Kid's Discovery Trail

Kid’s Discovery Trail #1: The Great White Pine (Pinus Strobus L.)

white pine2This is the largest pine tree, growing up to 150 feet and five feet in diameter. The great white pine has five needles for each “leaf”. The Haudenosaunee selected the tree to represent the idea of peace, always green and growing tall in the forest. The five needles coming together represent unity of the original five nations – Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk. Can you spot a white pine?



White pine needlesThe five needles of the white pine are usually four inches long, joined at one end. They are slender and flexible, soft to the touch.




Deciduous Forests   In 1977 there were 198 million acres of forest in Ontario, seven times to amount of forest in all of France. There were 90 different kind of trees on the Ontario forests. We are in the great deciduous forest, one of three main forest in Ontario, that has hardwood and broad-leafed trees such as oak, hickory, chestnut, cucumber, sassafras, papaw, dogwood, ash, sycamore and walnut trees. There are also evergreen trees in this forest. Further north, the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Forest region contains maple, elm, beech, basswood, birch, ash and hornbeam trees and evergreens such as pine, spruce, hemlock, fir, cedar, birch and poplars. Still further is the Boreal Forest Region of northern Ontario, with smaller hardwood trees and more evergreens, such as spruce, fir, jack pine, tamarack, white cedar , white birch and aspen. (The Forest Trees of Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario)

The Walnut Family (Juglandaceae) – Nut trees were important to our ancestors. Both the Indigenous and Loyalist settlers depended upon the various nuts for food. The Walnut and Butternut are Juglans, meaning they have a sculptured nut, while hickory trees are Carya, which produce a smooth-shelled nut. Both nuts have an outer husk that must be removed to get to the inner nut which contained the inner fruit desired by both humans and squirrels.

The Maple Family (Acer) – There are seven kinds of maple trees. The sugar maple, also called hard maple,  is honored by the Haudenosaunee as a supply of “sweet water” to refresh the body after a hard winter. Loyalist settlers also used that sweet water to make maple syrup. Maple wood is favored for its strength, hardness and texture. It was used to make a variety of farm implements and household utensils. The leaf of the Sugar maple is 5-lobed with rounded notches. The Sugar Maple produces a small winged nut called a key or sumara. Pairs of these nuts come twirling to the ground in the fall.

Kid’s Discovery Trail #2: What is a Water Shed?  

The Red Hill Valley watershed is the drainage within a 60 mile radius. What happens within that radius effects the quality of the water within the valley, and that impacts on the birds, fish, animals and humans who use the Valley. If polluted water is sent down the valley, wildlife and plants will suffer.   Image: watershed graphic

Kid’s Discovery Trail #3: Can Squirrels Fly?


A population of Southern Flying Squirrel live in the Red Hill Valley. These squirrels are active at night, and jump from tree to tree. They have a wide flap of skin between their front and back legs that serve as “wings” (called guide membranes) allowing them to glide through the air. They don’t fly like birds, by soar across great distances gather a diet of buds, seeds and nuts as well as insects, fungi, bird eggs and nestlings. The Red Hill Valley Project had to erect poles across the Valley so that the flying squirrels could make their way across the Valley at this location.

Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans)   Growing up to 25 cm in length the steel grey squirrel is seldom seen. They like to glide in the beech-maple and oak-hickory forests. They sometimes live in nests occupied by several generations of the same family. They are smaller than the Northern Flying Squirrel. (Mammals of Ontario, 2002)


Kid’s Discovery Trail #4:  What is an Endangered Animal?

Some animals are endangered. That means that fewer and fewer of them survive and they might disappear if we are not careful. By restoring certain aspects of the ecosystem, we can help the endangered animals survive. They need the right combination of plants, trees, and food in order to grow and raise their young. In the past, chemical pollutants and improper land use destroyed the habitat of many animals, birds and fish.   These animals are rare and significant and you are lucky if you get to see one. Remember that their lives are fragile and don’t disturb them.

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) – Deer raise or “flag” their tail when alarm and to signal danger. Despite their size, they have great speed and agility. They hang out in forested areas as well as meadows, corn fields, and often travel along streams and valleys. The male “buck” grows antlers that fall off in the winter, only to grow back each spring, usually slightly larger if the winter food has been plentiful. Newborn fawns have white spots that eventually disappear. Their fur ranges from a reddish colour in the summer, to a darker, grayish color in the winter. (Tamara Eder, Mammals of Ontario, Lone Pine Publishing, 2001)

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentine) – One of the more common, and largest, turtles, the Snapping Turtle got its name from large head, long neck and powerful jaws that are used to defend itself aggressively. The carapace (shell) has three longitudinal ridges and a serrated edge above the tail. The saw-tooth appearance of the tail is caused by a series of bony plates. The walk on the bottom of the pond, searching for carrion or small fish to eat. It eggs are round like ping pong balls, and a female can lay up to 40 eggs each spring. The Haudenosaunee make a rattle from the body of the Snapping Turtle that is used in ceremonies to this day. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) – This hawk flies near the ground when it is hunting, with raid wing beats alternating with brief glides.  The female is browner and larger than the male. Both have dark bluish-grey tails with wide darker bars. Grows up to 47 cm (19”) (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. 2001)

Red Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta Canadensis) look for these small birds on tree trunks and you will see them walking vertically, with their heads up or down. They have a cinnamon underbelly with bluish-grey tops. Their black heads have white eyebrows and whitish chins, cheeks and necks, Grows up to 12 cm (4.7”) Their call sounds like a toy horn – Yank yank! (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. 2001)

Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurious) – This small bird is an international traveler, returning to Canada in mid-May from its wintering grounds in Central America. The male looks very different from the female, which is olive-green on top and bright greenish-yellow underneath. The male is deep chestnut colour, with a black head, neck and shoulders. Both male and female have brownish wings with white wing bars. Grows up to 18 cm (7”) (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. 2001)

Long-eared Owl (Asio otuds) – Hiding during the day, this owl hunts at night. It had distinctive ear tufts and mottled feathers of black, brown, grey, buff and white colours. Often mistaken for the Great Horned Owl, which has a white patch on its throat. This owl likes to hang out in the pine woods and will spread its wings in an imposing threat display when disturbed at its nest. Grows up to 39 cm (13.5”) (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. 2001)

Coyote (Canis latrans) – A chorus of yaps, barks and howls can be heard in the morning or at evening signaling the presence of coyotes. Changing land use patterns since the 19th century have allowed to Coyote to thrive, as their enemies, the wolves, have been diminished. They range in colour from grey, buff to reddish-grey.  Their bushy tail has a black tip. When frightened, they run with their tail tucked between their hind legs. They have an ability to adapt and a varied diet allows them to survive in most habitats. (Tamara Eder, Mammals of Ontario, Lone Pine Publishing, 2001)

Beaver (Castor Canadensis) – Perhaps the beaver has been the most important animal in the history of Canada. Their fur was the target of the extensive fur trade that brought the early settlers together with the indigenous hunters to create a lucrative market. However, the beaver was over-hunted and seldom seen ion this area until recently. Using their big teeth and powerful jaws, they can cut down trees to make dams that in turn create a safe water home for the family of beavers. The beaver is oen of the family clans of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois). (Tamara Eder, Mammals of Ontario, Lone Pine Publishing, 2001)

Kid’s Discovery Trail #5:  The Snakes Hotels  

Once rattlesnakes roamed the escarpment. Today, they are gone, but you might see a Garter Snake or Brown Snake as you walk the trails. More rare are the Ring Neck Snake and the Smooth Green Snake. The Red Hill Valley Project erected several stone “hotels” for snakes. The rocks are cool in the summer and provide protection for hibernating snakes in the winter.   Image: Snake Hotel

Ring-Necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus) – Growing up to 60 cm (24”) this snake is very secretive bluish or grey has a yellow band on its neck. They like to live in the wet areas of the forest’s edge, and live underground in hot weather. They prefer to eat salamanders, but will settle for worms, frogs, and smaller snakes. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Eastern Smooth Greensnake (Opheodrys vernalis) – This 65 cm (26”) long snake gets its name from its unusual green color.  They live in grassy areas such as meadows or clearings, but can climb into bushes and shrubs in search of a meal of spiders, snails or insects. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Kid’s Discovery Trail #6:  Protected Species

Some animals are so endangered it is illegal and unethical to harm them in any way. These animals need your help to keep their habitat clean and healthy. The following animals are considered Protected Creatures:

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) – Soaring high overhead, Turkey Vultures are often mistaken for eagles. These large birds (up to 80 cm wingspan or 32”) have a keen sense of smell. Their feathers are blackish brown with a small, bare skin red head. They soar over farmlands, forests, meadows and swamps. (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. 2001)

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) – Perhaps the loudest bird on the Valley, Blue Jays have blue feathers, with a crest on their head, a large, dark bill. Their face is white and they have dark bars on their wings and tail feathers. They live in the oak and pine forests, across agricultural and suburban gardens. Their shrill scream – jay-jay – often sounds warning when they see intruders to their area. (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario. 2001)

Kid’s Discovery Trail #7: Creatures of the Wetlands

Wetlands are special areas where water acts as a filter to a creek, river or pond. The plants of the wetlands serve as a natural filter and create a habitat for a variety of creatures. While some of these water creatures can be found throughout the Valley, the wetlands become a home to birds and animals as well. Watch for herons, ducks and geese as well as red-winged blackbirds in this area. Special protected creatures include:

Eastern Spiny Softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) – These long pointed snout turtles have a leathery shell which is grey or brown with spots. The males have light spots with a dark outline. The females have blurry spots. They like the water and eat mollusks, crustaceans and fish.  They can be aggressive when handled. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Wood Turtle (Clemmys insculpta) – Carrying a shell with a sculpted appearance, the Wood Turtle spends most of its time out of the water. They will spend the winter either at the bottom of a stream or buried in the soil. They feed mostly on berries and leaves, although some prefer insects and worms. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Blue Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) – A very secretive creature, they are usually only seen in the spring as they move to ponds to breed. Growing up to 13 cm (5”) they are black with small blue spots. They live under the fallen leaves in the forest, or burrow in the ground. Eating at night, they seek insects, earthworms, or other invertebrates. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Gray Treefrog (Hyla veriscolor) – This 6 cm (2.5”) frog is usually mottled grey or born, but some can change to a light green color. Males have a dark coloured throat, while females and juveniles have a white throat. They spend most of their time in trees or shrubs, feeding on insects. They have natural camouflage which can make them hard to bee seen. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Fowler’s Toad (bufo fowleri) – This large (6 cm or 4”) toad is brownish-grey with irregular dark marking. There are usually several warts in the larger dark spots. They spend most of their time in meadows, cultivated land or woods, feeding on worms and insects. They look similar to the American Toad, which only has one or two warts in each dark spot. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario, 2002)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Often seen standing motionless in shallow water, the Great Blue Heron waist for fish and frogs to move within striking range, when it will thrust its neck and head forward and capture its prey with it bill. You might see one flying overhead, with slow wing beats and legs extended beyond its tail. It grows up to 130 cm (51”) tall and can weigh up to 2.5 k.g. (5.5 lbs). The heron is one of the family clan of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois). (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) – This short, stocky heron is most active at night. When it is standing, it has a characteristic hunched posture. Its body is white, its wings are grey and it has black feathers on its head and down its back. It can be heard at dusk or night giving a loud kwawk! It grows to about 66 cm (26 in.) (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) – This unusual duck lives in perches instead of nests like other ducks. It takes over the former homes of woodpeckers or other natural cavities. The males are most colorful with iridescent green, purple and white features. The male also has red eyes, while the females, are mostly grey to aid in their ability to camouflage themselves. The have a rapid wingbeat and fast takeoffs. (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

Kid’s Discovery Trail #8: Some Important Birds and Animals

Green Heron (Butorides striatus)  Hanging out near woodland pools and swampy thickets, the Green Heron gets its name from the glossy greenish black cap and head feathers. Its body feathers are a rich maroon. It has yellow legs. It hunts from overhanging branches or in  sahllow water. It grows to 46 cm (18”). (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) This commonly seen hawk has a distinctive brick red tail and appears to thrive in both the forest and agricultural lands. While the feathers appear to be brownish colour, the underside is white with dark streaks. When not soaring you can see the red-tailed Hawk perched on tree limbs, utility poles, and fence posts. They hunt mice, frogs, snakes and smaller birds. The Hawk is one of the family clans of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois). (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)  This hawk has declined steadily as the result of loss of habitat, pesticide use and shooting. It has small, short wings that are bluish-grey. Its wing and tail feathers have wide dark bars across them. Its short wings and long tail allow for manoeuverability through dense foliage at high speeds. It grows up to 36 cm (14.2”). (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) – The Kestrel hovers over a field as it hunts, with its wings “twinkling”. It belongs to the falcon family and reddish body feathers, with slate-blue wing feathers and dark wing tip and tail feathers. The Kestrel will swoop over open fields and grasslands while it is hunting for food. It grows up to 30 cm (12”). (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) The long curved yellow bill of this bird distinguished it from its cousin the black-billed cuckoo. Both are grayish brown, with white under parts. It has a loud, harsh call, often heard just before bad weather.   (The ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario, 2001)

Butterflies   Hickory Hairstreak Butterfly   Monarch Butterfly   Silver-spotted skipper Butterfly   Northern Cloudwing Butterfly


Dekay’s Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) – A small and shy snake, the Brown Snake has two rows of dark spots down its back, with a lighter coloured-band down the center. They like to hide under leaves, logs, stones, or can borrow in the ground where they spend the winter. They like to eat insects, earthworms and slugs. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) – The distinctive Y-shape mark on the head indicates a milksnake, which also has a series of large reddish blotches outlined in black running down its back. This snake lives in both the forest and meadows and seek rock formations for winter rest. They like to enter buildings through cracks in the foundation. The eat rodents, frogs, birds and other snakes. When cornered they get aggressive and might bite, but are not poisonous. (The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario. 2002)

Kid’s Discovery Trail #9: What Kind of Fish Live Here?

This location was an important fishing spot for both the Original People and the Settlers of Hamilton. In the spring and fall, the indigenous fishermen would set up camp along the creek to catch the migrating fish. The fish would be either dried in the hot sun, or smoked over a fire, so that they could carry the fish back to their villages for future use. Once the Six Nations Reserve was established in the 18th century, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) families would take the trail from the Grand River to the Red Hill Valley, set up temporary fishing camps and stay as long as the fish runs were bountiful. Suckers, trout and salmon were the fish caught most often.

There are two species of fish that like in Lake Ontario but swim up Red Hill Creek to spawn. After they spawn they die, as part of their normal lifecycle. The Rainbow Trout and Chinook Salmon, are well known to local fishermen, however, these species are not indigenous to the Creek and have been introduced as a sport fish. Fisheries biologists differ in their opinions about whether or not these fish should or could be sustained in the Red Hill Creek.   There are two kinds of Rainbow Trout. One, known as Steelhead, has a silver body, with a darker top and dark spots. They can grow up to 60 cm (24 in) and live in the lake. This is the one that can be found spawning in the Red Hill Creek. The other Rainbow Trout is smaller, with more iridescent colouring. This trout lives in inland streams.  White Sucker also lives in the lake and spawns upstream. It is a fish that has been in the region for countless generations. It grows up to 50 cm (20 in.) and is shaped like a torpedo, golden brown in colour.