A Sojourners Ramble

Short visits to memorable places!


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Chaffey’s Lock – Irresistible Charm and Serenity

Samuel and Benjamin Chaffey arrived in the area of Eastern Ontario in 1816 from their birthplace of Somerset, England and were inspired to set up mills along the Rideau River. In 1820, Samuel decided to settle here and by 1827 he had established a distillery and a grist, saw, carding and fulling mill. Borne out of Samuel’s entrepreneurial spirit was a town called Chaffey’s Mills. Unfortunately, through the building of the Rideau Canal system Chaffey’s Mills was flooded and by 1832 was turned into a shipping route and later, the tourism industry stimulated growth for the area now named Chaffey’s Lock.Lock Master's House-1

The Rideau Canal system comprises of 47 locks located at 22 stations along its 202 kilometer route. The canal was designed by Royal Engineers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John By but constructed using local contractors. The purpose of this remarkable artery was to bring supplies to inland garrisons thus avoiding the direct but exposed route of the St Lawrence River. It is recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site and is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America.

Chaffey’s Lock is now a recreational boating route and destination in the summer months. The Lock allows boaters to navigate around rapids that flow between Newboro Lake and Lake Opinicon within the Rideau River waterway. Other recreational past-times in the area includes cottaging and fishing.

My reasons for visiting this quaint hideaway were for a quick getaway to do some photography, bird watching and to attend a field trip hosted by the Ottawa Field Naturalist Club (OFNC). Chaffey’s Lock is located within the Frontenac Arch an ecologically significant area shaped by glacial retreat and millennia of erosion, which has resulted in the distinctive topography of ridges and valleys with shallow soils. As an ecotone between converging ecoregions, the Frontenac Arch possesses exceptional biodiversity and an extensive list of Species at Risk. The landform is also an important habitat corridor for the migration and dispersal of wildlife. For almost 70 years, Queen’s University has operated a biological station near Chaffey’s Lock for students and research in ecology, conservation, evolution and geography.

Lake Opinicon-1I rented a small cottage offered by Eleanor and Raymond Pinsonneault where Eleanor operates the Cedars Art Studio on the property showcasing her paintings. Their beautiful property with huge oak and white pine trees served as a reminder to me of what small town Canada used to be. Large sprawling lawns littered with shade trees to cool the hot summer air. The cottage is located within a 5 minute walk of the Lock and backs onto Lake Opinicon.

My arrival on Friday afternoon gave way to a lazy afternoon to allow my senses to adjust to a pace that could only add years to my life. Peaceful sounds with birds chirping and a soft breeze off the lake was as idyllic a scene as one can imagine. I reached a very easy relaxing feel by dinnertime and decided to stroll down to the Lock to take in some boaters moored at the dock alongside a picturesque setting any photographer would appreciate. Colorful boathouses reflecting off the mirror like waters of the waterway surrounded by trees casting their long shadows upon the world. Throughout my walks I encountered picnickers, boaters, fishermen and people canoe camping all whom have discovered this great little paradise.

Unintentionally, I awoke before the birds on Saturday morning at 4:45am and discovered a beautiful sunrise awaiting me. Sunrises are as special as sunsets with colors of pink, orange and red just to make you feel alive with a sense of awe. Being up so early allowed me to take my time preparing for the OFNC Field trip that started at a meeting point near Queen’s Biological Station at 7:45am. A total of 22 avid naturalists were part of the group led by 2 OFNC leaders. The day included a few stops along Opinicon Solstice Sunrise-1Road to take in the sounds of nesting birds native to the area as well as finding a significant number of newly born toads hopping across the road. Further on we took to the trail near Skycroft campground and ventured out for about 6 hours into the woods. Sightings of birds were diminished by the leaves on the trees but with keen observation to their unique calls we were able to identify CERULEAN WARBLER, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, RED-EYED VIREO, AND GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER to name a few. In addition to the bird life, we were all introduced to one type of SALAMANDER –the BLUE SPOTTED and a RED EFT or NEWT.  These amazing creatures which are usually found under logs or in wet environments have complex survival systems allowing them to live for up to 15 years. We were informed by the guide not to handle these creatures if you had applied bug repellant as the active ingredient called Deet will kill one of these creatures in seconds upon simple contact with your skin. The day continued on with sightings of a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, TURKEY VULTURE and another WARBLER – a COMMON YELLOW-THROAT. A short stop at a swampy area allowed us to spot a BLANDING AND STINK POT TURTLE. These turtles are native to eastern Ontario with quite distinctive features including the shape of their shell and coloring. Throughout the walk we all were introduced to the world of dragon flies, damsel flies, flowering plants along with different varieties of the insect world. The day was educational for any amateur naturalist seeking the full experience of what can be found in the forest or lakes of the area. Our day finished with a review of all life forms that we encountered along with a reminder of having awareness for ticks that may have found their way onto your clothing or body. If ticks aren’t discovered and removed from your body they can cause Lyme disease. Thankfully, I took heed to the warning and discovered a tick after showering. I removed it easily and was relieved to have been reminded of the danger.Fox1-RDSBanded Pennant-1

The remainder of Saturday was spent relaxing in the serenity of my surroundings. Prior to dinner I noticed a flash of movement run by the cottage and discovered a family of RED FOXES playing in the yard. I had the opportunity to watch and briefly photograph them but was soon discovered so they quickly scattered to places unknown. The day ended with another stroll to the locks and an hour of star gazing into the night sky.

The laws of economics have not been kind to Chaffey’s Lock as their principal summer employer The Opinicon Lodge has shut its doors and been placed on the real estate market. Family run since 1921, the hotel offered restful accommodation and unsurpassed cuisine to boaters and vacationers over the years. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a decline in the number of visitors and the business became unsustainable.

Chaffey’s Lock is a beautiful area to stop at for a short visit. Located off Highway 15 south of Smith’s Falls in Eastern Ontario, I have driven through the area many times wanting to stay and experience it. Simply a great place to visit and slow down the pace of the world around you.Chaffey-RDS


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Point Pelee – The Magic of Migration

Scarlet tanager-1-2One of nature’s rhythms plays out during the seasonal change of springtime. Mid-March through mid-June Point Pelee awakens to the arrival of migrating waterfowl and songbirds moving quickly through the area destined for their nesting grounds to the north.

World renowned for this phenomena, Point Pelee was recognized as an important birding area (IBA) by early naturalists leading to the establishment of a park in 1918. Point Pelee is a peninsula extending out into the western basin of Lake Erie. It is located at the confluence of two major migratory routes – Mississippi and Atlantic flyways and the first point of land migratory birds reach when crossing Lake Erie.Chestnut Sided-1

At 6:30am on May 9, I arrived with the enthusiasm of an adolescent at a summer fair. At the main entrance to the park I happily proffered the daily fee of $7.00 thinking it was a great deal for the experience that was about to unfold. My destination was the parking area at the visitor’s center about 6 km from the main gate. Along the way I passed other parking areas with viewing areas and trail networks that bring you closer to the birds such as the Marsh Boardwalk, Blue Heron Trail, Dunes and DeLaurier Homestead to name a few.

Point Pelee National Park and the Friends of Point Pelee created the Festival of Birds that runs from May 1 to May 19 focusing on the most active time the birds are passing through the park. The Visitor’s Center is the meeting area where interpretive programs are offered including Guided Birding hikes, lunch and learn sessions and wildflower walks.

The trail network that branches out from the area of the Visitor’s Center includes the West beach Trail, Tilden Woods and Shuster trail and the Woodland Nature Trail. The main attraction in the early morning hours though is getting out to the “Tip” about 2kms from the Visitor’s Center. To assist the visitors, the park offers a tram that brings you conveniently out to the “tip” in a short 5 minute ride.

Baltimore Oriole-1-2In doing my research prior to heading to Pelee, I reserved online, a guided bird walk at a cost of $15.00. When visiting new places, I always enjoy getting the lay of the land with local experts that can point out the best trails to view birds and point out species that I otherwise might miss out on. I also find that using a guide is a simple way of getting comfortable with my new surroundings.

Our guide for the tour recently completed his Masters on Reverse Migration of birds. In short, birds can become disoriented during migration especially after many hours of nocturnal flying. After reaching a predawn destination during migration they will in fact attempt to fly back in the same direction they came from. Essentially, there is more to this phenomenon than I have the expertise or room in this blog to mention but you will experience this happening when you arrive at the “Tip”.

On certain days at the “Tip” the sheer volume of birds flying into the park and reversing back out is very impressive. ORIOLES, TANAGERS, VIREOS AND WARBLERS are ubiquitous in numbers and probably the most extraordinary display of mother-nature I’ve ever witnessed. Viewing at the Tip can be done easily from the beach allowing great sightlines for experiencing all birding activity.

 

Magnolia Warbler-1-1Throughout the Tip there are wide trails and narrower footpaths to view the birds resting in the trees. Many visitors to the park include photographers who have fantastic opportunities to photograph birds resting and really too tired to be concerned about getting their picture taken. In my view, the photographers were mostly respectful not to disrupt or frighten the birds when taking their photographs, but nonetheless care always needs to be considered due to the bird’s fragile, tired and hungry state.

My travels throughout the trails and footpaths allowed me to view 19 species of WARBLERS including BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT SIDED, MAGNOLIA and BLACK THROATED BLUE. In addition, I viewed 4 species of Vireos including a YELLOW-THROATED and PHILADELPHIA, 2 species of TANAGERS – SCARLET AND SUMMER both male and female. Other sightings included INDIGO BUNTINGS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, 5 species of THRUSHES, 6 species of SPARROWS and a gorgeous RED-HEADED WOODPECKER. One of the birding tips I was told when at Pelee concerned the wind direction. Birds will feed on the opposite side of the peninsula the wind is blowing from because that is where the bugs are. If the wind is from the west, bird the east side and you won’t be disappointed.

After a break for lunch, I headed out onto the Tilden trail and footpaths in search of more birds to add to my checklist. A memorable moment included viewing an AMERICAN REDSTART that appeared happy to give me views and posing for some photographs. Along the trail I encountered NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, BAY-BREASTED AND COMMON YELLOWTHROAT WARBLER and many BALTIMORE ORIOLES. The threat of rain came and eventually a few showers allowing for a coffee break and a decision to go back for one more hour of birding that proved to be very worthwhile. Arriving at the Marsh Boardwalk, there was excitement amongst many birders with the finding of a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER. A vagrant for the area and definitely a life list moment for sure. It showed spectacular displays hunting for bugs over the beautiful willow trees.American Redstart-1-1

Outside the park at Hillman Marsh, a short 10 minute drive, the FESTIVAL OF BIRDS holds shorebird nights. I ventured over there to see what could be seen and was not disappointed. A PROTHONATARY WARBLER was seen near the parking lot and out in the marsh viewing area 3 AMERICAN AVOCETS, CASPIAN AND FORSTERS TERNS, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS.

The experience of visiting Point Pelee was certainly worthy of a blog posting for a remarkable and memorable place. I reluctantly avoided Pelee in past years due to a bias of thinking there were just too many visitors there at one time. Although you have to arrive very early to get a parking spot near the visitor’s center Pelee has enough open spaces to escape the crowded pathways and is well worth the visit. I only spent 2 days in Pelee this year and logged 113 species– next year will be a week- I can just imagine!


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Corkscrew Sanctuary – Morning in the Swamp

_MG_6310-1_edited-1At approximately the halfway point of the boardwalk it branches off to a viewing platform overlooking marsh. Volunteers were available with a spotting scope showing a rookery of WOOD STORKS. The volunteers shared their keen knowledge of WOOD STORK nesting habits. This amazing bird is another reason Corkscrew was created and considered by renowned ornithologist Thomas Gilbert Pearson to be the most important nesting area for wading birds in Florida. A volunteer informed me that WOOD STORKS had not nested at this site for 4 years due to their precise needs of very specific water levels containing food sources necessary to raise their young. Excitement was evident amongst all volunteers knowing the WOOD STORKS had returned! WOOD STORKS are currently classified as “endangered” but may well be upgraded to “threatened” status due to establishing nesting areas within Georgia and South Carolina.

I continued my trek along the boardwalk arriving at a viewing area overlooking a small pond where there were benches to sit and observe the activity before you. Present among the trees was the ubiquitous ANHINGA also known as the snake bird for its ability to swim under water and revealing only its head and neck when coming to the surface for air. I continued to observe the bushes around the pond and discovered to my surprise 3 YELLOW CROWNED NIGHT HERONS blending in perfectly to the surroundings. Another species for my life list!

Purple Gallinule-1A very short distance from the pond area was a marshy spot that was drawing an interest from other visitors. It took a few seconds to realize the interest was directed at a PURPLE GALLINULE foraging through the marsh for food. These usually secretive birds are difficult to view at any time but this one could be viewed and photographed with ease.

This area is known as Lettuce Lakes given the swamp lettuce growing in the waters.  The final body of water along the boardwalk showed views of WHITE IBIS, ANHINGA, LITTLE BLUE HERON, BLACK CROWNED NIGHT HERON, BELTED KINGFISHER and GREAT EGRET.  In addition to the birds, an AMERICAN ALLIGATOR was sunning himself conveniently draped over a small island.

Barred Owl-1I was told of a resident BARRED OWL by volunteers who suggested it was best viewed early in the morning. I returned the following day and sure enough 15 minutes into my walk I heard its call “who cooks for you”. I was in the vicinity of Lettuce Lakes when I noticed another visitor taking photographs next to the boardwalk. Upon my approach I couldn’t believe it the BARRED OWL was posing for photos and appeared comfortable to be around people. I took my photos and left the owl to continue on with its day.

One of the most interesting plants of the swamp is the GHOST ORCHID.  This is an endangered and protected species native to southwest Florida and Cuba.  The plant received its name because it has no leaves and when seen in full bloom appears to be hanging in midair. The GHOST ORCHID can be very difficult to see as it usually grows on the trunks of Cypress Trees located in hardwood hammocks, sloughs and cypress domes, up to 50 feet off the ground. Lastly, the GHOST ORCHID is pollinated by the giant Sphinx moth, the only insect with a proboscis long enough.

There are many interesting species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles found in the swamp including white-tailed deer, raccoon, gray squirrels, river otters, green and brown anoles, turtles such as the red-bellied, peninsula ribbon snake as well as the pig and green tree frog.

White Eyed Vireo-1The Corkscrew Sanctuary resource management practices include prescribed fire. Prescribed fires have many benefits such as controlling disease in young pine trees, reduction of hazardous fuel and improve the habitat quality for wildlife. In addition to this Corkscrew has developed a sustainable practice of managing waste water.

Corkscrew has far too much diversity to cover in one blog posting. I witnessed visitors of all ages walking through the Sanctuary for many different reasons. The one visitor that stood out the most was one who may have had it right. He simply sat at a bench and took in the experience as a matter of his daily routine revealing the days awakening of sounds that feed the soul.

In a free publication offered in the book shop, the front cover had a quote from John Muir (Scottish- American Naturalist and Founder of the Sierra Club) “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”. I feel this is a very accurate statement when you visit this important sanctuary because you want to stick around awhile!


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Southwest Florida Birding Trail

I visited Southwest Florida in January 2014 to experience some of the birding spots listed on the SW Florida Birding Trail and to escape the cold of winter at my home. I had visited Florida many times in the past but never took the opportunity to do any serious birding – this time was different!
My home base of Fort Myers gave me a great centralized location within one hour drive of more than 30 birding spots listed on the SW Florida Birding trail. Due to the number of sites listed, preference was given to range of habitat that increased my chances of viewing as many species of birds as possible but also to experience the uniqueness of the chosen spot.
Corkscrew Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center (Part 1)
Corkscrew-1I start with my absolute favorite spot in SW Florida, the Corkscrew Sanctuary managed by the Audubon Society. It is named for the Corkscrew River that begins within the sanctuary and was established on December 15, 1954. The Corkscrew Swamp was exploited in the early 1800’s for prized “plume” hunting of wading birds and in the 1950’s for logging of the Bald Cypress tree. The Audubon Society petitioned the US Government to declare the wetlands of south Florida sanctuaries thus allowing the wading bird rookeries to thrive and the Cypress to remain. It is a jewel in conservation and a must to experience.
I was out the door at 6:30am with hopes of arriving shortly after sunrise. Driving along Immokalee Road on the final few kilometers of the trip, I spotted a CRESTED CARACARA in the ditch beside the road. My thoughts of stopping were thwarted by traffic so I continued on to Corkscrew. Upon arrival, I followed the boardwalk into the pavilion that revealed a reception area, book store, auditorium and cafeteria. The walls of the pavilion are outfitted with the history, maps of the area and photography from local artists. I paid my entrance fee of $12 (good for 2 consecutive days) and continued out to the sanctuary.
Throughout the sanctuary are a dedicated group of volunteers available for any information about Corkscrew. Over the course of each day there are guided tours provided by volunteers pointing out bird species, historical information about Corkscrew or simply to answer any questions a visitor may have.
Outside the back doors of the pavilion, bird feeders were located on the right. My birding experience began right then when I spotted a male PAINTED BUNTING perched on a feeder. I spent 20 minutes observing the area around the bird feeders and discovered a female PAINTED BUNTING, INDIGO BUNTING (winter plumage), RED BELLIED WOODPECKER and the ever antagonizing GRACKLES. The PAINTED BUNTING was a “Bucket and Life list” species for me bringing back memories of the cover of my first Bird Guide.

Little Blue Heron-1Corkscrew has just over 2 miles of boardwalk through 6 different habitats and habitat transition areas with opportunities to view many species of birds. Habitats included Pine Flatwood, Wet Prairie, Bald Cypress, Pond Cypress, Marsh and Lettuce Lakes. Walking the boardwalk, the most evident bird song to me was that of the CAROLINA WREN. Big song from a small bird! The first 200 yards brought you through Pine Flatwood and into the Pond Cypress habitat showing views of PRAIRIE WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT WARBLER, GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, BLUE GRAY GNATCATCHER and to everyone’s surprise (3) NORTHERN ORIOLES. There is one last bird feeder located within this area giving more views of PAINTED BUNTINGS, INDIGO BUNTING as well as WHITE EYED VIREOS, OVENBIRD, and MOURNING DOVE.
The boardwalk continued into the Pond Cypress and Wet Prairie with views of GREAT EGRET, WHITE IBIS, LITTLE BLUE HERON, YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER, CATBIRD, and NORTHERN CARDINAL. Winding its way through the CYPRESS TREES the boardwalk follows the edge of the Wet Prairie with views of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, PALM WARBLERS, BLACK AND WHITE WARBLERS, TUFTED TITMOUSE, and RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.

Red Bellied Woodpecker-1The boardwalk then enters the Bald Cypress habitat wrapping around huge Bald Cypress Trees, a legacy for all to experience. Swamp lettuce is predominant throughout the swamp and is poisonous for the inhabitants to eat but provides shelter and structure for the inhabitants of this ecosystem. The unmistakable call of the PILEATED WOODPECKER was heard throughout Corkscrew as I navigated the boardwalk. The boardwalk has many spots that branch out containing areas for observation, rest or just simple contemplation.

More to follow in Part 2!


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New Beginnings

I decided to start this blog about visiting outdoor spaces on our planet with the aim to provide descriptive and science based information about the spaces I visit accompanied with photographs of the local flora and fauna existing there.

My life’s journey is not borne in the sciences of biology or ecology.  Some would say I missed my calling but still landed in a good spot.  I gained my interest and passion in birding from my mother and an appreciation of the great outdoors from my oldest brother. Most of my working life has been spent occupied as an entrepreneur supported by my family and many other important people. Through good fortune I now have the opportunity to explore the things that interest me most.

The title “A Sojourners Ramble” is an idea hatched amidst thoughts of telling stories about spaces visited. These spaces could be near my home or located anywhere on Earth.  It also reflects the meaning of “sojourner” and relates to: Our time on Earth is but a visit.

Finally, as I grow older I seek ways to become more virtuous through my personal interests. The experiences I write about will hopefully provide the readers a sense of why these spaces are important to both the community they are located in and the planet’s environment, and in turn provoke interest in experiencing these spaces for your own pleasure.