Category Archives: Bruce Trail

Bruce Trail – Hockley Valley

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Bruce Trail and several side trails wind their way through Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Preserve.  We decided to investigate using two cars.  One was parked at the Bruce Trail lot on Hockley Valley Road.  The second car was left on Dunby Road in another official Bruce Trail parking location.

The trail that leads south from Dunby Road is restrained by fences on both sides.  Along these fences there is extensive Virginia Creeper growing.  It is a member of the grape family but the Greek name for the plant means “Virgin Ivy” from which the name Virginia Creeper is derived.  It can reach heights of up to 30 metres climbing by the use of sticky tendrils sometimes completely covering the tree that is supporting it.  It is one of the first plants to start showing red leaves in the fall.

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Hockley Valley Resort was a small operation in 1985 when it was purchased by the Adamo Family.  Under their management the 28 room hotel was transformed into a world class resort, spa and ski facility.  There are 15 runs and from the start of the trail we had a good look across the valley at them.  As we returned to the car at the end of the hike we found that we had made it almost all the way to the resort.  Some of the ski runs can be seen in the picture below.

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The Gem-Studded Puffball has a a dual layer of spines on the fruit body, one shorter and one longer.  The longer spines detach easily leaving a scar on the surface of the mushroom.  The base is often elongated and sometimes looks like a stalk.  This little fungus looks kind of scary but is said to be a choice edible.  Like any puffball there are look-a-likes that are not edible.  The test is to cut the mushroom in half and ensure the flesh inside is undifferentiated and that there is no sign of gills.

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Yellow Tuning Forks grow from August until November and have a gelatinous texture unlike the brittle corals that look similar.  These jelly fungi are also known as yellow false coral and grow on primarily on pine logs.  They can reach up to 10 centimetres in height which is tall for a slime mushroom.  They can be eaten but their texture and lack of taste make them unattractive for foragers.

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Northern Tooth Fungus grows primarily on sugar maples.  It gets into the heart of the tree and rots it from within.  These shelf fungus grow annually until the tree is hollowed out and is blown over in a strong wind.  These polypores have long tubes underneath that disperse the spores.

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Dead Man’s Fingers has to be one of the most unusual names for a mushroom.  Sometimes they grow in small clusters which look like a hand reaching up through the ground.  They grow on stumps of maple and beech trees and are whitish in the spring becoming hard and black as the summer progresses.

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Coho Salmon are native to the Pacific Ocean but have been introduced to Ontario and are now naturalized here. When the Europeans arrived in Ontario the salmon crowded the rivers every year.  They spend most of the year in the cold waters of the Great Lakes and return to the rivers and tributaries every year to spawn.  It didn’t take long to destroy the habitats with pollution and to block the spawning routes with mill dams.  The salmon population was decimated and in 1969 it was decided to stock Lake Ontario with Coho Salmon.  Since then all the Great Lakes have been stocked with Salmon and each fall they can be seen fighting their way through the shallow waters of the streams to reach their spawning areas.

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The trail winds through the woods following a couple of ravines.  There are several little bridges that it uses to cross tributaries of the Nottawasaga River.  The largest one carries the water that has come over Cannings Falls which we didn’t visit because it is on private land.

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Wolf’s Milk Slime is similar to a small puffball in the method of spore release.  They will develop a small hole in the top for the distribution of their spores when they are ready.  When this slime first appears it has the consistency of paste but it becomes powdery as the spores mature.  It is also sometimes called Toothpaste Slime.

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Nearly 2 kilometres from Hockley Valley Road are the remains of a 1939 Chevy Sedan that are being slowly disassembled and removed.  The property belonged to Dennis Nevett who owned and farmed it until 1974 when he sold it to the government for the creation of the Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Preserve.  The family used the sedan from about 1951 until 1959 when it died.  Over the next year or two it was towed to the back corner of one of the fields and left to rust away.

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Pretty much everything that can be removed has already been stripped off of the car.

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The Jeju Olle walking trail is the most popular hiking trail in the country of South Korea.  It has over 200 kilomtres of trails that work their way around an island up to the brim of an extinct volcano.  In September of 2011 a section of the Bruce Trail in Hockley Valley was twinned with the Jeju Olle Trail.  To mark the start of the twinned section there is a blue pony which is the marking system used on the Korean Trail.

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This trail promises to be very beautiful in the next few weeks when the fall colours are at their best.

Google Maps Link: Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Preserve

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Kerncliff Park

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Nelson Quarry operated a limestone quarry on Kerns Road in Burlington until 1981.  After it closed it became the site of an ongoing rehabilitation program.  The city of Burlington purchased the old quarry with the intention of creating their first environmental park which eventually opened in 2005.  We decided to check it out and found that there is free parking on both sides of Kerns Road.  The lot on the south side of the road has an interesting concrete artifact near where we parked.  This was likely associated with the quarry across the road.

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The old quarry covers about 40 acres and is now the site of a provincially significant area of natural and scientific interest.  The quarry exposes a transitional layer between the dolomite of the Lockport Formation and the limestone of the Amabel Formation.

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The Ian Reid Side Trail is 1.4 kilometres long and allows people to traverse the wetlands on an elevated boardwalk.  It is named after a long time supporter of the Bruce Trail and a former Bruce Trail Association president.

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The boardwalk has a small observation platform in the middle of the wetlands.  Bullrushes have grown tall enough that it is hard to see the frogs and other wildlife that have made the former quarry home.

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The floor of the old quarry is remarkably flat considering it was created by blasting the limestone off the surface.

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Guard rails have been added along the top of the rock face to protect people who are hiking on the Bruce Trail which runs along the crest.  One of the characteristics of the quarry that made extraction attractive at this site is the relatively thin layer of soil on top of the limestone.  This layer is known as overburden and any place where it is more than two metres thick it becomes impractical to remove it.  There’s always are other places where the limestone is closer to the surface.

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The rock face of the quarry looks as if they just packed up and left.  There is a large amount of broken rock at the base of the cliff as if they blasted a bunch of rock and processed what they could.  Then, rather than working until they ran out of available rock, they just punched out at 5:00 and never came back.

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In the spring and summer the male goldfinch has bright yellow plumage.  The colour is attributed to carotenoids in their diet.  They typically live from 3 to 6 years in the wild but the record has been observed at 11 years.

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From the park you get views into Burlington and out to Lake Ontario in the distance.

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Black walnut trees are known for their dark hardwood that is perfect for making high quality wood furniture.  The nuts can be harvested in late September or early October and should be collected from the tree before they fall.  If you can leave an impression on the shell with your finger the nut is ripe.

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Portions of the trail are accessible for those who use some form of mobility assistance.

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Returning to the car we had another look at the concrete foundations with the tree growing out of the top of them.

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The Bruce Trail runs along the top of the cliff face and we had previously explored there in our post Bruce Trail – Kerns Road to Guelph Line.

Google Maps Link: Kerncliff Park

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Bruce Trail – Kerns Road to Guelph Line

Saturday, May 4, 2019

It seemed like a good time for a hike on the Bruce Trail and this time we planned to do a little larger section using two cars.  We parked one on Guelph Line and moved with the second one to Kerns Road beside Kerncliffe Park.  There is free parking in both places.

Kerncliffe Park is located just below the Bruce Trail and is the site of a former quarry.  Nelson Quarry closed in 1981 and has been the site of an ongoing rehabilitation project since then.  The 40-acre park was completed in 2005 and features gravel trails with a boardwalk and observation decks in the wetlands.  It can be accessed from the Bruce Trail via the Ian Reid Side Trail.  The old rock faces that were blasted to access the limestone have now been taken over by swallows who find this to be a perfect habitat.  Geese and red-winged blackbirds have found a home in the wetlands.

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Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest species of woodpecker that is native to Ontario.  Both the male and female have a bright red crest that sweeps off the back of the head.  The male is distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek, as seen on the specimen below.  Their main food is the carpenter ant and they dig large square holes in trees to look for them.  The mated pair stay in their territory all year long and tend to nest in the largest tree in the area.  For this reason they are prone to being killed in lightning strikes.  The oldest known pileated woodpecker was almost 12 years old when it was caught for the second time in a banding operation.

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Once again we found a ruined car that had been dumped in the woods and left to rot.  This one has been stripped of everything and has been here long enough that there is a tree growing up through the middle of the engine compartment.

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Positive identification wasn’t possible because no identifying stickers or plastic parts could be found.  We did notice that the front bumper incorporated the side signals in a unique three cut-out pattern.  Identical looking side markers can be found on the 1970 Chevy Impala.

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These little white puffballs have already released their spores through the hole in each one.  These were likely purple spored puffballs that have overwintered.

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Raccoons are primarily a nocturnal animal and seeing one out in the daylight is much less common.  Some believe that a raccoon that is out in the daytime might have rabies.  This could be true but is not necessarily so.  In the spring time when females are nursing young they may be out foraging in the daylight.  Any signs of paralysis in the rear legs, erratic walking patterns or foaming at the mouth should be considered signs of possible rabies infections.  The little raccoon in the picture below was walking slowly and seemed confused so there is a risk that it is not well.

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Several species of violets are in bloom.  The ones pictured below are Marsh Blue Violets and are sometimes called Purple Violets.  They are the provincial flower for New Brunswick.

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We saw very few other hikers on this morning except a few dog walkers, none of whom had their dogs on leashes.  Having too many people on muddy trails is not a good idea anyway.  There are those who don’t wear the correct boots and are afraid to walk in the mud in the middle of the trail.  They make secondary trails along the edges which can sometimes trample sensitive plants and wildlife habitat.  It can also lead to property owners denying access to hikers and forcing the trail onto roads.  Please stay on the trail.

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Dutchman’s Breeches get their name from the flowers which looks like a tiny pair of breeches.  The flowers grow on racemes with up to 14 flowers on the stalk.  The plant can be toxic and some people could get contact dermatitis from touching it.  Native Americans found the plant useful for skin conditions and as a blood purifier.  It was also used to aid people with syphilis.

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After we had covered almost 10 kilometres of muddy trail it was time to head for home.  We regularly check ourselves for ticks after each hike regardless of where we’ve been.  This is the first time we have ever found a tick after hiking on the Bruce Trail.  Never assume the area is clear because the risk is always there.

Check out our top 20 posts from our first five years of hiking: Back Tracks – The First 5 Years

Google Maps Link: Kerns Road

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Bruce Trail – Hilton Falls Side Trail

Saturday, February 2, 2019

When we previously visited Hilton Falls we followed the trail from the sixth line.  Today we decided to complete the other portion of the trail from the main parking lot north to the falls.  The history of the falls can be read in our previous post Hilton Falls.

Although the snow was deep making hiking a lot of heavy work, we decided to add the Philip Gosling Side Trail.  This short trail takes you to the main Bruce Trail, completing a partial loop around the reservoir by the time it connects with the Hilton Falls Side Trail.

Hilton Falls Conservation Area opened in 1967 and the dam and reservoir in 1973.  We followed the lower trail from the parking lot toward the Bruce Trail.

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Philip R. Gosling was awarded the Order of Canada for his role in creating the Bruce Trail.  Gosling had a vision of a trail that could be passed down to future generations and worked tirelessly to make it happen.  A short section of side trail has been named in his honour.  We noticed that most of the trees on both sides of the trail have been marked for removal.  I’m not certain if this is for emerald ash borer or for trail maintenance and widening.

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This side trail connects the parking lot with the main Bruce Trail and then carries on part way around the reservoir.  You can’t see the reservoir from this trail as it is hiding behind the ridge of land in the picture below.

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Small rodents often dig holes in the snow to stay warm and avoid inclement weather.  Tunnels and open pockets of air form under the snow where they can remain for extended periods, feeding off the grasses and insects there.  This is known as the subnivean (Latin for “under snow”) zone and with 6 to 8 inches of snow it can remain around the freezing mark, regardless of the outside temperature.  Air holes will be dug as needed to provide ventilation and access from outside.

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There are about 35 kilometres of trails in Hilton Falls Conservation Area.  In the summer half of these trails are for bicycles only but at this time of the year the trails are taken over by cross country skiers.  It also turned out to be perfect conditions for snow shoes.  In spite of the deep snow we saw several people walking their dogs while others were slowly walking along the trails.

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When you reach to top of Hilton Falls there is a campfire burning there.  People can warm themselves or food and a general party mood prevailed.  A set of stairs leads down to a small viewing platform.  As can be seen, many people did not stay on the platform and the frozen falls was difficult to photograph without people in the shot.

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However, close ups were still available.

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On the opposite side of the creek stands the old wheel housing from the saw mill.  The arch allowed water to return to the creek after being used to turn the water wheel.

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At one time a 40-foot wheel spun in this cut stone wheel housing.  The mill was abandoned in 1867 and the wheel housing has deteriorated in height since then.

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After turning the wheel in the housing, the water joined Sixteen Mile Creek again and continued downstream.  The creek has cut a fairly narrow exit compared to the size of the bowl around the waterfall.

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The return hike passes through a mature forest along the western side of the reservoir.  When we were within sight of the parking lot we had the option to turn and follow the roadway along the top of the reservoir dam.  From there you can see how the reservoir is set in the ravine and on the south side of the dam you can get a sense of the depth of water.  This is a favourite place for fishing.

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There are still plenty of trails at Hilton Falls that we have yet to explore but along with our previous Hilton Falls hike we have covered off all of the Bruce Trail side trails.

Google Maps Link: Hilton Falls Conservation Area

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Bruce Trail – Olde Base to The Forks

Saturday, October 20, 2018

In a previous post we had looked at The Devil’s Pulpit having approached from the Forks of the Credit road.  Thinking that the fall colours might still hold some charm we decided to hike to the pulpit from the south.  When possible, we like to hike longer sections of the Bruce Trail using two cars.  We met on the Forks of the Credit Road near the end of Chisholm Street where we left one car.  We drove east to McLaughlin Road and then two concessions south through the historic community of Inglewood to Olde Base Line.  There is parking for a few cars west of here where Chinguacousey Road dead-ends.  The Bruce Trail roughly follows the old road allowance north from here.  It was an ideal morning for a hike in the woods with the sun shining and the smell of fall in the air.

The remains of an old split rail fence snake their way through the woods.  These fences were often the first method a farmer employed to divide his fields.  They were easy to build and could be made from material cut from the property.  They also provided the farmer with the option to reconfigure his fields, changing the size and shape of them quite easily. Their biggest drawback came in the amount of land that was used in their construction.  In later years when farming techniques improved and productivity was sought from the greatest amount of land possible.  The wooden snake fence was often replaced with flat wire fencing.

There are several ponds along the side of the trail that appear to have formerly been aggregate extraction sites.  Many of these former quarries along the Niagara Escarpment are now flooded and have become important wildlife habitats.  Mother nature reclaims her own.

Original property owners found that land grants along the top of the Niagara Escarpment were often not the best farmland.   The climax forests provided an initial resource in wood but this was soon exhausted.  Many land owners then sought to make money off the natural resources on the escarpment.  Transportation costs meant that many small quarries could no longer be profitable when local road building projects were completed and the market moved farther from the quarry.  Other uses for the property then had to be developed.  Grants have been offered at various times over the years for property that is reforested.  The production of maple syrup can turn a forest into a profit centre for a few weeks each spring and there are remains of sugar shacks in the woods.

Eventually the trail emerges onto a small section of Chinguacousey Road that provides access to one of these aggregate extraction sites.  Deforest Brothers Quarries is licenced to operate a quarry that is just over 10 hectares in size.  They are allowed to extract up to 20,000 tonnes of material per year.  How ironic that the Deforest Brothers have been cutting down trees to reveal their product.

The trail follows the Grange Side Road west for one concession until it reaches the third line, now known as Creditview Road. Once again, the Bruce Trail heads north along the old right of way for the road.  The road was never completed through to connect with the Forks of the Credit Road because the Devil’s Pulpit lies in the way.

The fall colours are still quite vivid on some of the trees but most of them are past their prime.

White Baneberry grows in a small patch along the trail.  Birds will eat the berries and the seeds pass through their digestive system and are deposited somewhere else to start a new plant.  Toxins in the seeds are known to have a sedative effect on the human heart muscle and ingestion can lead to cardiac arrest and possibly death.

This beautiful pond is one of several along this stretch of the trail.

When you reach the top of The Devil’s Pulpit the view is quite spectacular at any time of the year.

Stairs and a guide wire help you up or down the side of the escarpment.

The rock face at The Devil’s Pulpit must have been an interesting place to work every day.  Workplace standards have changed considerably in the last 150 years.

The trail continues to descend and passes the Ring Kiln Side Trail that leads to the Hoffman Lime Kilns.  This 0.6 kilometre trail leads to a dozen set kilns built in a ring for the burning of limestone.  As the trail descends to the former Credit Valley Railway it uses another set of stairs.

On the way back to the car near Olde Base Line we decided to check out the one-lane rail bridge where the CVR was built over The Grange Sideroad.

We encountered very few people for such a nice fall day on the Bruce Trail.

Google Maps link: Forks of the Credit

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The Bruce Trail – Speyside to The Gap

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Having previously visited Speyside to see a Royal Oak tree that has a historic designation we had covered a small section of the Bruce Trail in the Speyside Resource Management Area.  We had also been to a large gap that is cut in the escarpment by Dufferin Quarries.  We decided to hike the trail between these two locations.  There is free parking at the resource management area.  Near the start of the trail we found a place where people had been dumping garbage in a hole in the middle of a pile of rocks.  This is a shameful way to use one of two historic kilns on the property.  These were used by Alexander Livingstone to dry the hops he grew when this was his farm.

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Sometimes you see the least expected things in the woods if you slow down and take notice.  We covered the first kilometre or two of this hike in a record long length of time, but we found some interesting things we may have otherwise missed.  For example, the peeling bark on this dead Paper Birch looks like an alien or a skeleton.  These trees are also known as White Birch or Canoe Birch.  This example could make an interesting picture if photographed just at dusk when it might look even spookier.

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Mushrooms often come in look-a-likes that can be very different in toxicity.  For instance, the mushrooms below could be either Pholiota Squarrosa or Pholiota Squarrosoides.  A minor difference in spelling (“oides” as a suffix means “looks like”) and also a minor one in appearance.  The Shaggy Scalycap Mushroom (P Squarrosa) is dry between the scales on the cap and has a green gill below. It is considered poisonous and appears to be more dangerous when mixed with alcohol. The P Squarrosoides is sticky between the scales, has a whiter flesh with white gills and no smell.   I believe these mushrooms here are the P. Sqarrosaoides but as I didn’t touch the cap or get a shot of the gills I can’t be certain.

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Chocolate Tube Slime is another of those curiosities that can easily be missed.  This is found in my National Audubon Society field guide for mushrooms but it isn’t really a true mushroom.  It forms spore bearing clusters that can produce an incredible number of spores.  Slime molds start off as plasmodia that creep over surfaces and absorb food sources.  It takes less than 24 hours for the slime to transform into the chocolate coloured tubes that will spit out spores and then vanish almost as fast.

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Cup fungi are usually small and grow in clusters.  Some of the bigger ones can be up to 4 inches across and often grow individually.  This common brown cup fungi was a couple of inches across.

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These hairy white caterpillars are the larvae of the Hickory Tussock Moth.  Near the front and rear of the caterpillar are a couple of black tufts of hair.  These are part of a venom delivery system that the insect uses in self defense.  If these are pressed, a poison is injected that will feel much like stinging nettles.  The sensation will last for about 20 minutes for the average person and can range from a burning feeling to severe pain and nausea.

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As you cross a little stream on the trail you can see the Cardinal Flowers that are just beginning to bloom.  They live in shallow wetlands and provide a bright splash of red in the late summer and early fall.  Some native tribes used the plant in a plaster to be applied to swelling and to reduce the pain of rheumatism.

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We followed the trail until we came to the place where Dufferin Quarries has cut an opening in the side of the escarpment.  We’ve covered this in more detail in our second most popular post, The Gap.  The picture below shows the workings of the quarry.

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We made our way back from the quarry as the heat of the day climbed and our water disappeared.  When we reached the closed end of St. Helena Road we elected to follow the roads back to the car to take advantage of some even footing and reach our stash of cold water quicker.  It is quite common to see little book exchange boxes in the city but it was unexpected when hiking the Bruce Trail.  This one is near the little parking area along St. Helena Road.

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Speyside has been reduced to a ghost town.  The gas station and general store have been closed for years and almost all other early buildings have vanished.  The price of gas was 79 cents per litre when these pumps were last used.  It’s closing in on double that now.

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We used the Bruce Trail app to track our hike and had lost the first part of the trek through Speyside Resource Management Area when I closed the app by accident.  I’ve drawn that part back in on the map below.  The tracker shows 12 kilometres and with the additional section, the hike was about 14 kilometres.

Speyside to Gap

Google Maps Link: Speyside

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The Bruce Trail – Limehouse

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Bruce Trail has many side trails which form little loops along the way, especially in The Toronto Section where side trails account for 60 kilometres compared to only 50 kilometres of main trail.  This makes for a nice change of scenery if you are doing a one car, return hike.  We set out to hike from the parking place on the Sixth Line, north of 22nd Side Road, into Limehouse and back doing the Ridge Side Trail and Todd Bardes Meadowland Side Trail along the way.  A severe limitation to the Bruce Trail App in combination with my iPhone is the extreme drain on the battery.  I was forced to switch it off after only 8 kilometres because the battery was down to 1%.   I have since learned that using airplane mode and low power can help resolve this if I want to map hikes for the sake of a blog.

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The trail starts off along a beautiful boardwalk through the woods which were surprisingly free of mosquitoes on this morning.  There was also a stillness to the woods as the birds were quiet.  The trail leads almost directly from the sixth line to the fifth where you are forced onto the road for half kilometre or so.

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Hemlock Varnish Shelf is growing along this fallen tree.  This fungus starts off as a small red nub on the side of the tree and grows into the familiar conk shape.  When it is young it has a brighter red colour and a varnished look to it.  The outer edges will be yellow or white but as it ages over the summer it changes to a more even rusty colour extending to the edges.  These fungi are known as polypores because they have multiple small tubes or pores on the underside of the fruit body that release the spores.  This group of fungi is key to the breaking down of wood and are key in the nutrient cycle of the forest.  Polypores are often used in traditional medicine and science is studying the Hemlock Varnish Shelf for potential uses in cancer therapy.

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As this hike progressed it became obvious that there was an extremely large variety of mushrooms growing along the trail.  Every time we hike there is always something interesting and unique about the area we’ve selected.  This time it turned out be the fascinating colours and forms of the fungi we encountered.  Giant puffballs grow along the trail in several places and are one of the prized edible mushrooms.  They grow from August to September and can grow to 20 inches or bigger.  They can be pan fried or battered and fried in slices.  The spores form inside the mature ball and are released in a “puff” when the skin cracks at maturity.

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As the puff balls mature they turn yellow and the skin cracks to release the spores.  The inside turns from white to grey or dark yellow of the puffball spores.  It has been estimated that an average size puff ball can contain up to 7 trillion spores.

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Oyster Mushrooms are considered to be one of the choice edible ones.  They need to be collected when they are young before the flesh becomes tough and woody.  Many Asian cultures use them extensively in cooking and they are cultivated in parts of India.

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There were several places where Scarlet Fading Waxy Cap mushrooms were growing.  As this mushroom matures the scarlet fades to orange or yellow.  The cap is deeply convex with an incurved margin.  It is one of the edible mushrooms however it is reported to be flavourless so it may be best used in a soup or chili.

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Several types of artificial bee habitats have been set up in places along the trail.  These ones are known as mason bee tubes.  This type of bee habitat can be a fun home project to make as a way to encourage the survival of the honey bee.

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The bees still seem to prefer their own handy work in building their nests but the similarities to the mason tubes is interesting.

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A good example of a mushroom that may be edible or may be a poisonous one is seen below.  If this is a Jack O-Lantern it is poisonous but because it is growing singular instead of in a cluster it is likely a Chanterelle which is edible.  Either way, the gills under the cap make this an interesting looking mushroom.

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The Yellowish-White Melanoleuca is also an edible mushroom but there is a very similar mushroom that is poisonous.  The Entoloma species look almost identical but have very different spores that allow them to be distinguished.  Due to the fact that so many mushrooms have look-a-likes that are poisonous you should either be very sure of your identification or leave the plant alone.

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Having reached Limehouse, where a large collection of 19th century lime kilns are preserved we made our way back to the car.

Google Maps Link: Bruce Trail Limehouse

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