Monday, June 1, 2020

Little Lake (ish) to Cataraqui Trail, km 63

We awoke this morning to the sounds of dawn chorus, just before sunrise. We waited for the sun to come up, identifying the songs of a Wood Thrush, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, several Red-winged Blackbirds, an American Robin and a Song Sparrow, as well as the bickerings of a family of Common Grackles as we lay in our warm sleeping bags.

 


When we got up, delicate wisps of mist were rising from the dark surface of the river beside the tent. As I made my way down to the river's edge to filter some water for breakfast, a Great Blue Heron took off from the shore, a perfect reflection following along beneath it on the mirror-like water.

 

Getting underway took a bit longer than usual, because the flow rate on our water filter is extremely low. Apparently after being unused for a time, the Sawyer Squeeze filters clog up, and need a vinegar bath. Hopefully tomorrow we can get that done, and speed things up a bit.


When we headed off down the trail we crossed a small wooden bridge over the stream, and almost immediately saw an Eastern Kingbird building a soft, fluffy looking nest out of cattails on a low-hanging branch directly over the trail. The morning sun was lighting up the marsh beyond, and the soft coos of Mourning Doves filled the air.




A few kilometers down the trail we came to Little Lake, which wasn't actually that little. It was a beautiful blue, and situated quite a ways below the trail. A few cottages and houses were scattered around its banks under the white pines, and a pair of Common Loons floated peacefully below.

 
 

Shortly after Little Lake we came to a stretch of trail with water on both sides. A Leopard Frog crouched in the shade of the grass at the edge of the raised gravel trail. Five Midland Painted Turtles basked on logs in the middle of the ponds, and a couple Snapping Turtles hugged the far shore. The dry call of a Belted Kingfisher sounded from a dead tree on the edge of the marsh, and the deep calls of Bullfrogs reverberated below. Eastern Kingbirds, American Goldfinches, an Eastern Phoebe, a Baltimore Oriole, and plenty of Red-winged Balckbirds moved busily about. Yellow water lilies were in full bloom, their solid cups contrasting with the black water below. Amid all that beauty, one of the highlights was seeing dozens of Garter and Water Snakes basking in the vegetation at the trail sides. Sean isn't a fan of snakes, and over the course of the day we saw many, many snakes, some of which were over two feet long.
 
 
 
 

Around 10 am we met Robert, who is a Cataraqui Trail Ambassador. He walked for about 10 km with us, giving us a detailed and fascinating description of the birds, turtles, beavers, and otters he sees along the trail, as well as the work he does along the trail. It is always a pleasure to have a guided tour of a trail from someone who knows and loves it well. We were once again left humbled and amazed by the sheer amount of time and effort volunteers put into building and maintaining the trails we are privileged to enjoy. Something to remember next time you are on a trail - for each kilometer of beautiful pathway, there is at least one individual who constantly patrols it, removes fallen trees, sticks, and large rocks, picks up litter, mends holes, puts up signage, and knows every inch of it.


 
 

When we reached Chaffey's Lock we crossed a wooden trestle bridge, high above the lake below. The deep blue water, exposed shield, eastern white cedar and white pine lined shores, large, colourful cottages, boat docks, kayaks, and Adirondack chairs brought to mind the familiar Muskoka Lakes region.

 
 

As the afternoon progressed we walked past many small lakes and beaver ponds. One of these dams ran parallel with the trail, and it kept the water to one side of us at about head height, while the pond on the opposite side of the trail was below us. Robert had showed us places where trail stewards have continually "bust the beaver dams" to keep the trail from flooding, sometimes for years on end. There are special grates that can be installed that regulate the water levels at points where trails or roads and beaver dams intersect, but if these are not used, it seems constant negotiations with the beavers are necessary.

 
 

At one point we stopped for a short break at a beautiful picnic table that Robert had built by hand. The Cataraqui Trail is maintained to very high standards, and it offers occasional amenities, like benches, picnic tables, and washrooms (accessible during non-pandemic times). I think we may have found another contender to invest trail system - this is up there with PEI's Confederation Trail for favourite trails.

 
 
 

The afternoon held two very different highlights - one geological, and the other entomological. All day we had been passing tall cliffs, and areas of exposed rock that looked like the Canadian Shield, but we had also been passing rock formations that resembled an exposed limestone escarpment. In the late afternoon we were walking beside a rock wall, when we noticed a "grotto" or cave at the bottom. We went down to look, and we could see through the cave to the other side of the rock formation!

 
 

Our other highlight was spotting two Cecropia moths! These giant silk moths are North America's largest native moth, having wing spans up to 6 inches across. They were so colourful and unexpected that at first we didn't recognize them!

 

In the evening we met back up with Robert, and had the privilege of hearing his stories and highly valuable advice. We end the day being amazed and heartened by the kindness and incredible generosity we receive from strangers. We spent much of the day thinking about the race riots that are tearing apart America right now as well as the systemic racial attitudes which flow throughout our society.  We are resolved to do what we can to work towards a world where everyone has the same chance of experiencing the kindness we are repeatedly shown.


We end the day grateful for a wonderful evening of excellent food, wine, conversation, and company.

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