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Nature Walk at Crothers Woods

My City from the Don Valley

Early this morning, I drove down a steep street called Beechwood in the Don Valley, past the place where they train police dogs, and parked at the bottom. I was meeting up with naturalist Miles Hearn and his crew of Saturday morning nature walkers.

For readers not from here, Toronto is a city which was built between two rivers, the Humber on the west side and the Don on the East, along the shores of Lake Ontario. If you are ever visiting Toronto during the nice weather months, I suggest renting a bike for day. You might start quite a way up on the Don, such as at Beechwood where we walked today. You could bicycle all the way down along the river to the Waterfront Trail and along Lake Ontario all the way to Port Credit and beyond. It is a fantastic way to see a different side of Toronto. You might like it so much you will want to take a bike out of the Toronto Islands and enjoy riding around there, or perhaps start along the Humber by Lambton Woods and cycle all the way down. For a big bustling city, we have plenty of natural areas and places to walk or cycle.

Main branch of the Don River

This section of the Don Valley was home to paper mills for 130 years until they finally closed shop in the 80s. The City demolished the old Domtar buildings and did a significant clean-up in an effort to renaturalize the area. Across the river is a woods known as Crothers Woods after the family that owned a company selling heavy equipment, headquartered at the top of the hill. My late father-in-law, George Gregory, worked at Crothers for many years. He had quite a success story with the company, starting at the bottom and working his way up to a VP role with the company. Crothers is now Toromont and now there is a Loblaws grocery story near where the Crothers building was.

Trout Lily
Rail bridge over the Don River

Since the paper mill days, this area has been transformed into parkland with many forest trails, and an area called Cottonwood flats, which contains a fenced off area to protect nesting birds. The Toronto Field Naturalists do plant and bird surveys in this area.

Poison Ivy

There is plenty of poison ivy (as well as loads of stinging nettle) through here so I would not recommend leaving the trail if you are in sandels and shorts. Poison ivy is a curious plant. Sometimes it is green, sometimes red, sometimes shiny, sometimes with leaves with jagged edges. Sometimes it grows low to the ground and at other times it can be a vigorous bush. Be wary if you see a plant that has sets of 3 leaves hanging down. “If you see 3 you’d better flee”. I think the proverb goes something like that, and “if the berries are white, better take flight”.

May Apple

May Apple grow knee-height. When there are 2 branches at the top, the plant produces a bud, or “apple”, which of course is not an apple at all. I’ve been told that black morels often fruit under May Apple. I’ve looked numerous times, though, and I can’t say I’ve found any there.

Pond near the Don River

There are a few ponds near the river. Logs strewn along the shore of the ponds are good habitat for a common flycatcher called an Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Pheobe

There were many yellow warblers around this morning. We could hear their calls on either side of the trail. Sweet-sweet….cherry cherry sweet. Each time, though, I would just catch a glimpse of one of them and didn’t get a chance at a good photo. Some days are like that.

Baltimore Oriole

This area is a good place to see Baltimore Orioles and also Orchard Orioles.

Manitoba Maple in flower

There are lots of Manitoba Maples along the river. They are quite pretty now in full flower. Manitoba Maples are also known as Box Elders. One of their most common characteristics is a tendency to grow in all directions. It’s quite common to see a large trunk growing almost parallel to the ground. In late summer, Manitoba Maples in our area are often a host for a good edible mushroom, the Hypsizygus ulmarius. This mushroom is known in some areas as the Elm Oyster, but I have never seen one growing on an elm tree. They like the soft maples best. These are very tasty mushrooms, by the way. They have a firmer texture than the super-tender Aspen Oysters (Pleurotus populinus), which we see way earlier in the season, at the beginning of June.

European Pussy Willow
American Robin

Both the Trout Lilies and the Trillium are in bloom now.


Teasel seed pods
Tree Swallow
Northern Cardinal

The Crothers Woods area of the Don Valley is a popular spot for nature hikers, bicyclists, including mountain bikers, dog walkers and runners. When I was a boy, my dad told me the Don was a very polluted river, and I can imagine with 130 years of paper mills, it was. I’m really happy to see it evolve into a place where people go to enjoy recreation in nature.

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