late november at hemlock ridge

Yesterday, Don, Sabrina and I hiked the Hemlock Ridge and Beech Woods Trails at Charleston Lake Provincial Park (in eastern Ontario). We’ve hiked these trails many times over the years and there’s always something of interest whatever the season. Before we had even left the parking area, we encountered the above Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) hopping about in the leaf mulch. Lucky for the mouse, Sabrina doesn’t chase small creatures. When it saw her, it raced to some nearby bushes and climbed to a perch a couple of feet above the ground. I took a few photos before we continued on our way.

Along the trails, I watched for spider and insect activity. A few ground spiders ran among the leaves, and a late-season moth was seen flying among the bare branches in the deciduous part of the forest. However, the best find of the day was a immature Green Assassin Bug found on a decaying maple leaf. I believe it’s a Zelus luridus. I frequently see these hunting for other insects on the leaves of deciduous trees in summer, but hadn’t expected to find one out and about so late in the autumn.

Also found in the leaf mulch were a couple of clusters of bright yellow mushrooms. I believe they’re some species of Hygrocybe, perhaps Hygrocybe flavescens (everyone is welcome to post an opinion or guess in the comments).

The final part of our hike led us along the trail where it passes through a narrow slot between a sandstone ledge and immense fragments of the ledge that have broken away and tipped over onto the downhill side of a steep slope leading to a pond filled basin (see photo below). The sandstone lies atop the granite bedrock beneath, and as erosion has weakened the sandstone layer, sections of the ledge have fallen away. In this photo, Sabrina is seen standing in one of the sections of trail where the uphill side ledge is not so high. In places, it is roughly 3 meters (about 10 feet) or so high. For a better feel for the geology, check out this post that I wrote about the Sandstone Island Trail, which is located not far from the trails hiked yesterday. As you can see in this photo taken from beneath a sandstone ledge in the Rock Shelter, the ledge gradually erodes until the cantilevered “shelf” someday falls and tips to the forest floor (hopefully when there’s no one around!).

Along the ledge, the sandstone on both sides of the trail is covered in mosses, lichens and ferns. In spring, when the trees leaf out and water seeps through the rock from the above forest floor, it’s an incredibly verdant place — almost other-worldy. There are damp, mossy, miniature grottoes throughout the sandstone ledge, and I often find Narceus and Sigmoria millipedes feeding on moss in these protected niches. As can be seen in this photo, trunks of good-sized Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) cling to the ledges and extend root systems into fractures in the rock.

The Hemlock Ridge part of the trail is, as the name suggests, forested with Hemlock – dark and mysterious. We often snowshoe around sections of these trails in winter as there is much to be seen — sometimes porcupine out and about, the occasion Barred Owl, and almost always some Pileated Woodpeckers. It’s just one of the many excellent hiking trails at Charleston Lake Provincial Park.

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8 Responses to “late november at hemlock ridge”

  1. LauraH Says:

    That little deer mouse is very cute. Such big eyes!

  2. burning silo Says:

    Laura – Deer mice are such cute little characters. When I was looking at the photos after I got home, they made me think of Stuart Little.

  3. robin andrea Says:

    What a beautiful place to walk, Bev. That deer mouse is very cute. As Laura mentioned– her eyes are so big, and so are her ears. It’s really so good to walk the same trails often, details become more noticeable the more familiar we are with the place. Roger and I have a few hikes we like to take, and the more we go through the changing seasons, the more we see.

  4. Peter Says:

    The rock shelter always gives me an uneasy feeling when I am standing in it, but a wonderful spot. I always stay for a short while when hiking that trail. Looking forward to being in the area in another 30 days, I think a hike there is needed.

  5. Wayne Says:

    The deer mouse is fantastic, Bev. It’s amazing the living things that still abound as winter approaches (and your snow spiders show that even in the dead of winter living things don’t just go away).

    Things get quieter, a bit, but I’ve also noticed the brilliant green lush growth of lichens and mosses. Cold moist weather seems to be what they like.

  6. burning silo Says:

    robin – Don and I walk over several trails through the seasons and it’s always interesting to see what is happening with the vegetation and wildlife. When you go to a place often enough, I think you develop a different way of looking at things – and you probably notice much more than on a “new” trail.

    Peter – Yes, I feel a certain uneasiness when I’m under the rock shelter ledge too… especially as I’ve studied the “other” ledges that have broken away and tumbled down the slope at a couple of other spots along the trail. One of these days, it’s sure to happen to this one as well. If you *do* go to Charleston Lake when you’re back this way, do keep in mind that the park now closes the gates just beyond the first (main) parking lot by the visitor center. The roads into the trailheads is closed off from October to May, so you have to hike in to get to all of the trailheads. The Hemlock Grove and Beech Woods trailheads aren’t too far from the visitor center, but Sandstone Island is a pretty fair walk along the road. We do walk in to all of the trailheads at times, but usually go to Hemlock/Beech as it’s the closest. Same goes for Murphy’s Point P.P. and Frontenac too. I don’t think they used to do this at the parks, but almost all of them close off most of the roads in autumn now.

    Wayne – Thanks! I thought it was a lucky shot! You’re right… there are all kinds of creatures to be found moving around, even on the coldest days. And yes, the lichens and mosses become so vibrant at this time of the year. It’s really the best time to view and photograph them.

  7. Matt Says:

    very nice photo of the deer mouse

  8. burning silo Says:

    Thanks, Matt!