I have wandered Altona Forest’s trails many times but while editing a couple of photos when I re-worked the altonaforest.org 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.
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.
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.
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.
**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)
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 :
- Dogstrangling Vine
- Canada Thistle (If they are not native, why are they called Canada thistle?)
- Purple Loosestrife
- Common Buckthorn
Growing a meadow (in your garden or curb-side)
The Other Altona Forest ~ © 2017 Natasha G