Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 8 December 2014

Rondeau Rambles, Shoreline Shambles

Late fall is a great time to roam around a forest. It is easily one of my favourite times to visit Rondeau, as there is hardly another soul around at all, so it feels like I have the entire place to myself.  The various walking trails and closed off roads give many options to explore. I have been there several times in the last couple of weeks.

Harrison Trail
One can really see much farther into the forest, with the leaves that used to 'clutter' the view now all piled on the forest floor, continuing the decomposition process to provide nutrients which next year's growth will benefit from. The accumulated leaf litter also provides some insulation benefits to the various organisms, large and small, which spend the winter at or under the ground level.

These open conditions also give one the ability to see the diversity of tree sizes. There are some quite large trees scattered throughout the park......not as big as they would have been at the time of settlement, but quite big by today's standards. Some of these are decent examples of Old Growth Forest, a highly endangered type of forest. Old Growth characteristics include big trees, but that is just one of many characteristics. I plan to do a special blog or two in the future on Old Growth Forest.

This first image shows a Sugar Maple that measures approximately 107 cm in diameter.

This next image shows a large Red Oak, measuring ~102 cm diameter. It is literally right on the trail, with the edge of the South Point Trail showing at the lower right hand corner of the photo. This tree is well beyond the normal range of Red Oak at Rondeau, where it is generally more common towards the east side of the park than this far into the forest. It has been damaged by the can see a large branch that blew off in the last few months.

This next image is of one of the largest Tulip Trees in the park. It measures 125 cm diameter. It is along the closed off (to vehicles) section of Rondeau Road, north of Gardiner Ave. The dark vertical line indicates that it was damaged, likely by lightning, at some point, but other than that, it seemed to be fairly healthy.
This next image shows what is left of one of the trees that used to be well known as one of the largest trees in Rondeau. It is a Sycamore, and was affectionately known as Big Syc to those of us working at Rondeau in the 1970s. It measured a whopping 167 cm diameter. It died in about 1969, and fell over in 1972. Nonetheless, even in its gradually decomposing state more than 40 years later, it is an impressive size. It is located approximately 400 metres south of Bennett Ave and less than 100 metres west of the closed section of Rondeau Road.

The hiking trails are also worth visiting at this time of year. I wanted to check Tulip Tree Trail for several reasons, but before I did, I always stop to see what is hanging around the feeders at the Visitor Centre. It varies from one visit to another. Pine Siskins are relatively abundant this year. They travel in small flocks, and sometimes you don't see any and other times more than 50 can be in the feeder area.

Pine Siskin
 American Tree Sparrows are typically seen throughout.
Am Tree Sparrow
 Chickadees are always a crowd pleaser. This year, however, they seem to be less common than some years.
Black-capped Chickadee
 Blue Jays are often around.
 House Finches used to be more plentiful than what they seem to be these days. They are not native to eastern North America, but were accidentally released several decades ago from a captive population along the east coast, and have gradually been working their way back west from whence they came. I believe it was about 1978 when they first started showing up in the Niagara area.
House Finch (male)
 Red-bellied Woodpecker numbers have fluctuated over the decades. They were quite uncommon as recently as the mid 1970s, but have become well established as permanent residents across southern Ontario since then.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (female)
 A migratory species present here mainly in spring and fall is the White-crowned Sparrow. They are much less common in winter, and non-existent in southern Ontario in the summer.
White-crowned Sparrow (immature)
 White-throated Sparrows are aptly named!

Birds aren't the only ones to visit feeders.

I eventually got onto the Tulip Tree Trail. One of my favourite spots is along the big section of boardwalk at the west side of the trail. I've always enjoyed this upturned mossy tree root.

In the wake of some of the most severe wind we've experienced for quite awhile, there has been some storm damage not surprisingly. The ash trees that were killed by the Emerald Ash Borer are quite brittle, and snap easily. It begs the question: if one of these trees fell in the forest, would it have made a sound? I think the answer is probably no, in this case, as the howl of the 100 km/hr wind through the trees likely was much greater than any sound of a falling tree trunk :-).

Fortunately most of the ones that snapped off and blew over were relatively small diameter ones, and although they created a tangle of broken branches at ground level, didn't damage the boardwalks nearly as much as they might have if they had been large trees. Nonetheless, getting across some of the boardwalks on the trails involved a little creative hiking.

The evidence of the major storm was in existence along the northeast side of Rondeau Bay. There had been a fair bit of aquatic vegetation growth in the bay this past year. Typically the vegetation starts to break up during the fall, so with the wind and wave action these last few weeks, much of it piled up along the northeast side of the bay. Hundreds of ducks, geese and gulls have sometimes been seen resting and feeding on this island of vegetation. This image was taken from the bay side boat launch.

Storm damage was quite severe along the exposed shoreline at the south end of Rondeau. There is no ice along the shoreline, so the waves that during the peak of the windy conditions measure 2 metres high or more, did considerable damage in spots.

I enjoy getting out to roam along the shoreline during the worst of conditions, if I can do it safely. I like to bundle up and feel the power of the wind, and watch the power of the waves as they crash ashore. These are the conditions that result in the most dramatic changes to the immediate landscape, and ultimately shape the park's physical base. The shoreline is altered, trees come down and are sometimes moved considerable distances from where they used to stand. Beech trees become beached trees. The shapes and shadows of yesterday's forest denizens are forever altered on these dynamic landscapes. November and March are typically the two windiest months of the year, and that was certainly the case during part of this past November. This first image isn't of a beech tree, but a Silver Maple. When it first started to grow, it was well back from the shoreline in a slough. It likes to have its 'feet' wet. But over the years, the shoreline gradually moved north, throwing sand farther and farther into the forest and slough formation, until it seemed to be growing out of the sandy beach. And then this November, the relentless wave action caused it to tumble down, and now it has more than its feet wet. For a short while, this fallen tree will provide some protection to the sandy beach as the waves crash against the solid trunk rather than the much more mobile grains of sand. But eventually the waves will win out, and the tree trunk will be moved elsewhere or decompose where it currently rests.

This bench used to be a nice safe distance from the shoreline. In fact there was a road bed between it and the shoreline, remnants of a paved access for vehicles as recently as the 1970s. The high water of that era caused the road system to fail, and so it was closed to vehicles, but still available to hikers and cyclists. It is only a matter of time until this bench tumbles into the water, as another bench did on the east side of the park in November of 2013. One can sit on this bench now and dangle one's feet into the waves (I did, just after taking this photos) as they continue their erosive action.

Unless there is enough ice along the beach, sand movement takes place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is always perceived as a 'problem' to those who like to live along these dynamic shorelines. As a result, historically, structures were placed perpendicular to the shoreline to trap sand as it moved along the shoreline, to provide some level of protection to the immediate area. The bigger problem is that when you take sand out of the shoreline movement system and cause it to stabilize one area, the energy of the waves will take even more sand from areas that are unprotected, causing greater damage to landowners in that proximity.

On a much greater scale, some of the erosion problems that Rondeau has experienced over the last century or more is a direct result of the existence of the Erieau pier. At one time, it was thought that Rondeau Bay would be a great natural harbour for shipping. But the entrance to the harbour kept filling in. So the Erieau Pier was constructed in the 1800s.

Before that time, the lake side of the Erieau peninsula was more or less in line with the south beach of Rondeau, separated from time to time by the harbour entrance which was kept open by the natural flushing action of water exiting Rondeau Bay.

The following image is one I took in April, 1989.

It is quite obvious that the two sides do not line up any more...the area on the west (left) side of the pier has trapped a significant amount of sand (which is largely the basis for Laverne Kelly Memorial Park). As the water slows down to get around the extended pier, it drops its sand load. After it gets around and resumes its velocity, it picks up sand and either carries it farther along the shoreline or, if the wave action is such, it will crash on shore and wash the sand over the beach and into the bay or marsh on the other side. A coastal engineer in the 1970s determined that from approximately the mid 1930s to the mid 1970s, the south beach of Rondeau had 'migrated' northward into the bay a total of 550 feet as a result of this!

The area east of the channel and pier is not even remotely lined up with the Laverne Kelly Park beach. And since the time this photo was taken, there has been more sand deposited at LKMP and the space between the rocky breakwall and the south beach of Rondeau has increased.....just ask any boater who has been around for that long.

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