We left Smiths Falls on the Cataraqui Trail, and soon discovered that it is a wonderful trail to hike! It began as a gravel dust trail, and over the course of the day became a grassy two-lane track, and a flat grassy pathway. Most of it was shaded, there were wooden posts with kilometer markers, it was extremely well maintained, and there was no litter anywhere. A pleasure to walk, and there was so much wildlife!
When we headed out of town we passed a golf course, and the trail actually took us through the middle of a fairway. As we rounded a corner a man was coming towards us, and his golf bag was merrily rolling down the trail in front of him. It turned out to be battery powered and run by remote control! It seems that each time we change our equipment to something better, something new rolls on by. Suddenly our new cart had an inferiority complex.
A little farther down the trail we came to a sign describing the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and inviting us to take the HikeCRCA Challenge. The challenge took place in 2019, but it consisted of hiking various trails in the region and finding the different challenge signs to win prizes. The sign we found had a muncie that took us to the All About Birds website, which is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to learn about North America's birds. What a great way to engage families and youth in the nature and encourage them to explore the trails in their own community!
As we hiked through a lush forested section of trail we met a man riding a tall, chestnut brown horse. He stopped for a chat, and we learned that he was training for a long-distance ride - he competes in events that involve riding 50 miles and 100 miles in a given amount of time.
Much of the trail today took us through beautiful maple, beech, oak, and aspen stands. At the sides of the trail lilac and honeysuckle bushes were blooming, giving the air a soft, sweet scent. Large bees were busily visiting the blooms, as did a Ruby-throated Hummingbird! The shrubs were also alive with other birds. At one point we heard two female Ovenbirds twittering excitedly in the undergrowth, while a male belted out his song from a perch above. American Robins, Common Grackles, and Blue Jays moved purposefully through the leaves, delivering large beakfuls of food to their nestlings or fledglings. Wood Thrushes, American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Black-throated Green Warblers lent their voices to the fray. A particular highlight was seeing a Scarlet Tanager!
Other sections of the trail took us through wetlands, which were equally entertaining. The rain we've had over the last few days has caused the cattails to grow about a foot, mixing with the dry, blond, cattails of last year. Thankfully the mosquitos weren't too bad, even in the marshy areas, and we were able to stop and enjoy the cool, earthy smelling wetlands.
In one marshy section we stopped to watch a pair of Common Yellowthroats build a nest in the low willow shrubs at the edge of the trail. The female was collecting strands of hair, lining the individual strands up in her bill as she went. Above them a pair of Yellow Warblers was busily flying in and out of the same bush, while a pair of Tree Swallows zipped by overhead. On the opposite side of the trail a Brown Thrasher sat on a low tree branch before moving on, and a Black-billed Cuckoo gave its distinctive call. So much activity!
As Sean was photographing the Cuckoo a small American Red Squirrel bounded onto the trail and then sat there, nibbling on a morsel it held delicately in its paws. Its white eye-rings, rounded ears, and large paws gave it a particularly endearing look.
As the afternoon wore on we found ourselves weaving through fields and agricultural areas. At one point a female Wild Turkey came running down the trail towards us on her long legs, although she quickly ducked into the bushes when she saw us coming. As the trail opened up into farms we watched a hawk swoop down and grab a Rock Dove from a farmyard, carrying it off while it was still alive. A little farther on a kettle of Turkey Vultures circled low overhead.
One thing we hadn't expected was the interesting geology of the trail. In places we found ourselves walking between stone walls that looked like the limestone escarpment that is visible along the Bruce Trail. In other places we found ourselves walking beside walls of solid, dark grey and pink Canadian Shield, and in a few places beautiful golden rocks poked up out of the earth.
A few kilometers before we stopped for the day, just as we were passing Portland, we crossed an open power corridor. There were Osprey nests on three of the power towers, and one was huge - essentially a stack of three nests. Two of the nests were active, and as we watched, an Osprey brought what looked like a large chunk of wood to one of the nests.
As we watched the Ospreys a family of Eastern Cottontail Rabbits chased each other in circles around the spot where we were standing. They would disappear into the grasses at on spot, then reappear farther down the trail, dive into the undergrowth, then pop out onto the trail beside us again. You could see how they earned the nickname 'cottontail' - they looked like they had cottonballs for tails.
In the late afternoon we were sprinkled by a few spring showers, and puffy grey clouds lent a dramatic flair to the sky. However, it was mostly a lovely day to be out hiking.
When we stopped for the day we had hiked just over 35 km. We found a delightful spot to camp in a stand of white pines on the edge of a river, a little ways off the trail. Huge fish were splashing in the water, a frog was croaking loudly, and a Wood Thrush was singing overhead. As we fall asleep we can hear the sound of a Screech Owl across the water, and the howling of coyotes in the distance.