Kinghurst Fall Walk

By Nikki May
Photos by John Reaume

The day was mild for mid-November when members and visitors of Saugeen Nature set off for a stroll along the pathways of Kinghurst Nature Reserve near Dornoch. The woods were quiet as most of the song-birds have fled south, but there was a very active gaggle of Canada Geese on the pond near the east entrance. The birds were squabbling and chasing each other, stretching their wings and generally displaying appreciation for the lovely day.

On the pathway through the pine plantation to the meadow we paused to note some leaves remaining from the summer display of False Solomon Seal. The leaves were distinctive with grey and cream stripes, and still quite sturdy at this time in November. Beech tree leaves are also often seen still clinging to the branches of younger saplings. The beech leaves are somewhat soft and durable, not crisp like other species’ fallen leaves, and they can be used as a wipe if necessary.

We came across a grey and cream mushroom growing in clumps on the forest floor. Thanks to a member’s handy cellphone loaded with a plant identifier app, we were able to determine that this subtly attractive species is the Grey Knight. A suitably romantic name for a handsome fungus.

Travelling across the meadow, we stopped in to the visitor’s centre – a simple cabin filled with information on the wildlife in Kinghurst and southern Ontario. There were some turtle shells and nests on the table, along with a variety of literature to browse.

Entering the mature hardwood forest on the other side of the meadow, we were immediately surrounded by a cool shady hush. Remnants of spring ephemerals poked up here and there through the copper and bronze leaf litter. Clumps of Hepatica leaves, the occasional Blue Cohosh berry and dead or dying Maidenhair fern were three of the most prominent features. When we got to our favourite ‘Kinghurst rock’ we paused to admire the wide variety of species growing there. Hepatica, Hart’s tongue fern, red elderberry, and various mosses provided a rainbow of colour, even at this time of year. We marvelled at the fecundity of a rock on the floor of an older growth forest!

Every year some of the large trees fall, and the woodland floor seems to get more crowded with prostrate trunks. Over time these become nurseries for new growth: fungi, mosses, ferns, even small vascular plants and tree seedlings take root in the decaying wood. In some areas of the forest there is a crowd of young saplings where the trees fell years ago, and the forest is regenerating. In a protected hardwood forest like this one, we have an opportunity to observe, even in our limited lifetimes, nature’s methods of continually renewing the biodiversity of the forest.

If the beginning of our walk was heralded by the geese, the ending was highlighted by a beautiful little Eastern Garter snake who poised serenely as many photos were taken. The bright yellow stripes on its back and sides contrasted wonderfully with the darker skin on top and the creamy underbelly.

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