Frontenac snapshots

Frontenac Provincial Park
I’d love a home with a view like this. We had vultures cruising at eye level.

Yesterday afternoon Dan and I went out and hiked some of the park I hadn’t been to before. The landscape was gorgeous, and the colours yesterday seemed especially vibrant. The photographs just don’t do the scenes justice. As I sat on a granite outcrop looking over one of the lakes, I thought what a great spot this would be for a home…

Frontenac Provincial Park

Frontenac Provincial Park

Frontenac Provincial Park

Frontenac Provincial Park

Frontenac Provincial Park

Frontenac Provincial Park
Some boggy areas in one of the lakes. Wish I could get down there to poke around and look for bog specialties. Perhaps with the canoe one day.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Frontenac Provincial Park
We startled a Great Blue Heron off a nest in one of the lakes as we passed by.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Frontenac Provincial Park
Brooding clouds rolling in as we make our way home. This beaver dam was fantastic, a few dozen yards wide.

A stroll in the park

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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).

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

Hiking Frontenac Provincial Park

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.

A walk in the woods

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We had an unexpected guest yesterday, so I ended up not getting a chance to post about the walk in the park. I’d actually just got back from a return trip yesterday, where Raven and I walked another part of it, to find we had a visitor. The last couple of days have been so nice, warm enough for short sleeves but not so warm you’re dying. It just seemed a shame not to take advantage of that. Today was cool and rainy, so I’m glad I went out again when I did.

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Round trip, we probably walked just over two kilometers (1.2 miles). On a straight and level road that wouldn’t be all that far, but the terrain in the park is far from straight and level. Little mini valleys cut through the granite to create ridges and plateaus. The plateaus are no problem to hike, but the ridges and valleys give you a bit of a workout. Raven outdid both Blackburnian and I; she was still charging onwards even at the end of the hike. She absolutely loved the outing. We let her off-leash in her harness, but she never strayed far from us, no further than her extendable leash would have let her go anyway. And this way, no wraps around trees!

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We had no map, no compass, no GPS, and no particular destination in mind. We hiked out towards a promising-looking ridge, and upon cresting that, set our sights on the next. We headed approximately east, but followed the landforms and the suggestion of interesting sights beyond the next valley. There are no trails in this section of the park; in fact, given the size of the park, it’s relatively trail-poor. There’s only one trail that’s somewhat easy for us to reach from our lake, and it’s through a campground at the far north end, some 3 km (1.9 miles) away by boat. Not long after moving in, we had stopped by the park office to pick up some maps and get information on the area. We spoke to one of the staff, who indicated that walk-in access to the park is free, and you’re welcome to just dock your boat on the shore and hike in. So we felt no reservations about doing so.

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So we boated directly across the lake, and docked the boat on a narrow gravel beach where the land sloped gently upwards into the park. It’s been a long time since I explored an area without being confined to a trail, or knowing what’s coming next. Everything was new, interesting, and different. There are an interesting array of habitats within the park. From the shore it looks like fairly uniform mixed forest. In fact, when you start hiking in, it turns out to be primarily deciduous, at least the sections we walked through. There were a number of more open areas that resembled oak savannah, though I don’t know if they had quite the combination of characteristics to qualify as such.

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There were also a few low, wet areas that were obviously flooded at certain times of year, but not currently. Fallen logs, soft and decaying, were covered with moss and ferns. The area had a very lush, green appearance because of the ferny understory. For some reason, most of the areas we walked through had a sparse understory. It wasn’t that the understory was absent, just that it was thin. There were small saplings and a few little shrubs, patchy wildflowers and vines, but generally it was pretty easy walking. I know deer inhabit the park, so it may be that they keep the understory thinned out. Or, it may be something to do with the soil, or some other factor.

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Our “final destination” (meaning, the point where we decided it was getting on, and we were getting tired, and we should start heading back) turned out to be a large, old swampy wetland. It looked like it may once have been a river, but had been dammed by a beaver and flooded, killing the resident trees. This would have happened quite a while ago, as most of the trees were long dead and fallen. Also, the water level wasn’t maintained, and while it appeared the water was probably high enough to form a continuous lake in the spring, by this time in the fall it had dropped substantially, such that the ground was mostly moist with just small patches of water remaining.

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Raven, eager to continue on, bounced down and into the wet area to check it out. She paused when it was apparent we weren’t following. She was very good about not getting carried away, and coming back to us when called, with the exception of one spot where her nose found something deliciously intriguing buried in the soil, and she required some coaxing to be drawn away from it (even then, it didn’t come down to us going and picking her up, which I was worried about having to do during the hike – either to take her away from something, or to carry her back when she got tired).

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You comin’, slowpokes?

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During the hike we came across lots of things that grabbed my interest. I didn’t spend a lot of time paused to examine anything, but did snap photos of the stuff that really caught my eye. One was this frog. I’ve encountered a number of different species of frog here, the most numerous at our house being Leopard Frogs. In the forest, during the hike, the most common were Wood Frogs, I must have seen at least half a dozen of them. But as we came down to the edge of the water, in the muddy wet bits, Blackburnian spotted this guy. I spent a lot of time debating its identification. The tight, squareish nature of the spots on its back and sides made me think Pickerel Frog (a species I admittedly have never seen), while the fact that there were three rows of spots on the back wasn’t a feature of this species. Apparently the definitive feature is bright yellow to the underside of the legs of a Pickerel Frog, but I didn’t think to pick it up. I’m thinking now it might just be a very dark, strongly-marked Leopard, but it may remain a mystery.

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I loved these ferns, which were abundant thoughout the park. The circlet of leaflets recalled to me a crown, and I thought perhaps it would be named something reflecting that, but the species is Northern Maidenhair, Adiantum pedatum. I don’t recall seeing them at my parents’, or in that region of Ontario, but it’s very widespread, occurring from coast to coast, and from as far north as Alaska and Labrador down to southern California and Georgia.

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Most of what I was paying attention to, though, was fungus, which will be the subject of the next post. As we turned for home, the sun’s rays started slanting low and golden, illuminating the trees with rich light. A forest that is cool and shady during the day, when the sun is shining straight down on the canopy, becomes aglow as the sun sinks toward the horizon.

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Our house, at the end of the day, as viewed from the park; the only reason I knew I was looking toward our house was because of the barely discernible pale line created by the trunk of the big aspen at the shore. There’s so much more to explore, but it will have to wait for another day. Home beckons, with cold drinks and a place to put your feet up.