Tag Archives: Pileated Woodpecker

Altona Forest 2020

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Altona Forest in Pickering is known to have a wide variety of wildlife but when we visited in August of 2018 we found the park to be deteriorating badly.  Garbage abounded in the parking lot, the trails were overgrown and most of the boardwalks had become broken and dangerous.  Laceys Pond was impassable because the water level was up from beaver activity and the boardwalk was broken in several places.  I sent the Toronto Region Conservation Authority a link to the blog we published with the pictures of the park’s conditions.  The TRCA responded that they had already purchased materials to repair the boardwalk through Lacey’s Pond but that some sections of the trail in the north woods might be closed permanently.  Nearly two years later we decided to return to see how things had developed.

It’s a good sign when you see interesting wildlife the moment you park the car.  A pileated woodpecker was making its way around the telephone pole a few feet away.  The easiest distinction between the male and females of this, the largest woodpecker native to Ontario, is the red stripe on the cheek.  It looks like a red mustache on the males, which identifies this bird as a female.

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The mushroom shown below was one of a couple dozen that were growing in a rough circle around the base of a large tree.  There are several varieties of mushrooms that have scales on them and most of these are poisonous.  Any time the exact identification of a specific mushroom can’t be made it is best to leave it alone and not even touch it.

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When we came to the trail that leads toward the pond in the forest we found the newly repaired section of boardwalk.  They’ve done a nice job of weaving the trail among the trees.

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Lacey’s Pond refers to a pond that used to exist on the property when it was a farm belonging to the Lacey family.  At that time it was much larger than today and encompassed some of the area where nearby houses stand today.  When developers bought the land they drained the pond and built houses where they could.  Part of the land was still unsuitable for houses and was left fallow until the TRCA bought it in 1995.  They made efforts to re-establish the pond by building a retaining berm.  The pond refilled to about one third the original size.  Further flooding has been caused by beaver who moved into the new pond.  There is no evidence of recent beaver activity as all the stumps appear to have been chewed some time ago.  There is still a series of trails that have been made through the wetlands and some of them had the mud recently stirred up in them.

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Lacey’s Pond has an observation deck where you can watch the pond during some seasons.  At the moment the bull rushes are growing tall enough to obscure most of the water in the pond.

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On both sides of Lacey’s Pond the forest is full of cedar trees.  The area was likely a cedar forest when the land was cleared for farming,  One of the advantages of having a lot of cedar on the property is the availability of cedar rails to make fences from.  The Lacey family has used slit rails to make zig-zag fences that now have forest growing up along both sides of the fence and in every corner.

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When we returned to Lacey’s Pond we found that a flock of Cedar Waxwings had arrived.  These are majestic looking birds with yellow breasts and a black mask on a peach coloured head.  They have a crest which sometimes lies flat against the neck.  The tips of the wings are red and their tails are squared off with a bright yellow tip.  Males tend to have a larger dark area under the chin and unless seen in a larger group it can be hard to identify the sexes.

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After making our way back north from the pond we set out looking for post number 33 that would lead us to the northern parts of the forest.  The map at the gate shows this part of the forest as being open and the posts are numbered to help guide you through the trails.  The maps haven’t been updated yet but the northern part of the forest is intended to be closed permanently.  The blockade at this end isn’t obvious anymore.

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When you come to the section of boardwalk it becomes plain that this section was not repaired.  It has some loose boards and places where it rocks underfoot.  There are also sections where the rebar that holds it in place stands above the surface of the boardwalk presenting a real trip hazard.  When we reached the other end we found that the trail had been closed off and marked as dangerous.  Please don’t use this section of the trail and allow it to become fully overgrown.

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Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies were seen a couple of times before one paused long enough to get photographed.  The eggs are laid in bunches between 100 and 700 on the underside of leaves.  The caterpillars go through four stages during which time a high percentage is lost to wasps that lay eggs in them.  The ones that survive to the fourth stage over-winter in leaves on the ground.  In the spring the caterpillars molt and a single fly of Baltimore Checkerspots grace the landscape.

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Altona Forest looks like it could be very interesting in every season and we look forward to enjoying a fall day and perhaps a winter day here in the near future.

Our previous feature on Altona Forest can be found at this link: Altona Forest

Google Maps Link: Altona Forest

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Crawford Lake Trails

Saturday, February 29, 2020

February 29th falls on a Saturday once every 28 years with the next one coming in 2048.  To mark this rare occasion we decided to explore the area around Crawford Lake.  We had been here about 5 years ago to explore the longhouses and the meromictic lake that helped modern scholars locate the site.  It isn’t possible to see everything in one trip because the park is 232 acres in size and full of trails.

Having recently heard about stone foundations on the property, we set out to have a look for them.  There is plenty of parking near the re-created Indigenous Village but you have to pay using an envelope and drop-box so no change can be expected.

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Crawford Lake has more than 15 kilometres of trails, including the Bruce Trail.  After parking near the longhouses we followed the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail until we came to The Bruce Trail.  This allowed us to connect with the Escarpment Trail and make our way over to the lookout across the canyon.  From there we used The Woodland Trail to reach The Crawford Lake Trail.  Like most parks, we recommend that you take a picture of the trail map in the parking lot.  This will help you keep track of where you are  in the park and which turns to take at each trail connection.

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After passing several trees with very large woodpecker holes in them it wasn’t surprising to see a Pileated Woodpecker.  We saw one land on a nearby tree while a second one could be heard hammering away on a tree in the distance.  A nesting pair will take turns incubating 3 – 5 eggs until they hatch in about two weeks.  The young may take about a month to fledge after which time they can live for up to 12 years.

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As you follow the trail you will see several large walls of stone that have been put up by the farmers as they cleared the land in an attempt to farm it.

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When the settlers arrived they tried to become self dependent as quickly as possible.  They would raise animals during the summer when feeding them was easy and then slaughter them for food before the winter set in.  The livestock would be kept in a barn to protect it from the worst of the weather.  As we neared the escarpment edge we came to the stone foundations of an old barn.  The barn that was originally built on this property was small with an overhanging porch along the east side.  Wagons didn’t fit in the barn so they were likely stored under the overhang.  A few feet to the east of the barn stands the remains of another one of the stone walls that run across the property.  It provides some shelter to the items stored on this side of the barn.  Close examination reveals a single man-door and a larger animal-door.  These days the barn is used as a shortcut by white tailed deer that shelter among the rows of evergreens near the barn foundations.

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A few metres away from the barn are the foundations of the small house the family lived in.  When settlers cleared the land they used the materials at hand to build their homes and the barns where they kept their livestock.  The house was built on a foundation of field stones collected when the land was cleared.  The trees that were cut down became the logs that were used for the house and barn.  The log house would often have three rooms inside, two of which were bedrooms.  By the middle of the 1800’s the log house would be often be outgrown and the family would build a new home out of bricks.

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Crawford Lake Conservation Area covers several former land grants including that of Mrs. Allan White.  The log house built by her husband can be seen on the county atlas map marked with a green circle.  At the time the county atlas was drawn in 1877 the house was already reaching the end of its normal lifespan.

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Crawford Lake Conservation Area and The Bruce Trail Association are working on removing Ash Trees from the park, especially along the Bruce Trail section in the park.  Emerald Ash Borers have decimated the forests around the GTA with estimates reaching as high as 99% of all ash trees being infected with the beetles.

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Emerald Ash Borers live in the layer between the bark and the core of the tree.  The phloem is the layer directly below the bark and it is responsible for passing nutrients and hormones between the ground and the leaves of the tree.  The larvae of the beetle eats extensive pathways under the bark and leaves the tree without the ability to feed itself.  The places where the bark has fallen off the stumps below reveal the extend of damage on these trees and the reason for their destruction.

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The trail leads to a lookout where there are several information plaques about the history and wildlife of the area.  The canyon below is known as the Nassagaweya Canyon and it separates the Niagara Escarpment from a small section known as the Milton Outlier.  Rattlesnake Point is at the southern end of the outlier and it can be reached by following the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail which is paired with the Bruce Trail through this section.

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Limestone Creek flows through the bottom of Nassagaweya Canyon but it took a much larger force of water to cut the canyon through the limestone and dolomite layers of the escarpment.  Melting ice sheets at the end of the last ice age were able to move large amounts of stone and till.  Much of this material was deposited at the mouth of the canyon and is currently being mined by aggregate companies.  In a couple of months, when they return from warmer climates, Turkey Vultures will fill the skies above the canyon.

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Near Crawford Lake is the Hide and Seek trail which features wood carvings of several of the nearly 200 species that are at risk in Ontario.  The wood carvings were made by Robins Amazing Art.

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Originally the lake was known as Little Lake but when George Crawford bought it in 1883 he started a business called the Crawford Lake Company which ran a mill at the end of the lake.

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A cottage and boathouse were included in the sale of the property to the conservation area in 1969.  The house has since been demolished with only the front porch remaining.

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Crawford Lake is an interesting place to explore and we’ll likely be back.  We have previously posted about the longhouses in the conservation area as well as the Bruce Trail south of the park in the Crawford Forestry Tract.

Google Maps Link: Crawford Lake

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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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