A Hike At Whitchurch Conservation Area North of Toronto

I went for a nice hike up at Whitchurch Conservation Area north of Toronto, just off of the 404 highway near Stouffville on the weekend.

First of all, here above is a video I took, giving you a quick tour of the place I set up my blanket, kit, food and book to read.

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I brought along my military surplus knapsack that I picked up at a thrift shop for a few dollars. It is made of canvas and is a terrific piece of kit - big enough for a day trip, with lots of connection points on the outside for attaching extra gear.

I reached a grassy verge at the edge of a pond, and laid out my wool blanket, my stove, and cooking kit, pulled out my book and sat for a while relaxing and reading.

I brought my Trangia kit - a great compact size, everything fits into the pot. I brought my Mora 510 carbon steel blade knife, and a stainless steel camping cup for eating lunch. It was still early, so I read and watched the birds, and listened to the sounds of nature for a while.

At one end of the pond, last year's growth of cattails are fluffing up and breaking down amongst this year's growth. Had I been especially hungry, I would have pulled up the roots and made a little stew or roasted them over a flame. I wasn't especially hungry.

The grass was full of edible and medicinal plants. Narrow leafed plantain above.

Broad leafed plantain or common plantain. You can cook up the leaves like spinach - and roast the roots for flour.

I was on a grassy spot but most of the area is thick woods, a mix of deciduous and coniferous woods.

The other end of the pond was narrower, and at one point a Great Blue Heron flew in. It got spooked and flew away the second it saw me bumbling with my camera (shaky and blurry shots below).

Fat bumbling tadpoles soaked in the sun in the shallows.

They might make good bait if I were in a fishing mood.

I had the place to myself. Wonderful. And on a Victoria Day long weekend (a Canadian holiday) where traditionally most folks go to cottages or go camping or to wilderness areas to escape the city and to locate the beers.

I'm not sure what this little yellow flower is - anyone?

Ahhh.... Wild Strawberries! The paths through the woods were littered with them. As I crawled along the ground looking for plants (a sight to see), I noticed beneath the strawberry leaves there were little strawberries. I ate a few and they were tart and delicious. Each of them, a tenth of the size of a domesticated strawberry had as much flavour as the latter and a much fresher taste too.

I ate a small handful worth of them.

After nibbling on strawberries, yellow wood sorrel, plantain, and other bits and pieces I found about, I read for a while longer.

Then I figured it was time for curried chicken with rice. I opened my can of curried chicken with my knife, and plopped in some rice. Nothing tastes so good when you are hungry and when you are outdoors in nature.

A rude honking squawking sound emerged from the sky, and I had to scramble to turn on my camera and try to capture pictures of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). It looked like a gigantic pterodactyl.

It landed but despite my stealthy stumbling, it saw me and flew off as quickly as it could.

Next time I will wear a Ghillie suit and hide in a tree for the day, waiting for the bird to land again.

The bigger and the more unusual the bird, the ruder the sounds they make. That's my theory. The loud, coarse rattle of this irritating bird was a Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). Well, it was nice for a while, then it got irritating.

After a few hours, I decided to be on my way. I packed up, ensured the place was cleaner than when I first got there, and started through the woods on the path back to where I had parked my car near the road. As I walked slowly, looking carefully at the various plants scattered along the pathway, I recognized ferns, and wood sorrel, and a couple of Jack in the Pulpits.

And then suddenly, as though I had recognized an old friend, I saw a mushroom standing amongst the leaf litter. I knew instantly that it was a Morel, although I've never seen one in real life before. It is such a recognizable mushroom, much like a giant puffball is unmistakable.

Roger's Mushrooms has these details about these highly prized, rare, and exceedingly edible Morchella esculenta. I picked the two that I was able to find, for a dinner treat later that evening.

This is an Ink Cap - I believe. There is a self-digesting enzyme within the cap, that upon maturity emerges to cause deliquescence... Deliquescing is what happens when the cap liquifies, through autolytic action. It is named an Ink Cap, because the black fluid that the cap breaks down into was once used as a writing ink.

Here is a bunch of immature Ink Caps still in their button or egg form. They are edible (always cook mushrooms before eating them), but if you drink alcohol within 72 hours, you will suffer from mild gastric distress, due to an interaction of the metabolites of alcohol and the Ink Cap.

I've always been drawn to the soft, velvety leaves of the first-year growth of Mullein. My mum told me they were known as fairy blankets when she was a child in Ireland. If you pick one up, you'll understand why.

Baby blue coloured Forget Me Nots were scattered at the wood's edge.

They look so nice. By the time I was in the car, carrying two Morel mushrooms in my jacket pocket, lots of pictures in my camera, rice, curry and chicken in my tummy, I was rested and relaxed. I had read a terrific book and was feeling really positive.

There is nothing like nature to restore the soul and mind.



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