Mightier Than a Martial Arts Proficient Turtle

Our heroic tale takes us back to a time when we were innocently hoping for a nice hot summer (amazingly enough our campers did swim at every opportunity throughout the season!). A time when school was slowly winding down and student’s attentions were focused elsewhere.Mama Snapping Turtle

We start our (martial arts and New York sewer system free) story along the edge of a charming little body of water. It’s known to High Park Kingdom locals as The Grenadier Pond. The partially naturalized shoreline of the pond provides excellent habitat for a variety of wetland creatures including our story’s heroine, Mama Snapping Turtle.

There is a reason why this lovely Kingdom is known as High Park. Toronto’s watershed ravines are well know throughout the GTA Realm. High Park Kingdom is home to some of the best of these beautiful green spaces. One of the larger ravines in the Kingdom is where you’ll find Grenadier Pond (and here you thought we only had a Black Oak Savannah to show off!). These ravines and the ancient shoreline create hills the likes of which challenge even the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts and summer Shakespeare aficionados!

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The 2013 Prescribed Burn in High Park

We had the amazing opportunity to watch part of this year’s controlled burn here in High Park. The rare Black Oak Savannah habitat found in the Park was once subject to frequent forest fires.  The native plants in the Black Oak Savannah have adapted over thousands of years to survive these regular forest fires. The fires helped to renew the Savannah habitat and encouraged stronger plant growth.  


Once the area around High Park was settled forest fires were a thing of the past. For over 100 years the Black Oak Savannah in High Park went without the rejuvenating  effects of a forest fire. High Park had become a manicured City Park with lawns and a concrete edge around Grenadier Pond. Over the past few decades naturalization efforts by the Forestry and Natural Environment crews within the City have worked to naturalize certain areas of High Park including Grenadier Pond and the rare Black Oak Savannah.

These efforts include starting a series of controlled burns throughout the Savannah habitat. The areas to be burned rotate each year. Often these areas have a number of invasive plant species that are unable to survive the burn process. The controlled burns are low, controlled fires. Trees supporting local wildlife are given a wide berth and the fire itself isn’t strong enough to damage the larger trees. After a burn the native plants in the area grow stronger and healthier helping to protect this rare habitat for future generations to enjoy! Continue reading “The 2013 Prescribed Burn in High Park”

Prescribed Burn in High Park

If you noticed the smoke coming from the west end on Thursday then you saw the prescribed burn done here in High Park.  Almost every spring the Black Oak Savannah gets a small, controlled dose of forest fire to keep it healthy and help it regenerate.

The Black Oak Savannah is a rare type of habitat, a small example of which can be found here in the Park.  Traditionally this type of habitat would have small forest fires sweep through every year.  Among other things the fire would help break down seed coats that require high heat to break open so the plants can grow.  These days we rarely have a forest fire in the middle of the city (fortunately) so our Forestry Staff, Fire Department and Police have to work together to help nature along.

Our Park Supervisor Jorge was there and took some great pictures of the burn:

You should also check out the “Prescribed Burn” walks hosted by the High Park Nature Centre.  You can make seed balls and help the native plants grow here in the park!

Now if I can just get the smell of campfire out of the office!

File This One Under: Slightly Gross But Totally Cool!

Something that always amazes us here in High Park is the extent of the wildlife living in this unique urban forest.  It’s the biodiversity (the variety of plants and animals) you can find here that’s so important … it’s not just white squirrels!  We often see ducks, swans, geese, hawks, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Night Herons, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, beavers, muskrats, groundhogs, chipmunks, mice, toads, frogs, turtles and snakes.  Every now and then you can also see deer and coyotes.

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The White Squirrel …

OK that title needs some sound effects behind it … something along the lines of dun, dun, dun! So have you heard about the sightings of white squirrels here in Toronto?  We have so many squirrels in our City that most of us hardly ever notice them.  It’s like they’ve become wallpaper, you know it’s there but hardly ever notice it, because it’s always there.

But squirrels, like their feathery counterparts pigeons (a.k.a. Rock Doves), are a lot more interesting than one might think.  Have you noticed the colour of the squirrels in your neighbourhood?  The main species of squirrel you’ll find in Toronto is the Gray Squirrel, even though they’re fur can often be black.  I’ve also noticed many with rusty/red coloured fur (sometimes they’re even 1/2 gray 1/2 rust).  There are even one’s with white fur.

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‘Tis The Season For Mulled Cider!

There’s some tasty local, organic cider still available at your local farmer’s market these days and what better time for a nice warm treat?  It’s a pretty simple process to mull cider.  The basic version is your apple/cinnamon combo!

Mulled Apple Cider:

1-2 L Local Apple Cider
1-2 cinnamon sticks (2 to 3 tsp, or to taste, of cinnamon powder can be used to speed up the mulling process but the sticks are more fun!)

Pour cider into a medium size pot and add cinnamon.  Turn burner on medium-low and allow to simmer (not boil!) for at least 30 minutes with cinnamon sticks, 10 to 15 minutes with cinnamon powder.  You can heat for longer if you’d like a stronger flavour.

Now for mixing things up a little!  You can also find local pear cider at your farmer’s market at this time of the year.  It mixes well with apple cider or is amazingly sweet as a stand alone drink.  Adding some dried fruit like cranberries can also add a little extra zing 🙂

Here are a few other ideas for spicing up your hot cider drinks:

Mulled Apple Cider with Orange and Ginger – this one calls for unpasteurized cider but pasteurized will work too.

Apple and Sour Cherry Cider:

1 L of Apple and Sour Cherry Cider (often available at Sorauren Farmer’s Market, a few blocks east of High Park)
1 star anise pod
5 cm (2″) piece of cinnamon bark/stick

Pour into small pot, add star anise and cinnamon bark and simmer on medium low for 20 – 30 minutes.

Other spices you can use to mull cider include cloves, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.  Using whole spices, not ground, makes it easier to control how strong the flavour is.

Hopefully this will inspire everyone to drink something warm and local this holiday season!  Get creative and enjoy!

Speaking of creative … Anybody want to hazard a guess as to how long it’ll take the local Squirrels to find the new free buffet?

And before I managed to finish the post … we have our first customer … however … no snacking!  It’s possible, after sniffing about for a bit, that he felt it was too much trouble to get down to the feeders.  After all we’re just up the street from the easily accessed posts where many park visitors put out food for the squirrels and birds on a daily basis.  Why put in the effort when you don’t have too?