Tag Archives: Downy Woodpecker

North Halton Kart Club

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The North Halton Kart Club used to operate on the Fifth Line south of Limehouse but it has been closed for a third of a century. It seemed like a good idea to go and see what remains of a place that so many enjoyed over the years. To access it we parked in the Limehouse Conservation Area and took the Limehouse Side Trail to the main Bruce Trail. The main trail heads north toward The Hole-In-The-Wall and the Limehouse Kilns but we turned in the opposite direction. We were a little wary of the Bruce Trail because of stories of overcrowding and lack of parking. Arriving early, there were only two other cars in the parking lot. However, a few hours later there were no available parking spaces and cars were lined up along both sides of the laneway.

Along the trail on the way to the kart track we observed a small bird known as a Downey Woodpecker. They primarily eat ants and beetles and can often be seen pecking on trees in search of them. They supplement their diet with seeds and berries and this one was in the grass finding things to eat. In the winter they will also be seen at bird feeders eating suet. The small red dot on the back of the head marks this example as a male.

The North Halton Kart Club was founded in 1959 with only three members but they were off to the races and had 30 members by the following summer. This allowed them to rent a piece of land from a farmer in Limehouse and build their first peanut-shaped track which is marked in yellow on the Google Earth capture below. The track was originally unpaved but that only lasted a few races before the members set about fundraising and donating to have it paved in the summer of 1960. The karts were maintained by their owners and had to meet strict inspection before being allowed onto the track. Their engines ranged from 2.5 – 12 horse power and could reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. A second track is outlined in orange while other points of interest are marked in blue on the picture below.

Races were typically run on Sunday afternoons between 2 and 5 and would provide an outing for the whole family. Even the children got to have their turn, some of them beating their elders. Today the track has become overgrown in most places and if you look carefully in the picture below there’s a downed power line crossing the track at about a driver’s neck level.

The scoring booth sat at the corner of the original track and is the best preserved of the remaining buildings on the site. With broken windows and a smashed in door the weather will soon take this structure down.

An expanded second track was built with a loop that extended into the forest and back again. Much of this track has been covered over with new soil, especially at the top end, but the asphalt is just a centimeter or two below the surface.

At the top end of the forest loop is a small berm that was built to help keep the karts from jumping the track. From behind the berm looking back toward the forest loop you can see the berm even more clearly.

Walking into the trees behind the berm proved to be a good idea because we saw a Pileated Woodpecker ripping big chunks out of the sides of several trees as he searched for food. The small red stripe on the cheek near the beak marks this example as a male.

Terry Dalton was an active member of the North Halton Kart Club from 1978 until the end of the 1987 season when the track was closed for good. Terry provided me with some pictures that were taken when the track was in use as well as some valuable insight into what remains today. The picture below was supplied by Terry and shows karts coming back from the loop in the forest.

Scaffolding still stands in the centre of the track area but the power lines are down. Several lamp posts, which were installed in 1961, are on the ground as well. There are still a couple of loud speakers mounted around the area, including one near the old grandstands. The flag pole still stands in the middle of the site but the flag no longer waves. It’s interesting to note that when the park first opened the familiar Maple Leaf Flag wouldn’t be developed for another five years.

The grandstands used to provide seating for family members and guests to watch the races. Sometimes people would sit here and wait for their turn to take a few spins around the track. Today the seating faces the empty track but there is a new growth of trees that obscures the view. The grandstands appear to be one good windstorm away from falling over and perhaps those young trees are all that is holding it up these days.

The snack booth stood just behind the grandstands and it is in bad shape. The front has fallen off as has part of the roof and one side. Looking through the missing wall you can see the hood from the grill where food was prepared for those who were watching the day’s entertainment. There was a red squirrel standing in the window frame chattering at me like a server but the days of hot food, cold drinks and salty snacks are long gone.

The Maintenance Shed needs a little maintaining of its own. The back wall has fallen out of the building exposing a storage shelf of paint cans. The roof is gone and it too looks like it will be laying on the ground before too many more seasons pass by.

Below is another photo of the track when it was in operation which gives the area a bit of context. Once again it was provided by Terry Dalton who is in cart number 68 getting ready to round the turn and head toward the scoring booth.

In 1987 the property owners decided that the liability insurance the club carried was inadequate and attempted to force them to increase it. This was more than the club could afford and so at the end of the season a 27-year race to have fun came to an end. The lights were switched off for the last time and the 33 winters since then have taken their toll on everything.

It is said that the North Halton Kart Club attracted people from all over including many who were not regulars to the club. Paul Tracy and Scott Goodyear are reported to have raced there during their early years behind the wheel. Today, kart racers have to attend other tracks scattered around the province. Ironically, one of these tracks is at Mosport while the old North Halton Kart Klub track is looking more like mossport since nature has been working on reclaiming it.

This site provided one of my personal favourite explorations since the pandemic started and we began to visit forestry tracts and nature reserves instead of the busier trails.

Be sure to check out other sites while you are in the area. The Hole-In-The Wall and the Limehouse Kilns can be explored together.

Google Maps Link: Limehouse Conservation Area

Like us at http://www.faceboof.com/hikingthegta

Follow us at http://www.hikingthegta.com

Also look for us on Instagram

Gates Gully Scarborough

Saturday May 7, 2016

Gates Gully runs from Kingston Road to Lake Ontario and provides one of the few places where there is access down the side of the Scarborough Bluffs.  Over the years it has been home to natives, smugglers, soldiers and rebels.  The Bellamy Ravine Creek flows through the bottom of the ravine where it makes a 90 meter drop from the table lands to the lake. The picture below shows the ravine where it starts at Kingston Road.  The ravine provided a gentle enough grade to bring goods from the lake shore up to Kingston Road via carts and so a community developed at this point.  Jonathan Gates built an tavern and the ravine became known as Gates Gully.

IMG_1317

The Scarborough Bluffs were exposed when Glacial Lake Iroquois suddenly drained about 12,200 years ago.  The change in climate caused the natives to modify their hunting and gathering practices and new tools were invented.  Scientists call this period the Archaic Period and the early portion ran from 10,000 to 8,000 years ago.  Artifacts have been found in the ravine from this time period indicating that the natives were using it as an access to the lake shortly after the end of the ice age.  The ravine has changed a lot over the years from both land filling and erosion.  The west side of the ravine has a set of stairs that used to lead to the ravine floor but now the steps slant at an odd angle and then end in loose sand and mud hiding under a layer of dead leaves.

IMG_1318

On April 27, 1813 the Americans attacked Fort York and captured it from the British.  When General Sheaffe determined that the Battle of York was lost he ordered the army to retreat to Kingston, which they did, using Kingston Road.  Legend has it that some of the soldiers hid the money they were carrying in the gully.  Treasure hunters have been seeking it for the past two hundred years and if it ever existed, it is apparently still there.  One of the beautiful things about spring time is the fact that there are new flowers in the woods almost every day.  The Scilla provides a splash of blue to the forest floor but is not native.

IMG_1327

The ravine is a migratory route for over 100 species of birds.  The woods were alive with the sounds of bird calls on this sunny morning.  The wetlands are now under the protection of the male red-winged blackbirds.  They have started their usual tactics of swooping near your head to let you know that you are too close to the nest.  Bright red male cardinals were everywhere singing their songs to attract the less colourful females.  The picture below shows a female cardinal who was playing hard to get with a couple of males.

IMG_1335

Smugglers found it easy to bring goods from the United States into Canada through Gates Gully.  This practice was prominent in the 1830’s as merchants sought to avoid paying import taxes.  Gates Tavern became famous for the part it played in the Rebellion of 1837. When William Lyon McKenzie started to rally his rebel forces at Montomery’s Tavern on the night of Dec. 5, 1837 the Scarborough militia started to gather at Gates Tavern. Ironically, it is said that McKenzie hid for awhile at the Annis home, one of the first settlers in the area of Gates Gully and the property just to the east.  On August 3, 1915 the steamship Alexandria was wrecked near the entrance to the gully.  The Alexandria was built in 1866 and served both as a passenger ship and a cargo ship.  On this night it was bringing 300 tons of beans and tomatoes when it was blown too close to the shore and was grounded.  All passengers were brought to safety and led up the bluffs through Gates Gully.  The hull of the steam remains in the lake 100 years later, just to the east of the gully.  The archive picture below shows the wrecked ship.

1297734209869_ORIGINAL

As you reach the bottom of the ravine you find a steel sculpture named Passage. Designed to look like the rib cage of both a fish and a canoe, it commemorates one of the first people who took up residence on the edge of the bluffs.  In 1939 Doris McCarthy purchased 12 acres on the top of the bluffs on the west side of Gates Gully.  Doris became a famous Canadian painter and her mother dubbed her home on the ravine as Fool’s Paradise because she thought the purchase was too extravagant.

IMG_1347

Fools Paradise stands on top of the bluffs, just out of site in this picture.  To commemorate the life and work of Doris McCarthy the trail through Gates Gully has been named after her.

IMG_1348

Following Doris McCarthy’s lead, other people came to settle on the top of the bluffs.  The section of bluffs to the west of Gates Gully are on the former McCowan estate, after whom McCowan Road is named.  The bluffs are eroding every year and many homes that were built too close to the edge have already fallen over.  The picture below, and the cover photo, show a home that has been slowly being torn apart as the sand disappears from beneath it.  The sand embankment below the former house is now filled with wood scraps, doors and tiles.

IMG_1356

The image below from Google Earth was taken on May 22, 2015 and the house can be seen near the red arrow.  It appears that about half of the house was standing a year ago, but there isn’t very much left any more.

House on bluffs

In 1986 it was decided to initiate erosion control in Gates Gully and along the beach.  The shore was lined with stone and break waters were built extending into the lake in a manner similar to the Leslie Street Spit.  The photo below was taken from the end of one of these erosion control forms.

IMG_1367

After climbing to the top of the bluffs you are treated to an amazing view of the lake and the cliff faces.  Sylvan Park is on the top of the bluffs on the east side of Gates Gully and can be seen on in the distance in the picture below.  This park is on the former Annis property.

IMG_1386

This downy woodpecker was one of several that was looking for lunch in Sylvan Park.  It prefers beetles and ants but will eat suet at back yard feeders as well.

IMG_1397

Meadowcliffe Drive on the top of the bluffs leads to the site of Fool’s Paradise.  It is on private property but a historic marker is placed on the end of the driveway.

IMG_1406

Google maps link: Gates Gully

Like us at http://www.facebook.com/hikingthegta

Riverside Park Streetsville

Saturday Sept. 6, 2014

It was a cool morning following a night of rain.  We decided that there was time for a short hike. Parking on Riverside Place we walked the path down to the east bank of the Credit River.  We thought we just might find evidence of Timothy Street’s mill, after which the town of Streetsville was named.  Streetsville has retained it’s small town feel even as it has been surrounded by the city of Mississauga.  In 1953 two of the first suburbs in Canada were built near Streetsville.  The one on the north east was called Riverside and opened in 1955.  The park at the bottom of the hill along the river may have contained the mill pond.  The tree in the cover shot is a massive black willow that stands near the side of an old mill race.  It is likely over 100 years old and witness to many changes in the river valley.

We watched a female downy woodpecker looking for lunch on a dead tree.  The downy is the smallest woodpecker in Ontario.  The males can be distinguished from the females by the red cap on the back of the head.  The downy and the hairy woodpecker look almost identical, yet they come from different genera.  Downy woodpeckers average about 6 inches while the hairy is normally around 15 inches in size.  They have the same markings except the white feathers on the tails.  Being unrelated they cannot inter-breed raising the question as to why they look so much alike.  Scientists use the term “convergent evolution” to describe two apparent random sets of independent mutations that, against all odds, somehow produced the same result.

IMG_3189

The Goldenrod Gall Fly is a small brownish fly that lives it’s entire life cycle around the plant.  In the spring the male will wait on a plant for the female to arrive so he can dance for her.  After mating she deposits her eggs directly into the stem of the young goldenrod plant.  The eggs hatch in about 10 days, roughly the same time as the adult completes it’s two week life cycle and dies.  The larva live their whole lives inside the plant where they chew a nest.  Their saliva causes the plant to grow a gall around the larva, up to the size of a golf ball.  Just before winter the larva will chew an escape tunnel out almost to the outer skin.  Then it converts most of its body fluid to glycol, a substance like anti-freeze, and sets down for the winter.  In the spring the larva wakes up and molts into the pupa from which the adult fly will hatch.  The adult will escape through the tunnel it dug the fall before.  When it reaches the end of the tunnel it inflates special pouches in it’s head to “blow apart” the skin of the gall.  The male fly then begins its two week life cycle on the outside.  Goldenrod galls are easy to find but it is rare to see two galls on a single plant.

IMG_3196

Wild cucumbers grow along the edges of Toronto’s rivers and streams.  They are related to cucumbers, squash and other gourds but unlike other members of it’s family, are not edible. The fruit will contain 4 seeds which drop out of the bottom after the pod has ripened.  The plant dies each fall and re-grows in the spring from the seeds of the year before.

IMG_3200

Milkweeds produce a pod which contains hundreds of little seeds.  These little seeds each have a silky tassle which allows them to be blown by the wind to aid distribution.  Milkweed is essential to the life cycle of monarch butterflies.  They lay their eggs on the plant and the emerging caterpillars eat it.  Monarch butterflies travel 4,800 km to Mexico to winter every year. In the winter of 2013-2014 only 44% of the butterflies arrived compared to the year before.  In order to improve the future of these butterflies the David Suzuki Foundation has a program promoting the planting of milkweed in Toronto.

IMG_3203

We found the old Streetsville mill but it was on the other side of the Credit River.  Exploration awaits…

IMG_3219