Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

National Take A Walk In The Park day

Yesterday, March 30, I was on my way out to Rondeau. On my way out, I overheard the radio DJ say that it was national Take A Walk In The Park sounded like a great idea, so I kept on going. As if I needed an excuse.....

My intent for this visit wasn't necessarily to check off as many birds as possible, although I am always on the lookout for them. I went out the South Point Trail at first, but with the southerly winds off the frozen lake, it was quite cold, and birds were few. There were a handful of ducks in some of the open leads well out from shore, but virtually no land birds put in an appearance along the trail.

Later I went along the Tuliptree was considerably warmer and out of the wind. There were a ton of grackles, cowbirds and redwings around, and even a few Rusties, the first I had seen this spring.

Red-winged Blackbird

This upturned mossy Silver Maple root along the western most part of the trail often gets my attention.

At ground level there isn't much greenery these days, which makes things like this moss stand out. I'm not sure exactly what kind it is, but it may be Rock Spike Moss.

 One of my goals this trip was to start surveying the big trees that might qualify as old growth. There are a number of characteristics of a woodland that indicate old growth. Size matters, of course, in the context of trunk diameter. Age of the tree matters as well, but is difficult to determine unless one cuts a cross section to count the rings or has a tool called an increment corer, which drills a very small core out of the trunk. Age and size are not always directly related, as the site a tree grows on makes a huge difference, depending on the growing conditions. But the growth habit also matters, as do the bark characteristics, the amount of fallen log material on the ground in the general area, as well as the lack of disturbance on the ground and the diversity and abundance of ferns. Of course there aren't many ferns visible so early in the season. But on many of my previous hikes, I have noticed an abundance of large diameter trees. So I have taken it upon myself, with the park's blessing and encouragement, to begin to document as many large diameter trees as I can. And since it is much easier to see them when there are no leaves to contend with, and the snow is mostly gone from the forest floor, now is the time to make progress.

I had made up a template to record information such as species name, diameter at breast height (officially at 1.4 m above ground) and GPS coordinates. In many cases, large diameter trees that might qualify for old growth status in the current era would be anywhere from 50 - 100 cm dbh. Anything that would be in that range historically would be considered small, however. Here is one of the largest trees of the last century, a Sycamore. Just before it died in the late 1960s, it measured over 167 cm dbh. The photo was taken in 1908.

 This next one was a White Pine that measured about 152 cm dbh at the time it was cut. Three people were able to sit inside the stump.

I thought that looking for trees in excess of 150 cm dbh might be a lost cause, so I decided that anything over 60 cm might qualify. I knew I could find a few that would be greater than 100 cm since I had noted a few during some hiking last fall.

Checking along roads, trails and such is the easiest way to cover the territory most efficiently. But there are a lot of specimens not visible from any road or trail. That is when it gets even more fun, because it gets one into areas that few people have spent much time in. And so my first area to target was along a wide ridge north of Gardiner Ave where an old access trail from many decades ago occurred. It hasn't been used for anything for at least 30 years, and for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist as a trail of any sort. I had gotten wind of a particularly large tree about a kilometre in from the nearest road, and so that is where I headed.

There were lots of decent sized trees along the way, many of which qualified, and I began measuring. I found American Beech, Basswood, White Oak and Tuliptree that were in the 65-80 cm range, so I duly recorded their vital statistics, And I came across a huge Red Oak. This one measured 134 cm! It was actually in pretty good shape, too. To get an idea of scale, you can see my notebook at the bottom. Next time I will take a tripod and get myself in it for a better sense of scale.

This Red Oak is the largest tree I have measured in the park so far. I did come across a Tuliptree last December that measured 125 cm, although I think there are larger ones of this species, as well as Silver Maple, which don't live long but grow to large size in a relatively short time.

Tuliptree, 125 cm dbh
 I knew there were some large trees in the campground, and thought there might be a few birds as well. This very large Black Oak caught my attention. It measured 102 cm dbh. And there are larger ones that I didn't get to yet.

There were a few birds in the campground, but the brisk cold wind kept them under cover for the most part. A few robins were around, as were many Song Sparrows, and this Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I came across a couple of Eastern Bluebirds, a male and a female. But they didn't cooperate for a photo. While trying to get close enough for a photo of the bluebirds, I came across this colourful nest of a Baltimore Oriole that persisted from 2014. Apparently someone from the campground must have left some deteriorating tent or tarp material behind last year, and the oriole added a few long strips to the nest. It was in remarkably good shape, especially considering how exposed to sun, winter winds, snow and rain it would have been subject to for most of a year. It is certainly testament to the durability of this species' engineering skills.

I hadn't actually been aware of National Take A Walk In The Park Day before, but now I will put it on my calendar!


  1. Great article Allen ! Thanks. The 2 old photos are neat ----did they include the
    names of the gentlemen in the photos ? I'm sure there would be people in
    Chatham- Kent who have them in "their family TREES ! ' :}

    1. Thanks, Irene. These were taken when students and faculty from the University of Toronto visited the park, in about 1908. In the first one, the fellow leaning against the tree is F. M. Mitchell, and the other is Dr. Fernow. The photo was taken by E. J. Zavitz, who I believe was the provincial forester at the time. The three chaps in the stump are, l to r, F. G. Edgar, C. MacFayden and John Gilmour. None of them are locals as far as I know, but also connected to U of T in the early 1900s.

  2. Another interesting article. I assume that is not yourself beside that large sycamore (!). I am fascinated at large trees as well.

    1. Thanks Blake.....some days I feel that old, but no, it isn't me. See my reply to Irene for details. I hope to cover a lot of the park over the next few months, years, etc, to document some of these big old behemoths. At some point, when I get some of my other writing projects done, I would like to prepare a booklet on the Old Growth Forests of Rondeau. It has been an ignored topic, and is just another reason to recognize the overall significance of this park.