Porcupines and Whip-poor-wills : Sharbot Lake to beyond Arden
As we waited for the grocery store in Sharbot Lake to open, a very friendly, kind, and simple man came over to puddle stomp and ask what we were doing. Unconcerned with false politeness, he had no hesitation in telling us we were crazy :) Why walk all the way to Toronto, when you could be there in a few hours by car? He gave us a well-meaning warning to be careful of ATVs on the trail, before heading off without ceremony to help a senior citizen load ten bags of soil into her trunk. Wisdom comes in all forms if you stop to listen.
We picked up a few supplies and then headed over to the Cardinal Cafe for coffee and bagels. This is a fantastic little cafe that offers delicious pastries, savoury wraps and breakfast sandwiches, and specialty coffees. Standing in line, we spoke to a man from Tweed who was a birder, and shared some of his observations of Herons and Egrets, and his enthusiasm for learning about and nature.
As we sat in the shade, looking out over Sharbot Lake and enjoying our bagels, a convoy of ATVs passed us on the trail. They were very polite, and served as the first reminder of many we had today of what it was like hiking in Newfoundland.
As we headed west out of Sharbot Lake we left the Frontenac K&P Trail behind, and began a new stage of the adventure. We set out around Sharbot Lake, whose wind-ruffled surface was a strong blue under the sunny sky.
We soon found ourselves in deciduous forest once more, surrounded by the songs of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-eyed Vireos, and the occasional Ovenbird, American Redstart, and Least Flycatcher. Not too far down the trail, we passed a water bottle, and a tent that had been set up on the trail edge and then abandoned. It was an uncomfortable reminder or our own vulnerability, and left us half wishing we knew the rest of the story.
The next section of trail threaded between scrubby shrubs and willows, and small marshes with dark water, lillypads, turtle covered logs, and plenty of bleached snags standing tall. As another convoy of ATVs passed us, Sean took the opportunity to investigate a small wooden shelter on the trail side, which was complete with information about Ospreys. How cool is that?
We were passed by lots of side-by-sides and a few dirt bikes today, but everyone who passed us slowed right down, gave a small wave, and a few people asked if we were okay. It was really nice to experience a trail section where ATV users and hikers could co-exist in harmony. It brought back fond memories of Newfoundland.
One particularly interesting marsh we stopped beside was inhabited by two pairs of Great Crested Flycatchers. One pair was busily going to and from their cavity nest, which was located in a snag out in the marsh.
There was lots of other activity as well. Pairs of Red-winged Blackbirds were busily making their way around the marsh with beakfulls of food. A pair of Common Yellowthroats was fussing about in a small shrub, trying to look casual. Two Eastern Kingbirds were perched on branches out in the marsh, pretending to blend in with the scenery. A Great Blue Heron took to the air, and flew across the marsh, only a few feet above the water. A muskrat swam purposefully into a nook in the bank.
A little later on the landscape changed to one of rolling grassy hills, picturesque grey wooden barns, and split rail fences. This was a particular joy to Sean, who enjoys photographing barns.
As we passed through the small community of Mountain Grove, several rather ominous looking clouds were gathering. We were hoping there might be somewhere to take shelter and have an impromptu snack, but all we saw of the town was a church and a beautiful and well maintained Olden Pioneers Monument.
On the far side of town, just as the rain began, we spotted an enormous Snapping Turtle on the trail up ahead. It was standing tall, with all four legs extended, like it was trying to impersonate a coffee table. We watched in horror as two ATVs approached the turtle, but they stopped, and one the riders jumped down and moved the protesting turtle off the path! This made us very happy.
Although the clouds were dark, they weren't too large, so we hoped the rain would pass quickly. Instead, there was thunder, fork lightening, and a considerable amount of rain fell. Just as things were getting pretty wild, we spotted a porcupine hastily (for it) making its way down a tree, likely to escape the lightening. When it saw us, the poor thing reversed course and started climbing again. It was very interesting to observe how a porcupine climbs a tree.
When the rain finally let up and the sun appeared, we found ourselves at the edge of a lake in Arden. A group of teenagers were just launching a canoe beneath a sign reading "to Napanee via the Nostalgia Link." Right on the edge of the lake we spotted a pair of Brown Thrashers collecting insects on the trail. One of them had a truly impressive load, including a large juicy maggot, a dragonfly, and some miscellaneous smaller insects.
On the far side of town we crossed a wooden trestle bridge that was in desperate need of some repairs. However, it spanned a beautiful waterfall that was fed by a river flowing down a small gorge.
For much of the rest of the afternoon we walked among small lakes and marshes. At one we spotted a Belted Kingfisher perched atop a snag. We also spotted two separate Midland Painted Turtles digging nests at the edge of the gravel trail!
Early in the afternoon we came across a shiny red pickup parked at the side of the trail with its engine running, and no one around. We were in the middle of nowhere. We had no explanation. If it were researchers doing field work they probably wouldn't leave the motor running. Maybe there were amorous teenagers in the back?
This section of the Great Trail had a rougher gravel bed than what we've experienced on the Cataraqui and K&P Trails. The gravel was courser, in some sections it was deeper, in others there were quite a few larger rocks, and we encountered some larger puddles. In the late afternoon we encountered a deep puddle that required us to switch to sandals and wade. Another fond memory of Newfoundland, except that this puddle was warm and had large leaches.
As the evening wore on we found ourselves walking a trail through more open marshes and fields, and crossing roads more frequently. We began looking for a spot to camp, but were very close to Highway 7. Eventually we found a nice grassy spot at the top of a hill overlooking a small valley. As dusk fell we heard a Veery, a Common Nighthawk beeping, and a Whip-poor-will's repeated calls in the distance. As we go to sleep the stars are bright in the sky, we hear crickets chirping for the first time this season, and lightening bugs are blinking on and off in the meadow.
See you on the trail!
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