Posts Tagged ‘Frontenac Arch’


We haven’t done much hiking this summer. It seemed that it had just rained, was raining, or was about to rain all summer long. But last Friday was a perfect day, too nice to waste on mundane chores, and we headed out to the Marble Rock trail, north of Gananoque, Ontario. This region is part of the Frontenac Arch, an amazing section of the rugged Canadian Shield that dips down through southeastern Ontario and connects the far north bioregions with the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. The Arch marks an entirely different landscape from the surrounding plains. You can learn more about the Frontenac Arch here.


We completed the South Loop, with a side trip to the North Loop Lookout, a total of 4.7 miles (7.5 km). The east side of the South Loop is the most demanding terrain. If you aren’t climbing up a slope, you’re clambering down another, and the rocky ground can be treacherous. But the scenery is gorgeous.


The forest is primarily deciduous, with trees just beginning to take on the hues of autumn. You didn’t have to look up to know that oak trees were well represented in the diversity. The path was littered with acorns for much of its length, a bounty for wildlife.


Oak trees (Quercus spp) can be divided into two groups, red oaks and white oaks. The red oaks have leaves with pointy-tipped lobes, while the white oaks have rounded lobes. Both were represented in the forest.

Red Oak (Pointed tips)

White Oak (rounded tips)

Acorns weren’t the only nuts to be seen. The shagbark hickory trees (Carya ovata) were also offering up a good crop.

Hickory nuts

Check out the shaggy bark on this example.


Junipers are most often encountered as low-growing shrubs on rocky ground, but there was a sprinkling of pretty, upright juniper trees (Eastern juniper or Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana) decorated with their bluish seeds.


Juniper berries

Around open, damp areas, the white berries of dogwood shrubs stood out on their red twigs.


Dogwood berries (Cornus sp)

Still climbing…


I liked the way this millipede, about 2 inches long, blended so well with the colour of an old log.

Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmida sp)

And here’s a Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae) caterpillar hurrying through the leaves.

Hickory Tussock (Lophocampa caryae)

This tree has been attacked by Phomopsis galls. The galls appear as a cluster of nodules tightly pressed together. When cut open they consist of woody tissue that is a bit disorganized in comparison to the normal wood. Galls of affected trees may develop for several years then die.

Phomopsis galls of hickory

This attractive vine is Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens).

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

The leaves of this clump of sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta) are attractive even without the pretty flowers that will bloom next spring.


This colony of ground pine clubmoss (Lycopodium obscurum) looks like a stand of tiny, 6-inch tall pine trees. Clubmosses are ancient plants that were once 50-foot giants, but now carpet forest floors.

Ground Pine (Lycopodium dendroideum)

Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) seems to grow right out of the rock. Their rhizomes and roots trap leaves and other debris to build up a thin layer of soil.

rock polypody (Polypodium virginianum)

It’s not just ferns that can seem to grow from rock. We came across this very large windfall along the trail.


We were amazed to see that much of the ground that lay under its trunk was rock.


We walked through a little grove of Musclewood, or Blue-Beech trees (Carpinus caroliniana). Their smooth bark has longitudinal ridges that really do seem reminiscent of muscles, making them easy to identify.

Musclewood or Blue-Beech (Carpinus caroliniana)

Finally, we reached the North Loop Lookout and settled down on the rocky ledge to enjoy the view as we ate our well-earned lunch.


Read Full Post »


One hot day last week, Railguy and I set out to hike the Blue Mountain Trail at Charleston Lake Provincial Park. Although Blue Mountain is within the park boundary, and can be reached by canoe, land access travels across private property. You park your car at the side of the road on Warburton Road, just as it curves south to join Blue Mountain Road. The first kilometer or so of the trail follows a farm road.


At the end of the road, the trail enters a pleasant woodland. The forest is dominated by deciduous trees, especially maples, beeches and oaks, with some grand specimens such as this maple tree, above, on display.


The trail was quite busy on the day we visited. Dogs and bikes are allowed, and ATVs use the access road. We didn’t see anything unusual in the way of wildlife or birds, although along the way we came across a garter snake, frogs and wee toads, and chipmunks and squirrels. This well-worked tree, above, offers evidence of pileated woodpeckers in the area. Here’s a chipmunk eyeing us warily.


There are many lovely tall beech trees with handsome, smooth bark along the trail. I was shocked to see how many had been mindlessly defiled by visitors who felt compelled to gouge ugly graffiti into their beautiful bark. Apart from disfiguring the trees, the wounds leave the trees susceptible to disease. I guess that once one person acts, others feel they have license to follow suit. We actually saw a man with his family in tow working on a tree. He quickly put his knife away and grinned foolishly as we approached, obviously aware that his actions were inappropriate.


Following the trail through the forest brings you to a beaver pond. Mosey Lake, as it is named in Park literature, is a beautiful wetland. You can see the large nests of Great Blue Herons in some of the trees.


There were a number of Canada Geese enjoying the sunny day.


Shortly after reaching the beaver pond, you cross into Charleston Lake Provincial Park.


The trail crosses a well-constructed bridge over a little river and you can stop and watch frogs and spot the beaver dam where the river meets the lake.


Then it’s up a rocky slope. The trail is well-marked and not too steep, but climbs steadily. The rocky terrain is typical of the Frontenac Arch region. The Frontenac Arch is an amazing section of the rugged Canadian Shield that dips down through southeastern Ontario and connects the far north bioregions with the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. The Arch marks an entirely different landscape from the surrounding plains, much more rugged.


Finally, we reached the last clamber up to the top of Blue Mountain.


We were rewarded with a view of Mosey Lake to the south…


…and Charleston Lake to the north.


We sat down for a well-earned rest and the lunch that Railguy had backpacked in for us.


We enjoyed refreshments perfect for hiking long trails.


It’s a bit of a stretch, calling this a mountain. In fact, Blue Mountain reminds me of the movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. Unfortunately, there was no sign of Hugh Grant.


It was very hot and dry on the open flat. A few little oak trees were dried up and appeared dead and the reindeer lichen on the rock was shrivelled up. There were other common lichens on the rocks though. Here are a couple of samples. Flat lichens that adhere tightly to the rock surface are crustose lichens. Lichens with little leafy growths distinct from the rock surface are foliose lichens.


Soon we were heading back along the same trail. It was dry in the forest, too. I saw very few fungi along the trail, apart from this old log with a good growth of the common fungus Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor).

I’ll close with this picture of one of several erratic boulders that were located in the woods. Erratics are rocks that were left behind by a retreating glacier as it melted, many eons ago.

The entire hike took us 4 hours, including our picnic lunch.


Read Full Post »


When it comes to hiking, the weather just doesn’t get any better than it was last weekend. On Sunday, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get out and enjoy what may be one of the last perfect days of the year. We decided to travel to Charleston Lake Provincial Park and because it was such a gorgeous day, settled on one of the more challenging trails.


We set off along the 10 km Tallow Rock Bay trail. After a short walk from the trailhead, the path divides into west and east arms of the loop, and, based on my trail guide’s recommendation, we took the west fork. The woods soon gave way to a boardwalk through a wetland area. Most of the ground was pretty dry, as we’ve had an extended period of low precipitation, but a pretty stream runs through the clearing.


A few of the trees along the boardwalk had Fall Webworm (Hyphantria cunea) nests. These nests are often confused with the better-known tent caterpillar constructions, but tent caterpillars are mostly seen in spring. Tent caterpillars and Webworms are spring and fall phenomenon.


The tree has time to recover after the spring Tent Caterpillars and grow new leaves. In the case of Fall Webworms, the tree is about to lose its leaves for the winter anyway, and can grow again in the spring. Thus, the insects don’t kill their host tree. For more on Webworms visit Jeepers! Creepers! here.


The trail has helpful distance markers. Here is RailGuy standing by the 1 KM marker shortly after leaving the boardwalk behind and re-entering the forest.


This tree is reportedly one of the oldest trees in the forest. Sadly, it seems to be dying and had already lost its leaves for the year, making its fork-tine branches more conspicuous.


The rustling of the dried leaves littering the ground brought this garter snake to our attention.


The first few kilometres of the trail are undemanding, following the gently undulating landscape up and down with few steep inclines. Rocky outcroppings bordering the trail remind you that you are on the Frontenac Arch, part of the Canadian shield. You can read more about the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve here.


Many of the rocks support a rich mosaic of lichens and mosses and ferns.


The bright cerise-red centre of this plant caught my eye. I didn’t recognise it, but Seabrooke was able to identify it for me as Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana). It has already lost the blue berries it would have had earlier in the season. The berries are inedible (by people), but the waxy, tuberous roots, as the common name indicates, taste like cucumber and can be used in salads.


At one point, the trail curls around the edge of an open wet meadow, encircled with white birch trees.


Just after the 4 KM marker, a short side trail leads down to the waters of Tallow Rock Bay.


What a beautiful, peaceful spot! The water was still and quiet and a picnic table was welcomingly positioned on the little beach. We sat down and had a pleasant rest, eating the lunch RailGuy had kindly backpacked in for us.


Read Full Post »


On Saturday, the weather was beautiful, bright and sunny, and RailGuy and I decided it was a good opportunity to try out the Rock Dunder trail. The trail is located near the little hamlet of Morton, north of Gananoque, in the Frontenac Arch region.


We chose to do the 3.9 km Summit Loop. The trail is well-marked and neatly maintained, but is moderately demanding because it follows the contours of the landscape up and down…and up…and down…and up…and down! You set off uphill right from the parking lot, above.


The trail leads through mature woodlands with maples, oaks and eastern pines. It was very peaceful. In spite of the fine weather, there weren’t many people out on the trail.


A sign at the trailhead warns hikers not to approach or feed any black bears they might encounter. We laughed. Who would be crazy enough to approach a black bear? But I guess there are people with no better sense out there. The biggest mammal that we encountered, outside of other people, was this cute chipmunk. We didn’t approach or feed him.


The trail passed through clearings that feature bare rock and reindeer lichen, giving the area a distinctly rugged, northern feel. The Frontenac Arch is an ancient granite ridge that runs through south-eastern Ontario and links the Canadian Shield to the north and the Adirondack Mountains to the south. The Arch region offers an entirely different landscape than the flatter farmlands in most of southern Ontario.


This tree had been well worked by both Pileated Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. The big Pileateds are responsible for the large excavations, while the sapsuckers drilled the rows of little holes.


This beaver meadow overlook has a conveniently located bench that we were happy to rest on for a few minutes. Then we followed the trail down to water level as it continues in a loop around the wetland and climbs back uphill on the other side.


Then the trail began to open up as we approached the Rock Dunder lookout. At first, we could see forest stretching away and then as we reached the edge of the lookout, we could see lakes set out below us. What a panoramic view!


We took turns photographing each other in front of the scenery and watched the numerous boats on the water below for a bit.


Then we rested our backs against a well-situated rock wall where we could admire the view and eat the lunch that RailGuy backpacked in for us.


After a pleasant intermission, we continued with our hike. The lookout is more or less half way around the loop, and the trail continues along the shore line, climbing down to water level and back up again. There was far more activity on the water than on the trail, with motorboats and canoes coming and going. We pause to watch a group of young people jumping into the water from the cliff face.



The trail returns to the brow of the cliff where another bench offers a spot to take in the view of the north end of the lake.



A lone loon was diving and resurfacing, avoiding the motor traffic on the lake. One of several cabins that can be used for resting or emergency shelter marks the spot where the trail turns back inland towards the parking lot. From this point, it is an easy walk back to the trailhead. This was a very rewarding hike, with a fabulous view making the ups and downs worthwhile. We plan to return in the autumn to see the fall colours. It should be spectacular.


Read Full Post »


This weekend, the Frontenac Biothon is taking place! Where is Frontenac, you say? And what is a biothon? The answer to the first question is that Frontenac refers to the Frontenac Arch, an amazing section of the rugged Canadian Shield that dips down through southeastern Ontario and connects the far north bioregions with the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. The Arch marks an entirely different landscape from the surrounding plains. The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve Community website describes it this way:

To many, the Canadian Shield is the quintessential Canadian landscape ”the rugged “north”, and a land of forests and lakes. But many haven’t realized that a portion of the Shield extends southward though Ontario, and into the U.S. The Frontenac Arch, as this hourglass-shaped outlier of the Canadian Shield is known, is the ancient backbone of North America. In Mohawk tradition, this massive landform is :The Bones of the Mother”.


The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve was designated as Canada’s 12th biosphere reserve by the UNESCO “Man and the Biosphere” program in November, 2002. This designation recognises the uniqueness of this amazing region, which supports a terrific diversity of plant and animal life. Factors that contribute to this wealth include the fact that the region is at the intersection of major continental migration routes, the region has a complex geology and rugged landform, and climate effects.

The Frontenac Arch is the subject of research completed by Frontenac Bird Studies. You can follow research results and learn fascinating information about unusual species of birds at the blog site, here. This weekend Frontenac Bird Studies is hosting the Frontenac Biothon 2011, their second annual fundraising event. Frontenac Bird Studies conducts vital research and you can contribute to this important project by supporting one of the three teams participating in the Biothon. To make a donation, visit the Biothon sign-up page linked here: Frontenac Biothon 2011.

The photographs accompanying this post were contributed by Frontenac Bird Studies. Thanks!


Read Full Post »

Yesterday’s post followed the Marble Rock trail out to about the halfway point. I had climbed onto a ridge and then down and then back up onto a second ridge and down to wetland level. Now the trail started to climb again. The woods had a bit more of a maple/ hickory/ beech mix and less oak at this point. The trail zigzagged back and forth over a little stream. Fortunately, the stepping stones were secure. It would have been cold getting a soaker!

At one point, I came upon this bridge. It didn’t look too promising and I stepped onto it rather gingerly, but it proved to be sturdy.

A male Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was searching the trees for a meal. Hairy and Downy woodpeckers are very similar in appearance and can primarily be told apart by their size, with the Hairy being the larger of the two species. A few Black-capped Chickadees flitted about the branches as well.

After a pleasant meander through the woods, the surroundings grew more open as the trail climbed to the top of the third ridge. By now, the sun was beginning to dip and I was glad to be well on the way back to the car.

As I reached the peak, another beautiful panorama lay before me.

Across the valley, an open cliff face provided a good look at the underlying strata of rock. The Frontenac Arch was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere in November of 2002. It covers some 2700 square kilometers in the south eastern portion of Ontario. This area has a unique blend of biodiversity because the moderating effect of the Great Lakes allows some plant and animal species to survive here that are typically found farther south, while at the same time some more-northerly species are drawn south by the rugged granite landscape of the Canadian Shield.

On the south edge of the clearing, the old foundation of an earlier building remained. I was a bit surprised to come across it as it didn’t seem like agricultural land. Later, I read that during World War I, quartz that was used for early radios was produced in the area, so perhaps the foundation was from a building associated with that industry.

The trail led east from the foundation and sloped gently down until it reached a large pond, the water that could be seen from the very first lookout at the beginning of the hike.

To avoid wet areas, the trail jogged to the right and entered a plantation of pine trees.

The floor of the pine forest was cushioned with a thick mat of pine needles. As the trail returned to the mixed deciduous forest, I noticed this spot where a small creature, probably a chipmunk had a tunnel. Outside the hole was a pile of the neatly-cracked shells of hickory nuts.

I knew I was nearly back at the parking lot when I noticed a sure sign of civilization: a garbage dump.

Pheeew. As the sign at the entrance to the trail promised, it was a strenuous hike. I was happy to get back to my car and sit down, especially as the light was quickly slipping away as the afternoon faded into evening. It was a beautiful spot, however. I really enjoyed the rough terrain offered by the granite outcroppings of the Frontenac Arch. While the woodlands are no doubt lovely in the spring, hiking in the fall had the advantage of opening up the great views, which are probably partly obscured when the trees are dressed in their summer leaves. Another time, I would be sure to take a thermos of coffee for a halfway-point break!

Read Full Post »

Last Saturday was a pretty day, sunny and bright, and if not exactly warm, unusually mild for the end of November. We can’t expect too many more such days this year, and I decided to take the opportunity to go for a hike at Marble Rock, about an hour west of here, near Gananoque. My interest in this trail was piqued by descriptions that emphasize the scenic lookouts. The terrain is very different there than what is found throughout most of southern Ontario as it lies in the Frontenac Arch, an ancient granite ridge that links the Canadian Shield of northern Ontario with the Adirondack Mountains in the south.

I got a later-than-planned start on my hike as I ran some errands on the way out to the trailhead, arriving about mid-afternoon. Of course, a hike that promises lookouts is bound to involve climbing. The trail map at the entrance to the trail warns that the hike is moderate to challenging with rocky slopes and steep hills. The trail follows two loops. As I was starting out rather late in the day, I just planned on doing the south loop.

The deciduous trees have lost their leaves, but the ground cover showed that the forest was dominated by oak trees, with beech trees and a few maples mixed in. Shagbark hickory trees could be spotted by their rough, flaky bark, while a smattering of white birch trees were also conspicuous among the evergreens.

The trail begins climbing right from the parking lot. Soon you are walking through large boulders and moss-covered rock walls. There is no green quite like the vivid emerald of moss, highlighted by the afternoon sun. Especially at this time of year, when much of the forest is drably-coloured, the moss stands out.

Lichens also were well-represented on rock surfaces.

Although the woods were quiet, there was evidence of bird life. Nests were visible amongst the bare branches, and here and there, trees displayed signs of woodpecker work.

The first promised lookout was quickly reached. The view looks southwest.

The trail continues north along a ridge until you can look north over a large pond and wetland.

Then, it’s downhill, to the water’s edge.

The trail follows the eastern edge of the pond, scrambling over the rocky shore, and re-enters the woods.

As I trampled through the leaves, a few insects flew up, including a very late dragonfly, who settled on a rock.

It’s a male meadowhawk, likely a Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), often the last species on the wing in cool northern climates.

Then it’s back to climbing, up through the forest to the next ridge. Along the way, little heaps of acorn shells mark where a forest dweller has enjoyed a nutty meal.

The second ridge runs east and west and offers a view over a second wetland.

Gradually, the hike leads down to the edge of this wetland, a large, expanse of cattails and brush and grasses, with a branching stream of water flowing through it.

Three trees set out in the open area contain the nests of a heron colony. Perhaps because there are only a few large trees, each one supports multiple nests, a sort of heron apartment complex. At this point, the trail begins its long curve west and then south, the halfway point of the hike. To be continued…

Read Full Post »