by without noticing it, but it is all around us if you care to look”. As I said it, I spied an American Robin sitting on its nest. If you look to the left of the nest, you can see a chicks head sticking out.
On Wednesday I walked through the ravine in the Parkwoods area of East Toronto with my friend Jennifer. She and I also worked for the same retail organisation. She was my manager for about five years before we became peers when I fledged, flew the nest, and became the manager of my own store. She taught me well!
We walked through the wooded ravine and parkland a couple of times over a couple of weeks – similar to Gabriel, I hadn’t seen Jennifer in a while. What can I say? Once we both get talking, we don’t easily stop, so it takes us a while to cover all of our essential topics!
Not a great deal was seen – it was particularly hot with a storm set to arrive that evening (so I’ve lumped this walk in with the one above). I’ve seen quite a few Chipping Sparrows this year. They are another migratory bird that breeds in Ontario during the warmer months. One hopped out onto a branch to show off its red mohawk.
Jennifer suggested we sit in a clearing for a while and perhaps some creature or another might present itself to us… but it was just so hot and humid that even the squirrels were flaked out unable to take it anymore.
In the next few days I plan to explore some of the lakeshore east of Toronto, including Lynde Shores Conservation Area which recently re-opened.
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Last Sunday, Sara and I decided to spend our spare afternoon stopping at a couple of places along the lakeshore in Whitby. The isolation due to Covid-19 has stolen most of the migratory bird season this year, but we took a look at what was around. Answer: A lot of Yellow Warblers. Yellow Warblers are easily seen, being plentiful from spring onwards, staying and breeding in Southern Ontario.
We did also see a couple of Baltimore Orioles, and in a meadow, there were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds for anyone that hasn’t already seen enough of them. There were also Song Sparrows, Robins and Chickadees.
Not much was happening in the nearby marshland, either. A man walked by dressed like a seasoned birder in his khaki shorts, lightweight utility vest and sun hat. We talked for a while and he spoke of good birding at Carden Alvar Provincial Park. Sara took note and we are hoping to visit. While we talked, a Raccoon took a snooze on the branch of a nearby tree.
A deer also tried to skirt past us through the edge of the woods, but once spotted, decided to act naturally and preen.
As we were about to leave, our new birding friend man let us know that he had seen a male American Redstart – not quite as plentiful as the Yellow Warbler, but the Redstart does also breed in The GTA. I didn’t get a great shot, he was high in the trees, and the camera focused on the leaves, but here he is:
We drove back west a little and stopped off near Cranberry Marsh where we saw Mute Swans with cygnets, lots of Double-crested Cormorants flying past, Wild Turkeys and a few more White-tailed Deer. Near the edge of the marsh I spotted a Common Gallinule. It is a common type of rail – mostly dark, but with a red face shield. Despite being fairly common, I hadn’t see one before, so I added it to my bird life-list! I am at 181 birds now and, despite Covid, this is my 2nd best year so far with 33 new birds. I started tracking in 2008. I’m doing well this year partly because I travelled to Delaware which is far enough south to have a few different species.
The Common Gallinule was quite far away, but here is a small blurry photo of it!
Sara sat by the lake for a while – it was a little busy and people weren’t social distancing. I went on ahead to see if there were any shorebirds. I was able to get close to a pair of Killdeer for a pleasing photo.
Since it was a marsh, it is hardly surprising that there were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds. I stopped to watch a female. The male is black all-over apart from the yellow and red “flashes” on his wings. The female is more of a light brown colour, with dark black streaks covering most of her body. This bird was hopping and trying to hover amongst the lilypads without falling in. When I looked through my telephoto lens, I saw that she was catching insects that were basking in the sun. Here you can see she has a small dragonfly in her beak.
And that’s it! In the following days I spent some time exploring some ravine parks over a few days with a couple of different friends, which I’ll write about soon.
I drove up to Algonquin Provincial Park with the wife on Saturday. I had made plans to meet Malcolm. He and I had followed each other on Instagram for a while and had occasionally chatted. Malcolm spends much of the year living and working at the park and is really passionate about the place (check out his cleverly named Instagram profile page, Malgonquin Photography). If I was ever up his way, I should let him know. So I did!
We talked about birds we might see, or like to see. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers had been plentiful, there had recently been a nesting Northern Flicker, and a Spruce Grouse has been incubating eggs on her nest for the last three weeks. It was also “National Black Bear Day”, so we hoped perhaps we might come across one. Plus, of course, a moose would be nice. I suppose you can tell I already saw one of those from the picture at the top of the page.
Sara, Myself, Malcolm, and Malcolm’s other half Morwen met at The East Gate and visited some lesser-known locations. Highway 60 runs through the park and by pulling off at various trailheads you only get to take in a tiny fraction of the park. Algonquin can be more fully appreciated by kayak, but that would have to wait for another day. Today’s tactic was to pull over from place-to-place, just to see what the park would throw at us.
Our first stop was to the location where a Northern Flicker had been seen nesting, but this was not fruitful. Nevermind, another pull-over a little further into the park and we practised our tactic of stopping just to see what we could see. After a few moments, I caught a flash of movement and a bird flew up onto a telephone pole. A Yellow-belied Sapsucker was disappointed that the pole was not offering much in the way of tree sap. This is a “lifer” for me, though they are ten-a-penny in Algonquin.
We moved on towards Opeongo Lake and we were pleased to see a pair of Common Loons close by. I wasn’t able to capture a great shot, but we also saw a Hare (a Snowshoe Hare, I think?) hopping and running around a grassy area. There were also dozens of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterflies mud-dabbling. We probably saw hundreds of these through the park, particularly in the east.
We moved further West into the park and made our way through a wooded area where I photographed a number of plant species I hadn’t seen (or at least noticed) before, such as Starflower, Bunchberry, Swamp Laurel, and Fringed Polygala (Malcolm was adept at identifying these plants). Well camouflaged amongst the flora was a female Spruce Grouse who was incubating eggs. We wondered where the male was and pondered how involved he remained during the incubation and rearing of chicks, for Malcolm hadn’t seen him for some time. The Spruce Grouse was another “lifer” for me. I need to check and update my list, but I am at around 180 bird species.
We hiked the short Spruce Bog Boardwalk trail. Morwen has adopted the trail and has the thankless task of cleaning it of trash. Who drops their garbage on a hiking trail in a provincial park? Accidents happen, but to watch Morwen retrieve an empty Timbits box that had been tossed aside was just sad. I saw a Green Comma butterfly on the trail and we took photographs of a fearless Common Raven that allowed us to remain quite close. I also saw another new butterfly, a Silver Bordered Fritillary.
Further into the park, we stopped once again in a lay-by and walked a short distance from the road. I noticed that there were quite fresh moose prints in the mud. Sure enough, a short drive after returning to our vehicles, many people had stopped to watch and photograph a pair of moose – a female and her heavily molting yearling.
The day was flying by, but we made a couple more stops. This time we walked part of the Mizzy Lake trail and saw lots of Midland Painted Turtles, which are researched in this area. In a wooded stretch of trail, Malcolm spotted some kind of finch which I managed to photograph and identify as a Purple Finch. Not an uncommon bird, but one that had managed to allude me until now. This was a “lifer” for both Malcolm and I. I also saw another Green Comma butterfly and a Western Pine Elfin. These are very uncommon in Ontario (as the name suggests, they’re usually found in Western Canada). The Eastern Pine Elfin is usually found in Ontario, but Algonquin Park is home to a population of the Western species according to The ROM Butterfly Field-guide and the help of a specialist that helped me to identify it. Also seen was a Red-breasted Nuthatch, many Chalk-fronted Corporal skimmer dragonflies darting among us hunting the black fly that were bothering us, a friendly Hudsonian Whiteface dragonfly that landed on Sara’s head, a Northern Petrophora Moth, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, an unknown flycatcher, and a solitary Common Loon.
A couple of other stops. Malcolm showed us a tree that had numerous claw marks where a Black Bear had climbed up to make a bear nest. He also wanted to check out a hawk’s nest. Although there was no hawk present, I flushed an extremely well camouflaged American Woodcock by almost stepping on the poor thing. It waddled away alongside the slowly trickling water running from a culvert, cleverly eluding our increasingly desperate attempts to photograph it. The Woodcock was a “lifer” for Malcolm, which he was pleased about. I had come across one before in an unusual location – the drive-through of a McDonalds where it had probably collided with a wall while migrating. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in good shape. Sara and I turned it in to Toronto Wildlife Rescue and hoped for the best. It was great to see one in much better circumstances.
Somehow eight hours had passed by. Algonquin had been kind to us today – apart from the black flies. One managed to get up my sleeve and make a mess of my wrist. But the park had shown us a few creatures and allowed me to do something I enjoy… snap photos of something I know nothing about and fall down a rabbit hole of research the next day!
We bid farewell to Malcolm and Morwen and prepared for the drive back to Toronto. Until we return!
I’ve been trying to make use of the extra hours of daylight as we move towards summer and have spent a couple of evenings at local parks. First up, on Monday, I had intended to hang around the feeder area at Morningside Park, but it appears to have been taken down. I’m not sure if this is Covid-19 related (people congregating or perhaps people breaking into the park when it was closed during the peak). I walked westwards through the park following the path of Highland Creek. The manicured areas of the park were busy, so I hastened onwards.
Shortly before the metal bridge that crosses the creek, I saw a White-tailed Deer eating reeds that grew at the water’s edge.
Several years ago I had seen a muskrat around here. A young guy was fervently gesticulating towards it, shouting “Beaver! beaver!”. I haven’t seen it since and didn’t see it today. I continued along the footpath and heard a bird call I wasn’t familiar with quite high in the tree line and began searching for movement, eventually spotting a Scarlet Tanager that had been performing its “chick burr” sound. I haven’t spotted too many of these, despite the vibrant colour, and this probably represents the best photograph I have captured of this bird.
I walked some distance further before turning back as the light faded. Without wanting to give away specific locations, at one point I saw a Red Fox timidly withdraw into cover. It happened a little quickly so unfortunately I only captured a couple of blurry shots.
I saw a few more deer, including one settling in for the night and lying in the grass. Other birds were Yellow Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, the usual suspects (Robin, Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows), a type of Swallow too far away to identify down to species and a Belted Kingfisher that I often see (or hear!) at this park. On this occasion, I spotted him on a branch with a large fish in its bill.
As I was leaving the park, some kind of insect (a beetle) jumped onto my car windshield. I took a few photos with the hope of identifying it later. With some help, I found out that it was a type of Flower-longhorn Beetle that doesn’t have a common name, but the taxonomic name is Gaurotes cyanipennis.
There is a short footpath just over 1km in length that runs from Ellesmere Road west of Brimley Rd along the west branch of Highland Creek before joining Thompson Memorial Park. I decided I’d visit on Tuesday and left a little later, taking the wife after she’d finished work. I wasn’t expecting much, it isn’t one of Toronto’s most impressive ravines.
I mostly saw common birds on this quick outing, plus an Eastern Cottontail (rabbit) and an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail that would not co-operate by landing for a photograph. There was some type of Flycatcher of Pewee high, high up in the top of a tree… much too distant to get any kind of better ID. As I say, I wasn’t expecting too much, but near the end of the trail high up in a Willow tree I saw a slightly larger bird hopping about. It was tough to get a good look at it, but I was gradually discounting suspects… Mockingbird? Nope… There’s no way it is a Northern Shrike at this time of year…. is it, could it be…? I suspected it might be one of the two species of cuckoo. I checked a couple of electronic bird guides on my phone and confirmed it was a Black-billed Cuckoo. This is a new bird for me on the old life-list!
I need to go through my list, but I am at approximately 170 birds on my life-list. I’d like to join the “200 club” but to do so, you kinda have to get to know your shorebirds!
On the way back we played around trying to identify a few trees (my wife had my little National Geographic tree pocket guide with her). I’m getting gradually better at this, but am still pretty much a beginner. Hence how we stood around a pine tree for a good 10 minutes before deciding it was simply a White Pine. There was a small caterpillar on the tree. A little too underdeveloped to be able to ID it except to say that it was likely some kind of Tiger Moth. All the ravines around here are full to bursting with Forget-me-Nots and Dame’s Rocket at the moment.
Over the course of the weekend, I took a couple of nearby trips to Toronto parks here in the east-end. I am looking forward to getting up to Algonquin to hang-out with an Instagram-friend of mine named Malcolm who works at the park. It wasn’t to be this weekend, as the weather north of Toronto was poor. Next weekend is pencilled in and I’m excited to see what the park might throw at me, especially in the hands of an expert. No pressure on Malcolm!
On Saturday, Sara and I went to Edwards Gardens. It is still early for butterflies but it is always interesting to check out the flora that they have growing there. It doesn’t count towards my life-list since they are cultivated and not wild plants, but it is still enjoyable to see. There is a tree that grows near the edge of the parking lot called a Cucumber Tree. The first time I saw it, I noticed the strange pink fruit growing on it and it began my beginner interest in plants – as if birds and butterflies weren’t enough to be getting on with. We continued from Edwards Gardens along Wilket Creek Park, but it was quite busy and the cyclists in particular were not respectful of social distancing.
Some of the wildflowers growing near Wilket Creek were Carpet Bugle and Spanish Bluebells. They are similar to English Bluebells that are an icon of the shade dappled woodlands of my home country, but the Spanish variety is a little hardier and I imagine it does better in the Southern Ontario climate. I also saw bright stalks of Crimson Clover.
In a marsh, we saw the obligatory Red-winged Blackbirds, including a couple of nests amongst the Cattails. In the shallow water were several frogs. Mostly Northern Leopards, but a couple of pretty large Green Frogs. We turned back not much further along the trail as rain began to threaten.
A little out of nowhere, just as we were reentering Edwards Gardens, I saw a bird I didn’t immediately recognise in the top of a tree. It turned out to be a new “lifer” for me, a Great Crested Flycatcher. As the name suggests, it has a slight mohawk. It is not too difficult to identify, compared to some other flycatchers: Yellow-bellied, Least, Alder, Willow, and Acadian are notoriously difficult and usually their song has to be heard to differentiate the species.
Before leaving Edwards Gardens, a Northern Cardinal posted nicely amongst some blossom.
East Point Park
On Sunday we drove to East Point Park. Like most places I have visited since the initial Covid-19 isolation ended, it was much busier than usual. Again, most people were drawn to the lake front or The Martin Goodman Trail rather than the trails through the park itself. I didn’t see any particularly exotic birds. Lots of Barn Swallows were catching the midges that were out in-force. Plenty of American Goldfinches and Yellow Warblers could be heard.
I was hoping to see some butterflies here, as there are some meadow areas and lots of woodland edges. Later in the year there are butterfly friendly plants including milkweed. I did get a couple of new butterflies for my “life list”, although it is not a very big list right now. I saw small blue butterflies which I assumed were Lucia Azures that I had already seen last week at Presqu’ile, but on closer inspection, they were Silvery Blues. The dorsal (top) of the Silvery Blue wings are much nicer, but I was only able to get the ventral (bottom) pattern.
I also saw a moth that I suspect is a Clover Looper Moth and, most pleasing of all, was a great Black Swallowtail (pictured at the end). I may see if I can hit some more Toronto parks depending on my work week and then I should be off to Algonquin on the weekend. Stay tuned!
The wife and I took a trip to Prequ’ile Provincial Park last weekend. Parks had been open for a week or so following their Covid-19 related closures and I was thirsty to try to catch some of the late-May migrating warbler activity. I’d never been to this park before, but knew it was a good spot for migrating warblers, shorebirds, and butterflies.
We arrived around 9am and were thankful that it was fairly quiet – we had been to Darlington Provincial Park the week before, a couple of days after Provincial Parks had opened, and it was rammed. On that occasion, practically everyone had descended upon the beach which left the trails lightly travelled.
Anyway, back to Presqu’ile. We made our way to the eastern tip. Being beside the lake makes this point slightly cooler which means less leaf cover for birds to hide amongst. Yellow Warblers were plentiful and in full voice.
There were a handful of Ontario’s only hummingbird, the Ruby-throated hummingbird. Baltimore Orioles sang from the tops of trees, and there were several Song sparrows. There were also several Eastern Kingbirds arguing amongst the shrubs.
While I did not see any new birds in this area, I did get my first photo of a Common yellowthroat. I’d seen one a few years back in Algonquin Park but didn’t have my camera that day. So although I was only able to spot a couple of different warblers after several loops around this area… I was still quite pleased to get a shot of the Yellowthroat, even if it isn’t that great!
One interesting piece of behaviour that we observed was the courting behaviour amongst an ear-full of Waxwings (for an ear-full is the collective noun!). They were perched in a Cranberry Viburnum where a bird would pluck one of the red berries and pass it to their potential mate. The potential mate would pass it back, and on it would go, back-and-forth, until one would eventually be persuaded to swallow it.
After a snack, we explored a couple of other areas of the park. We next stopped off at Calf Pasture Cove. Here we saw some waterfowl, but much of it was beyond the reach of my camera and binoculars. Within sight were some mute swans including several cygnets. There were a few Northern leopard frogs in the shallow water and several Double-crested cormorants flew west with nesting material in their bills.
After a while a man shouted for my attention to let me know he’d seen a Scarlet tanager and an Orchard oriole. After some sleuthing, I think this man may have been Rodney from The Friends of Presqu’ile. Anyway, although it isn’t rare, I happen to have not seen an Orchard Oriole before (and I only have poor photos of the Tanager). The gentleman told me where to look and so I hung around a flowering Crab apple tree for a while until I caught a glimpse of the Orchard oriole, though not the Tanager. New bird, hurrah!
We spent a little under an hour walking the Jobe’s Woods Trail, but the trees were tall and the leaf coverage was dense enough that spotting birds was difficult. Dryobates-type woodpeckers (ie Downy or Hairy) were heard along with Black-capped Chickadees and a distant Northern Flicker. Portions of this trail are on a boardwalk over a swamp and in the water I noticed weird-looking creatures moving around. Initially, I thought that these were some kind of bizarre-looking aquatic caterpillars. After failing to hook one out with a stick, I reluctantly scooped one out by hand. It was a strange stubby tube made of compressed wood and plant material. I found this strange because it had clearly been moving in the still water. I figured perhaps it was the chewed up remains of some tree debris that an insect was now living inside. Later research showed that I was not too far off the mark. Caddisfly larvae create tubes from chewed-up plant matter within which they receive protection. On this trail we also saw a couple of fungii. Dryad’s Saddle and Northern Red Belt.
We would have liked to have walked The Marsh Trail, but this was closed for repairs. Therefore, our last stop was to Owen’s Point. This looks out to a couple of important islands for migrating shorebirds. There is no access to these islands except during winter when the birds are not present, but there is a lookout. Now, shorebirds are not my area of expertise. Fortunately, there was a gentleman there ahead of us who was willing to tell me about the birds that were present. Most of note were a couple of species that are unfortunately classed as “vulnerable” in Ontario. There were many Black-bellied Plover and perhaps three-or-four Whimbrels. They were far in the distance, so excuse the poor photo. Both of these are new “lifers” for me.
I’m pretty new to butterflies and had hoped to possibly see something new on this trip, though it is fairly early in the year. My wife had to take a call at one point. While she did so, a tiny butterfly flitted around. There are several small blue species of butterfly in Ontario that I’d seen but never manager to photograph or ID before. This time I did and have added a Lucia Azure to my list. Before finally leaving, we ate lunch at a picnic table. A Winter Wren played around on a nearby wooden building.
I decided to get back on the trail quite quickly, two days after my last visit, so that I could get in a little more progress before impending rainstorms arrive in the area over the forthcoming days. What better welcome to Spring than potential thunder and lightning!
I parked exactly where I left off last time, at the 35.2km mark in “Parking Lot C” at Short Hills Provincial Park and began today’s hike by heading due-south for a while. Short Hills Provincial Park is unattended and free to use (including parking). The park is occasionally closed during November/December while the First Nations people hunt deer. Birds were quite active as soon as I began. Once again, Song Sparrows were in full tune. Chickadees flitted amongst the bare trees. A pair of Robins fought territorially. Let me get the mud-moaning out of the way. The mud was terrible! My footwear is just about wrecked and it was quite hazardous in steeper areas – I was having to grab trees and shrubs just to be able to stay upright on the more challenging terrain.
The advantage of all this extra water run-off from melted snow and rainfall is that there is greater flow over waterfalls. Thanks to the way the land was formed in Southern Ontario, there are a great many waterfalls to be seen and The Bruce Trail offers views of some of them. Due to re-routes, I missed DeCew Falls (more on that later), but I came across Terrance Falls and was certainly not disappointed. Ideally, waterfall photography makes use of special tools including a tripod, but I can’t be lugging all that stuff around with me…. I still managed to get a pretty nice shot thanks to the overcast weather which lends a hand to these kinds of technical shots.
The other advantage to mud is that it reveals who has passed through ahead of your arrival. Continuing through the woodland, I saw canid prints and coyote scat as well as very small deer prints – probably a fawn. Later I would see beaver prints and a couple of dams, though I don’t think the prints were recent and the dams seemed a little worse for wear. Research later showed me that beavers were active here at least last year.
Soon the trail climbed into a meadow where there was much bird activity. Dark-eyed Juncos bickered in the trees, Robins searched for grubs in the grass, the unusual call of a Field Sparrow which increases in rapidity, and a Northern Flicker “wik-a wik-a” call could be heard as he clung to a tree in the distance. A beautiful Eastern Bluebird landed on a branch nearby just long enough for me to steal a shot.
At the 40.5km mark, I came across Swayze Falls, the largest of the waterfalls in Short Hills Provincial Park. Access to get a good photograph would have been challenging and time-consuming, so I snapped one from a viewing platform and continued on my way until I came upon a bridge where I paused to eat a sandwich and a snack of some nuts. I would like to have finished Map 03 today, but I couldn’t financially justify another Uber and I didn’t want to hike back through all that mud. I was getting tired from the exertion. Checking a couple of different maps, I realised that I had a couple of options. I could stop right here and turn back. I wasn’t too far from some parking off on a side-trail so that I could pick up the trail again next time. The other option was to continue a little further until I came upon Effingham Street. A little way up the street, my progress on The Bruce would be done for the day, but a turning would take me back towards my car performing a kind-of loop around the park, skipping most of the mud.
I decided to continue and climbed a ridge where I enjoyed watching three Red-bellied Woodpeckers quarrelling over the ownership of an attractive tree cavity. Agreement between the birds seemed increasingly unlikely, so I made my way onwards past a couple of culverts channelling water into creeks that disappeared into the body of the park. I eventually came upon the street. I turned right and after a short distance, I came to a bend in the road. The trail continued to the left. This is where I was finished for the day, at 41.9km, as my car lay some distance to the right first along a stretch of backroads and then back into the park for a while. Today I completed 6.7km. I am 4.68% of the way through the whole trail.
Addendum: DeCew Falls
In my previous visit to The Bruce Trail, I noticed that I came close to DeCew Falls without ever actually passing them. Since I was nearby again, I decided to drive there on the way home. There is a picturesque mill and a lovely waterfall. Unfortunately, there is never a particularly good view of the falls. There is a wire fence for safety, but it is ugly and blocks the chance to get a photograph. It is possible but pretty dangerous (and not permitted), especially in the muddy conditions present, to get down to the bottom of the falls, a little further away along a trail – there is even a rope that someone has placed which you would be able to use to essentially rappel down the steep drop. I considered it, but time was getting on and I didn’t fancy an injury. I took an inadequate photo from atop the ridge instead.
I left off where there is no parking, so on my next visit, I will need to figure that out – either parking further along the trail and walking backwards, or parking further back along the trail and repeating some. I will certainly have to finish Map 03. It will involve hiking through a couple of conservation areas. Until then, there is a patch of bad weather to get through as we get closer to some nice weather, wildflowers, birds and all the good stuff!
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I woke up early on one of those grey overcast days where you’re not quite sure whether to prepare for a wet and cold day or for the sun to burst through, such is the weather in the approach to an Ontario spring. I have to admit that I have underestimated this challenge so far – in particular, the need to hike back to my car each time I progress, doubling the distance I have to walk. So today I decided that I would push myself much further than I had been, and then take an Uber back to my car! This was a big help psychologically and I managed to complete as much today as I had in the three previous hikes combined.
I parked near the Welland Canal at kilometre 18.2 on the edge of Map 02 of The Bruce Trail and crossed the bridge before turning south following the west side of the canal. It is not active at this time of the year and I wouldn’t mind coming back here sometime to see a ship make its way through this channel and under this raising bridge that allows vehicle and pedestrian traffic to cross. American Robins were plentiful, Song Sparrow melody filled the air. A nearby House Finch sang. He sounds similar to the Gold Finch, but the pitch of his note puts me in mind of the tone of someone asking questions. Anyone old enough and British enough to remember The Clangers and how their whistling communication sounded like questions might vaguely perceive that which I somehow floridly yet spectacularly fail to describe.
Near Welland Canal Lock Number 4, I walked under Canadian National Railway Tracks, hung a right into some brush and crossed over a spur line. More brush continued and the ground became muddy. In fact, throughout the day, the trail was exceedingly muddy in parts. This isn’t a criticism of the trail. It’s a criticism of (near) Spring in this part of the world. The snow and ice has all melted, there’s a little rain… there were times when my footwear was almost completely sucked from off my feet.
Around the back of some houses, the trail exited onto Merritt Street in the community of Merritton, named after William Hamilton Merritt who founded The Welland Canal Company. I crossed to Ball Avenue West, over a small concrete bridge, past half-a-dozen large residential lots until entering Mountain Locks Park. A steel bridge conveyed me over a stretch of the abandoned Second Welland Canal near to an old lock.
On The Road
Curving around the edge of the park, I met the busy Glendale Avenue. A main road through Merritton, a suburb of St. Catharines, lined with typical restaurants and businesses. Today, Ontario declared a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 virus and, though there was vehicular traffic, there were no pedestrians and parking lots were mostly empty. I was keen to get through this noisy urban stretch as I made my way under the bridge of Highway-406, a short 26km highway running north/south across the Niagara Peninsular.
After a gas station, I turned left onto Tremont Drive passing apartment buildings and houses before the road climbed a quite steep bank. I heard a bird call I didn’t immediately recognise, followed by the same call in reply some distance away. It sounded like a woodpecker, of which there are several species in this area, and after listening to a few more moments of their back-and-forth, and doing a little on-the-fly research, I realised it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker of which I am quite fond. I would hear these several more times throughout the day. At the end of the street, the trail entered and weaved through a fairly mature wood. Near here, I was surprised to see a very small number of violets growing as it is early in the season. Small violets are tough to identify, but these were likely Viola odorata (Eurasian Sweet Violet amongst many other common names).
The trail briefly travels through Glenridge Quarry Naturalization Site, a recreation site that started life as a quarry, became a landfill, before being rejuvenated in 2004. On the one hand, I had considered stopping here when I planned my route. Maybe spending some time exploring what was on offer, since the trail only skirts the edge of the site. On the other hand, my optimistic goal was to make it as far as Short Hills Provincial Park. I pushed on. I could always come back here another time.
I climbed Sanatorium Hill and then found myself on the campus of Brock University. I was around 25.3km along The Bruce Trail in total, having walked 7km so far today. I was back high up on the escarpment for a while before being met with a long slow stretch, due to deep mud, which continued alongside a hydro-electric canal that is fed by the man-made Lakes Moodie and Gibson. These lakes are fed by Lake Erie via The Welland Canal. The trail teased me, getting tantalisingly close to a view of the lake, before turning away a couple of times, until eventually crossing the edge of it via a short boardwalk. Shortly I would cross a channel via DeCew Road where a couple of Mute Swans swam idyllically by.
I was feeling good about my progress but was beginning to tire by this point. There was an opportunity to stop here as the trail passed through DeCew House Heritage Park at the 29.8km mark, where there is also a First Nations Friendship Monument. I really wanted to push on and get to Short Hills Provincial Park, though. In retrospect, I should have stopped. I was tracking my progress with GPS and know for sure that I never lost track of the white blazes, but when I examine the map of the route I took (shown at the end of this post), it varies quite widely and is a fair bit longer than the map in my Official Bruce Guide (and there are no re-routes listed on their website). Still, on I went, climbing the incline of a gravel pathway that traced the edge of the lake that many gulls seemed to be enjoying.
Reaching a hydro-electric dam, I turned and followed the edge of the escarpment that provided good views over farmland and houses between the breaks in trees, as well as a potentially dangerous fall for anyone straying too close to the edge! My progress at this point diverged quite a bit during this stretch of trail, adding some distance and not-at-all following the description provided in my guide, but I eventually exited woodland onto 1st Louth Street, which I crossed into a field and then coniferous woodland with tall pines.
My journey diverged a little more, but again, I was following the white markings of the trail. Despite this, I was treated to the sight and sound of a screaming Red-tailed hawk overheard carrying what appeared to be a large snake in its talons. Up a bank, I discovered a large fossil on the path with long root-like impressions. This is an example of a “trace fossil” which shows indirect evidence of an organism. Bioturbation is a process by which an organism disturbs the earth, for example by burrowing, and this disturbance is then fossilised. Pretty cool.
Since it is still mid-march and a couple of days until we are still officially in Spring, the fauna is still mostly bare and the environment has quite the beigeness about it. Interestingly, this stretch of trail, much more than the rest of the ground I had covered today, was much greener. A great deal of different mosses growing on rocks, grass-like reeds and fronds of different ferns just beginning to show. In just a few more weeks, Ontario will welcome back the return of migrating birds including the multi-colours of warblers that the keenest birders travel to our province to catch a glimpse of.
And so, at 35.2km, I reached a parking area on the edge of Short Hills Provincial Park and concluded today’s hike. I completed 17km according to The Bruce Trail Guide maps, though 18.9km according to my GPS tracking (which includes wandering off a bit to look at views and stuff). I was pleased with my progress but should likely have brought more snacks with me, as I wasn’t feeling so great with a migraine. I called an Uber, the driver somewhat bewildered with me for the pick-up location, the drop off location next to my car, the purpose of my day, and the fact that I took my very, very muddy shoes off to avoid dirtying his car. For this, he was very grateful.
Next time I will hike through Short Hills Provincial Park – the first Provincial Park of several I will traverse, along with many other conservation areas. The aim will be to complete Map 03 of The Bruce Trail. There are 42 maps in total. The Niagara Section ends and the Iroquia Section begins part-way through Map 05. I’m just under halfway through The Niagara Section and 3.9% of the way through the entire trail at time of writing. Phew!
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Similar to The Vista Trail, parking is possible on the side of Zoo Road – but not on weekends from May to September. Between these months you’ll have to pay to park at the nearby zoo. Or you can do this trail in the opposite direction to me and read this article backwards, by parking in the lot on Twyn Rivers Road. Expect the lot to be busy on summer weekends.
I parked on Zoo Road and then continued on foot past the metal gates down the paved decline. It was early morning and I was surprised to see half-a-dozen Turkey Vultures roosting up in the trees beside the trail. They pretty much just turned their backs to me in disgust, so I continued on my way (after taking a couple of shots of them).
Staghorn Sumac grows either side of the paved walkway. It is one of the first plant leaves to begin changing colour in the fall, eventually becoming a bright red colour. I was walking during spring and what was lacking in a little leaf colour was made up for by an Eastern Newt in its Red Eft (juvenile) stage basking on the path. These newts begin life hatching from eggs in the water. Their limbs grow, their gills shrink and their tail loses its fin qualities, until they become an Eft. They remain on the land for 2-3 years in order to leave their birthplace and find a new pond to breed in. As adults in their new home, they will redevelop a more fin-like tail and typically never leave the water again during their usual 15-year life-span.
The trail climbed back up until it reached a crossroad. There is no access straight ahead and left takes you to The Cedar Trail. Our good old Orchard Trail continued to the right, so that is where I went! There is a large pond to the left where you can often find waterfowl such as Trumpeter Swans, ducks, and Canada Geese. During warmer months, Midland Painted Turtles often bask on the logs here.
Into The Woods
After the pond, the trail turned from gravel to dirt and made a steep decline through deciduous woodland where birdsong filled the air. To the right, I could just about spy a swampy area that hosted many more of the turtles for which The Rouge is an important breeding area. Shortly, on the other side of a wooded fence, I was afforded a view down towards the meandering Little Rouge Creek.
The trail gently declined further until I was level with the creek and as I continued, there were several opportunities via well-trodden paths, to get close to the bank. Although I didn’t see it, I heard the distinct call of a Kingfisher. Further along, near a short boardwalk, there was evidence of a muskrat – trodden vegetation, chewed trees, and a potential nest.
Heading away from the creek, the trail began to climb. At the fork, be sure to continue right to stay on the trail and don’t waste your time climbing the huge hill (it leads out of the park… eventually). Once more declining through forest, the trail can get a little muddy during wetter periods, though boardwalk helps to deal with the worst of it. At a steep section with bare roots and a handrail through coniferous trees, there is another good lookout over Little Rouge Creek.
The fauna alternated between deciduous and coniferous woodland, as well as some small open meadows while remaining mostly flat for some distance before ending at Twyn Rivers Road. Congratulations, you can turn back at this point. Alternately, The Mast Trail is a little down the road on the opposite side (you will have to turn back eventually) or further down the road just after the bridge and on the left is The Vista Trail, which will loop you back to where we started today.
Type: Point-to-Point (But you can loop via a separate trail)
Views: Good for this close to the city
Nature/Wildlife: Wide variety of flora and fauna. Probably the best Rouge Trail for wildlife, but Vista is also good.
Overall: If you want a bigger terrain challenge, take The Mast Trail . If you want the best view, take The Vista Trail (mainly for the observation deck). For something in-between, this trail is for you and probably offers the better chance of a wildlife encounter.
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As you might guess from the name of this trail, there’s a nice lookout platform that affords a view down towards the valley through which Little Rouge Creek flows.
Bear with me. Let’s get the parking nonsense out of the way. I like to park at the north trailhead, but the parking is a little restrictive because of the nearby zoo. You head north along Meadowvale Rd past Sheppard Ave, turn right onto Zoo Road and make sure you keep going right. Park on the side of the road. You are good to do this from October to April. Outside of these months, you can only park here on weekdays. Weekends you’ll have to pay to park at the zoo. Or take the southern trailhead and park at Twyn Rivers road. This is likely to be rammed on summer weekend days.
I survived the parking and turned right near the visitor’s centre to begin The Vista Trail. There is a Common Lilac tree outside the visitor’s centre which flowers in mid-to-late spring. It’s an introduced species, but not terribly aggressive, so I think it is probably okay for us to enjoy the scent the flowers give off. Go on, give it a sniff! There are some bird feeders beside the visitor’s centre, so it is often a good spot to have a look for some feathered friends.
Pushing on, the trail follows the edge of a ridge through trees. Listen out for the call of Killdeer I’ve often seen and heard them spend their time in the open field to the right. Around a bend and I approached the viewing platform located beside an open meadow. From the platform, you can see down to the Little Rouge Creek and during fall the view of the changing leaf colours on the many trees is very pretty. There is also good birding in this area. I have seen many warblers in the trees, including my favourite – the Black-and-white Warbler, Eastern Towhees and many more. Near the hydro poles I have seen Eastern Bluebirds. Outside of the colder months, this area is often filled with Tree Swallows. On this particular morning, I saw half-a-dozen White-tailed Deer grazing and keeping half-an-eye on me.
Sticking to the left trail and back into tree coverage, I continued to make my way along the ridge. Dappled sunlight and tree coverage make for good habitat fort Ontario’s Provincial Flower, the Great White Trillium which can also be seen flowering in mid-to-late springtime and I was pleased to see some here.
A couple of steeper climbs with tree roots underfoot make the trail slightly more challenging, though it is less difficult than The Mast Trail. Likely due to the way the sunlight lands, along the ridge are conifers to the left and deciduous trees, mostly maples, to the right. Expect to hear the calls and drummings of woodpeckers through much of the year.
The Vista Trail reaches its conclusion after a gradual decline down towards Twyn Rivers Road. You have three options now! You can turn back the way you came, or you can pick up either The Orchard Trail or The Mast trail. The Orchard Trail will take you back to where you started out. The Mast Trail will mean you’ll have to eventually turn back. These two trails can be found by turning left onto the road. Be careful, the road can be a little dicey, there are no sidewalks and drivers aren’t always as generous as they ought to be. After a short walk you will find signs for The Orchard Trail on your left and The Mast Trail on your right.
Type: Point-to-Point (But you can loop via a separate trail)
Views: Good – has an observation deck offering views down into valley
Nature/Wildlife: Good – I’ve seen numerous birds and deer in particular. I think The Orchard Trail might be a touch better.
Overall: One of the shorter trails (though you do have to walk back again). The observation deck is a highlight. Around the deck is also good for birding, especially during spring migration (April to June, peaking in May).
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