Saturday, November 28, 2009

Local hikes: Headland & Spirit Trails at Pukaskwa National Park

Directions: From Hwy 17, drive ~13 km south on Hwy 627, through the communities of Heron Bay and Pic River and across the Pic River bridge to the entrance gate of Pukaskwa National Park. During the 0ff-season, the road into the park is closed. One must park at the locked gate (48.60460, -86.28860) and walk a few km to the trail head at the Visitor's Centre at Hattie Cove. From there, one can proceed directly along the Headland Trail.

Distance: Approximately 6.5 km.

Degree of difficulty: moderate (3/5). Some upland rocky sections can be slippery when wet - wear appropriate footwear. Several flights of wooden stairs and landings ease the passage through deep gullies.

Natural Features: The trail passes through cool, moist boreal forest dominated by spruce trees and an ericaceous shrub layer. The trees are festooned with filamentous lichens (Bryoria and Usnea spp.) while the forest floor is carpeted in a diverse assemblage of moss, lichens, liverworts, ferns and club mosses (Lycopodium spp.). The rich lichen community and rugged terrain provide food and shelter for the threatened Woodland Caribou.
Horseshoe Bay features sand dunes that support a closely monitored population of the endangered Pitcher's Thistle.
Several viewing platforms at the tip of the headland provide commanding views of the undisturbed coast line. To the north one can take in the Pic River Mouth Sand Dunes, the largest dune complex on the north shore of Lake Superior.

To the south, the vista includes a sweep of the steep rocky coast as it has appeared for thousands of years.

Among the birds we saw and heard during our hike were:

  • Bald Eagle: 1 (an adult sitting atop an islet at the mouth of the Pic)
  • Pileated Woodpecker: 1 (heard)
  • Hairy Woodpecker: 1
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: 3
  • Common Raven: 4
  • Black-capped Chickadee: 7
  • Boreal Chickadee: 2
  • Common Redpoll: (an unseen flock heard flying overhead)

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