Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buckhorn Island State Park - New York State

When I started writing Dundas Valley and Beyond, I included the “and Beyond” part to include those inevitable opportunities I would have to explore beautiful areas beyond the Dundas Valley and greater Hamilton area.

This week was one of those opportunities. Taking advantage of a few vacation days between Christmas and New Years, my family and I headed to Grand Island, New York for a few days of relaxation and shopping. Always looking for opportunities to hike, I discovered that Buckhorn Island State Park was only minutes from our hotel and made sure that an early morning hike into the park was part of the trip. Grand Island is an interesting place. At seven and a half miles long by six miles at its widest point, it is surprisingly small and yet it is one of the largest freshwater islands in the world.
Located at the southernmost point on the island, Buckhorn Island State Park and Wildlife Sanctuary consists of 895 acres of marsh, meadows and woods and the last vestige of the vast marshlands and meadows that once bordered the Niagara River. The public is welcome to hike the nature trails as well as bike, kayak, canoe, fish and cross-country ski in the park. Ongoing restoration continues to re-establish wetland cover and water levels and increase the diversity of native flora and fauna. The ongoing restoration plan includes increasing public access with more non-intrusive trails, overlooks and bird watching blinds.
Waking early, I was greeted by icy conditions and a light snow flurry. Heading into the park, it seemed like I had the entire area to myself and it was incredibly peaceful walking the snow covered trails that followed the Niagara River. This area was officially designated an Important Bird Area in December, 1996. Nineteen species of gulls have been found here, representing almost half of the world’s 45 species. The area is also on the migration route for 25 species of waterfowl. Many even overwinter along the river. The most numerous gulls found here are Bonaparte’s gull, ring-billed gull, and herring gull. The most common waterfowl to be found are greater scaup, common mergansers, and canvasbacks.

Walking the trails, I noticed that a high volume of trees were covered by climbing and interwoven clinging vines. It gave the forest an eerie “movie like” feel, particularly enhanced by the quietly falling snow. Along the water’s edge, icicles were forming on the low hanging branches.
I was impressed with the many features of the park which included kayak launching areas and lookout platforms, ideal spots for bird watching.

Heading back to meet my family for breakfast, and with the ever present sound of migrating geese in the air, I felt a sense of gratitude for the year that was 2011. I am looking forward to an exciting 2012 and I hope you are too.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and please accept my sincere wishes for a happy and healthy 2012!


Saturday, December 24, 2011

December Hiking on the Bruce Trail – Waterdown and Great Falls.

I am continually amazed that the more I hike and explore this area, the more I realize that I have just scratched the surface.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to hike the Bruce Trail as it winds through the Smokey Hollow Gorge in Waterdown, Ontario. This trail is, in a word, stunning and is definitely one I plan on returning to soon.
Parking at the small lot on Mill Street in Waterdown, a short trail takes you to a viewing platform that has been built right at the crest of Great Falls. The view is spectacular as you watch the water rush over the falls and into the Smokey Hollow Gorge. Great Falls, also known as Grindstone Falls, has a height of 10m (33 feet), and a crest width of 5m (16 feet). Visiting now, few clues remain to suggest that this stream was once so large and powerful that it supplied numerous mills with the power needed to operate heavy machinery. As late as 1890 Smokey Hollow was the site of two large mills, fourteen buildings, three houses and nine outbuildings. By 1912, however, the mills had all closed as the water level in Grindstone Creek had gone down and the steam engines that propelled the waterpower were acknowledged to be too dangerous. Today, thanks to a rehabilitation program implemented by Waterdown residents, the locality is a beautiful and well-kept park. As the Bruce Trail heads downstream of the falls, the views continue to impress with rocky outcroppings and ever changing photo opportunities as Grindstone Creek cascades through and over massive boulders. Watch your step on this trail as you experience many short ascents and descents, many with steps and tricky tree roots to navigate over. Easy to get to if hiking the Bruce Trail, the park can be found on the Waterdown section.
If travelling by car, drive along the 403 toward Toronto, exiting on Hwy 6 North. You will then turn right on Hwy 5 (Dundas Street East). Head east, then turn right on Mill Street. Keep driving until you come to Smokey Hollow Park on the right. Great Falls is close to the parking lot.
You never know who you will meet while hiking the beautiful trails of the area, and on this day I had the fortune of running into Santa who was resting up prior to his big night.Best wishes to you all for a very Merry Christmas!!!!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tiffany Falls – Ancaster, Ontario

For an easy hike to an amazing destination, consider Tiffany Falls. This hidden gem is easy to get to and is easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area.
According to the City of Waterfalls website, this waterfall used to be fairly difficult to access during inclement weather conditions, but a new pathway was jointly completed in 2007 by the Hamilton Conservation Authority, the Bruce Trail Iroquoia section, the Rotary Club of Ancaster, and the Trillium Foundation. This new pathway includes two new bridges to cross the creek and a viewing platform.
For me, the cascades in the creek and the high rock that frame the valley make the walk in to the falls very enjoyable as the view continually changes with the seasons. Tiffany Falls is a 21 metre high (70 foot) cascade waterfall and has water flow all year, increasing in the spring or after a rain. Tiffany Falls Conservation Area is considered a significant natural area. Its bedrock exposures are considered an Earth Science Area of Regional Significance. The central feature of the conservation area is the two waterfalls within it, Tiffany Falls and Washboard Falls, formed by Tiffany Creek. The area provides a link between the greenspace corridor along the Niagara Escarpment through the Hamilton urban area, and the extensive natural areas of the Dundas Valley.
The forest area is made up of Eastern Hemlock, Sugar Maple, Red Oak, American Beech, White Ash, Basswood, Black Walnut, Hawthorn, Butternut and White Elm.
The highly significant animal, insect, reptile and plant species found within the conservation area include the Purple Clematis, the Hickory Hairstreak butterfly, the Northern Ringneck Snake and the Louisiana Waterthrush. On December 7, 2011, I had the privilege of joining Chris Ecklund, the man behind the City of Waterfalls and a group of volunteers as we hiked into the falls with high powered spotlights and temporarily illuminated the falls in blue light. The following pictures were taken that night.
A special thank you to Jeanne Pickles for graciously sharing the following 2 shots.
Tiffany Falls is located at the Tiffany Falls Conservation Area in Ancaster. To get there from Hwy 403 take the Lincoln Alexander Parkway exit and keep to the right to merge onto Rousseaux St. At the ‘T’ intersection turn right onto Wilson St. E. Park at Tiffany Falls Conservation Area and follow the trail to the waterfall.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Discovering The Spencer Creek Trail

Often times, people travel up Cootes Drive heading out of Dundas unaware how close they are to an interesting and wildlife rich trail. The Spencer Creek Trail starts at the corner of Cootes Drive and Dundas Street and runs along the shoreline of Spencer Creek. With wooded marshland on one side and Spencer Creek on the other, this trial provides a great opportunity to see song birds and other wildlife.

Crossing Cootes Drive, the trail enters the South Shore Trails of Cootes Paradise which is managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens.

This trail continues to run between the West Pond and the shore of the creek leading you onto one of the largest rivermouth wetland deltas on Lake Ontario.
This area is a significant part of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve and is home to more than 750 native plant species, 277 types of migratory birds, 37 mammal species, 14 reptile species, 9 amphibian species and 68 species of fish.

On a recent December walk, we observed many birds including a beautiful Blue Heron who continued to elude my attempts to take his picture. At least the mallards were a little more cooperative.

As you walk deeper into this rich marshland, you can’t but help but notice how quiet it becomes and it amazes you that while so close to the city, this area remains tranquil and abundant in wildlife.
Although beautiful at any time of year, the late fall and early winter provide the opportunity to view areas normally hidden by lush vegetation increasing the odds of viewing deer and other animals. I headed back from the trail determined to visit again in the summer, this time by kayak or canoe as water travel would provide even greater opportunities to explore. The Cootes Paradise Marsh is definitely an area I plan to visit again and again in the future.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Borer's Falls - Dundas Ontario

Parking at the small lot on York Road, I headed down the Ray Lowes Side Trail and into the valley. It was a cool slightly foggy November morning, perfect for hiking and the trails were empty with the exception of my dog Rosie and me. Our destination: Borer’s Falls.

The trail very quickly wound downwards into the valley and with most of the leaves now down, the view was open and beautiful. As the trail begins the climb up the escarpment, the scenery changes to moss covered rocky outcroppings and stands of birch. This area provides habitat for many significant species of plant and animals, including the largest single population in Canada of Red Mulberry, a nationally endangered tree species.
At the top of the climb there are stairs that have been cut into the rock that provide a close up view of the layered sedimentary rock that make up the escarpment. Once at the top this trail links up with the famous Bruce Trail.
By the time we reached the top, the sun had burnt off the last of the fog and the view across the valley was spectacular.
Continuing along the escarpment edge, there are plenty of spots that provide clear vantage points of the valley below and the amazing eastern white cedar’s that cling unbelievably to the cliff-edge.
The trail winds past farm field and as it starts to approach the falls, the unmistakable sound of rushing water gets louder.

Borer’s Falls is a classical, 17 metre (56 foot) waterfall, also known as Rock Chapel Falls. It is considered is a true plunge waterfall, as the water does not make contact with the bedrock until it reaches the base of the falls.
The waterfalls once powered the Rock Chapel village sawmill, which was run by the Borer family for more than 100 years. Land clearing in the area eventually altered the creek’s flow to such an extent that it could no longer provide sufficient energy, so the family switched to steam to power the mill.
There are many spots to view the falls including a bridge that provides an amazing view of the gorge.
This area is now managed by the Hamilton Conservation Authority and the Royal Botanical Gardens as a nature reserve. It provides a link between Cootes Paradise and the Niagara Escarpment and is host to a wide variety of plants and animals, including large stands of lilacs.

On the hike back, we paused to admire an historical old stone wall that harkened back to pioneer times and observed countless red and black squirrels as well as a number of curious chipmunks as they noisily scampered over the fallen leaves.

This hike takes about 40 minutes each way and is rather hilly but well worth the effort. I look forward to returning!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sherman Falls - Ancaster, Ontario

The Hamilton area is blessed with an abundance of easily accessible waterfalls and is host to many visitors throughout the summer who come to take pictures and enjoy the natural beauty.Although visited by many in the summer months, these waterfalls become much less frequently visited in the fall and winter months.

In my opinion, this becomes an ideal time to explore as the area takes on a whole different feel during these seasons.Taking advantage of a mild fall day, I recently headed out, with kids and dog in tow, to explore Ancaster's Sherman Falls. This waterfall is named after the Sherman family, who had a farm in that area. The Sherman’s are a well known name in the Hamilton area, as Clifton Sherman founded Dofasco Inc. in 1912.

Easy to get to, the trail starts right where Old Ancaster Road meets Lions Club Road in Ancaster and meanders over reasonably easy terrain for the short distance to the base of these falls. It is somewhat amazing that although it is located just a short hike away from the road and is fairly large in size, many people pass by this hidden treasure without ever knowing of its existence.There is a wooden bridge that crosses the stream right near the base of the falls that presents a great vantage point for photo taking.

Sherman Falls is a 17 metre (56 foot) multi tier waterfall surrounded by rugged limestone, mossy rock and natural forest. It has two cascading drops with a wide flat ledge that divide the upper and lower falls. This stunning waterfall, also known as Fairy Falls or Angel Falls is absolutely beautiful in the summer but in my opinion is great to visit all year.

An easy hike, consider Sherman Falls when looking for a place to day hike or to take amazing pictures.

The following pictures were taken on a hike earlier this year accompanied by friend and photographer, Vasily Ryabov.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fall Hiking on the Spring Creek Trail

Although there is no bad time to be hiking in the Dundas Valley, there is something special about the fall. The cool clean air, lack of bugs and distinctive crunch of leaves underfoot always remind me that another summer has come to an end and that the days of winter are not far away.
My dog Rosie, who is a frequent hiking companion of mine seems to prefer the fall as well and loves to run through the crisp leaves of the forest floor as she explores the valley.

This past weekend we walked the Spring Creek trail as it runs east from the Trail Centre. This centre is a replica of a Victorian train station from a bygone era and even features a section of track with a 1929 executive coach car and a 1931 baggage car that were donated by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The centre features a snack bar and interpretive centre and often displays the artwork of local artists’ and photographers. Trail maps can be obtained there and it is a good launch point from which to explore various parts of the valley.
The Spring Creek trail which is just over 3 km in length starts at the Trail Centre, follows the Spring Creek valley eastward, crosses Sanctuary Park, and ends at Warren Park.

On this particular day, we left the Trail Centre walking through sun-dappled Carolinian groves with an elevated view of Spring Creek below. We stopped to watch a group of four deer peacefully grazing and were entertained by a number of black squirrels busily preparing for winter.

At times the forest changed to sumac and to marshland heavily populated with red-winged blackbirds and other song birds. Often times on this trail, we spot wild turkeys, various varieties of snakes and woodpeckers.

One of my favorite trails, the Spring Creek Trail often becomes my default trail when I feel the need to get in the valley but am limited for time. Close to home and always changing, I know I'll always see something new, no matter how frequent I visit.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Websters Falls Part 2

In early September, I had the opportunity to act as a tour guide for my friend Vasily Ryabov and his wife who were visiting from Toronto. We visited 4 of the area's most well known waterfalls; Tews, Websters, Sherman and Tiffany and were fortunate to get some great photo's.

To add to my article posted yesterday, I thought I would add a few photo's from that day. Although the water levels were low, it allowed for a unique perspective to view the rock formations that are often hidden behind the cascading water.

Being a rock climber and exceptional photographer, Vasily has a unique perspective for capturing images and it was a privilage to spend a few hours on the trails with both him and his wife.