Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Country Roads

Got John Denver running through my mind today.  These were all taken on a rainy day, either still raining or just after the rain.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Warning - Poisonous Plant!

Driving up the Bruce Peninsula the other day, we encountered the poisonous plant Wild Parsnip for the first time.  It's an invasive species, and it seems to be spreading like mad.  I had never even seen it before.  It can give very serious burns if you touch it, so you should learn to recognize it.

This is a small corner of the infestation that we saw, spread like this along both sides of the highway for two miles.  We saw scattered plants elsewhere too.

At first glance it looks a bit like a yellow Queen Anne's Lace, but as you can see the leaves are much more substantial.

This is the flower, very much like Queen Anne's Lace, except for being yellow.  It's actually rather pretty.

The lower stems are thick, and often with this reddish colouring up and down the stem, with clinging green leaves.

A close look shows that the leaf is quite different than the 'carroty' looking leaves of Queen Anne's Lace.

And these are the seed pods of the flower.

In any case, touching any part of this plant can get its oil on your skin, which is then photo-sensitive, and when exposed to sunlight with burn your skin - from a slight red burn to serious blistering burns.  In severe cases it results in hospitalization, and can even lead to blindness if the oil gets in your eye.

The best antidote is to wash the area with soap quickly, and cover up the skin so it is not exposed to light.  But of course it's a lot better to learn to recognize it and avoid it.  It's especially important to protect children from this plant!

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Butterflies and a Mystery Flower

We continue to get assorted butterflies stopping in the garden, sometimes staying still for long enough that I can get a picture.

I've spotted the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail several times over the spring and summer, but this time it sat for a minute on the Milkweed for me.

This tiny creature is one of the several species of Hairstreaks that we can see, all with tiny 'tails' on the hind wings, those tiny protrusions on the lower left.  This one is a Striped Hairstreak, identifiable by the blue-gray spot capped with reddish orange.

This is a Fritillary, probably the Great Spangled Fritillary, though it's hard to tell without a good look at the open wings.  It only stopped for a few seconds, and I was lucky to be there with my macro lens and get 3 quick shots like this one, cropped about as much as I can afford to, before it fluttered off.

And this is my mystery flower.  It came up among other 'weeds' in the sandy soil on top of our septic bed.  It's only about one foot tall or less, and only about 1-1.5 inches across.  I simply can't find a match in my wildflower guide.  Neither the large yellow centre buttons and short yellow rays, nor the leaves (below), match anything I can find.

These are the leaves.  It's a bit like a Tansy, or a Ragwort, but these leaves are truly tiny, only about an inch long each, and there appear to be no different basal leaves which many meadow wildflowers have.  Can anyone help?

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Singhampton Caves

A week or so after that last Bruce Trail hike, we headed east to find the Singhampton Caves.  I've been meaning to get here for 3 or 4 years, and was glad to finally see them.  It was a short side trail of the Bruce Trail, but it was spectacular!

Standing Rock was just a big chunk of limestone that had seperated from the cliff face, but the caves were typical 'crevice caves', which we have in many places along the Niagara Escarpment, and made an intriguing place to explore.

It was a nice short walk through the forest to get there and return.

And this was our first look down into one of the crevices.  About a 6 foot drop here, and as my buddy had his 12 year old grandson with him, we didn't try this entrance.

 This was the rocky scramble downhill that formed the actual side trail entrance.

And this was one of the crevices we emerged into, about a 50 foot vertical crack between mossy, fern-covered limestone walls.  Photography down here is a little tricky, because of the almost impossibility of escaping a little bit of bright sky at the top.  This creates a big contrast with the darkness at the bottom, and makes getting the right exposure a challenge.

Just for scale, here's my hiking partner.   You can see a faint blue blaze on the rock marking the side trail; several times we had to check around for blazes so we didn't get lost in other crevices.

It's the vertical walls of moss, liverworts and ferns that always intrigue me.

I expect that these ferns are mostly Bulblet Fern, which grows right out of the limestone.  

But this one, which you might not even recognize as a fern, is the rare Walking Fern.  The tips of the long narrow roots can take root, so the fern can 'walk'.  This species is the symbol of the Bruce Trail.

Once we got out into the woods again, I was stumped briefly by the deeply ridged bark on this very tall old tree, in the middle of a Sugar Maple forest.  Turns out it was a huge old Poplar!  We saw about half a dozen of them, towering above the canopy.

And we caught a glimpse of the old grain elevators down in Collingwood on the shore of Georgian Bay.  Our 12 year old guest explorer thought the hike was 'awesome', and I'm sure it would be great for lots of other children in the 7-15 year range, to say nothing of anyone older!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Wilson Homestead in Silent Valley

After hiking through the big mossy boulders along the Avalanche Pass Side Trail, as I described in yesterday's post, we rejoined the main Silent Valley Trail and took a short detour to check out the old Wilson Homestead.

The barn was the most fascinating remaining evidence of the homestead to me.  These limestone blocks cut to form corners, and put in place nearly 150 years ago amaze me when you consider the technology available then.

The foundation walls were a good 8-10 feet high, although the mortar has mostly crumbled away and I wonder how long what's left will remain.

The barn was HUGE for barns of that era, I think the largest old barn foundation I have ever seen,   It was nearly 100 feet long by over 60 feet wide.  There is no evidence of barn beams or boards remaining, so I expect the wooden structure was moved elsewhere eventually.

Just a little bit of machinery left, a wheel and gear off some old agricultural implement.

Nearby is the homestead.  The most tangible evidence is the well, now fenced off carefully to protect hikers.  This is the first place I've seen a plaque describing the history of a Bruce Trail property, and I really like it.  I can easily think of other properties where it would be appropriate.

And this is the well - quite amazing that it's still open and hasn't collapsed after a century or more.   I've seen one or two other hand-built wells like this on old properties, but never one this deep and still intact.

Here's the basic story.  For more detail, the Sydenham Bruce Trail Club has published a 30 page booklet entitled 'Silent Valley', by Ron Savage.  It makes very interesting reading!

There is a small depression where the cabin stood, but no structural evidence, so this patch of plants is the most obvious evidence - recognize them?  They're one of the most common plants around pioneer homesteads in Ontario - old fashioned Day Lilies - what some call 'Ditch Lilies', and my wife calls 'Flowers of the Field'.  Too much shade now for them to bloom here.

We also saw a couple of long stretches of old stone fencerows now buried deep in the woods.

Tragically, there was also a small plane crash here 45 years ago, killing all four passengers.  Particularly poignant for me!

Silent Valley is definitely worth the walk in to see it, and we only hiked half the side trails that are available.
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The Barn Collective

Monday, July 20, 2015

Silent Valley Hike

A couple of weeks ago I went exploring the Bruce Trail's Silent Valley property with a friend.  It's been on my list for a couple of years, but I discovered an actual booklet on it at the Grey Roots Museum 3 weeks back, and after reading the story was anxious to try out the trails.  It's located a short distance north and a bit west of the village of Walter's Falls.

The main Bruce Trail goes through the property, but they have also laid out two looping side trails.  We followed the Avalanche Pass Side Trail, which curves up through the talus slope below the Niagara Escarpment cliffs.

As you can see, there's almost no visible trail, just a marked route through the enormous moss-covered boulders.  We were checking for trail blazes like the one here constantly.

A typical moss-covered boulder, decorated with several species of ferns.

The 'Avalanche' Pass Side Trail is named because all the boulders on the talus slope look like an avalanche of rocks, now covered in mature Cedar forest.

This huge boulder was almost totally covered in rich growth of Maidenhair Spleenwort, one of the typical limestone loving ferns on these shaded slopes.

And there was quite a bit of Northern Holly Fern, another typical species of this habitat.

And even some small specimens of the rare Hart's Tongue Fern.  Though it's very rare in North America, these shaded slopes along the Niagara Escarpment are its main habitat.

Eventually the side trail ended when it joined the main Bruce Trail just below the cliff.  A set of steps helped you get started up the slope, where the trail continued on top.  We went up but didn't pursue the trail; our hike already ended up being 3.5 hours.

 There's a lot more to Silent Valley yet though, and this old cedar rail fence in the forest is a big hint.  Yes, this was an old farm, and large parts of it were once cleared fields, with a large barn and house.  Tomorrow we'll look at the Wilson homestead, dating from about 1861.

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