Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bottle Lake Part 2

Bottle Lake scenery

For the second time in his young life Jake got to go for a paddle in a canoe! When he was just 8 months old I took him for a short ride in the kayak, which he did not like at all. I think it was the life jacket, more than the ride, that he objected to! Earlier this summer I took him for a short paddle out at the Garden Hill pond and he seemed quite happy with that. Isaiah, at the ripe old age of 5 is a seasoned veteran in the canoe and contributes mightily with his own paddle! Sunday, we decided to load up the family and return to Bottle Lake for a day trip. We packed a lunch, our life jackets, paddles, extra clothes, camera, first aid kit, etc. We needed the big canoe for this expedition!! After last week I had no problem finding the place, and the scenery of the drive during daylight was nice.
The big canoe weighs about three times as much as the little one, which meant the carry down to the water was a little rougher. I realize I am getting older when I start dreaming of a canoe that is lighter than the 85 lbs. of this one. I cannot complain, as it is 35 years old and is stable and seaworthy, both good qualities when you have young kids aboard. Today's materials, however make for much lighter boats.
As we pushed off from the beach it was overcast but the rain held off for us all day. We paddled down the lake, and Jake sat quite still on his own little bench for the first while as he took in the sights of the lake. Eventually he decided that he wanted to sit beside his big brother.

The boys!

After shifting things around a bit he was content on the big boys seat. We carried on down to the Sucker lake portage and stretched the boys legs with the short walk across. Had the weather looked more promising we may have carried the canoe over and done some exploring of this lake. As it was it looked as if it could rain on us at any moment so we decided to save that bit of the world to explore the next time. The boys had a great time climbing on the rock at the Sucker Lake end and had fun throwing acorns into the lake.

The intrepid explorers!

Kids just love getting out into nature and these two were having a ball! Eventually however we got hungry and headed back to the canoe. We paddled over to one of the campsites and broke out our picnic lunch.


The campsite was on a rocky point of land, and quite large, and although there was no real areas to put a large tent you could easily set up half a dozen small ones. It did have a fire pit and a picnic table and the fresh air had given us all a good appetite so we dug in to our lunch! After eating the boys did what boys like to do! Climb on rocks! I can't fault them as it is still one of my fave activities too!


The canoe in the bay!

After lunch back in the canoe and a bit more exploring, checking out some of the sandy beaches, and looking at the colours of the trees we decided to head back to the landing before the rain came! On the way we were discussing future plans of returning in swimming weather, coming back for some overnight camping, bringing the kayaks, etc! That is one problem with visiting the wild areas anywhere in Ontario. It always leaves you wanting! Wanting to come back for more, that is! And we will be back! The boys both had a great time and so did Lianna and I!

Fall colours!

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bottle Lake

I have had the itch to go for a paddle lately! Not that that is unusual! Since moving up to the Bowmanville region, I have been interested in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. It is, approximately, a two hour drive from my house. This park is not operational yet. There are no services and the only camping is in the interior sites, first come, first served. Next spring they will be reserving and charging for, these sites, just like the other parks such as Algonquin and Killarney. I have to admit I am of mixed minds on that. On the one hand with reservations will come some level of maintenance from the MNR. On the other it means planning your trips five months in advance.
Anyways, for a variety of reasons I hadn't made it up to this park yet! Today, I left the house at 5 AM and headed north. There are a variety of access points, but I chose Bottle Lake. Never having been, I didn't find the correct spot until almost 730 AM. When I did it was beautiful!! The weather gods smiled on me today!! I will be back with the entire family!!!

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Migration Time!

Male Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus. The dots on the hindwing indicate the male.

Last night at around 5 PM I was in the yard and happened to look up. The sky was dark, and the clouds were low, looking like imminent rain. Against the clouds were, what I estimate conservatively to be, 200 Broad-Winged Hawks. They were circling and soaring and moving west along the north shore of Lake Ontario. Hawks will not fly over large bodies of open water if they have a choice so here in Ontario the hawks migrate south until they reach Lake Ontario and then fly west. Once past the west end they will turn south again until they reach Lake Erie where they will again turn west. This tends to create concentrations of raptors along the northern shores of the lakes. In a few places such as Cranberry Marsh in Whitby, Rosetta Maclain park in Scarborough, and Hawk Cliff south of St. Thomas, birdwatchers have organized fall hawk counts. If you are interested they will welcome you and point out some of the hawks as they fly overhead. For more info check this document.
Birds aren't the only migrants right now. This morning I took the boys for a little walk to Samuel Wilmot Nature Area in Newcastle. The place was alive with Monarch butterflies. In the hour that we were there I would guesstimate seeing 200 of them. They didn't seem to be actively migrating at the moment, more feeding up, but I imagine as soon as the winds are favourable they will be on there way south to Mexico.
What made it more interesting was the nummber of other butterflies that were about this morning. In one spot I saw Monarchs, Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral, Question Mark, and Viceroy as well as Cabbage and Sulphur butterflies. There were also a few Pearl(?) Crescents around to represent the smaller butterflies.

Question Mark, Pologonia interrogationis

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

As well as all the butterflies there was a tremendous number of large dragonflies flying about. I am afraid I cannot ID the dragonflies but there were blue and green darners as well as a few others such as the one pictured below! There were also 7 or 8 hummingbirds going thru which made for some interesting dragonfly vs hummingbird encounters.

Unidentified Dragonfly

PS did some 'net research' and think the above dragonfly is a 12 Spotted Skimmer.
So this gist of migration time is to keep your eyes up and down and to the side. Heck, just keep them open!!!

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Trail Running and.... er... Bears!!!!!

When I turned 40 I took up running again, after not running since my late teens. In the 13 years since then I have run a number of 5K races, a few 10Ks a Ten Miler and a couple of Half Marathons. However I must admit that I haven't been a consistent runner by any means. For many of those years I had a dog, a Weimaraner, which kept me running at least semi-regularily. Our run of choice was the trails along the Twelve Mile Creek in St. Catharines, where I lived at the time. Since then I have been partial to trail running. As much as I enjoy it I still don't run exclusively on trails for a number of reasons. The number one reason is that I don't have to drive anywhere to go for a run on the roads/sidewalks in my neighbourhood. If I lived at the trailhead I might never run on the roads again or even if I lived a klik away. However the nearest nice trail run to my house is about 6 km away. So when things are right and I have the time I will jump in the car and go for a run in the forest. If you are a runner and have done any trail running you really don't need me to explain why you should try it. If however you haven't here are some reasons:

1. The Scenery

This is the scenery on my regular out the front door road run!!

Here is some of the scenery on the trail I ran this morning! Much nicer!

Solomon's Seal berries

2. The Lack of Cars: enough said!!!

3. The Surface: It is well documented that running on trails is better for your knees and ankles than pounding concrete. Furthermore the topography of most trails are such that there is far more up and down. Roads and sidewalks by definition are as flat as possible!

4. The Psyche: Maybe it is me, I really don't know but running in the woods or meadows, rejuvenates me in a way that beats a road run any day. Sure you feel good after any run but a run in the forest is better! Also, I don't seem to get tired on a trail run. Maybe it is the concentration on your footing, or the scenery, or the surface but 5K in the woods seems easier than 5K on the road any day.

Anyways to make a long story...um ..less long, my running magazine came in the mail yesterday and there were a bunch of articles on trail running. It inspired me to make my run today a trail run. Stephen's Gulch Conservation Area is not far from our house in Bowmanville, about 5.8 km according to Google. The trail here is not long, about 3 and a half K. but it has a fair amount of vertical and it isn't totally gnarly like some trails. You have a good chance of finishing it without breaking an ankle, unlike a few of the trails that I have run. I left the house with the sky threatening rain, and the wind blowing like mad but I thought I would try to get in a run between the raindrops. What's a little rain anyways?? I got to the trailhead and it wasn't raining so off I went. Fifty yards up the trail I passed a man out walking his dog, a Weimaraner! I told him how I had had a Weimaraner as a running companion for 11 years, and he thought I might have another one for a while as his dog followed along with me for a few yards. A little bit of nostalgia for me!
The trail climbs out of the Soper Creek valley and follows the valley south before dropping back down toward the creek and heading north back to the parking area. Along the way it winds up and down and around as all good trails do, with a few wooden footbridges over some small creeks. It's route goes through sandy areas dominated by sumac, deep forest with a deciduous canopy, and, as we near the end, the dark cedar forests typical of the stream valleys in this area. It was a real satisfying run! If you are a runner you know what I mean! Trail runs are like that more often than not.
As I walked from the trailhead to the parking area I noticed a new sign attached to one of the posts!!

Bears!!!Yikes!! 5.8 km from my house!!
Seriously, I was not all that surprised. There was one in Courtice, the next town over, just last month, and there have been all kinds of other sightings in southern Ontario in the last few years. There was even one in London, ON, this summer. Apparently there have been two unconfirmed sightings recently, one in Stephen's Gulch CA, and one in Long Sault CA, a few kilometers north, near Mosport. For info about bears and bear safety check out the MNRs webpage BEARWISE

Oh Yeah! As I drove out of the parking area it started to rain!!

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nature in the Yard

Got up this morning to another hot summer morning. Looking out the back window I saw something on the cedar hedge next door and checked it out. Real nice dragonfly. The three boys thought that it was pretty cool to be able to see it up close and to look at the massive eyes.

Well we went out the front door an hour later and had a real look at nature in the raw. This is the first snake I have seen in the yard in the two and a half years we have been here! In fact I was thinking just last week that I had seen very few snakes this summer period!! Have seen a few toads, though there is now one less in the yard. This got the boys excited seeing the snake swallow the toad. I apologize for the quality of the last photo as the snake was moving and Jake was trying to catch it as I snapped the photo!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Poison Ivy

I was out to dinner with friends the other day and the topic turned to Poison Ivy. It turned out that neither of the other guys at the table, both of whom spend a fair amount of time in the bush whether hiking or cottaging, were confident in identifying Poison Ivy. It got me thinking that my upbringing with a father who was a botanist gave me an advantage over many who venture out into the woods. Since the whole purpose of this blog is to encourage others to get out there, I guess it is my duty to attempt to educate a few about poison ivy. Besides, it was a kick in the proverbial "behind" to do some posting.
Poison Ivy can be just about anywhere in Ontario, so if you are out there it is wise to know what it looks like and to avoid it. Having said that it can take on a variety of forms. I have seen it as a vine covering tree trunks 30 ft high, as a low shrubby plant and its most common variant as a ground cover. The following photos were all taken Aug 27 at the Orono Crown Lands, some along an abandoned railway line and others in a old white pine plantation.
The old adage about 'three shiny leaves, let me be' is a start. However there are literally hundreds of three leaved plants out there so it really doesn't narrow it down much. These photos are in dry habitat so the plants and leaves are rather small. It can be much larger than these examples. Having said that, it is the small inconspicuous ones that will get you in trouble.

Typical dry area Poison Ivy.

Fall is coming and the leaves of this Poison Ivy are starting to turn red.

Leaves and berries.

A closer look at the berries.

My boot for scale. Only the two largest sets of three leaves in this photo are poison ivy

A couple of more examples.

I hope this will get you started with ID ing this plant before it gets you. Take a look at some field guides or do more research on the web. It is worth knowing how to spot it and avoid it, especially if you are likely to take your kids into the woods with you. I hope I was of help.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Adventures in Orono

A friend of ours, Raj had to go back to India a little while ago as his Father and Uncle both passed away in the last few months and he had to go home ot settle estates etc. He has a son, Neel, a couple of years older than our boy Isaiah. Seeing as I am laid off at the moment I volunteered to watch him with my two, while he is in India, and his wife is working . So with three rambunctious boys around I am often looking for something to get the three boys out of the house. This last little bit the "go to" place for them to explore has been the Orono Crown Lands. What is ideal about this place is a) it is close to home, b) it is free (see above employment status) and c) the two oldest can hike or, ride bikes and I can still push the youngest in the jogging stroller as there is a fair amount of what you might call doubletrack along with the singletrack.

On one of our first visits with the three boys we ventured along the old railway bed to the bridge over Wilmot creek. There is quite a drop to the river, so it involved leaving the stroller and carrying the youngest down the slope to look at the creek. There is a little pedestrian bridge just by the old train bridge. It is made of cedar logs nailed together and it is quite the work of art. It isn't new by any means and I wouldn't recommend more than two adults at one time. When the boys got out in the middle and started bouncing I had visions of the whole thing collapsing. The water isn't very deep but I wouldn't want to be on a bridge of that type when it gave out. Luckily for us a large salmon or brown trout chose that moment to make its presence known. I say large meaning at least two feet long. That was enough of a distraction to get the boys off the bridge and chasing this "monster" fish upstream. Just by the train bridge there is a large rock on the edge of the water and we could look down on this fish from a distance of about three feet. Even Jake was excited saying FSHHH! FSHHH! over and over again. On further observing we realized that under the rail bridge itself there were probably twenty of these fish and the one we were looking at was the runt of the litter. The boys, myself included, got quite a kick out of those fish!

A small group of large trout or salmon(?)

After saying goodbye to the fish, we climbed the slope and as I was putting Jake back in the stroller I realized that he had lost a shoe!!! Oops! I ran back down the hill and did a quick, cursory search but couldn't find it. I wasn't even sure where we had lost it but as it was nearing lunch time and getting hotter we headed home. When Lianna got home from work I took the two oldest and went back with our bicycles. We returned to the same area and did a more thorough search. Still no shoe! Thinking back to the bouncing bridge I wondered if it had fallen in the creek. I carefully picked my way along the deadfalls etc for a hundred feet or more on the off chance that it had floated along and been caught up by one of the snags. No such luck! Instead I ran into a little stinging nettle, just on the side of my hand. I immediately grabbed a chunk of orange jewelweed and crushed that and rubbed the spot. It seemed to do the trick, just as I had been taught it would relieve bug bites. Anyways I made my way carefully back to the trail and was rewarded with finding a nice cluster of Great Lobelia in bloom. And then as I gave up on the shoe and made my way back to boys, at the base of the hill tucked deep in the vegetation I spied the errant shoe! Success!

Great Lobelia

Since that hadn't taken all that long we then proceeded to go mountain biking through some of the rest of the crown lands. For a five year old it is just gentle enough to be manageable and rugged enough to qualify as "mountain biking".

The explorers: Jake in stroller, Isaiah and Neel

Since that day we have been back a couple of times with various agendas. I tried to introduce them to the idea of map and compass work. They thought it was fun for a while but it was a bit beyond them.

Compass work!

I have tried teaching a little botany, mostly the identification and avoidance of poison ivy. They were quite interested in the wild cucumber that was very common near the entrance. Mostly they just like the act of exploration and hopefully seeing some wildlife, although more along the lines of a butterfly, than a bear, that they seem to think is behind every tree.

White Admiral butterfly

In the dog days of summer a trip to somewhere similar with your kids will always produce some good memories!!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

An Evening Paddle

After a day spent putting together a slide/swing set for the kids in the backyard I decided to take a short paddle after supper. The kayak was on the roof so it took 5 minutes to grab the lifejacket, paddle etc and I was on the road. I launched at the little beach on the east side of Bowmanville harbour, a five minute drive from my house. I did not bring my camera with me. I don't like chancing geting it wet and sometimes having a camera distracts you from what is going on around you. Sorry, no photos to go with this post!

The lake was quite calm with a slight swell, except when the fishermen were returning to the harbour for the night. Then for a few minutes there was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I paddled west into the setting sun and then returned back to my vehicle just before sundown. Just a quiet evening paddle but with a few little bird sightings of interest. The first was a young Trumpeter swan, with a wing tag. I first paddled past it at a distance of about twenty five feet. I assumed it was a Mute Swan as there are numerous pairs of the non native bird nesting in the West Side marshes of south Bowmanville. As I got closer I realized it wasn't and also noticed that it had been wing tagged. I could see the yellow tag but all the numbers were hidden. Later as I returned to the vehicle I saw the swan up on the shore being hand fed by some residents. Obviously the bird is fairly tame. I would be interested to know where the bird came from. I know they are nesting in various areas in Ontario such as Wye Marsh, but am not sure where the nearest area to Bowmanville is. If I could read the tag I would have reported it and found out the provenance of this bird.

The second interesting sighting was a male Oldsquaw or Long-tailed Duck. These are birds that nest on the Arctic tundra and seeing one here on the great lakes in mid July seems out of place. It may have been an injured bird incapable of flying north to the breeding grounds. It was close by to another non breeding bird, a common Loon, probably a yearling or a non mated bird as there isn't suitable nesting habitat at this end of Lake Ontario.

As I returned to the launch spot I was just about to shore and was going around a low cement structure ten feet from shore and realized that I was being watched by a Spotted Sandpiper.It was staying on the far side of the cement but was only five feet from me and never did fly. An excellent opportunity for a close up look at this little bird.

As I loaded the kayak on the roof the sun was a giant ball of red in the sky and by the time I got back to my house it had slipped below the horizon. A nice relaxing evening paddle!

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kayaking in the rain!

This has been a very busy spring spent mostly, chasing around a very active 18 month old son. That is not to say that I have not gotten out to the outdoors, I have and actually a fair amount. My wife says that I am one of those people who need the stimulus of being out in nature. Being the best wife in the whole world and understanding me the way she does she makes sure I get the chance to indulge in some outdoor activity on a very regular basis. So this spring I have been busy with the kids but I have also done a fair bit of hiking, cycling, birdwatching and even the odd bit of running, with the emphasis being on the odd bit!

Having said all that, what I have not done is spent a whole lot of time writing on this blog about it,....er....ok, I have spent zero time on it! So I hereby promise not to let that happen again! OK! OK! maybe I won't make promises that I won't necessarily keep. Hows this: I'll try not to let that happen again!

My daughter Heather kayaking on Lake Ontario

Anyways a fellow blogger who is much more prolific than I at writing suggested that everyone reading his blog tell their friends, etc, and we all go for a paddle Saturday night and take a photo at sunset while living in the moment. Well that sounded intriguing and I really don't require much convincing to get into a canoe or kayak. So Saturday comes and the forecast is for thunderstorms. Well the kayaks were on the roof! Heather, one of my daughters was visiting for the weekend and it looks clear for a while just after noon. So we jump in the van and head down to the lake. Just east of Bowmanville marina there is a little sandy area where I will sometimes launch. As we pulled up to park there was a Great Blue Heron wading at the waters edge 15 feet from the van. When we opened the doors it flew but it was there again a couple of hours later when we came back. Must be good eats!

The lake was remarkably calm as you can see from the photos and due to the forecasts there were no motorboats to be seen and heard. We saw the usual Mallards and Canada Geese, Ring Billed Gulls. We also saw a few Caspian terns and surprisingly three Common loons calling back and forth to each other as we got down towards Wilmot Creek. The lake was just so peaceful and quiet that living in the moment was very easy, although we didn't quite make the sunset part of it! When we got some warm gentle rain it didn't even register with either of us that we should turn back.

Swallow nest cavities in the bluffs

Along the bluffs between Bowmanville and Wilmot Creek we saw at least seven colonies of Bank swallow nests. These swallows numbers are declining and just last week I had an email looking for input on swallow nesting colonies. I will have to go back prepared for doing a census in the next few weeks. As I said I don't need much persuasion to grab a paddle!
All things considered an afternoon that might have been a write off if we paid attention to the forecast turned into a great afternoon paddle! Get out there and enjoy the nature of Ontario!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The IceMan!

It has been well over a month since I last wrote anything here. When last I wrote I was speaking of Hiking trails in Ontario. Don't get me wrong I love to hike. However I like the seasons that we get in Ontario and even as I wrote that post I was looking forward to some of what Washington just got! Yes, snow! Snow, glorious snow. You can ski on it, snowshoe in it and it just seems to make the winter worthwhile. Well if you live in southern Ontario, I don't need to tell you, but the snowblowers have had an easy winter of it. I have had my shovel out once, before Christmas and we got about 4 inches of wet slush that promptly froze solid. Hardly a speck since then and most of what we had did melt. I say most because what is still here is now ice, and any trails that you attempt to hike are more along the lines of skating rinks. I took my boys out for a short jaunt to Stephen's Gulch Conservation Area today. It was nice to be out in the woods and it wasn't as bitter as it has been some days. However the trail conditions made me leary of the older one slipping and falling hard, on the trail, and the sled we got the litle one was sliding all over, as well. Jake seemed to think it was great fun, especially when his older brother was doing the pulling!

The trail was truly icy as the next photo of Isaiah shows. Something like YakTraks are a definite suggestion if you are out on the trails in this area at the moment.

On another outing earlier in the week we took a walk down the Bowmanville Creek valley and found a different sort of ice! At some point in the last few weeks the Bowmanville Creek has jammed up somewhere, perhaps under the 401 bridge, and flooded its banks. In doing so it deposited some huge ice chunks all over the forests beside the creek. The paved trail that follows the creek was quite impassable due to large areas of ice chunks jumbled together to make footing treacherous. It was however neat to look at and Isaiah liked playing at being a Polar Explorer. A few photos of the Bowmanville valley this week!!

Although the photos don't really show them some of these blocks are two feet thick and ten feet long. I wouldn't have wanted to be walking down this trail in the midst of the flood!
AND FINALLY here we have my own little version of support for all the athletes competing in the Olympics out in Vancouver this month. I know the Inuit wouldn't think much of my effort, but hey, the kids got a kick out of it, and that is what counts. Go Canada Go!!!

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