Wildlife Close to Home

This past Saturday was unusually warm (it got up to 19 or 20 degrees!) and even the threat of rain couldn’t stop me from venturing out into nature as a break from grading lab reports. I’d passed Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park many times while driving Highway 7 to and from Ottawa, and we figured it was time to check it out.

The park is day-use only, and it’s very small, only about 40 hectares. However, it has an interesting history, as I learned from the plaques at the trailhead. The land originally belonged to the Honourable Zacchaeus Burnham, who acquired it in the 1830’s from the Crown. In contrast with most other farmers and settlers of the time, the Burnham family did not clear-cut or remove trees except for what they needed for fuel, resulting in a mature forest that has changed little over the past 185 years. In the 1950’s the descendants of Zacchaeus Burnham donated the land to the province, for the enjoyment of the people of Ontario. The park has a relatively high diversity and abundance of local wildlife species, and is known for its spring and fall bird migrations, spring and summer wildflowers, fall colours, and large tree specimens. For example, one of the oldest sugar maple trees in the world is located in the park, and is over 330 years old. (The biologist quoted in the article believes that it is the oldest, as the age of the Comfort Maple in Pelham, ON- which is believed by many to be over 500 years old- is not based on complete ring counts. It’s a serious tree controversy apparently).

The trails in Mark S. Burnham consist of a long loop and a short loop, although really one could call them the short loop and the shorter loop. On my slow half-hour meander around the 1.5-km long loop, I passed through stands of maple, beech, elm, and hemlock, ascending slightly up a drumlin and then down into a wonderland of golden leaves blowing around in the blustery wind. Some of the inhabitants of the woods made themselves known even in that short amount of time: upon entering the park I saw a pileated woodpecker and a hairy woodpecker, twice I disturbed garter snakes resting on the path,  a huge American toad almost got stepped on, and just at the end of the trail near the parking lot a ruffed grouse sitting on the ground didn’t seem that concerned by my presence.

img_43651Can you spot the pileated woodpecker?


img_4371Garter snakes.

img_43751American toad.

img_43791Ruffed grouse.

While I wish Mark S. Burnham had more to explore, it’s great that this piece of relatively undisturbed land was able to be preserved and that it’s pretty accessible to people in Peterborough (only a 10 minute drive from our place). I’ll definitely come back to check it out in other seasons.





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