Albion Falls and Buttermilk Falls along the Bruce Trail

Today we decided to hike the sidetrail of the Bruce that takes you past Albion Falls and Buttermilk Falls. We had already hiked the Bruce proper through the King’s Forest but wanted to do this stretch just to see the falls.

Problems at the Falls

In our hike last month we had passed the Red Hill Creek that this waterfall feeds. I wanted to go up river, towards where I knew the waterfall was, but there were signs posted for $10 000 fines if you passed a certain point. This time round there were signs posted everywhere at the top of the waterfalls too.

After doing a bit of research I soon found out why. While trying to take pictures, or just exploring the falls, several people have been seriously injured or died. In one incident last year 1 man died and 2 people needed to be rope-rescued by firefighters. It can take up to 30 firefighters, a dozen EMS workers and police officers, four hours to conduct a single rope rescue. Each rescue costs the city roughly $5 000.

So understandably you can’t get very close to any of the Falls in Hamilton any more.  I had seen so many cool pictures of people right under Albion Falls. We, however, enjoyed them from afar.

Albion Falls

Albion Falls Hamilton Ontario
Albion Falls, Hamilton Ontario

Other than being the second worst falls in Hamilton for people injuring themselves at, its a pretty straightforward 19 m cascade waterfall. I think it would be better right after some rain or during early spring with all of the snow starting to melt.

You get good views from both platforms, albeit a little far away.  There are benches if you want to sit and relax and enjoy a cup of tea. I wish I had my other camera and my zoom lens for a better shot, but phone camera it was.

Map of trails around Albion and Buttermilk Falls
Map of trails around Albion and Buttermilk Falls

The sidetrail continues past Albion Falls, along the top of the Escarpment, to Buttermilk Falls.

Buttermilk Falls

Unfortunately this falls was a let down. It wasn’t really flowing at the time and because of some serious overgrowth you couldn’t see much of it.

Buttermilk Falls Hamilton Ontario
Buttermilk Falls

Possibly with more rain or spring runoff there would be a better falls but I don’t think this one is worth making a special trip for.

The Bruce Trail Iroqouia Section: Buttermilk Falls to Kennilworth Stairs

This part of our hike included a sidetrail to get onto the Bruce Trail Iroqouia section from Buttermilk falls. You’ll see the blue blazes showing the trail from the Falls that leads through the woods along the top of the escarpment running parallel to Mountain Brow Blvd.  You’ll hit a crossroads which directs you left, to the Rail Trail, or right, down the escarpment and meeting up with the Bruce. This is the trail we were following when the rain caught us and we turned back, not knowing how close we were.

Bruce trail sidetrail near Mountain Brow Blvd.
Heading down the Escarpment

At the base of the escarpment the trail comes out of the forest and into open meadow running along the King’s Forest Golf Course border.

Sunny open stretches running beside the King’s Forest Golf Course
Sumac thicket

Wildflowers and Mushrooms

This section of the trail had an abundance of wildflowers and butterflies, especially in the sunny areas. We saw swallowtails as well as tiny blue butterflies/moths. I thought they would be easy to identify but there are several small blue guys in Ontario so I’ll have to try and get a picture for a better identification. There are about 750 species of butterflies recorded in Canada.  Each time we head out there’s something new to discover.

greater celandine, spreading dogbane, wild grape, herb robert
1) Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus 2) Spreading dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium L. 3) Wild grape, Vitis riparia 4) Herb robert, Geranium Robertianum
1) Alsike clover, Trifolium hybridium L. 2) Common Fleabane, Erigeron philadelphicus 3) Wild phlox, Phlox divaricata 4) Unsure? Milkweed or Joe Pye weed possibly
1) Viper’s Bugloss, Echium vulgare 2) Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia 3) Wild Violet, Viola odorata 4) Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Top left clockwise to bottom left 1) Possibly Fairy Ring Mushroom 2) Unsure 3) Unsure 4) Possibly Ink cap or Shaggy Mane 5) Unsure

There’s quite a bit of red, iron rich, soil exposed here, giving the Red Hill Valley its name.

So Many Stairs

This route continues to run parallel to Mountain Brow Blvd, and part of the Rail Trail, with stairs leading up or down in a couple places accessing Greenhill and Fennel Ave. As we rounded the Escarpment heading northwest we hit our first set of stairs at the Kennilworth Access.

Kennilworth Access – 387 stairs
Panorama from the stairs

At this point the trail runs high enough to get an overview of King Street East.

Books I Want to Read

Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, A Poisonous Plant and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution by Anurag Agrawal

The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly by Kylee Baumle

Part 2 Kennilworth Stairs to Cliffview Park

Mushrooms at Tiny Marsh

While hiking the Tiny Marsh trails we came across a few mushroom species that I wanted to identify.

Dryad's Saddle

These mushrooms were found on dead logs along the trail to the east of the Visitor Center.  I believe them to be Dryad’s Saddle or Pheasant Back mushrooms (Polyporus squamosus).

Dryad's Saddle

Dryad’s Saddle

William Hudson, a British botanist, was the first to describe them scientifically in 1778. It’s current name was given by French mycologist Lucien Quelet in 1886. A mycologist specializes in the study of fungi, their uses and dangers associated.

This mushroom likes dead wood, especially elms, but will sometimes grow on live trees like maples. When we’ve come across them in the Hamilton area they seem to grow more on maples then anything else. Wet areas can have a profusion and they will come back year after year until the tree is completely gone.

dryad's saddle mushroom at Tiny Marsh

They are a common sight in May and June but may be found later in the year. If you read more about them the young mushrooms are considered a good edible. Please be very careful with wild mushrooms though. Many have similar looking deadly counterparts. Your best bet is to find someone who knows before you try any. Mushroom-collecting.com suggests they have a flavour unlike any other.

Unknown Fungus

We also came across this specimen near the Dryad’s saddle. It was much closer to the ground and kind of hidden in the leaf litter.

I tried every search term I could think of to come up with an identification but couldn’t find it. Lots of bats though. “Brown and white fungi Ontario June” apparently means bats.

Mushrooms at Tiny Marsh

If any of you can identify this guy for me I would appreciate it.

Mushroom Resources

If you’re interested in finding out some more information about mushrooms locally here are some good resources.

The Mycological Society of Toronto provides information as well as guided forays in the Toronto area for members. You can take a mushroom identification course and participate in workshops and field trips.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms

Books I want to Read

Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms by Eugenia Bone

Mushrooming Without Fear: The Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms by Alexander Schwab

The Complete Mushroom Hunter, Revised: Illustrated Guide to Foraging, Harvesting and Enjoying Wild Mushrooms by Gary Lincoff

 

Part 1 Tiny Marsh Hike

Part 2 Tiny Marsh Turtles

Tiny Marsh Turtles

We loved our hike at Tiny Marsh but I did not expect the amount of destroyed turtle nests we saw.

Without realizing what was happening Josh had seen a female laying her eggs the day before. Notice the algae all over her shell. This occurs because she spends most of her time under water and it helps provide camouflage.

Nesting turtles sign at Tiny Marsh

I had missed the sign at the front and first thought that the eggs had hatched. I believe these are snapping turtle nests but I might be wrong.

Snapping Turtles are listed as “of special concern” in both provincial and federal endangered species legislation.  They are Canada’s largest freshwater turtle and won’t start breeding until they are 15 to 20 years old.

turtle nest

Because Snapping turtles can live between 70 and 100 years the turtles we see in our lakes and wetlands may have hatched and started breeding before World War II.

eaten turtle eggs

Snapping Turtle Population Collapse?

Since they live for so long, and take so long to start breeding, the turtles we see now may all be very old. Extreme nest predation could mean that there may come a time when all of the older turtles die off and there aren’t many left to replace them.

Adult turtles don’t have much to worry about other than humans and human related threats. Turtle mortality is high during nesting time when females, forced by loss of habitat, must cross roads and are often hit by cars.

Suitable nesting sites in nature are usually gravelly or sandy areas along streams. Man-made structures including roads (especially gravel shoulders), dams and aggregate pits are being used more frequently because of habitat loss but at a cost.

turtle nest destroyed at tiny marsh

Threat to Eggs and Hatchlings

Eggs are a rich protein source. Raccoons have been observed waiting for a female to lay her eggs and then immediately excavating the nest and consuming the eggs. Other predators such as minks, foxes and skunks do a good job of eating every last egg. Observations around Ontario have shown 100% nest predation in a given area.

Hatchlings have to deal with new predators – herons, bullfrogs and large-mouth bass, as well as invasive species, such as Common Reed grass, which blocks their path to the water.

Invasive phragmites or common reed grass
Invasive phragmites or common reed grass

turtle eggs eaten at tiny marsh

A female will lay an average of 20 to 40 eggs per nest, 1400 in her lifetime, just for one of her offspring to survive to adulthood.

Studies have suggested that even a 10% increase in adult mortality in a snapping turtle population would result in the disappearance of half of that population in less than 20 years.

dug out turtle nest at tiny marshFun Fact: The sex of hatchlings varies depending on the temperature that eggs are incubated at. Eggs that are kept at a temperature of 23-28°C hatch male turtles. Eggs incubated at other temperatures hatch into females.

What can you do?

  • Watch for turtles while driving, especially between May and October. They are slow, they can’t get out of your way.
  • Submit your sightings to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas www.ontarionature.org/atlas.
  • Protect any wetlands and surrounding natural vegetation that you already have on your property and perhaps add some more.
  • Adopt a Pond through the Toronto Zoo www.torontozoo.com/Adoptapond

Books I Want to Read

The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario by Ross McCulloch and the Royal Ontario Museum

 

Part 1 on the Black Tern in Tiny Marsh

Part 3 on Mushrooms in Tiny Marsh

Tiny Marsh Hike and Black Terns

While visiting my family up in Collingwood we decided to go check out Tiny Marsh.

Tiny Marsh entranceTiny Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area

Josh wanted to try again for the Marsh Wren and they also have a breeding colony of Black terns. Both would be life birds for us.

black tern nesting location at tiny marsh
Students out in a canoe checking on nesting Black Terns

We ended up hearing the Marsh Wren and seeing about 10 Black Terns. 250 different species of birds have been reported in the Wildlife Management Area.

Black Terns and Tiny Marsh

Unfortunately Black Terns are a provincially threatened species.

That is one reason why the Important Bird Area and the conservation plan at Tiny Marsh were put into place, as well as to protect its populations of resident and migratory birds.  Birds here can be monitored, studied, and enjoyed by scientists and us.

Tiny Marsh consists of marshes, open water, bog, and upland forest, where the headwaters of the Wye River start. This is a perfect place for the terns to feed and nest.

woodland section at tiny marsh
Upland forest
Tiny Marsh Panorama
Panorama view as you enter the marsh
birding tiny marsh
Viewing the Black Terns

A threshold of 50 pairs for significant colonies has been used in a Canadian regional study and records indicate hundreds of Back Terns breeding here. This makes the breeding population at Tiny Marsh nationally significant.

Tiny Marsh panorama

In August, when the babies are big enough to fly, the terns spend several weeks at feeding sites on bays and open water of the lower Great Lakes. From early to mid August you’ll be able to see significant numbers in the western basin of Lake Erie.

Then they migrate inland, either by themselves or in small groups, through the United States to marine habitat along the coasts of Central and South America. Here they lead a pelagic (spending a significant portion of their life on the open ocean) lifestyle while wintering.

Tiny Marsh water plants

Black Terns in Trouble

Since the 1930’s the number of Black Terns in Ontario has declined.

This species breeds in cattail and bulrush marshes with good stretches of open water. They live in small colonies and usually return to the colony in which they were born in order to breed. Because these wetlands are being drained for agriculture and urban and industrial development there aren’t as many locations now to feed and nest.  Also the nest is virtually at the water’s surface, meaning that it may easily be destroyed by wind, wave action, or changing water levels (Ducks Unlimited Canada manages the water levels at Tiny Marsh ensuring that the Terns are not stressed during breeding season.) Usually only one chick is raised for each nest of two to three eggs.

Another possible factor, effecting everything in the natural world, is pesticides.  Black terns have been observed foraging for insects behind ploughs and over grain fields on sprayed agricultural land. It has been suggested that reduced hatching success may be due to agricultural contaminants.

Part 2 on the Tiny Marsh Turtles is next.

Part 3 Mushrooms at Tiny Marsh

Marsh Wren at Bull’s Point

A sighting for a marsh wren popped up at Bull’s Point in the RBG Cootes Paradise Sanctuary so Josh and I decided to try and see it.

Bull's Point Trail, Cootes Paradise, Hamilton

Unfortunately it was a little late in the day and very hot so most of the birds were pretty quiet. Marsh wrens sing more often at dawn and dusk.  We did see a caspian tern, mute swan, and heard a virginia rail.  Along the walk we heard several warblers and had a lovely close sighting of an indigo bunting.

The Birds of Cootes Paradise Marsh, Hamilton

The Marsh Wren at Cootes Paradise

Marsh wrens nesting at Bull’s Point is an indicator of the marshes good health. Restoration efforts, including keeping carp out of the bay, have helped to increase the vegetation required for these birds. RBG staff also try to increase the native species by planting seedlings and fencing off certain areas to protect fragile plant life.

RBG Cootes Paradise Sanctuary, Hamilton

The boardwalk through the Marsh is an excellent spot to try to see the wrens. Because they spend the majority of their time in the cattails, being a ground forager, getting above them gives you a better chance of a sighting.

Marsh Walk, Cootes Paradise, Hamilton

They have more than 50 variations to their song and some males will sing right though the night.

Birding on the Marsh Walk trail, Cootes Paradise, Hamilton

Trail system RBG Cootes Paradise Sactuary

If you would like to hear the Marsh Wren’s song and see pictures of it check out BirdNote’s page here.

 

Red Hill Trail from Mud Street

This morning was misty and wet from all of the rain the night before. Later on there’s the chance of rolling thunderstorms and … more rain.  We hoped to hike a stretch of the Red Hill Trail to the Bruce trail before we got soaked.

Red HIll Valley trail view

The mud along the Red Hill Trail is sticky and slick. Hikers should be extra careful after it’s rained. We noticed many that were out had poles to stabilize themselves.

Decent on Red Hill Valley trail

The trees looked extra moody with a slick of rain on them. This misty light made the green of the new leaves really pop.

Rain wet tree

Once we got down the first hill the terrain leveled out. The trail follows alongside the creek that Albion Falls cascades into. There are several little waterfalls along the route.

Waterfalls, Hamilton Waterfalls, Red Hill Valley Trail

Erosion along the creek bed has left the roots of the trees exposed. Its a reminder of the communication network hidden beneath the soil. Suzanne Simard does an excellent TED talk explaining how trees communicate.

tree roots along Red HIll Valley trail

mini waterfalls along creek

Birding

No trip along any of the trails is complete without a little birding. We had a perfect sighting of an indigo bunting. They are such stunning birds!

birding hamilton, along the bruce trail

It’s amazing how many of the creatures inhabiting the forest, not 10 feet from us, are completely unknown to us. The more we get to know the plants and birds and butterflies the more in awe we are.

There is so much to see if we just decide to look.

Bruce trail in King's Forest

Our intentions were to get to the Escarpment Rail Trail parking sidetrail and take the Mountain Brow side trail back. This meant a nice loop where we would get to see Buttermilk and Albion Falls. Not having a phone with data on it meant we didn’t realize we were almost there when the rain came. We turned around instead and hightailed it back to the car, making it just in time. Heavy rain poured down on us as we drove home.

red hill valley trail to bruce trail

Bruce Trail Invasive Species

We have loved being within walking distance of the Bruce Trail.

stretch of the Bruce Trail
The Bruce Trail app

 

When we first were looking at it I really wanted to thru hike it a la Big Three – the Appalchian, Pacific Crest or Continental Divide hikes.  There’s something so lovely about the idea of just walking for months on end.  Ok, maybe you don’t agree with me, but I’m serious. Unfortunately life kind of gets in the way.

So we’ve been doing the Bruce in stretches because something is better that nothing. There are so many beautiful and interesting things along the way. But there were quite a few things we were unaware of and didn’t expect.

Invasive Species

I was surprised at how many people who live along the Bruce Trail just dump their lawn clippings and thinned out garden plants along the trail. They’re probably thinking that its all plant life and its nature so it doesn’t really matter. But unfortunately this had contributed to the rise of invasive species along the trail systems.

invasive species vinca, greater periwinkle
Invasive Periwinkle along the Red Hill Valley side trails

Periwinkle (vinca minor) has a lovely purple flower and is an excellent spreading ground cover in your garden.  But it is also miraculously resilient. When you decide you don’t like how much its spreading and throw it in the woods it just keeps on groing in its new habitat. English ivy and gout weed will do the same thing.

What can you do about these invasive species?

Effective management of invasive species does not include chucking them in the woods. In most cases, if you don’t have time for intensive management, it’s better not to plant them at all.

Instead you can purchase native or non invasive species. These will grow better and support the local habitat instead of destroying it.

Also if you find invasive species on your hikes you can report it using the Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711. Or use the app EDDMapS Ontario.

 

P.S. If you want to read an incredibly lovely blog about thru hiking the Hayduke Trail grab your warm beverage of choice, find a comfy spot, and start at the beginning of Catherine Cook’s adventure here.

P.P.S. Her post on the pole of relative inaccessibility was mind widening and unforgotten.

Tulips at Edwards Gardens

The tulips at Edwards Gardens today were stunning.

If you’ve never been I would definitely suggest going. Parking is free and there are so many beautiful trails to enjoy. There are also many wheelchair accessible areas to enjoy.

Red, yellow and orange tulips and narcissus at Edwards Gardens

Trailing redbud tree and white narcissus at Edwards Gardens
Trailing redbud tree and white narcissus at Edwards Gardens
Violets, azalea and magnolias at Edwards Gardens
Violets, azalea and magnolias at Edwards Gardens

The local wild life is very friendly, and used to being fed. Please do not feed them though.

Bruce Trail from Felker’s Falls

We did a small stretch of the Bruce trail this afternoon.

Bruce Trail maker, sign, badge

We started at the Felker’s Falls entrance. There’s a parking lot there for anyone who needs to drive here. Fortunately we’re close enough to walk.

Felkers Falls

Wildflowers

There were so many spring wildflowers blooming along the way.

spring wildflowers along the Bruce trail

Violets, apple blossoms and trilliums were everywhere. There are also quite a few I don’t know so I’m going to have to find out what they are. We also saw a coyote maybe 50 feet away from us, and he was beautiful.