Tag Archives: monarch butterfly

Nashville Conservation Reserve

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Nashville Conservation Reserve is made up of over 900 hectares of land that was bought up by the Conservation Authority in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel there were plans to create several large flood control reservoirs.  The lands in this conservation reserve would have been developed into a large pond created by damming the Humber River.  Funding wasn’t made available and the property was left to passive recreational uses.

On a previous visit to the Conservation Reserve we had followed the old road allowance for Kirby Road and had not ventured too far into the actual park.  We returned to do a further exploration, once again parking at Kirby Road and Huntington Road.


Structurally the bridge is in bad shape.  The steel reinforcement is exposed everywhere and large chunks of concrete have already fallen away.  The TRCA Management Plan for Nashville Conservation Reserve included a clean-up of the bridge in 2015 that removed a lot of the deteriorating concrete.  A similar bridge over the Humber River on Old Major Mackenzie Drive serves a single house on the one side of the bridge.  The City of Vaughan is legally responsible to maintain the bridge for the family that lives there.  It is estimated that it will cost about $800,000 dollars to repair that structure.

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As we saw on our previous visit to the reserve the bridge no longer serves anything but pedestrian traffic on the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.  Kirby Road through this section was abandoned in the 1970’s and the bridge closed to vehicular traffic.  With the cost of repairs likely to be similar to the Old Major Mackenzie bridge it looks like the days of this bridge are numbered.  The official plan is to permanently close the trail on both sides of the bridge sometime in the next few years.  The view from below the bridge supports the idea that it should be removed before it collapses into the river and creates a flooding obstacle.

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With the spread of dog-strangling vines and the subsequent decline in common milkweed it was feared that monarch butterfly populations could suffer decline.  It appears from personal observation that this year has been good to the butterfly population and there are plenty of examples to be seen every time we go out hiking.


Just past the bridge and near the top of the hill we made a left turn to enter the northern loop trail through the woods.  Trails are marked with blue slashes and were all but deserted as we made our way along.

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Northern Tooth fungus is typically found on Maple Trees where it grows in densely packed shelves from wounds in the tree.  Over time it kills the heart of the tree leaving it hollow and susceptible to being blown over in strong wind storms.  One of the trees along the trail has several large patches growing out of it but it appears that it is the only tree in the area to be suffering from this fungus.  Undoubtedly this tree has already been destroyed, it just hasn’t fallen over yet.

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The carrots we enjoy at dinner time are cultivars of wild carrots, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace.  A cultivar is a plant that has been selected because it has a desirable trait that it will continue to pass along.  The trait that has been cultivated from the wild carrot is our domesticated carrot.  The flowers on Queen Anne’s Lace are white and clustered in dense umbels.  Among all the white flowers was a single plant which had all four or five umbels that were pink coloured.

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Artist Bracket or Artist Conk is a bracket fungus that grows on trees where it decays the heart of the tree.  When they are young they are white but quickly turn darker as they age.  When the spore bearing surface below is scratched it forms dark lines that become permanent when the conk dries. Artists use these to create permanent pictures.

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There were several small mushrooms growing in a cluster at the base of a rotting log.  Orange Mycena produces an orange pigment known as leinafulvene.  It has been shown to have antibiotic properties as well as being toxic to certain tumor cells.

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Nashville Conservation Reserve is still largely unexplored and we’ll have to come back sometime to see what is happening with the old bridge.

Google Maps Link: Nashville Conservation Reserve

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Humber Grove – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The remains of a ghost town lie along the Humber River on Duffy’s Lane just north of Bolton.  The property of George Elliot on the county atlas below was in the Elliot family from 1855 until 1929.  During this time a few homes were built along Duffy’s Lane with views of the river.  Only two are shown at the time the atlas was drawn in 1877.  By 1909 there were half a dozen homes with a small community forming around the bridge over the river.  In 1929 the 100-acre half lot was sold to Bertram Realty Company who planned to capitalize on the quiet setting along the river.  They divided the land into small parcels and started selling them for cottages.  People began to buy the lots and build on them and by the early 1950’s there were enough children to support the construction of a new school at the corner of King Road and Duffy’s Lane.

In October 1954 Hurricane Hazel hit the GTA killing 81 people and changing the way we managed our floodplains.  Local conservation authorities across the GTA began to buy properties and remove houses that were considered at risk.  They also developed a plan that called for the construction of 15 major flood control dams and reservoirs including one on the Humber River just north of Bolton.  Of these dams only Claireville, G Ross Lord and Milne Dam were constructed.  The Glasgow dam would have been 29 metres high and Humber Grove would have been under the new flood control lake.  Slowly the houses were moved or demolished until by 1977 there were no buildings remaining.

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Duffy’s Lane is exactly that, their original laneway.  This is what is known as a “given road” because it is not part of the original grid of the township survey.  It is a privately constructed road, on private land, that was given for the use of the public.  For reference, Duffy’s Lane has been coloured brown on the map above.  The Duffy house was built in the 1840’s and has been given a historical designation by the township of Caledon.  It is seen in the picture below and marked with a red arrow on the map above.


Duffy’s Lane has had many alignments in the area where Humber Grove was and there have been at least four bridges over the river.  The county atlas above shows a bridge over the west branch of the Humber River that predated the use of poured concrete for bridge construction by 20 to 30 years.  Therefore, the abandoned bridge in the cover photo has to be at least the second bridge at this location.  The picture below shows the abutment for the old bridge in the lower right corner.  This bridge was likely built at the time that a subdivision plan was put forward in the 1920’s.  A new bridge would have been helpful in persuading people to buy a lot this far outside of Bolton. On the left in this picture are two newer bridges, the lower one from 1985.  In 2013 work began on the Emil Kolb Parkway as a bypass to keep the increasing flow of traffic from going through downtown Bolton.  The new multi-lane bridge was built in 2014 and the older one converted to a pedestrian trail.  It is likely that some of the original Humber Grove foundations were lost during the construction of these various bridges.


Milkweed pods have started to break open exposing their seeds to the wind.  Each tiny, flat seed is carried on the breeze by hundreds of tiny filaments attached to it.



Milkweed is essential in the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly.  There were many of these orange beauties flying around and it seems like it is late in the year for them.  This is the fourth generation of monarch born in Ontario this year and it is programmed to fly to Mexico to spend the winter.  The example in the picture below is a female because it lacks the two little black dots on the hind wings that mark the male scent glands.

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Throughout the woods, there are several obvious laneways, most often marked with a double row of trees that lined either side of the old roads.  In a couple of places, there are old hydro poles in the woods that have the wires cut from them because the homes they once served no longer exist.


At the end of the laneway above is an obvious clearing where a house once stood.  The back end of the property has been reinforced with a concrete wall.


A garter snake was sitting on a fallen branch taking in the late October sunshine.  These snakes don’t actually hibernate unless they are in a climate where it goes below -40 Celcius.  In reptiles, hibernation is normally referred to as brumation.  In most cases, the garter snake is awake through the winter with a 77% reduced heart rate and minimal oxygen intake.


The original alignment of Duffy’s Lane can still be found running north from the earlier bridge abutments at the river.  Former laneways extend into the woods along the sides of the road.  We found an old concrete foundation a few feet into the first of these laneways.  The woods have been regenerating for 40 years and most of the former entrances can only be made out due to the parallel rows of mature trees that line either side.


Old fence lines mark the edges of the various properties that used to line both sides of old Duffy’s Lane.


The boletus family of mushrooms includes over 100 varieties, many of which are edible.  They can be distinguished by the tubes that carry the spores under the cap rather than the gills that can be found on many other types of mushrooms.  Make sure that you never touch or eat any mushroom that you cannot positively identify.  There are often similar looking species where some are edible and some are poisonous and can kill you.


There is a lot of tall grass, dog-strangling vines and undergrowth throughout the area. There are plenty of foundations remaining to be found, perhaps when there is less foliage.  Humber Grove can be accessed from the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.  We explored part of this trail in a previous post called Humber Heritage Trail Bolton.

The Toronto Region Conservation Authority has an informative article on Humber Grove with historic maps that can be found here.

Google Maps Link: Humber Grove

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East Point Park

Sunday June 19, 2016

East Point Park is sandwiched between a water and a sewage treatment plant.  The park has an upper meadow, wetlands, a segment of the Scarborough Bluffs and a lengthy beach.  There is a parking lot at the end of Beechgrove Drive where there is free parking.

At 55 acres this is one of Toronto’s largest waterfront parks.  This post is the fourth one by Hiking the GTA that covers parts of the Scarborough Bluffs.  To avoid a lot of repetition a link will be provided to other posts that contain further details.  The park itself is on the former land grant of William Bennett. John Bennett was a 26 year old farmer in Scarborough township in 1890 when he married Eunice Davis. He carried on with the family farm.  In the 1950’s Scarborough was transformed from farmland to urban centre and this piece of land remained undeveloped.  A water filtration plant named F. J. Horgan Filtration Plant was built on the west end in 1979 and the Highland Creek Sewage Plant was built on the east end in 1956.  Fom the parking area the trail leads past a pond and wetland then east along the bluffs.


Dog strangling vine has become a real problem in many of our hiking areas.  The plant is related to the milkweed plant.  It is actually two plants who are related and are given the same common name.  Black Swallowwort and Pale Swallowwart are native to Eurasia and were brought to the Northern United States in the mid-1800’s for use in gardens.  Like many garden plants they escape and this one can produce up to 28,000 seeds per square metre infested.  In the fall the seed pods pop and the seeds are spread by wind and animal.  Hikers and cyclists need to be diligent at this time to be sure you don’t carry seeds on your clothing or especially in your bike tires.  The dense mats of tangled vines choke out native vegetation and prevent forest regeneration.  Since they cover vast areas and are not eaten by deer they put added pressure on other sources of food.


Milkweed is related to the Dog Strangling Vine above but we are much happier to see it.  Environmentalists like David Suzuki encourage people to plant this one in their gardens.  Why should two related plants have such different attitudes when it comes to gardens? It has to do with the Monarch Butterfly.  The butterfly lays it’s eggs on the milkweed and it is the only plant on which they can complete their life cycle.  Monarch’s have also been seen laying eggs on dog strangling vines.  Unfortunately, the larvae cannot eat the plant and they all die off.  The milkweed in the picture below is in flower but is surrounded by it’s invasive cousin.  Chances are that it will be strangled and die off itself.


The Monarch butterfly pictured below was just drying it’s wings after recently hatching.  There are four generations of monarchs born each year in Ontario.  This is the second generation this season and this butterfly will live between 2 and 6 weeks if it avoids being eaten first.  It’s offspring will be born in July or August and will also live up to 6 weeks.  It’s grandchildren will be born in September or October and they will live for six to eight months.  That will be the generation that flies to Mexico and returns next spring to start the cycle over again.  East Point Park is a staging area for monarchs heading south but the invasion of dog strangling vines may put this at risk.


The trail continues west along the top of the bluffs but is fenced to keep you a safe distance from the edge.  Older portions of the trail run right along the edge of the bluffs but are quite unsafe because erosion as detailed in our Cathedral Bluffs post has undercut the cliff edge and the sand could collapse at any time. Unfortunately, some of the best shots require getting closer to the edge.  Toward the west end of the park there is a small, informal trail that leads down the bluffs.  It is hard packed and has good foot holds but looks like it could be a hazard when wet or icy.  Using this trail you can descend to the beach.  This will let you turn the walk into a loop so you don’t have to double back.


When you reach the bottom of the path you’ll find sandy beach running off in both directions.  Be careful which one you choose because turning to your right and heading west will bring you to an unposted nude beach.



Just to your right at the bottom of the bluffs is a large shelter constructed out of branches lashed together.  One section has been covered with a tarp to provide shelter when the rain begins.


This collapsing tower of sand is the same one seen from the top of the bluffs in the cover photo.


In several places there are large boulders in the sand part way down the embankment.  These are inconsistent with the formation of the sand bluffs as described in Sand Castles.  Sand laid down in an inland sea shouldn’t have boulders in it.  These boulders are formally referred to as glacial erratic.  Erratics are stones of various sizes that are different in composition from the stone in the area in which they are found.  These stones have been picked up by glaciers and are often carried great distances before they are deposited by retreating ice.  This is commonly seen in river beds which flow through shale but contain granite boulders.  The boulders along the bluffs are only found in the soil layer on top of the sand and they make their way to the bottom as the sand erodes away underneath of them.  There are plenty of these boulders of various sizes along the beach as seen in the picture below.


Above the sand is a layer of soil which is full of various plants that grow in the meadows of the formerly cleared fields that were once settlers land grants.  The roots of these plants hold the soil together and provide a little mat that sticks out over the edge of the bluffs where the sand has eroded away beneath it.  This has become home to a colony of swallows whose nesting holes dot the edge of the bluffs.


Following the beach will bring you back to where there is a pathway that leads back up through a small ravine to the meadow at the top of the hill.


East Point park marks the eastern end of the Scarborough Bluffs which run from Highland Creek to Victoria Park Avenue, a span of 15 kilometers.

Google Maps: East Point Park

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The Bell Fountain – Belfountain

Saturday August 22, 2015

Set in the Caledon hills the town of Belfountain has a beautiful park with a swing bridge and water falls.  It was another excellent summer Saturday with an early morning temperature of just 13 degrees, a perfect day for a hike to a swing bridge.

The area was surveyed by 1820 but the rugged terrain made farming difficult and settlement was slow.  There was plenty of cherry and white pine trees and William Frank built a saw mill on the West Credit river in 1825.  Selling cherry wood for furniture and pine for construction he soon was able to dam the river where he built a grist mill.  The grist mill was purchased by Jonathon McCurdy who built another saw mill adjacent to it giving the community the temporary name of McCurdy’s Mills.  Belfountain was surveyed in 1846, registered in 1853 and by 1860 more saw mills, a tannery and another flour mill had been added.

Around 1850 Peter McNaughton set up a barrel making shop in town.  He wanted his cooperage to be easily distinguished and so he built his house like a barrel.  It was 12 feet wide and 12 feet tall with a pyramid for a roof.  He used wooden staves and steel bands in the construction and this earned the town the nickname “Tubtown” for awhile.  By the time this house was moved to Erin the town had taken on the name Belfountain.  We parked on Mississauga road on the edge of town where an old barn and the foundations of a farmhouse remain.


In 1908 Charles Mack bought the property that would become Belfountain Park.  It had been owned in the 1860’s by George Hughson and had been the home to four of Belfountain’s mills.   Mack had made his fortune as an inventor, most notably of the cushion rubber stamp which he sold to banks and post offices.  He wanted to create a park that would be memorable to those who visited and he has been successful for over a hundred years.  Mack built his own little version of Niagara Falls and added a swing bridge to view it from.  The current bridge replaces the 1909 bridge that I used to cross as a youngster.


Beside the waterfall is a  sluice gate and the round pipe from a penstock used for water power. There was a dam here prior to Mack building his waterfall and so the new dam continued to be used by local mills.  The mini Niagara Falls dam has been determined to be short of current Ontario code for dams and is under environmental assessment to see how it can be restored and the danger to downstream properties alleviated.


The gardens and falls area are lined with stone walls and stairways.  A local stonemason named Sam Brock was hired to do most of the decorative work and build the cave.


Mack built what he called Yellowstone Cave, complete with concrete stalagmites and stalactites. To me the cave looks more like a shrine of some kind and, perhaps, in some way it is a shrine to one man’s eccentricity.

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Mack also built a fountain out of inverted bells with an upright bell at the top as a pun on the town’s name.  I’ve used the same pun in the title and cover photo.  After running for more than 100 years the bells are covered in a thick layer of moss but the water still flows.


A series of beautiful planters and gardens surrounded the area of the bell fountain.  Benches and lookouts were also provided for visitors.


A swimming and boating area above the water falls has been allowed to silt in so that it is no longer usable. In the 1970’s this was a great place to get cooled off on a hot summer day. Concrete steps now lead down into the water and muck.  After Charles Mack passed away his widow sold the park which was used commercially until the Credit Valley Conservation authority bought it in 1959.  They are currently in the works of a master plan to restore the heritage features and to make the area more enjoyable for visitors.


There are four generations of Monarch butterflies born each year in Ontario.  The picture below is of a butterfly which has just emerged from it’s chrysalis and it was still in the process of drying it’s wings.  The third generation of monarchs is born in July and August and will live for two to six weeks in which time it will lay the eggs for the fourth generation this year.  The fourth generation will be born in September and October.  This generation will not be like the three before it in that it is programmed to live for six to eight months and not just a few weeks.  This fourth generation will migrate south to places like Mexico to survive the winter.  When they return in the spring they will lay the eggs for next year’s first, short lived, generation of Monarch butterflies.


By 1870 Belfountain had become home to about 300 people.  The two local communities of Forks of the Credit and Brimstone were home to quarry workers and essentially were company towns.  The skilled tradesmen and quarry managers lived in Belfountain which, due to it’s mills, had become the economic centre of the region.  Quarry workers get thirsty and need a place to spend their pay cheques.  The ornate patterned brick building at the corner of Mississauga Road and Bush Street was opened as a tavern in 1888.


The Community Hall was built in 1893 of board and batten construction.  The precast concrete brick foundation dates to the 20th century and indicates that the building was raised at some point.  The hall was closed in 2015 due to safety concerns and it is unknown where the funding for restoration will come from.


Belfountain, with it’s bell fountain and mini Niagara Falls, makes a great place to visit and is especially nice when the fall colours are in full display.

There’s still plenty of summer weather left though so get out and enjoy it.  Perhaps visit one of the more popular places as picked by readers in this top 15 list.

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Hiking the GTA #100 – Amazing Animals

April 28, 2014 to July 18, 2015

Presented below is a gallery of animal pictures taken during the first 100 hikes on the Hiking the GTA adventure.

On July 21, 2015 I published my 100th post in this blog under the title Hiking the GTA #100 – Greatest Treks.  That post looked back at the creation of Hiking the GTA and listed the top 15 hikes as determined by activity on WordPress.  This post presents some of the amazing animals that we encountered along the way.  By hiking quietly and keeping off of the beaten path you have the opportunity to come face to face with some of the wide variety of wildlife we share our parks with.  Most of the animals are more afraid of you than you are of them and will disappear quickly.  In reality some of the plants in our parks are more dangerous than the wildlife.  The following pictures are in the order in which I took them except that I saved my personal favourite for last.  Links to the related articles are provided where additional descriptions of the animals are presented.

This White Tail Deer buck was following me through the woods along Wilket Creek on June 22, 2014.  This was the only creature I saw all year that made me nervous as I’m usually the one doing the following.


The little baby Cross Orb Weaver spiders in this picture are just hatching and look like grains of pepper leaving the egg sac.  The mother spider had previously brought a Daddy Long Legs spider into the web to provide a breakfast to the hatchlings.  Seen near Middle Road Bridge on Aug. 16, 2014


This Red Tailed Hawk was feasting near Barbertown on Aug. 23, 2014.


Also seen in Barbertown was this Dekay’s Brown Snake on Aug. 23, 2014


The Monarch Butterfly below was seen at the forks of the Don on Sept. 14, 2014.


Spadina House has it’s own resident fox as photographed on Dec. 21, 2014.

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This Snowy Owl was seen at the Adamson Estate on Jan. 24, 2015


This coyote was photographed in West Deane Park on Jan. 31, 2015


The beaver in this picture was seen in Etobicoke Valley Park on Feb. 28, 2015


This White Egret was fishing near the dam at The Old Mill on May 10, 2015.


The Red Breasted Grosbeak below was photographed in Norval on May 16, 2015.


This Trumpeter Swan, complete with tracking tag, was seen at the mouth of the Credit River and featured in The Ridgetown – Port Credit on May 23, 2015.


This Black-crowned Night Heron was published in The Forks of the Credit – The Stone Cutter’s Dam on July 18, 2015.  Unlike the Great Blue Heron in the cover photo it does not have long legs and neck.


Hiding in plain sight in the picture below is a new born White Tail Deer Fawn.  This is my favourite picture of the past year and was taken near the Barber Paper Mills on June 6, 2015.


This is just a sample of the some of the amazing animals we saw on our journeys in the first 100 hikes in this blog.  Many others were featured and many more will yet be photographed on future hikes.

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