Big Creek Fall Hike with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
October 20, 2006

by Sheila Edwards

Big Creek Fall Hike with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Big Creek Fall Lake - People on LogOver a dozen members and friends of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists gathered near Watson’s Corners for a fall ‘natural history’ hike Sunday, October 15th. Although the 16th century term ‘Natural History’ refers to a systematic account of natural phenomena, and not ‘history’, our walk did frequently provide glimpses into the past. Led by MVFN member Joel Byrne, we spent a beautiful day wandering through this rugged terrain of fall hardwood and wetland areas.

The area featured downed trees, broken trunks, and boughs caught by branches above us. Occasionally we heard: “That’s not a good place to stop” when someone in the group inadvertently paused in a precarious place. Hiking here is not recommended on a windy day! The prevalence of “widow makers” in the woods brought back stories of the ice storm: how views from windows became drastically changed, and dense forests were thinned. Of course not all the damage was caused by the ice storm. When a forest is left in its natural state short-lived trees come and go, fallen branches decay where they land, and trees left behind from logging may stand out from the crowd. A series of blackened stumps may have been remnants from fires during the Depression. Studying these impacts gives us insights into the history of the area.

When first entering the forest along an old lumber road, we were lucky enough to come across a couple of Grouse, or the same grouse twice, it’s sometimes hard to tell in the forest. Although large flocks of birds are common at this time of year, winter seemed to have come early to these forests and not many were spotted. Mammals were about. Close examination of scat found on a large log indicated a fisher had recently been eating the red berries of Bittersweet Nightshade. Blue Jays were seen (and heard) as we started out on the trail. A Hairy Woodpecker was easy to see at one point, due to the lack of foliage. And friendly Chickadees helped themselves to peanuts right out of Joel’s hand.

The few remaining flowers on the Herb Robert (a native Geranium) and the slightly more hardy New England Aster, brought to mind the recent colder nights. Several in the group enjoyed looking at some of the minute details of the flora and fauna with hand lenses. Others enjoyed sampling the abundant and potent wild leek.

Our picnic lunch site also reflected an earlier time. Parts of a wall from an old dwelling became a backrest for hungry walkers. An old circle of rocks was cleared for a campfire, and dead wood hung up in trees became our firewood. After lunch, a rusty sap bucket was lowered into a well so we could douse the fire. The time it had taken the original settlers to make the well seemed incredible. The walls made with tight fitting rounded rocks showed no effect from the passage of time. The well had to pre-date the large tree growing just inches away, yet there was no sign of damage from the roots. We completed the hike walking back along the ridge following an old split rail fence, along the edge of the wetland area, then following the deer trails in the field, ending at Joel’s summer home.

MVFN’s next outdoor event has not yet been scheduled. On November 16th MVFN presents a lecture with Pat Ferris of MAPLE who will discuss the ecology and rehabilitation of shorelines. If interested, and for more information contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879, e-mail or see our website at

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