With the Help of Strangers : Cataraqui Trail,km 63 to K&P Trail km 37
This morning arrived behind a thick cloud cover, and for a few minutes it rained quite hard before the skies began to lighten. We took things slow, and around 9:30 am bid farewell to Robert with a friendly elbow bump. We learned a lot from him, and were very happy to have met him.
As we set off through the cool, damp woods, which smelled of rain, clean moist earth, and wet leaves we spotted two Wood Thrush at the side of the trail. The bubbly song of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak rang out, and the constant 'Here I am, where are you?' question from the Red-eyed Vireo joined in.
When we emerged from the cool green tunnel of deciduous forest into an open cattail marsh, we stopped to watch one of the many Eastern Kinglets we've been seeing in this area. Looking up, we unexpectedly spotted a large White-tailed Deer standing on a rocky promontory on the far shore, it's rich reddish coat seeming to glow in the overcast morning.
As we watched, a friendly lady jogged passed, noticed we had binoculars and a camera, and told us she often sees Scarlet Tanagers and Indigo Buntings in the area. It always gives us a boost to meet and exchange a friendly word with a fellow birder.
As we approached Sydenham there was a subtle change in the landscape. Yesterday the Cataraqui Trail took us past many small lakes and ponds, but most of them were undeveloped, giving us the feeling of being in peaceful, remote, wilderness. As we approached Sydenham we passed several larger lakes that were ringed with large, expensive, glass-fronted cottages, many with landscaped yards and boat docks.
The trail wove between the cottages and the lake, at times surrounded on both sides by lilac bushes, their pink, white, and pale purple blossoms giving off a strong fragrance. Gray Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Song Sparrows, American Robins, and a pair of Brown Thrashers were among the bird companions we enjoyed in this stretch.
As we crossed a wooden trestle bridge into the town we paused to enjoy the beautiful reflections on the lake. A Mallard paddled lazily around a small island, a Great Blue Heron fished near the shore, and the calls of a Barred Owl rang out over the water. We noticed a Northern Watersnake swim near the base of the bridge, then quickly dive down through the clear water, and swallow a fish! As it swam away we could see the bulge of the fish inside the snake.
We stopped to visit the Foodland, being extra careful to wear gloves, a mask, and practice social distancing. The grocery store was right on the trail, next to a chip truck, Home Hardware, and the boat launch, all of which were doing a brisk business. We sat for a few moments next to a small waterfall in the central park, and watched the activity of the town.
As we continued on through the community on the Great Trail, we passed through neighborhoods, and eventually out into a more rural area. We particularly enjoyed a short section of trail which was bordered by a piece of the escarpment, the bottom of which was covered in pink, white, and yellow flowers. Their peppery, sweet fragrance was really strong!
Just past this point we came to the 'Escarpment Rest Stop', provided courtesy of the Davies Charitable Foundation. This delightful spot consisted of a stone staircase leading up to a bench with a beautiful view. On the rock wall was the quote "Be tough yet gentle, humble yet bold, swayed always by beauty and truth." It seemed like timely advice as we all try to figure out how to identify and un-learn patterns of behaviour in order to create an anti-racist world, following the nation-wide protests against the unjustified death of George Floyd in the United States of America.
By early afternoon we came to the community of Harrowsmith, which used to be a major transportation hub for passengers and goods in Eastern Ontario. Following the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, railways were seen as the best method of uniting Canada from east to west, and both provincial and national governments promoted their creation. Harrowsmith became a hub for several short railway lines around that time, one of which was the Kingston & Pembroke Railway. The supremacy of the shortline railways was short lived, and most were taken over by CN or CP and then eventually closed down. The last train came through Harrowsmith in 1986.
In Harrowsmith we left the beautiful Cataraqui Trail behind (we were very sad to see the end of it!), and picked up the K & P Trail. Right at the junction we came to a beautiful memorial to Sean. Robert had told us about his friend Sean, who was a dedicated trail steward himself. It was a beautiful and well tended memorial, complete with newly planted annuals, and a little bird feeder that was freshly filled with seed. A wonderful spot to rest in peace.
We didn't get too far down the K&P trail, but so far it has been a well-maintained gravel dust track through rich farmland and countryside. At one point we crossed a road, and were tempted to stop at the Marble Slab Creamery for an ice cream that was improbably located at the gas station. In the end we decided (very reluctantly) to give it a miss.
As we walked through a honeysuckle- filled field we spotted a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sipping from the fragrant pink blossoms of a trailside bush. His brilliant red neck flashed on and off like a beacon, even without direct sunlight.
We continued past a field of very curious cows, half of which trotted away to a safe distance, and the other half of which gathered at the fence to stare at us. Being the object of curiosity for cows is a strange feeling. We also enjoyed the picturesque barns in the cow's pasture.
The rich mixture of landscapes in this area is a feature of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Region, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. The biosphere region is situated on traditional territories of the Anishinaabe (Algonquin) and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) lands. In this area an ancient granite bridge, called the Frontenac Arch, runs from the northern Canadian Shield in Algonquin Park to the Adirondack Mountains in the United States. First Nations call the Frontenac Arch the "backbone of the mother"– Mother Nature’s spinal column. Five separate forest regions meet at the crossroads of the Frontenac Arch and the Saint Lawrence River, creating a rich ecosystem of plant, insect and animal species, renowned as the most biodiverse region in Canada. Characteristic species include the pitch pine, black rat snake, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Common Loon, Bald Eagle, and Pine Warbler.
As we progressed, the sky began to darken again. We took a short break and watched a pair of Orchard Orioles building a long, hanging nest on a low branch that was dangling over the trail. Nearby a pair of Song Sparrows was busily hopping about the bushes with beaks full of insects. We decided to call it a day and find a place to camp before the rain began. Luckily, we got the tent set up just in time.
Today was also our reminder of the small challenges of being outdoors. Just as dusk fell I noticed that something (well a lot of somethings) where crawling over Sean's head. I jumped up, grabbed the flashlight and discovered that his head was covered in Ticks. This led us to inspect ourselves for over an hour, cleaning off our bodies and clothes. Tick season has begun.
As we fall asleep a steady rain is falling. When the sun was setting Red-winged Blackbirds were giving their loud, raucous calls all around. A Common Raven was creaking and cronking above. An Eastern Wood Pewee was whining in the canopy, and a very loud and persistent Veery was calling. A few hours later the Veery is still calling. It is possible Veeries are a little annoying sometimes.
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