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