December 30th – Hiking and Banding

Been cooped up for awhile so I decided that this was going to be my “breakout” day. I have been thinking for some time that Ruthven needs a longer nature trail – one that will sample the many habitats that Ruthven protects and give the enthusiastic hiker a little more of a work out. And I have just the route in mind: I call it the “Long Loop Trail”. So I decided to hike this trail and get a sense of how long it would take the average person to do (assuming they didn’t stop too often to watch birds or flowers or animals or frogs or…..all of which can add minutes if not hours on to any hike).

Here’s the route:
Park in the small parking lot at the front entrance. From there, walk south, toward Cayuga, along Hwy./Regional Road 54 for about 200 m. Here you pick up the white-blazed Grand Valley Trail going into the forest on your left. You will follow these white blazes for about 2 km until you reach Town Line.

The trail enters a small woodlot that connects the forests around Ruthven with the larger Haldimand Slough Forest to the east and then skirts the edge of a large agricultural field as it moves away from the highway (and its car noise). After about 4-500 m the trail leaves the edge of the field and plunges into the slough forest – for me, this is the most beautiful part of the walk. This is not an old forest – many of the trees look to be 50-70 years old – but it IS a forest. After about a kilometre the trail runs through an area that used to be dotted with young White Pine trees – that was 30 or so years ago when I first started to explore this area. Now the trees have grown to considerable size. It looks like it would be perfect habitat for Long-eared Owls but I’ve yet to find one amongst them.

The trail emerges at Town Line where it crosses a disused railway line. Turn to your right on this railway line. It will lead you straight to the Grand River. Within the first 400 m this line is bordered by three large ponds. I have done very little investigation of them but they’re surrounded by forest and scrub and should be excellent for birding in the Spring. I’ve often thought they would make good habitat for Prothonotary Warblers – once the trees grow in a little more. The railway line goes through fairly dense shrub pretty well to the River. From it, you look out over agricultural fields. I’m a pretty one-dimensional naturalist (birds are it) but I once came along here with a good botanist (Mary Gartshore) who pointed out several varieties of remnant prairie grasses. The distance to the River is about 1 1/2 kilometres.

Before following the trail back toward Ruthven it is fun to go out on the large bridge spanning the River. From it you get an excellent view of the River in both directions. Today it was ice free (except for the narrower channel on the east side of Slink Island which was running but clogged with ice) and ducks were taking advantage of it. There had to have been well over 70 Common Mergansers and 30 Common Goldeneyes fishing in it. If you look downstream to the left shore you will see that the low floodplain is growing in with shrubs. Several years ago Ruthven decided to take this 11-acre plot out of farm production and let it revert to “riparian” or river bottom forest – a real rare habitat in southern Ontario but preferred by Cerulean Warblers.

The trail actually heads off to your right (or north) about 30 m before you reach the bridge. Almost immediately you make a left down an old ATV trail that takes you down to the river bank. The trail now runs along the river north (upstream) toward the Mansion. Along the way you will encounter the only potentially difficult spot: a large stream runs into the Grand River and must be crossed. When the River is down and the weather has been dry, it is no problem. When the River is high and it has been wet, it may be impossible or very dangerous to cross this stream. Today, it was in-between so with firm resolve, a steady step and a long stick to balance with, I crossed the stream on a fallen tree – which you will have to do on most occasions if you don’t want to get your feet wet.

After about half a kilometre this ATV trail runs into the “Fox Den Trail”. If you take the right fork you reach the “Carolinian Trail” – a lovely walk through forest. I chose the left fork and continued my walk beside the River. After a while the Fox Den Trail runs into the River Trail (just below the Thompson Family Cemetery). I continued on the River Trail eventually reaching the front of the Mansion. (And a good thing too as, otherwise, I would have missed the two adult Bald Eagles perched in a tree across the River.)

All in all this walk took me just over 2 hours to complete – a distance of probably about 6-7 kilometres.

It will be a beautiful walk at almost any time of year – but I would avoid the wooded areas during the mosquito season! For optimum birding I would recommend the last week of April, first 3 weeks of May (USUALLY the mosquitoes aren’t a problem until the end of May) for Spring birds and the last half of August through to November for the Fall migration.

Upon reaching the banding lab, I noticed that the feeders were being heavily used, so I decided to finish off the year with a little banding. In 1 1/2 hours I banded 40 birds:

1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 American Tree Sparrow
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 House Finches
19 Common Redpolls (a first for me!)
15 American Goldfinches


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