Today was a beautiful, balmy (albeit November) day, the sort of day that it just seems a shame to stay inside and work. Dan suggested that we take Raven over to the park for a hike at lunchtime, hopefully to tire her out so she’d sleep for the afternoon. We thought perhaps we’d go check out the Arkon Lake Ring Bog, which is marked on the Frontenac Provincial Park official map with the caption, “a typical acid bog plant community, with black spruce trees – the typical tree of northern Ontario.” It’s true that in my travels through northern Ontario, particularly north of Superior, the predominant tree species becomes black spruce, and it really defines the region to me. I really like bogs and their unique flora (sundews are my favourite), and so the combination of features appealed to me.
We crossed Birch Lake and pulled the boat up on the shore. We picked up the trail and followed that a short ways before Dan tired of being directed where to go, and we crossed over a ridge to check out a beaver pond. We picked up the trail again and followed that for quite some distance. The problem with trails, however, is that it’s a little like being the passenger in a car. While you’re traveling cross-country (or while you’re driving a car) you have to pay attention to where you’re going. However, if you’re following a trail (or sitting in the passenger seat) you can kind of tune out and just let the driver (or trail) take you along. And that happened here. We followed the trail, admiring the scenery but not paying close attention to our bearings, and eventually we began to wonder why we hadn’t come across the bog yet.
We paused and tried to figure out where it should be relative to where we were then. We thought perhaps we’d passed by it, and it was back to the northeast. Dan climbed up to the top of a ridge to look around, and we decided to cut across country in the direction we thought it was. Foolishly, we hadn’t brought the park map with us. Neither of us had closely examined the map before leaving – Dan knew approximately where it was relative to other landmarks, but had thought it was right on the trail; I knew it was off the trail but had no idea where it was relative to landmarks. Neither was much help once we found ourselves away from any recognizable landmarks to navigate from. Turned out we just missed it; if we’d kept on going along the trail instead of cutting off when we got impatient we may have been able to see it from the trail’s edge. And we didn’t miss it by much – only 300 meters or so.
So that was a bit disappointing. We’ll have to go back on another visit, and perhaps park the boat a bit closer so we have a better idea where we are. Plus take a map. We did get in a good hike, though. When we got home and looked at the map, and estimated the approximate route we’d taken, I figured it to be about 9 km (5.6 miles) total distance. It took us about 3.5 hours, which was a bit longer than the lunchtime hike we’d planned on. You’d think that this much walking would have worn Raven right out. Dan and I were dragging our feet, ready to go home for a nap, and we both needed a good long drink (having not wished to tote along the weight of water, but also not expecting to be long as gone as we were). Raven, on the other hand, had been stopping to sip from the various water sources we encountered, so wasn’t thirsty, and was still bounding on ahead with all the apparent energy she’d started with. I’d been expecting that after that long hike she’d sleep the rest of the day off, but she napped for an hour or so, then was ready to play again. Boy. I wish I knew where she got all her energy. Maybe I should start eating dog kibble. (Here Dan breaks for a rest on the home stretch of the trek, while Raven plays in the pine needles).
Frontenac Provincial Park, like many provincial, state and national parks, is a park of postcards. Over virtually every ridge, or around every turn of the trail, there’s a panorama worthy of a postcard, or at least a professional photographer to do it justice. I snapped many photos while we were out, but they never seem to capture the feel of the place the same as when you’re standing there taking it in, even the panoramas. I also find that the camera dulls the colours of the scene, and when I get home and edit the photos I virtually always bump up the saturation to try to emulate what my eyes saw. The eye is an amazing thing, really, in its ability to appropriately adjust for different lighting conditions within the same scene (eg dark forest floor, bright sky behind), and enhance the colours. Even the expensive cameras are good, but still just can’t do the same thing.
I look forward to seeing this place in the summer. In some ways it was good that we moved in to the house at the end of the breeding season so that there was less to distract us as we were getting settled and trying to adjust to the new work routine. But on the other hand, I was disappointed that we missed all the birds, and will have to wait nearly a full year to find out what inhabits these woods. We moved in in August – the breeding birds will return and start setting up territories in May and June.
Some of the most intriguing habitats are the marshes. We came across one huuuuuge marsh, that stretched for perhaps almost a kilometer, that should be excellent habitat for all sorts of species. Most of the marshes and wetlands I’ve had experience with have either been small, or have been degraded by city pressures. This might be the first very large marsh I’ll get to check out that’s fairly pristine. I’ve been to the large ones at Point Pelee and Long Point, which are also really large, good-quality marshes, but I’ve only visited them in passing, briefly. We’re hoping for Marsh Wren, Wilson’s Snipe, Common Yellowthroats and Swamp Sparrows, Sora and Virginia Rails, maybe coots or moorhens, perhaps King Rail or Sandhill Crane (which have been recorded nesting in neighbouring areas) if we’re very lucky.
The trails themselves are not very well-developed. They’re barely more than deerpaths, single-file packed-earth depressions. Some, the more frequently-traveled trails that hook up with parking lots or campsites, the leaves that have fallen on the trail have been broken up by the feet that have passed over them, but others, such as the one that would have taken us past the ring bog, the leaves were mostly intact. There are trail markers for the winter when the depression is hidden under snow, and trail signs where two or more trails intersect. These are all in good condition, but are unlikely to degrade in the weather too much. Many of the bridges, however, are a little worse for wear. The ones along the main trail are in good shape, but the ones on the side trails could use some repairs. Such as this one, which was pretty much unusable. We skirted around, jumping from grass-tuft to grass-tuft to cross the little trickling creek. Raven, who wasn’t opposed to getting her feet wet, just splashed right through.
Speaking of bridges, we encountered this one, one of the few that was in good shape. Dan and I crossed it without thinking, but behind us Raven stopped dead in her tracks at the edge. Dan and I stood on the far side, trying to coax her across, and she stood there and whimpered. I tried walking halfway across, and then most of the way across and calling to her, but she would. not. budge. Eventually I picked her up and carried her across. I’m sure if we’d kept going up the trail and out of sight over the ridge she’d have got so desperate she would’ve either crossed the bridge or scampered through the stream it spanned, but I didn’t like to let her out of my sight in that sort of setting. What if she didn’t, and panicked and took off? Easier to carry her. I’m not sure what it was about the bridge that scared her so, there were others with large cracks like that that she easily bounded across.
By the time we made it back to the boat, the sun had sunk below the horizon, and clouds had rolled in to mask the sky. The wind had also dropped, which made the boat ride back across the open lake a bit more pleasant. We hadn’t anticipated being gone for so long, but it was a good hike nonetheless. Tomorrow, some of the things we saw along the way.