Among the Leaf Litter

(Spring is still a few weeks away – but here’s a forest plant you will want to look for on your hikes in the coming weeks. By posting this early, it will give you time to look for and see the spring wildflowers of Southern Ontario’s woods.)

Spring is the most incredible time in the deciduous forests of Ontario. Long before the trees get leaves, the forest is coming to life from the ground up. Frogs begin to sing before the ice is fully melted in Altona’s ponds, salamanders become active, and protected by the leaf litter, the earliest of woodland flowers bloom.

Be watchful as you walk – and be especially careful where you step. Many spring wildflowers begin as a simple, small, unremarkable single leaf… that takes a number of springs before it yields a blossom. Stay on-trail to protect future years’ blooms.

Two years ago on a guided Rouge Park hike I saw a flower and I was instantly smitten. It was so lovely –  starry little blossoms. It’s hairy stems and curly leaf stems were barely visible. The whole plant is only a few inches tall, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty – in fact it makes a trail-walk even more interesting as you look for them.


Spring blush in Rouge Park

Last year in mid-April I was wandering Altona Forest’s deciduous forest trails and was so surprised to see a little clump of them! I walked these trails for years and had never seen one. They are not prolific, easily destroyed, and delicate – the small group I saw might be the only one in Altona Forest. Please let me know if you spot them anywhere along the trails.


You have to get down to chipmunk-height to do these beauties justice

Hepatica is commonly known as liverwort or liverleaf– and because I dislike it’s common name I’ve been sticking with its formal one. Why such a name? Because the shape and colour of the rounded three-lobed leaves resemble a human liver. These leaves are both delicate and hardy – they overwinter under the snows of winter and their damaged or curled edges are the battle scars of frost-damage. Dry frost is much tougher to endure than protective snows.

If the two photos seem dissimilar and hardly the same plant to you, you are astute. Damp conditions and early mornings have the blossoms facing down and partially-closed. Sunny and dry afternoons will have them looking upwards. Hepatica comes in 3 main blossom-colours with shades in-between and also two main types. Hepatica blossoms can be bluish-purple, pink, or white; a photographic challenge to find and photograph ones of each colour in the wild.

There are two types based on their leaf shape: round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana) and sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba). I can’t tell them apart yet – but see if you can by photographing all you see. They are from the same wide ‘buttercup’ family as the marsh marigold and like it, varieties can be found in the same latitude across continents – North America, Europe and Asia

While I’d love these in the sun-dappled corners of my garden, they are not easy plants to acquire or grow. They don’t do well being divided, take years to mature from seed, and garden centers don’t have them. This is good in one way – it makes them even more lovely and special in their woodland homes. It would be awful and irreparably destructive if unethical garden centers would steal them from nature just to sell them.

And since their seeds are spread by ants (myrmecochery – if you wanted to geek-out with the official term – frankly I have to look up the spelling every time and butcher the pronunciation!) you never know where a little plant will pop up but it won’t be where you put it. This is the same way bloodroot seeds are propagated in spring. (Bloodroot blooms and seeds in tandem with hepatica.)


I’m not going to list too many details on this lovely little woodland native – but I do suggest an excellent blog post I saw last year.


Ontario Wildflowers List

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Winter Fun on the Trails

Hey Winter! We’re ready for you! (No really!)

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One emerging ‘tradition’ is the First Day Hike. Have you done one? As the holidays wind down, and the gatherings, gifts and gourmet trappings are a thing of the past, many people hit the post-holiday slump. To stave it off and start the new year out on the right foot, people are choosing to head to a park or conservation area for a hike on New Year’s Day.  What a great way to launch into the new year on a high note

What about those days after Jan 1? How do you embrace winter, enjoy nature, and keep your spirits up? Winter settles in and many people are visited by the winter blues, the blahs, or SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Others go a little squirrely being indoors too much. So… dress for the weather in warm layers and get outside!

Conservation areas like Altona Forest have easy access and that means we can visit many times. And ours is free! Here are a few ideas for what you can do to embrace and enjoy winter along Altona’s trails:

  1. Extend the First Day hike to the ‘First Month Hikes’ and get together once a week with friends or family to walk some trails – it’s a great chance to connect with each other and nature.
  2. Make a snow angel. If you are 5 or 55… there is a small part of you that feels amazing just lying there and creating that snow impression. As a bonus – it’s virtually impossible to walk by a snow angel without smiling – so you’re sharing the joy. I watched someone make one in the forest the other day and couldn’t suppress the grin.
  3. Try a scavenger hunt. This is conservation land, and we don’t want to harm a forest already under so much stress – don’t collect and remove anything. So… do a scavenger hunt using a phone, camera or other device to capture images of the items sought.
  4. Try snowshoeing in the forest. Borrow some snowshoes – ask friends if they have some you can use for a few days and get out there and try it. It’s fun – and if you can walk, you can snowshoe! (PS it burns extra calories too!)
  5. Take your dog for a walk – exercise and companionship are the main reasons for having a dog so get out there. Just remember that Altona Forest is a leash-only area  and you need to carry out all waste. Not a suggestion – it’s the law. Respect the safety, security and comfort of others walking the trails.
  6. Channel your inner photographer and take a photo expedition along a trail and capture the beauty of the winter landscape. Try to see things through fresh eyes and new angles. Challenge yourself to look more closely at light and shadow, texture, and nuance.
  7. Have a winter picnic. Take blankets, hot soup & sandwiches OR hot chocolate & dessert and pick a spot to sit and take in winter’s serene beauty. Yes; a picnic happens on the ground but the forest also offers some great spots to sit on logs (post 17) or benches (amphibian pond deck or post 35 or 15) or the picnic tables at the Altona Rd entrance.
  8. Go birdwatching. Birding is fun for all ages and with long sight-lines you can see through the forest. Take your binoculars and watch along the forest edges or near ponds to see the most activity. Or simply listen carefully and follow the tapping sounds of the woodpeckers.
  9. Throw snowballs! Yes at each other! Or if you are alone… throw them at a tree. I’m sure it wouldn’t mind.  This takes that special packing snow… the one that compresses beautifully and just begs creativity. If you are even more inspired, make a snowman along the trail… using only forest floor items to give him features. I love to scoop out a little of his head and add some birdseed.
  10. Create a temporary ‘art installation’ worthy of forest magic; one that doesn’t harm the forest or leave waste behind. Freeze some fallen twigs, cedar fronds, or seed pods in a shallow bowl or lid. Add a drop of food colouring if you like. Add a small loop of garden twine (so it will decompose easily) into the water so you can hang it. When this ‘nature mandala’ is frozen, take it to the forest and hang it from a sturdy branch where it can sparkle in the light. You’ve created a nature sun-catcher that will last until a thaw. This is a great kids-project but also for anyone who loves nature, art or creativity!

Inspired yet? Just picture enjoying fresh cold air and sunshine before returning home to a fire, a seat by a window, warm socks, and/or hot chocolate … it’s what the Danes call ‘hygge’ and I’ll call ’embracing the cozy’ after winter fun on the trails!

**** Avoid the boardwalks or be extremely careful in using them – there are a number of broken boards and hazards


pileated woodpecker near Lacey’s Pond


Winter Fun on the Trails ~ © 2018 Natasha G

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Adventures in Blazing Trails

There is no better feeling than walking along a trail and enjoying the beauty and serenity of nature. Conversely, there is no worse feeling than getting lost. Unless you can clearly see a trail or a marker, it’s easy to get muddled and confused.

Even when you know the trails well, you can easily get sidetracked. The other day I was walking in Altona Forest on a trail I know very well and was caught up in my thoughts. I suddenly stopped, realizing I was off-trail… somehow I was walking off into the woods and had strayed from the trail.

Altona’s trails are harder to follow now. When this trail system was created, painted trail blazes clearly marked these footpaths. Over the years, some have faded and some marker trees have been lost to age, illness, or storms.

There are 3 trails in Altona Forest – the short trail beginning at Autumn Crescent, the main trail (marked in white), and the north-east trail (marked in blue). The blue trail is an open loop that starts and ends at the white trail. It leads through mixed forest and deciduous wetlands, past spring trillium, bloodroot and jack-in-the-pulpit blooms, through EAB ravaged forest that showcases the forest’s woodpeckers, and past vernal streams.

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This is ‘my trail’ – the one I walk most frequently. So, when the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee asked for volunteers to repaint the trail blazes, I volunteered my spouse and myself for the whole of the blue loop. I never stopped to think about the logistics. Or that maybe I should have asked my spouse before volunteering him. (I did that with the 2015 website revamp as well; resulting in his literally dozens of hours of work writing old html code)

More than a year later, trail blazing hadn’t been undertaken anywhere in the forest. I didn’t want yet another winter of trail-confusion to happen on my watch. Since the AFSC is not funded I concluded I’d be buying all the supplies myself. The TRCA signs and the current markings were available as a guide. And since we were doing the whole blue trail, consistency would be a given.

Altona Forest trails follow the same markings system as the Bruce Trail (which is based on the Appalachian Trail). My spouse is a member and has hiked half of the distance from Niagara to Tobermory so he is familiar with the typical blazing methods/standards.

The blazes are simple and universally understood; if the top mark is to the right – turn right, and if the top mark is to the left – turn left. If there is a single mark then continue straight.

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The process is perfectly simple – and then came the reality of doing it:

  • What paint colour? There is a blue suggested by the Bruce Trail association to mark side trails. Using that colour made sense – except the store couldn’t match that particular (discontinued?) Pantone shade. I needed to come up with a shade of blue that nearly matched the original paint (I didn’t have a sample) and would be clearly visible in the bright light of winter and the deep shade of summer. It was a somewhat blind choice – hope you like it!
  • The size of the blazes should be standard – and this was great because the Bruce guide was clear that it was 2×6″. I created 2 templates to use… this is great and logical … until the paint gets a bit messy and gets on the back of your templates. Or worse (you can see an example along the trail) where the paint runs down a non-porous bark after you’ve walked away.
  • You take along a spray bottle of water, paper towels, a scraper, your brush, the paint… etc. And then realize that you reach a point where every single thing is smeared with paint and can smear each other. You wish for a tap. You stop, laugh, and continue.
  • You realize that this is a very simple job – but it simply needs 2 people. One to hold the template and one to paint. You hope that this does not end up like a kindergarten finger painting.
  • About 1/5 of the way in, you realize that while Bruce markers should be on the left side of the trail as you are walking it, Altona’s original markers were on the right. What do you do? You panic for a moment and then decide that the old markers will be repainted and remain on the right… and all new markers will continue on the left.
  • From a few feet past one marker you should be able to see the next one. Another reason this is a job for two people: you need to pace this out. But then you realize that mother nature doesn’t always grow a tree where it needs to be. Or that the tree won’t be wide enough to manage two blazes to indicate the turn.
  • You realize that this trail is winding so ‘straight’ is a relative concept.  You accept this or decide to paint every second meter… which would then qualify as vandalism.
  • Blazes should be at eye level. Who’s eyes? All ages use this trail and an average person is 5’6″: that is Bruce ideal. Sometimes the tree dictated a slightly higher or lower placement… who am I to argue with Mother Nature?
  • Did you know that the blue trail does not actually link to the boardwalk in the north, but stops at the north gate of the forest – the entrance to the hydro corridor? I have walked this trail for years and never knew this.
  • Just when you get that triumphant feeling of getting to the end, you realize that the trail must be painted in the other direction as well… and treated like a new trail since the sight-lines change. I have great appreciation for those who blazed these trails originally – and perfectly.

I hope you are a little amused – and learned from our adventure. These were a few of the little things we encountered while trail blazing. It was fun and funny, cold and frustrating, challenging and rewarding. It’s done. As of November, the blue trail is easier to follow… so wander in!

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Using a Footpath – Bruce Trail Conservancy

Guide For Trail Workers – Bruce Trail blaze processes (start on pg 26)- we’re very grateful







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Adventures in Planting

A week ago, I was surprised by an e-mail. It was serendipity – the kind of serendipity that has kindness, dedication, and vigilance behind it.

The e-mail was from TRCA (Toronto and Region Conservation) who manage Altona Forest. During the ‘planting event’ time I’d asked if they had any leftover plants from other projects, if they could please think of Altona Forest. There were no plans to do any maintenance or improvements in Altona Forest this year – there was just no budget for it from our municipality.

There were a few plants that they could get for the forest – and they would be delivered to my home in the next two days. I’d requested a few key species that are ‘perfect’ for Altona Forest. Plants that naturally remediate the areas they are in and have the capability to make a lasting difference to forest health and biodiversity long years from now. The next morning TRCA delivered the plants: 3 healthy tamarack trees, 3 beautiful elderberry shrub/trees, and 10 blue flag iris.

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I added the wraps to protect the elderberry from being grazed by deer or rabbits

I had volunteered myself and my husband as planning/labour for this project since the target area for these plants is the wet, problematic, and transitioning north-west corner of the forest. This would not be a volunteer-friendly planting experience. An added challenge was the time frame: November is late for planting based on ground-freezing cold snaps.

Luckily we’d had no freezing weather yet and the rain was going to hold off until Sunday – so that left Friday/Saturday for the planting.

10 Blue Flag Iris

Blue flag iris was high on my ‘wish list’ for the north-west corner because they are native to this area, beautiful, semi-aquatic and do well in wet saturated soil, and can proliferate in the sunny conditions offered in that area. Additionally, blue flag iris might be extirpated from Altona Forest due to development of the area – so reintroduction of this local species would be a boon for biodiversity. Finally and most importantly, blue flag iris excels at cleaning the water it grows beside. The north-west corner has over-abundant nutrients flowing into it from the nearby tree nursery and this hard-working plant will help filter this water. Over rich water affects the algae and weed growth in the wetland restoration pond every summer.

I planted 3 iris at a tiny pond where the water enters the forest – and the others along the wetland ‘stream’ that brings that same water to the restoration pond. For forest visitors, I made sure to plant one visible from the viewing deck at the pond edge where it can be spotted and talked about at hikes. Each plant has the capacity to not only seed and fill into the area, but to build large clumps using their spreading root system.

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3 Tamaracks

Tamaracks exist in Altona Forest – but not in large numbers. They are more abundant in the boreal forest further north – in wet boggy areas, thin rocky soil and short growing seasons. They are great to stabilize an area and hold the earth – later dropping cones to fill in an area. They are also so beautiful in fall with golden and orange needles that Algonquin Park advertises their ‘golden encore’ of fall colour.

In spring 2016 we planted 3 tamaracks in the very wet area by the fence that is littered with deadfall – on the west side of the boardwalk. Not only did they survive, but they tripled in height in their 2 summers. The new 3 tamaracks were planted just to the north of the existing 3 – with the hopes that they will have similiar success and create a small grove over time. This is very tricky for planting – it’s waterlogged, there are branches and dead trees everywhere, and you have to watch your footing as rotten wood suddenly gives way. I went in only a few feet from the boardwalk, but the spouse went much further to get these planted properly. Given the lateness of the season, I didn’t loosen the root ball as I usually do with potted plants – and I also asked the spouse to plant them so that one inch of crown was above the muddy earth to allow better oxygen uptake in the surface roots (a challenge in wet soils).

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The crown just above the muddy earth, this is a humble start among the wildflowers for this tamarack

3 Elderberry

Beside the north pond (aka amphibian pond) there is a wet meadow with dead trees – all ash that were decimated by the emerald ash borer. Without the shade of leaves, this area is now sunny and grasses, wildflowers and shrubs can thrive. A biologist report for Altona Forest suggested varied species should be added here to replace the dying ashes. One species mentioned was elderberry – and I was thrilled to get these three healthy shrubs to plant into the area.

Elderberry offers multiple stems, a wide branching pattern, white clusters of flowers for native pollinators in spring and ample berries for birds and wildlife in fall. They are not only beautiful, native to the area (I’ve seen some wild in Rouge Park), and able to grow in wet areas, but they sustain wildlife who have lost habitat and food sources through this area. The section east of the boardwalk at Post 30 was wetter than anticipated but will offer a good home for these young shrubs.

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View from the boardwalk – you’ll be able to see this one, but the other two are further back

And so ends my adventure in remediation planting. Scratched and scraped, cold, muddy, and a little sore from carrying the plants along the trails, we were that happy-satisfied-tired you get from doing something truly worthwhile.


The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now



Adventures in Planting ~ © 2017 Natasha G



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Wild Apples of the Forest

Whether it’s apple picking, home-made apple pie, or the tempting baskets along country roads, fall is not fall without apples. What I didn’t know until relatively recently is that apples like the types we buy and devour are not native to North America. They were brought here and began their Ontario cultivation with the settlers.

Apple trees are hardy and long-lived. Not only did many farmers plant them along the edges of their fields to increase their edible yield, but apples offered cider production and long lasting cellar fruits. You can still find gnarled old trees dropping their fruit along local country roads.


This old forest-edge apple tree pushes a few branches into a neighbour’s back yard

Have you seen the apples in Altona Forest? There are at least two dozen struggling trees scattered through the forest. Most have likely been ‘planted’ by the creatures who ate the fruit or carried them into the forest from nearby homesteads many years ago. But it’s amazing that they have battled the thin rocky soil, fierce competition for nutrients and sunlight, and still bloom every year.

Some might have been human-planted: there is a suspiciously straight line of old apple trees that follows one of the settler rock walls near the Summer Park entrance to the forest. About 4 old trees remain and flower every year – though one fell victim to the City of Pickering saws since it cascaded over the fence. I can imagine that there were about 5 more trees – equally spaced in that line – that didn’t survive the ravages of time and the building of this neighbourhood.

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Apple blossom on a tree along the north boardwalk of the forest

The easiest time to spot the apple trees is in spring when they flower along the trails. Some are tall and spindly and have a few flowers only at the tops of their highest branches – this is from lack of sufficient sunlight. But whether you manage to see the blossoms or not, you can’t miss the white ‘confetti’ along the forest’s trails when the flowers are spent. When you see confetti, it’s a dead giveaway that you’ve found one of Altona’s hidden apples.

If you are curious what type of apples they are, they are ‘common apples’. I have that from a good source – and know that the term refers to the basic apples grown before many of the fancy modern varieties were developed. You will sometimes see the small hard green fruit on the forest floor… half eaten. They rarely last until they are fully ripe; they are delicious and in demand.

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How ’bout dem apples – in the late July sun

I have been wanting to add wildlife-supporting trees to my small space – and crab-apple would be the perfect native choice. I’ve learned from my failed attempt at tomatoes and sweet potato vine that anything edible is devoured by foraging wildlife before it reaches ripeness.

Crab-apple trees are small in stature and slow growing: they are well suited to small garden spaces like mine. They are a favourite with gardeners for their ease of growth, their textured bark, beautiful blooms and sweet scent, and their colourful edible fruit.  They are definitely a multi-season performer. Their blooms support native bees, honey bees, and butterflies, and their fruit draws birds like cedar waxwings and mammals such as deer, possums and raccoons. They can be work however, if you have to pick up all the fruit and dispose of it.

Ontario has only one native crab apple – Malus coronaria. And I’ve planted a small one after a great deal of trouble sourcing it (thank you NANPS sale for getting me one!). The wild rabbits took about 1/3 of it during it’s first winter – I didn’t wrap it high enough for the snows. My fingers are firmly crossed.

I’m hoping that this native apple will add to the local food sources for birds and other wildlife. And perhaps when this 4ft baby becomes old, gnarled and fruit-laden, its seeds will be planted by wildlife in the forest’s sunny corners and create a new generation of truly wild apples.


Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here

Choosing Crabapples for Your Garden

About Malus Coronaria – ‘Garland Crab’

Evergreen Plant Database – Malus coronaria

Malus Coronaria – photos and identifying features (ref – MNR Ontario Species List)

About Malus coronaria – and range map

Lady Bird Johnson Plant Profile – Malus coronaria (U of Texas,Austin)

USDA Map of Native Origin – Malus coronaria

Plant Profile: Malus coronaria

Cider – The history that brought apples here

Apple Production in Canada – growth of the industry

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This profusely blooming Altona Forest ‘common’ apple tree was old, gnarled, and half-dead. It hung over the fence in Summer Park near the entrance to Altona Forest. The severe cutting it received unfortunately killed it – it didn’t come back this year.

Wild Apples of the Forest ~ © 2017 Natasha G


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Wildflowers’ Golden Encore

Do you think that once Labour Day passes and the summer holidays are over that wildflower season is over?

You’d be wrong because in natural areas all over Ontario the golden encore of wildflowers is just ramping up. Early to mid-fall is a great time to venture along the trails of Altona Forest and explore wildflowers. Some will last well into October for hikers to enjoy.

We use the term ‘wildflower’ so easily – but it doesn’t have a clear meaning. It can be used for any blooming plant that grows without being planted or sown. But that means that many wildflowers are not native – not original to these woods and open areas. Favourites such as queen anne’s lace (aka wild carrot) or chicory are common, naturalized, but not native. Some are aggressive and invasive but colourful – like knapweed or purple loosestrife.

Watch for these three native wildflowers as you wander fall trails:

GOLDENROD: The term ‘golden encore’ can almost be solely credited to the profuse occurrence of goldenrod. In some areas, the profuse blooms can cover an entire hillside. It begins blooming in late August and continues through September. Long before the trees blush into yellows and reds, the forest edges are already painted with big swaths of gold.

Goldenrod is a pollinator favourite for pollen and nectar but it’s not allergy inducing (it just blooms at the same time as the culprit ragweed). It’s pollen is heavy and falls to the ground. It’s pollinated by insects – not wind, and spreads by seeds as well as underground rhizomes.



ASTERS: Asters are not just one plant but a wide group of sun to part-shade, tiny to tall, white to deep purple blooming plants. There are many varieties in the woods and parklands in our area including calico, arrow-leafed and New England asters. Pollinators depend on asters for late season food and you can often find both bees and butterflies sharing the bounty. Asters support pollinators with food, but are also used by some as larvae feeding plants.



SUNFLOWERS:  Another group or category of flower, the sunflowers we picture are the giant varieties. But sunflowers come in a variety of heights. Most sunflower varieties are North American natives. Sunflowers are typically tall – reaching for the sun and need long sunlight hours each day to survive. Sunflower turn to face and grow towards the sun every day until they bloom. Some of our local varieties include the woodland sunflower, Jerusalem artichoke, and giant sunflower. Sunflowers will end their bloom in early September, but their seed-heads will draw wildlife for the full fall season to come.


You’ll notice that wildflowers exist only in a few places in the forest – around the edges. This is because wildflowers need sun – many need 8 hours a day – to thrive. The forest canopy of mixed deciduous and cedar forests provide more shade than most varieties can manage. So, look for wildflowers in the open area near the Altona entrance and parking (around the picnic table and near the clearing beside Petticoat Creek), around the north pond, in the adjacent hydro corridor, and around the rainwater pond in the Altona Forest South section.

With the humidity and bugs of summer behind us and the fresh air of fall just beginning, it’s a perfect time to grab your camera and walk Altona Forest’s trails. Please take only photos and leave the blossoms behind for the pollinators and birds of the forest.


A riot of late-season colour at the north pond

Wildflowers Golden Encore ~ © 2017 Natasha G

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The Other Altona Forest

I have wandered Altona Forest’s trails many times but while editing a couple of photos when I re-worked the site, I couldn’t imagine where in the forest they were taken. The photos seemed to be from a path in a field. Months later I realized that they had been taken in the hydro corridor just north of the north gate.

The hydro corridor abutting the forest’s north end is the other Altona Forest; not part of TRCA’s property but a needed extension to the conservation lands. It is an area of tall grasses, wild grapes, and meadow conditions that allow wildflowers, birds, bees and butterflies to flourish.  It’s an environment missing in Altona Forest proper where the houses and development go right to the trees and no natural meadow space is left. Nature doesn’t stop to consider lines on a map, or fences, or jurisdictions and this area is a vital part of the survival of some species that live in the forest.

I had previously only been in the hydro lands to distribute some milkweed seeds in  hopes of sustaining monarchs.


Common milkweed in bloom – can this be from some of the seeds I distributed?

I wandered out of the forest and into the adjoining ‘field’ in search of milkweed in bloom the next summer – and the monarch butterflies that depend on it. I found both; a few monarchs, a few milkweed – but also many invasive plants like buckthorn,  dog-strangling vine in massive swaths, and Canada thistle.

This summer I have been a regular visitor to the area. The rarely-used hydro corridor provides a bio-diverse and needed meadow and forest-edge habitat that links (albeit across busy Finch and Altona Roads – very dangerous for wildlife) to the Rouge National Urban Park.

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Meadows such as this one provide crucial open environment, food and shelter. This area fosters a fertile food chain that begins with diverse pollinators who are drawn to varied wildflowers that need full sun to thrive. Meadows complement the woods to create a healthy and integrated ecosystem. It is an animal travel-way, a butterfly-way, food-producing powerhouse (think grasses and wildflowers seeds, grapes and other berries), and nursery for wildlife of all kinds.

It is a more varied and interesting environment than I expected – some depressions hold water, cattails and red-winged blackbirds. Juvenile robins hop trustingly along the path. Rabbits appear and disappear like magic. Here and there small thickets are formed by berry-laden viburnums and hold nesting birds. Wide stretches of native bee balm happily coexist with clover, anemone, rudbeckia, native sunflowers, and other wildflowers to draw butterflies and bees alike. The air hums with buzzing bees and dragonflies, lilting birdsong, and the crackling whir of the power wires overhead.


A common ringlet

It’s easy to lose time following butterflies in hopes of a photo, pausing to listen to calling birds, or freezing when something ahead of you goes scurrying into the dense green tangle. Don’t forget to look up to see the silent riders of the drafts. Or take a long view in case the deer that sometimes visit are in sight.

Summer is glorious – and too brief: take some time to discover this forgotten corner that is so full of life in this season. You’ll need a hat and sunblock… as my painful shoulders screamingly attest. And some bug spray. Whether you decide to wander the area to enjoy the myriad of butterflies, hear the birdsong, or glimpse a hawk or great blue heron fly above, this area is an entirely different experience than the cool shade of Altona’s tall trees.

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**Perhaps another time I will write about the other other Altona Forest at the south end of the panhandle. It is comprised of 2 rainwater-collection ponds belonging to the City and the inaccessible railway lands that bisect Petticoat Creek.

Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here

What is a Meadow (youtube 3min)

Importance of Grasslands

Pollinators Need Meadows  (Credit Valley Conservation Authority)

Butterflies of the GTA (pdf book)

Birds of the GTA (pdf book)

How to Butterfly Spot (scroll to bottom of article)

Looking For Monarchs – The Great Butterfly Hunt – Nature of Things (full episode)

Invasive Species of the Corridor :

Growing a meadow (in your garden or curb-side)

Sourcing Native Seeds for Meadows

The Other Altona Forest ~ © 2017 Natasha G



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