• rouge national urban park header
    Birds,  Flowers,  mammals,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Rouge National Urban Park Aug 13 2020

    After we had both finished work, Sara and I paid a visit to Rouge Park that was quite fleeting due to the late hour and the fact that the sun is already setting almost an hour earlier than it was back in late June. We parked on Zoo Road and walked the Vista trail only as far as where the evergreen lined ridge begins shortly after the viewing platform.

    After emigrating to Canada, Rouge Park was one of the first places that I ever saw Eastern Bluebirds and I have since looked out for them ever since. I was pleased to see them on this visit, with a new youngster in tow – which is the main reason I’m even posting what is otherwise a quite short blog post! The photo below shows the male from the pair. His colours are a little bolder than the female’s.

    Eastern Bluebird (male)

    Purple Loosestrife is flowering throughout Southern Ontario now, and there is lots of it lining the meadow areas of Rouge Park. The plant has been introduced to North America and can crowd out other species, which can have a knock-on effect on waterways and the waterfowl and other creatures that live there. It is, however, popular among some pollinators. It was late in the day for butterflies, but we saw plenty of bees and other insects making use of the flowers.

    Purple Loosestrife

    We turned around to leave – it was just after 8pm and the light is already fading by this time, especially on overcast days. We must have done something to upset a nearby Gray Catbird. They are often quite shy, hiding amongst the brush making a “mewing” cat sound as their call, from which they are named. Their song is a mixture of scratchy, warbling sounds with the occasional attempt to mock the song of other birds. On this occasion, the Catbird was sticking to the mewing sound and appeared to be aiming his or her annoyance in our direction! They are grey in colour with a black cap and tail feathers. They have a tendency to excitedly flick their tail feathers, often revealing rufous or chestnut coloured under-feathers just visible in the photo below.

    Gray Catbird

    On our way back to the car, we had a quick look around the Visitor Centre (which remains closed, currently). Roll on the end of “these uncertain times” where talking in places and viewing “Sightings Reports” etc.. will be possible again. In the dusk light, a Groundhog emerged from under a shed in order to eat some greens.

    Groundhog

    Coming Up!

    As I write this, I have just returned from a quick trip to the Windsor-Essex region and will blog about that soon.


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  • toronto parks june 2020 header
    Birds,  butterflies,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Toronto Area Trips June 2020

    I’ve been out and about most evenings for the past few weeks and haven’t always kept up with posting about it – so thought I would do a catch-up on some various sightings and trips.

    Hawk Attacks!

    I’ve been fortunate enough to watch a Red-tailed Hawk catch a squirrel on a couple of separate occasions in the last two weeks. If you are of a squeamish disposition, you might wish to squint past the photos and continue on to the next section!

    I’ve complained before about the scarcity of birding action during the summer months in Toronto, and while visiting Rosetta McClain Gardens one evening, this was the case again. However, just as my wife and I were about to leave, we spied a Red-tailed Hawk in a nearby tree and decided to stay and watch. It was obvious that the hawk was keeping a close eye on the various squirrels. The squirrels are relatively tame and perhaps a little unassuming in this park, often receiving handouts from humans.

    Red-tailed Hawk

    A Red-tailed Hawk can be identified by the rufous colour of its tail and by the way the speckled feathers on the breast centre into a belt across the middle, the affectionately named “belly belt”.

    Shortly after this shot, the hawk flew out of sight. We followed in the direction it flew, but moments later it came straight back again carrying a squirrel in its talons. It was shortly followed by a group of four-or-five girls in their late teens screaming and dumb-struck by witnessing the carnage. “We were just feeding that squirrel!”, they cried.

    Red-tailed Hawk with American Grey Squirrel (melanistic)
    Cranberry Marsh

    I’ve made a couple of trips to this marsh just inland from Lake Ontario. At the very least you can get to see a few ducks and swans, including some newborns. There are Virginia Rails here, too. You can hear them calling from all over the place, but they tend to stick amongst the reeds and I haven’t seen any recently.

    There has been a Common Gallinule on the marsh for a while, which is attracting some attention with birders and photographers. It was far away, so here is a small blurry photo of the moorhen/coot type bird.

    Common Gallinule

    There were Wood Duck ducklings in attendance, several Mute Swans and their cygnets, a plethora of Canada Geese and their goslings, and while we investigated, we saw small mammal prints in the mud that Sara thought were those of a Red Fox. At another point in the marsh, we watched a Great Blue Heron fly through, persued and harassed by territorial Red-winged Blackbirds.

    Red-winged Blackbirds “bombing” Great Blue Heron

    We hung around until dusk, where the sun began setting across the marsh, casting an orange hue over the water.

    Sunset over Cranberry Marsh
    Rouge National Urban Park

    I did a loop along The Orchard Trail, back down The Vista Trail twice in the last little while – once with my wife Sara, and once with my friend Gabriel and enjoyed a few nice sightings of butterflies, moths, and birds. I enjoyed seeing a small number of White Admiral butterflies around the wooded areas.

    White Admiral

    The stretch of The Vista Trail running between the visitor centre and the look-out tower is usually good for birding and I was able to see Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, lots of Tree Swallows, and a couple of other treats. I heard a call that I suspected was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. After some looking around, a male bird peaked out of a tree.

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Over the years of visiting this park, I have occasionally been greeted by a pair of Eastern Bluebirds and I was pleased to see them both times I visited recently.

    Eastern Bluebird pair

    The male Bluebird has the bolder colours on the left, with the female following him. Other non-bird species seen on these two visits include a lot of butterflies: A Crescent, a type of Comma whose wings were a little too worn to identify, Hobomok Skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Red Admiral, Dreamy Duskywing, and a Little Wood Satyr butterfly. Turtles breed and are researched at Rouge and I saw Midland Painted Turtles and a Red-eared Slider and her young. This is an invasive species, usually the result of a released pet, that can out-compete native species.

    Thompson Memorial Park

    One last trip to write about was a quick walk through Thompson Memorial Park with Sara one evening, a manicured park with a small wood that connects to “The Great Trail” (a cross-Canada trail) and features a ravine. We saw a couple of Eastern Wood Pewees and a whole lot of Ebony Jewelwings – a type of damselfly commonly seen in summer alongside rivers and creeks. We also saw a Northern Flicker in a distant tree and a Baltimore Oriole. My favourite sighting was a Nessus Sphinx moth, a slightly odd-looking thing that resembles a bee from behind, with two yellow stripes across its abdomen. They’re on the small side and fast-moving, but here is what I got.

    Nessus Sphinx Moth (top/rear)
    Nessus Sphinx Moth (side)
    Coming Up!

    I’m looking at a morning out to Colonel Samuel Smith Park in the West end of Toronto, I plan on returning to Lynde Shores and Cranberry Marsh again with a friend from work who said “I wish I could go there with someone that knows what they are talking about” (hopefully she doesn’t regret saying that!) and I’m looking into where to go on Canada Day away from the city if anyone has any suggestions?

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  • orchard header brit hikes ontario
    Hiking,  Rouge National Urban Park

    Rouge National Urban Park Orchard Trail

    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.

    Turkey Vultures

    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.

    Conclusion

    Terrain: Moderate
    Length: 2km
    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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  • rouge national urban park vista trail header
    Hiking,  Rouge National Urban Park

    Rouge National Urban Park Vista Trail

    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.

    Parking Nonsense

    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.

    Provincial Flower

    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.

    Choices, choices!

    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.

    Conclusion

    Terrain: Moderate
    Length: 1.5km
    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).

    You can also read about my Mast Trail and Orchard Trail hikes!

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  • rouge national urban park mast trail header
    Hiking,  Rouge National Urban Park

    Rouge National Urban Park Mast Trail

    I like to begin this trail at the northern trailhead located near the parking at Twyn Rivers Road. At the east of the Twyn Rivers parking lot, near the creek, there is a sign for The Orchard Trail. Take this trail initially, cross the bridge, and then The Mast Trail is on your left.

    Ship Masts

    I began by walking along a stretch of an old logging trail where White Pine trees were cut down en masse a couple of hundred years ago. The trees grow tall and straight and so they provided ideal timber for ship masts in Europe. There are no longer many mature White Pines remaining.

    twyn rivers bridge

    As the trail turns I saw large concrete slabs washed over by The Little Rouge Creek. These are the remains of a dam, once used to create an opportunity for visitors to swim when this location was a popular resort. Shortly before entering a wooded area, the trail skirts alongside the base of a hill. This was a popular skiing destination during the 1950s through to the 1970s. There was even a chalet here and a ski-lift.

    During the summer, this meadow area can throw up some nice birds. On a previous hike, I was fortunate enough to see a Scarlet Tanager. Less common than the Northern Cardinal, but the males are as brilliantly red. I smiled to myself at this encounter before spotting a bright blue coloured bird hopping around before flying away a short distance. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few shots with my 450mm lens… then I zoomed in on the picture. I had never seen an Indigo Bunting up until this point – as the name suggests, a rich, deep blue little bird. Many butterflies and dragonflies can also be seen here.

    The Hog’s Back

    hairy woodpecker

    The trail then leads into woodland and it is not unusual to hear the deep drumming sound of woodpeckers within the trees. As I climbed the ridge, nicknamed “The Hog’s back” I turned back and saw a Hairy Woodpecker clinging to a maple tree. They use their long tongue to forage for insects hiding beneath the bark and are great fun to watch. The terrain is moderately challenging during this stretch of the trail, especially if you are still working on your fitness and hiking experience.

    american toad

    Through the woodland, I walked along the ridge. Steep declines either side of me, valleys cut into the land by glacial retreat. Squirrels frolicked and fought, chasing each other around-and-around tree trunks vying for territory. I spotted movement beside a fallen log and amongst what remained of last year’s fallen leaves was an American Toad. Surprisingly, Ontario is home to only two species of toad, the other being the Fowler’s Toad which is considered an endangered species in Canada.

    After a stretch of mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland, with many maple trees that make this walk quite colourful during the fall, “The Staircase” leads partway back down the ridge followed by another smaller descent. After opening up for a while, I crossed a bridge over The Rouge River before reaching the Southern Trail Head at Glen Rouge Campground. Time to head back!

    Conclusion

    Terrain: Moderate-to-Hard
    Length: 2.5km
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Views: Not bad, but a fair bit of tree cover.
    Nature/Wildlife: Lots of Sugar maples which look great in the fall. Fair birding, especially woodpeckers.

    Overall: If you’re looking to work your heart rate, this is a more challenging trail and you’ll enjoy a couple of the climbs. If you are looking for nice panoramic views, some nature, or you just want something more leisurely, I’d recommend The Vista Trail or The Orchard Trail (or both together which creates a loop).

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