Walker’s Woods in winter

Pine plantation

I am not, and never will be, a city girl. I’m here currently mostly because of circumstances, rather than choice. I grew up in the countryside, and find myself going a little stir-crazy if I’m stuck in the city too long, or if several of the city’s inconveniences pile on me at once. The problem with being in the city is that in order to get anywhere to go for a hike in a natural setting to relax and calm your mind generally requires a bit of an undertaking. It becomes a concerted effort, instead of a quick pop outside to hike through the woods at your backdoor, as it was as a kid, and any outing usually kills half your day, rather than being a short hour-long hike. As a result, I don’t get out nearly as much as I might like.

Today we decided to visit a TRCA property northeast of Toronto. It’s called Walker Woods, and it, along with the neighbouring Glen Major Forest, are sites in consideration for possible future expansion projects of the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station (a project of TRCA). The outing had the dual purpose of getting outdoors, and having a first look at the general area to assess the landscape.

Deep snow on hiking trail

The snow was deep, and we kept to the trails, which had been flattened by many cross-country skiers. The footing was still slippery, though, as the snow wasn’t hard-packed and your toe would dig into it as you walked, a little like walking on a sandy beach. After walking a little distance we decided to loop back along a trail branch that would take us back to the road and try driving some sideroads to look for open-field birds or, if we were lucky, perhaps a flock of berry-eating Pine Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings. We found neither, though I did think as we were starting to head home, along a busier street, that I caught a glimpse of a Northern Shrike perched atop a spindly little tree in a field.

Pine plantation

Much of the area we walked was these pine plantations. Likely planted either as windbreaks, back when this landscape was still mostly used for farming, or for commercial harvesting, they have very characteristic, obvious linear formations. These sorts of plantations look unnatural, because of the pattern of the trees and their uniform age, and I don’t even feel make great habitat because they lack the diversity of structure that encourages many species to inhabit the woods. There’s no understory. The only small plants growing there were small pine seedlings, and even these were few.

Old farm shelter

At one spot along the trail there’s an old shelter, which looks like it may have been used to house either farming equipment like tractors, or hay bales for storage. Given its placement in the woods, it seems like an odd place to keep either, but it’s possible it hasn’t been used in a while and the young forest had since grown up around it. Or, if it was used to house equipment, that could be brought in through the trees.

Old foundation

A bit further down the trail I spotted the remains of this foundation, slowly growing in with young saplings, possibly black cherry, and a couple of birches. Presumably this was the homestead that went with the old storage shed, but it could also have been another barn or outbuilding.

Fence and field

We walked back along the road to where we had parked the car. In several sections the fence was overgrown with vines and dried goldenrod. I didn’t take a close look at the vines, but I’m not sure that I’d be able to tell the difference between wild grape and Virginia Creeper without their leaves. I scanned these open fields and the fenceposts that lined them for any small white lumps that might reveal themselves to be Snowy Owls, but with no luck.

Beech saplings with dried leaves

In many spots along the trails there were young beech saplings, brightly coloured against the white snow and dark evergreen forest as they retain their dried leaves throughout the winter. The phenomenon is called marcescence, and applies in this case to leaves withering without falling off. There’s some debate about the reasons it happens, but it’s noted only to really happen on very young sapling beech or the lower, young branches of older trees. I read a good blog post about it recently, but I’ll be darned if I could find it now to link to it. (Edit: I just found it. It’s posted by Carolyn over at Roundtop Ruminations.)

Canada Geese flying north

On the drive home I noticed a number of flocks of geese heading north over the fields. I associate these sorts of large, multiple-flock movements with migration so… hopefully a sign that spring is on the way?

Canada Geese flying north
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11 responses to “Walker’s Woods in winter

  1. Lovely photos! Very different from here, though, where the first signs of Spring are really starting to show.

    I’m not a city girl, either. When I was a student and living in a big city, the only thing that kept me sane was being able to get out to the hills every weekend. Even when the pressure was on at exam time I still had to get out there every so often.

  2. themarvelousinnature

    Thanks! I very much wish for some signs of spring, but we still have a couple weeks before we see the first birds here, and it’ll be a month before spring flowers start poking their heads up over the melting snow. I envy those in the more southern States!

    What got me through university was the knowledge that being in town was a temporary arrangement out of convenience, but for some reason circumstances have conspired to keep me there. I keep telling myself the urban setting is temporary, but after some 9 years with part or all of my time in town, it’s getting harder to convince myself of that!

  3. Nice walk. I agree, that forest is way too tidy and uniform. I wonder what one can do to rehabilitate an old plantation.

  4. The migration is on. Saw 2,000 geese leave central Maryland today. Down here in the Chesapeake Bay, winter has just broken. For the next 7 weeks, our lows will hover around 0C / 32F.

    Living space is just a state of mind. We live in a 1940s neighborhood in a large US City. We have a “stream” out back, whose most exciting inhabitants are herons and bullfrogs. I try to appreciate the local urban nature for what it is – beautiful and resilient – and (like you) allow myself to regularly get into REAL wilderness unfettered by expectations and my anxiety that I don’t spend enough time out there. Fact is, we all have to work. And you sort of have to live with where the work is.

    Nature is where you are – it’s just a question of seeing it and being OK with “what it is” (i.e. maybe just a diversity of spiders). Spend a morning birdwatching in a cemetery that has a few trees. You’ll see a lot more than crows. Trust me!

  5. themarvelousinnature

    @ Trixie: I’m not sure anything is usually done, but I imagine if you bought the property and wanted to rehabilitate it yourself you could remove some of the mature trees (stack them by the house for firewood) and plant saplings of a bunch of ages in a random pattern in the gaps, or just let it reseed itself naturally.

    @ Swamp Thing: I envy you your impending spring and relatively mild temps! Thanks for the comments regarding urban living. I think you do have a point as far as nature is what you make of it. It seems to be easier for some than others; for instance my boyfriend, who grew up in a suburban setting, finds it relatively easy to enjoy the city, but I find it much tougher. Even if I had a park or ravine behind the apartment, or was in a house with a well-vegetated backyard, I’d find it easier, I think. I agree that the city can have some great spots for birdwatching, such as cemeteries – unfortunately, none of them are near me! Criteria for my next place…

  6. It looks like a good place for snow shoeing. I like to find old structures when hiking and think about the people who used them. Spring is coming here in the Colorado front range, too, but spring snows are sometimes the biggest of the year.

  7. The woods are beautiful.

    I’ve never been a city girl either. It’s good there are areas close enough to make a day trip for an escape. I’ve walked old pine plantations in other areas and love them. Their deep darkness and structure is an unusually beautiful form to be within. Hear any owls??

  8. themarvelousinnature

    @ Con: You know, the thought crossed my mind while we were there. I don’t own snowshoes, or even skis, but with the deep snow it would’ve been a much better method of transportation than by foot. This has been a near record winter for our area in terms of snowfall, and we’ve more to come! I find old structures neat, too, such history and untold stories.

    @ Nina: The pine plantations definitely have a certain deep, quiet feel to them that’s hard to find elsewhere, and I do like to walk through them, low biodiversity notwithstanding. Nope, no owls, though it’s getting to that time of year. Perhaps if we went back at dusk!

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  10. themarvelousinnature

    Glad it helped, Kitsanapon!

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