Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Bird Count At Frontenac Provincial Park

Today we attended the Christmas Bird Count for Kids at Frontenac Provincial Park. We had intended to arrive early and ski before the bird count, have lunch and then do the bird count. As it turns out it was a slow morning for us and we didn't arrive at the park until noon. The bird count was to start at 1:00 so we decided to have lunch when we arrived.

At 1:00 Carolyn Bonta began a presentation about common birds found in the park in winter. She talked about how to identify them, along with some of their behaviours. It was a very informative presentation that was engaging for kids and adults alike. She had some specimens on hand so that we could see what the actual birds looked like and she played their calls so that we might be able to identify the birds by sound while out on the trail. 

Once the presentation was over we got into our outdoor gear and headed outside. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shinning, the temperature was around -6°C and there wasn't any wind. We couldn't have asked for a better day.

Looking Out Over South Otter Lake
The Boardwalk
As a group we made a couple of stops when someone heard or saw a bird. We spotted a number of chickadees and a pair of blue jays. We stopped along the boardwalk and Carolyn pointed out some trees that had been heavily used by woodpeckers at one time. Unfortunately, we didn't see any woodpeckers but we did happen to see some crows and ravens as we made our way across the boardwalk. As we were leaving the first boardwalk someone spotted a large bird way off in the distance. I didn't see it but some people said it may have been a turkey vulture. As we turned around to face the other direction we got to witness an amazing site. We saw a bald eagle being chased by a raven. We watched for a while as this chase went on and then noticed another large bird of prey approaching. Its colourings were completely different from the eagle but its size was comparable. We later hypothesized that it was likely a juvenile bald eagle given that both of the birds eventually flew off together. It was quite an amazing site to see.

Snow Covered Boardwalk

Fisher Tracks Leading Down the Creek
 We do a fair bit of hiking and see a lot of cool things but having Carolyn along for the hike was great. She was a fountain of knowledge and was happy to share and answer questions and she was great with the kids. We stopped to look at some footprints that travelled along the creek and she explained that they were fisher tracks and told us why they were fisher tracks. We saw a fair number of track along the creek and even saw where the fisher may have stopped for a drink of water.

A Seat Along the Boardwalk

A Bench 
 We kept hiking but didn't see many more birds. The people at the front of the group spotted a deer before it took off into the woods. Unfortunately, we were at the back and didn't see that deer. The kids saw a few as we drove into the park and there was another one close to the road as we drove out.

After the hike we had some hot chocolate, looked at the specimens and thanked Carolyn for her presentation. Then we headed to the parking lot to grab our skis so that we could ski along the Corridor Trail. There was just enough snow to be able to ski. It was a slow ski with the kids but that's probably a good thing as there were a number of rocks and roots that got uncovered as we skied. The older kids led the way and were having a great time. It was nice to have everyone out on skis again. The four year old had some trouble on the ups and downs but it won't be long until she's zipping along. She fell a lot but laughed about it every time. I love getting out as a family. It's so much fun.

At the Trail Head

Going Up
What a great day. We all had such a good time. The bird count was a great way to get outside and to learn a bit more about the birds in the park. There are lots of bird counts happening around the world at this time of year. If you're interested check out their website here.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fall in Algonuquin - Ragged Lake

We don't get to do much fall camping. Once school starts the kids get busy with their extra curricular activities, I get busy with work...excuse, excuses. We've often talked about how great it would be to get out during the week in the fall. There wouldn't be many people or bugs and there could be some really nice weather. I decided to book some time off and we booked a site on Ragged Lake in Algonquin. It was a bit of an odd trip. I had nothing to do with the planning. Sarah and the kids looked at the map, chose a section of the park, then chose a lake and booked it. It different kind of trip for us since we booked four days on a single lake. As it turns out we chose one the nicest four days of the summer. It was also the only camping we did all year where we didn't get rained on.

We arrived at Canoe Lake at noon and picked up our permit then headed across the highway to Smoke Lake. We had lunch on the dock (in the shade) on a very hot day. As we were having lunch two CC-130 Hercules flew across the lake and directly overhead. They were flying so low it looked like they were just above the trees. It was like I'd never left Trenton.

 We finished lunch, loaded up the canoes and hit the water. The weather was perfect. The sun was shining, the temperature was north of 25ºC and there wasn't much wind. Shortly after leaving dock we saw the park float plane take off right behind us. It disappeared for a while then came back, landed and docked. Next up in the Smoke Lake Air Show was helicopter dragging some long cables behind it. We had seen the same helicopter, as we drove in, hauling a very large piece of lumber.

After the Air Show we had a beautiful paddle across the lake. We saw a couple of small motor boats go by and a group of about seven canoes headed back to the access point but other than that it was very quiet.

On Our Way
We made it to the portage to Ragged a little quicker than expected. As we arrived there was a couple coming in the other direction. They had spent the night on Ragged and said the site they stayed at was very nice. They showed us where it was on the map. We easily managed the 240m portage. We got onto Ragged Lake and started negotiating which site would be our home for the next few days. I was pushing for the small island site in West Bay. One of the kids (possibly two) just wanted to grab the first site that we saw. They were hot and excited to do some swimming. Once we reached the big island in the middle of the lake they realized how quick it was to paddle across the lake so we made our way to West Bay. We didn't see anyone else on the lake. It was, after all, only Thursday. We rounded the corner so that the island was in site was in view and sure enough there was a canoe there. What were the chances that the only people on the entire lake were within a few hundred metres of each other? We opted for the site just north of the island which was fantastic. It had a great beach and was located on a point. Our middle daughter was very upset that we weren't on the island but after being there for a while she admitted that we had a great site. The kids spent most of the time that we were on the site at the sand beach or in the water.

We've Arrived
The Beach
Moose Bones on the Beach
Once we arrived at our site it was time for a swim. We were all really hot and the lake just seemed so inviting.
Time for a Swim
The kids stayed in the water while Sarah and I setup camp.

The Sun Goes Down Early This Late in the Year
Our son loves cooking dinner over the hobo stove so he got the fire going then looked after it while cooking for us. It was the last day of summer but it sure felt like it could have been the middle of summer.

It was quite late by the time we finished eating, got cleaned up and hung the food. We piled into the tent and went to sleep. I had hoped to go out and take pictures of the stars but I was tired enough that I fell asleep and didn't feel like getting up at any point in the night.

The next morning we awoke to a perfectly calm day. There was no wind and the lake was as flat as could be.

More Sunrise
Fall Colours
The air was so still that we could hear the faint sound of logging operations off in the distance. It wasn't until the next day that I looked at the map and noticed how close we were to the edge of the park and a logging camp to the south.

After breakfast we paddled over to Archer Bay to check out the long beach we had seen the day before. The girls swam for a bit while the rest of us explored and took pictures.
Checking Out the Geese At Archer Bay

Beach at Archer Bay
Looking Into Archer Bay
After a while we decided to head back to our site for some lunch. We had lunch then Sarah took our youngest daughter for a nap. She'd had a very restless night the night before and could use a little more sleep. The rest of us spent our time swimming and playing with rocks. The kids discovered that some rocks were harder than others and that one type of rock turned to sand easily if you rubbed it or banged against other rocks. We figured it was sandstone. They had such a blast identifying rocks and making sand. It was quite fitting given that our daughter was studying soil, erosion, etc. at school. Experiential learning at it's best!

Playing with Rocks
After hours of playing in the water we decided it was time to start thinking about cooking up some dinner. We started a fire and cooked up some delicious pizza. After dinner the girls hung out around the fire while my son and I went fishing. We both caught a fish on our third cast and had a few other bites. It was great to be on the water as the sun disappeared below the horizon.

The next morning was almost as calm as the first morning. It was a bit cool but once the sun came over the horizon things started to heat up pretty quickly. We took out some eggs and discovered we hadn't brought any fat to fry them in. The good news was that we had some Ready Crisp bacon. We fried it up which gave us enough grease to be able to fry the eggs. It was a delicious breakfast. For whatever reason this was the first time in a long time that we brought eggs with us. It certainly won't be the last.
After breakfast we hopped in the canoes and headed for Parkside Bay. We were just looking to explore and see what was around the corner. Our son fished while I paddled and Sarah paddled as the girls played in the front of the canoe. Somehow we'll need to get the kids to paddle more on our trips (not that it mattered for this trip). As we paddled our son caught a nice smallmouth bass. He was pretty excited. This was the first time he'd caught a fish big enough to eat.

Heading to Parkside Bay 
Beautiful Day
Mountain Behind Our Site
We paddled for a bit but it was getting hot so we headed back to our site. On our way back we could really notice Ball Mountain behind our site. I wondered if there were any lookouts on the mountain. I imagined that the views of the lake might be great.

We headed back to the site. I dropped our son off then went to clean the fish. The rest of the crew started a fire and when I came back we cooked the fish and had a delicious lunch. You could say that our son was hooked on fishing at this point. He was really excited to be able to catch our lunch.

Big Catch
In the afternoon we hung around the site and did some swimming and relaxing in the hammocks.
Hanging Around
While the kids were relaxing I decided to head up to the top of Ball Mountain to see what I could find. There were no trails beyond a certain point but I managed to meander to the top. Once I made it to the top it was pretty clear that there was no lookout but there was a gorgeous meadow of maple saplings. It wasn't at all what I expected but it was super rewarding none the less. 
Maple Saplings 
I made my way back down and we had dinner. After dinner we did some fishing but didn't catch anything. It was another beautiful night on the water.

Beautiful Night on the Lake
The next morning we woke up to a really humid morning. The forecast was for a maximum temperature around 30ºC feeling more like 40ºC. We had breakfast, packed up our stuff and headed out. It was a hot, hot day. Hard to believe that these were the first days of fall. We were hoping to stop somewhere for lunch and a swim but we were not covering ground very quickly so we ate in the canoes and pressed on. 
On the Way Back - Captured by the Four Year Old
Smoke Lake
It was very busy heading to the access point. It was amazing to see how many people must have been in the park over the weekend. We were all sweaty and smelly when we got to the access point so almost all of us opted for a swim. It was so refreshing. I couldn't believe how much cooler I felt after being in the water.

We had a great four days in Algonquin in the fall. We will certainly be back for more fall trips in the future.

Do you have a favourite fall destination?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bruce Peninsula & Fathom Five National Parks

We've never been to the Bruce Peninsula before so we decided it was time to check out this beautiful part of Ontario. We booked 4 nights at Bruce Peninsula National Park with the intention of exploring the park as well as Fathom Five National Marine Park.

Our first day was spent mostly travelling. We stopped for lunch at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park which was handy since it was pretty much the halfway point of the trip. There were vault toilets and a couple of picnic tables there and what looked like some good hiking. We didn't do any hiking since everyone was keen to get to our campsite. We had a fairly quick lunch and we were off again. We arrived at the park around 2:00, got the site setup then went to check out Cyprus Lake. 

Our second day was full of sighteeing at Fathom Five National Marine Park. We had booked a trip over to Flowerpot Island (about 2 weeks in advance) through Bruce Anchor Tours. When we booked we had a choice of which one their boats we wanted to take. We chose the open boat, called the Crusader, more because of the timing than anything but it turned out to be the right choice. It was a smaller boat but it was very easy to see over the side when the tour went over the ship wrecks and it was fun riding in the open air.

The tour began by heading into Big Tub Harbour to see two ship wrecks. The first was the 119 foot Sweepstakes, a schooner built in 1867. It lies on the bottom still intact from bow to stern. The second wreck was the City of Grand Rapids, a steamer that carried both passengers and cargo. It was amazing how easy it was to see these wrecks from the surface.

Shipwrecks From Above
Following the tour of the shipwrecks we were off to Flowerpot Island. We knew that the lighthouse and the caves on the island were closed this season but we still booked a four hour stay on the island. Had the lighthouse and caves been open I think we would have needed more time. We walked along the trail to Little Flowerpot. We spent a fair bit of time looking at the rock structure and playing in the water. We then moved onto the Big Flowerpot. Again we explored the area and played in the water. Before we knew it we were all getting hungry. We decided to make our way back to some picnic tables for lunch. We chose a table out in the sun rather than under the shelter. It was a cool day so a bit of sun would help warm us up. It was also the day of the solar eclipse so we figured  the sun's rays wouldn't be full strength. We had a great lunch and enjoyed the scenery before catching the boat back. We'll have to make another trip to see the lighthouse and the caves on the island.

Little Flowerpot 

Little Flowerpot From the Water

Big Flowerpot

Big Flowerpot
Upon our return to the mainland we had a bit of time to kill before our son and I went on a snorkelling tour. We wandered around the waterfront and looked at the huge boats in the harbour. Our tour was with Diver's Den so we made our way to their shop and got outfitted for snorkelling.  We managed to squeeze into our wetsuits and get all the other gear we needed. It was still early so we took off our gear and wandered the waterfront some more. We noticed that the Chi-Cheemaun, the ferry to Manitoulin Island, was unloading so we went over to have a look. It took no time to unload and before long they were loading up again.

We made our way back to the Diver's Den, got suited up and headed to the water to wait for the boat. The tour took us to Big Tub Harbour where we got to explore the wrecks we had seen from above the water in the morning. The tour was two hours long and I'd guess we were in the water for about an hour and a half. I had been worried that two hours might be a long time for us to be swimming but as it turns out the wetsuits kept up afloat with no effort on our part. The snorkelling somehow seemed magical. It was like we were transported back in time 150 years. The sights of the ships had us imagining what it must have been like to have sailed these great ships so long ago.

Snorkelling Time 

Windlass on the Sweepstakes

Starboard Railing

Bottom of the Hull of the City of Grand Rapids

City of Grand Rapids

City of Grand Rapids Boiler

While we were snorkelling the girls headed to Mermaid Cove to explore and swim. They had a great time there then headed into Tobermory to do some shopping, at A Mermaid's Secret no less. By the time they were done shopping we were just arriving back in the harbour. We dropped off all of the snorkelling gear and headed for fish and chips at The Fish & Chip Place. The food was great, the service was quick and staff were friendly. It was a fun-filled day.

Mermaid Cove
Across the road from The Fish & Chip Place we found this cairn that indicates the northern end of the Bruce Trail. Finding this made me want to hike all 890 km of the trail to find the other end. Alas, that's an adventure that will have to wait until some other time.

Northern Terminus of the Bruce Traila

On the third day we woke up to rain and cool temperatures. We decided it would be a good day to visit the park Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre is very well done. We were entertained for a long time and learned a lot while there. Once we were done at the Visitor Centre we climbed up the lookout tower. It was a very windy day so you could feel the tower swaying in the wind. The view from the top was great. Lake Huron on one side, Georgian bay on the other.

How Fathom Five Got Its Name

View from the Lookout Tower
We followed the trail at the bottom of the tower to Little Dunks Bay and enjoyed the view.

Resting At Little Dunks Bay

Little Dunks Bay
We headed back to our campsite for some dinner and the wind was still just howling (as it did for most of our trip). As we ate we couldn't help talking about how windy it was. "Imagine how big the waves must be on Lake Huron!" So after we cleaned up the site we headed to Singing Sands, on the Lake Huron side of the peninsula, to watch the sun set. The bay is very shallow so you don't see the big waves up close but as we looked out into the open lake we could see the massive waves. It was a beautiful sunset and we decided that we should go back during the day for a swim.

Strong Wind Off Lake Huron

Sunset at Singing Sands Beach
Day four was our last full day so we made the most of it. The plan was to hike to the Grotto and check it out then move on to Overhanging Point. As luck would have it we timed our visit to the Grotto just right (completely by accident). The first wave of visitors was well on the way back to the parking lot and second wave hadn't begun yet (due to time slot parking). There were other campers there but not that many. We did have intentions of swimming but it wasn't that warm and the wind was really strong. Brrrr.

Natural Arch

Indian Head Cove

Looking Down at the Grotto

The Way Down

On the Way Down

Inside the Grotto

Looking Out Into Georgian Bay From the Grotto

Time to Make Our Way Back Up

Going Up
From the Grotto we continued along the trail in search of Overhanging Point. There were some spectacular views of Georgian Bay, giant waves and all.
Waves Crashing 
Waves Soaking
We made our way across Boulder Beach, which was no small feat. The beach is just a bunch of loose rock which makes walking difficult (especially for little people). We did, however, make our way across the beach to the much more rugged section of trail. The trail was great and the kids were doing a great job of hiking.
Boulder Beach

En Route to Overhanging Point
At one point we came to a rock lined hole next to the trail. This seemed like it might be the way down to see the overhang but we thought we'd press on and perhaps head down the rabbit hole on the way back. A short while later we found a bit of a hidden path that led us to the underside of the overhang. It was incredible to see how much of the rock had been eroded by wave action so long ago.

Huge Overhang

The View From Under the Overhang
We had our lunch under the overhang then hiked back. It was much busier on the way back. There was a line up of people waiting to go down the rabbit hole, so we decided to pass. The Grotto and Indian Head Cove were super busy. I'm glad we arrived when we did. We hiked back to Cyprus Lake and by this point we were ready for a swim. The water was warm but the wind was quite cool.  I wasn't in for very long but the kids were as happy as could be. We headed back to the site to throw together some dinner before heading out to one of the parks interpretive programs. The program was a campfire with one of the park staff telling First Nations stories. It was very entertaining and the presenter did a great job. Another day of adventure in the books.

On the last day we packed up and headed to Singing Sands. We figured we could do some hiking then go for a swim. We had a great hike but we all thought it was a bit cool for swimming. So we had some lunch, packed up and headed for home.

What a great trip! This trip was quite different from most of our camping trips but we saw and did a ton. It seemed as though we were hardly ever at our campsite. Despite being so busy and seeing so much I feel that we really could have used another day or two to explore. There were lots of trails that we didn't get to explore and we didn't have a chance to paddle Cyprus Lake. All the more reason to come back some time.

Do you have any favourite activities to do while at Bruce Peninsula National Park or Fathom Five National Marine Park? We'd love to hear about them.