Hiking the Beaver Pond Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park
I was so happy to have three days wide open for hiking and skiing in Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario. It meant more opportunities to explore the trails and look for wildlife and birds. This cute little Red Squirrel captured our interest along the Beaver Pond Trail.
Over the course of our stay, we experienced very wintry weather with pop-up blizzards that totally obliterated the before-seen blue sky and sunshine. We were glad of the additional precipitation because, on the ski trails, we figured more is better.
But, on the morning that we hiked along the Beaver Pond Trail, bright sunshine warmed our backs even as weighed down branches brushed our heads leaving deposits of snow to tickle our ears and trickle down our backs. Brrr!
It is quite a different experience, hiking on Algonquin’s trails in winter versus the summer. It gives one a glimpse into the harsh environment tolerated by the animals that make their home in these winter climes.
The Beaver Pond Trail is a 2-kilometer loop that skirts a pond and one side of Amikeus Lake, both of which were created by beavers. When we crossed the boardwalk at one end of the pond, we had a full view of the frozen and snow-covered water as well as the snowy marshland.
Two different beaver houses stood out against the flat landscape, sticks intertwined to create the familiar dome-shaped lodges. Beavers had been spotted in this area a day earlier, so we were hopeful of catching one on the prowl, but none dared to venture from the warmth and security of the den.
Despite commencing our hike beneath a clear and sunny sky, intermittent snow showers dumped a liberal coating of light, fluffy flakes on the forest.
The Beaver Pond Trail followed a route over rugged terrain with several steep and rocky slopes that were already a bit treacherous because of a buildup of ice. The new snow added a slick coating that necessitated careful placement of each footstep.
When Bob pointed out this solidified accumulation of resin hanging from a tree, my first thought was that it resembled amber such as some he brought home from Latvia. The warmth of the sun had caused the resin to ooze from the tree, and it was subsequently channeled to one spot where repeated drops coagulated to form a resin “icicle”. With the sun glinting through the foliage, the resulting “icicle” had a rich golden glow.
Given the fact that the forest floor was covered in deep snow explained the activity of this Red Squirrel. It had chosen a favorite branch, low on a small tree, to sit and eat pine cones. Over and over again, the squirrel would descend the small trunk of the tree and disappear into a tunnel in the snow.
As you see in our video, seconds later, it would reemerge, clasping a pine cone in its paws, nimbly scale the tree and sit on the same branch to savour the delights of its stash.
Before Bob and I saw the stream that originates at Amikeus Lake, we could hear the babbling water. A fairly vigorous current has kept the stream flowing all winter long despite many subzero nighttime temperatures. This availability of open water explains the sighting of an otter in the immediate area.
Right next to the stream, Bob spotted the first insect of the season. It was small, only a half-inch long, and crawling on the snow.
Thanks to an article in the ON Nature magazine, Winter 2016 issue, I have identified this insect as a Stonefly. These insects produce glycerol, an antifreeze similar to that used in windshield washer fluids, and it helps them withstand cold winter temperatures.
As you see in our video, it seemed right at home on the cold winter snow.
Where Amikeus Lake flows into the stream, Bob and I were excited to see fresh otter tracks in the snow. We knew the otter had passed by recently because none of the morning’s snow squalls had covered the footprints or the slides.
The most obvious and best-known evidence of otters are their slides, either in mud or snow. Snowslides are created when an otter gives itself a push for momentum, and its sleek body slides across the snow resulting in a smooth groove on the surface of the snow.
As you can see in our video, the grooves of the otter’s slides can be up to 25 feet in length.
We could see where the otter had clambered up the steep bank from the stream and disappeared into the forest.
The otter had first made its way to the beaver dam at the edge of Amikeus Lake. There, it had maintained a tunnel allowing access to the waters of the lake despite the lake being frozen over. Probably there was better fishing in the lake than in the stream. Long slides were evident in the snow, both going to and returning from the dam.
Although Bob and I waited for about 45 minutes, the otter never reappeared. Much further along our hike, at the top of a high ridge, we saw where the otter had slid across the hiking trail, and traveled further into the forest . My dad told me that an otter will strike off, cross country, in search of another body of water where the otter knows there is a good source of food. Guess that’s why we didn’t catch the otter “at home”. We, nevertheless, had an enjoyable outing…good exercise, breathtaking views, and lots of fresh air and sunshine. Just what the doctor ordered!