The Exploits Lighthouse Trail
The 4.2 km lighthouse trail begins at Butt’s Cove in the community of Exploits now a seasonal destination in summer months; no permanent year round residents remain. A narrow strip of rocky coastline on both sides of the harbor is lined with former homes, many having been refurbished and now used as summer houses. Although little cultivatable land is available, botanical evidence of former small gardens can readily be seen. A walk along the community paths reveals old cultivated roses, garden Black Currants, patches of Chives, Monkshood, Musk Mallow, Hops vines, Rhubarb, and even a gnarled apple tree. Stinging Nettle, perhaps once utilized as an edible herb or for its many reported medicinal uses, occurs everywhere in the community. A close look at some of the plants, especially in the sunnier open areas near the communities or lighthouse at the other end of the trail, often reveals plant-eating insect larvae. Larch sawfly larvae were feasting on a Larch tree in Butt’s Cove. Black Swallowtail Butterfly and Tiger Swallowtail larvae were visible on Scotch Lovage and poplar leaves respectively.
Although the seashore was not closely observed, a few obvious seashore plants were noted such as Seaside Plantain, Glasswort and Scotch Lovage, and it is suspected that most of the common seaside species are present where suitable habitat exists. Greater Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls were seen around the harbor. Several species of sparrow (White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Fox Sparrow) and other birds common in or near the Boreal Forest (Black-capped Chickadee, Slate-coloured Junco, Red-breasted Nuthatch) frequent this open area and were also seen or heard on the trail.
The trail leaves Butt’s Cove following an old road now still ATV accessible, to a pond which is the gravity feed water supply for some summer homes on the western side of the harbour. A black plastic water pipe follows the road margin. A wet peatland (bog/fen) surrounds the pond featuring a number of wildflowers and woody species native to this habitat. Beyond the pond the trail becomes a narrow footpath winding westward through the spruce-fir boreal forest. Several ponds and fens also occur along the trail featuring a plethora of bog shrubs and wildflowers such as orchids, pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, ferns, and cotton grasses. Edibles such as Marshberry, Bakeapple, Mountain Fly Honeysuckle, Northern Wild Raisin, and Labrador Tea are common. In pool edges the showy white Fragrant Water-lily and the Yellow Pond-lily put on an impressive display. Four orchids that were in full bloom in early August were the White Fringed Orchid, the Tall White Bog Orchid, Club-spur Orchid, and Rose Pogonia. Certainly many other wildflowers not in bloom on this brief survey would also adorn the wet peatlands in their seasons. A Winter Wren and White-throated Sparrow sang from the border of the bog.
On dry uplands the forest floor is covered with carpets of Stair-step Moss and Schreber’s Moss. Several orchids are common here including Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain and Heart-leaved Twayblade. Two parasitic plants were noted in the mossy woods, Pinesap and Indian Pipe. Neither of these two are green and so are not able to photosynthesize. Both parasitize a soil fungus which connects to tree roots and the parasites thereby draw nutrients from the forest trees instead of producing nutrients themselves as do most green plants. Sometimes the trail passes through dense growths of Sheep Laurel, which, when in bloom, provides a massive display of rose-pink blossoms. In more open woods the trail is often flanked by several greyish reindeer lichens, the easiest to recognize being Star-tipped Reindeer Lichen growing in rounded clumps. In sheltered areas retaining high atmospheric humidity, trees are festooned with Old Man’s Beard and Horsehair lichens.
The cones of the spruce-fir forest provide food for seed-eating birds such as the Black-capped and Boreal chickadees and the Red-breasted Nuthatch, all easily seen and heard in late July. It is probable others such as Pine Grosbeak and crossbills are present as well. Seed-eating Spruce Grouse obviously breed here as a female with an almost fully grown youngster was frequenting a thickly forested stretch of the trail.
Where the trail loses altitude and passes through moister habitats, the forest floor is covered by a variety of herbaceous plants including Bunchberry/Crackerberry, Corn Lily, Wild Sarsaparilla, One-sided Wintergreen, Northern Starflower, Lily-of-the-valley, Twinflower and many others. Wood Fern and Oak Fern are common. Several species of clubmosses also occur. In distinctly wet areas the trail passes through mats of sphagnum mosses and sedges often bordered by thickets of alders and the large Cinnamon Fern and Royal Fern. Some herbaceous species also prefer these soft wet shady habitats including willowherbs, Field Horsetail, violets, Three-leaved False Solomon’s-seal, Marsh Skullcap, and others.
Numerous species of mushrooms occur in the boreal forest in all moist, wet and dry habitats. Some are large and brightly coloured, others tiny and easily overlooked. Some like the chanterelles, which were just emerging in late July, are prized edibles, while others are inedible or highly toxic. The Amanitas are a common group containing both edibles and highly poisonous members. Four Amanita species were seen on our visit. Like others as well, they form underground associations with the roots of trees, providing the trees with nutrients otherwise in short supply thereby promoting the growth of the forest. Others are important in the decomposition of dead trees and thus play an important role in recycling nutrients. Some are plant parasites and their presence is only detected because of their effect on their host. Red needles in the twigs of a fir tree result from a needle rust and reddish ‘tongues’ on an alder branch where there should be cones signal infection by the alder tongue fungus. Closer to ground level, swollen twigs of a blueberry bush indicate another fungal parasite. Although they might be toxic to humans, some mushrooms are food for other animals. Small cavities excavated in the cap or stem of a mushroom are usually a sign that a slug has feasted. Twenty-nine species of mushrooms were noted on our visit of August 1-4, 2018.
From heights of land along the trail, walkers can catch glimpses of the ocean through and above the trees. Eventually the roof of the lighthouse appears through a cleft in the forest. The lighthouse sits atop a headland cliff. Rock outcrops are common around the site, otherwise covered with a thin organic soil veneer. Exposed areas harbour grasses, low growing herbs and small shrubs. In more sheltered depressions, alders, other taller shrubs, and conifers may reach several meters in height. Curiously, here in exposed rocky areas plants often seen on the limestone barrens of western Newfoundland occur, including Soapberry, Draba, Alpine Catchfly, Alpine Bilberry, Spurred Gentian, Giesecke’s Harebell and others. Bog Goldenrod only seen here around the lighthouse seems somewhat out of place. A number of edible berries inhabit the area surrounding the lighthouse, including Wild Red Raspberry, Dewberry, Mountain Cranberry/Partridgeberry, Early Lowbush Blueberry, Soapberry, Skunk Currant, Northern Wild Raisin, Common Labrador Tea, Bunchberry/Crackerberry, Black Crowberry, Alpine Bilberry, and Mountain Fly Honeysuckle.
An impressive 200 step stairway leading from the lighthouse to the ocean’s edge provides an alternate access if wave action allows landing. Near its base there are good views of Black Guillemots flying back and forth between the rock ledges and the ocean surface. From the seaside elevated deck of the lighthouse a full view of whales and other ocean activities can be had along with spectacular sunsets.