by Ken Allison
The Wolf Grove area just west of Almonte is a special place in Mississippi Mills.
You can see how special it is as you drive out from Almonte on Wolf Grove Road. You drive over the flat, open country of farmland and pastures, over Wolf Grove Creek and up a steep slope into a landscape of granite, forests and beaver ponds. In less than a kilometre the scenery is completely transformed. It’s like driving from Ottawa to Algonquin Park in a few seconds. Amazing!
The Wolf Grove is special for at least two reasons. It provides a very large area of contiguous natural habitats, broken only by a few roads and clearings for buildings. Large areas of forest, or any other natural habitat, for that matter, attract and provide living space for much larger numbers of wildlife than smaller areas can.
But the Wolf Grove provides another major wildlife attractor within the context of its rocks and woodland. It contains as well a large number of wetlands. Many of these are beaver ponds, or at least the water levels are affected by beaver dams. Beavers are constantly adjusting water levels so these wetlands are far more than just ponds – they are often ringed with marsh habitats or drowned trees. These provide nesting sites for many species of birds that would not live in the area if it was all unbroken forest.
There are at least two active Great Blue Heron nesting colonies in standing dead trees in the Wolf Grove wetlands. Ospreys and Great Horned Owls use them, too. Canada Geese, Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers all breed commonly on the ponds. In the past year or two, Sandhill Cranes are moving into some of the larger marshes. Several species of frogs, snakes and turtles are common around the wetlands and there are also some very special plants. Salamanders are common in the abundant leaf litter in this forested area that has not yet been affected by invasive earthworms.
Bowley Lake is a particularly special wetland even in this area of many wetlands. It is a small lake surrounded by a boggy swamp full of special plants. It is the only place in Lanark County where Poison Sumac grows. If you’re not a botanist, that might not sound very exciting, especially when you find out that Poison Sumac is a giant relative of Poison Ivy that grows six to eight feet tall. And, yes, it can cause the same itchy rash as its much better-known cousin. If you are a naturalist, however, it marks anywhere it grows as a special place.
I live along Wolf Grove Road, so I get to enjoy this special environment every day. Even if I don’t think the weather is suitable for hiking, I have a dog who will disagree with me – strongly- and insist on going out!
We have a beaver pond on our property and we have a canoe, so we can get out on the pond in that way. Mostly, however, we walk, always with a camera so that we can take photographs as we go. Of course, anyone who goes for a walk with a camera is kidding themselves if they think they are going to get an aerobic work-out. One of the best ways to enjoy a wetland is to find a place where you can just sit and watch. Being quiet and unobtrusive for an hour will give the wildlife a chance to recover from your intrusion and return to their regular activities. The beavers will come out toward evening and go to work; the deer will come down to the pond to drink and the birds will come out to sing and feed.
Local wintering and breeding birds keep the bird feeders busy year-round. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Purple Finches and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are all beautiful birds that are coming now that we are approaching the breeding season. Resident species like Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees come all year for sunflower seed.
Now that we are retired and really have time to enjoy it, the Wolf Grove is our little pocket of paradise.