On a cool day in late June, several members of the Saugeen Field Naturalists met for a canoe outing on Bells Lake. At 7am, the launch area was fairly quiet, but a keen fisherman had already preceded us onto the lake.
Three kayaks and a canoe were launched and we proceeded to wend our way slowly along the riverine entrance to the lake. After a couple of minutes, we stopped to talk about the Sweet Gale that lines the left bank. We crushed a few leaves and smelled the pungent scent. This plant was used in the pioneer days as a replacement for hops in brewing beer, giving the beverage a flavour that tasted somewhat like retsina. Further along the narrows, we noticed the extraordinary activity of a pair of Kingbirds. These birds are typically found along the shores of the lake, but this pair was especially noisy and upset when we nosed in to look at some plants on shore. Suddenly, one of our number noticed a nest, and standing up in the canoe, counted at least 4 chicks waiting to be fed. We took some pictures and then retreated to allow the parents to feed the chicks and reassure themselves that they were unhurt. Not very much further along was a Great Crested Flycatcher tending its young located in a hole in the trunk of a snag (dead standing tree).
The morning went on in a similar way. Among the sights we saw were a Wood Lily, glowing bright orange among the green vegetation on the shore, a Purple Fringed Orchid hidden among some shrubs on small ‘island’, and Marsh Skullcap, with its bright purple-blue flowers. The pitcher plants, which are common around the edges of the lake, were past their prime blooming time, but we found a couple that were still in full bloom. The Red-osier dog-wood was in bloom, adding touches of white here and there on the shoreline. Earlier in the season, Labrador Tea supplies this function. Royal fern, a common shoreline plant, adds a touch of light yellow-green to the colour palette.
This morning, we paddled about halfway up the lake and took the turn to the right that leads to the east branch. As we were circling the bay, we spotted an Osprey fishing in a secluded cove. At other times, members of the club have sighted a Bald Eagle near the lake. Kingfishers are regular inhabitants of the lake and occasionally a pair of Common Loons has been seen.
At any time of year, Bells Lake is a wonderful place to visit. The lake feels like it should be located many miles further north, due to the mix of vegetation around the shoreline. It is usually quiet, and there is only a scattering of cottages around the lake, giving it a feeling of isolation that is rare in Southern Ontario. To get there, follow Traverston Road north to Concession 12, one road north from Grey Road 12, turn right, and you will be at the launch point in about 3 minutes.
Submitted by Nikki May