Saturday, March 15, 2014

Housatonic River Bluff - Shelton

The wooded river bluff faces northeast and stays cool
The river bluff  rises several hundred feet along the west shore Lake Housatonic, extending from the Derby-Shelton to the Monroe/Shelton border. Most of it is preserved land, either as Indian Well State Park, Shelton Open Space, or Shelton Land Trust property.  The snow wasn't very deep, so I strapped on my Kahtoola microspikes, grabbed a trekking pole, and went exploring.  With snow on the ground and leaves off the trees, you can see the lay of the land much better than in summer.

Rock shelters an interesting insect construction
The most interesting find of the day was an ornate insect nest under a sheltering rock. I actually have a book to identify things like this called, "Tracks and Signs of Insects," and was able to quickly identify the owner: The Organ Pipe Mud Dauber, a black wasp whose primary food source is spiders.

The nest of an Organ Pipe Mud Dauber Wasp
A cache of Bittersweet berries in a log, perhaps from a chipmunk
The hard, icy snow had soften recently and recorded the recent movements of wildlife, mostly turkey and squirrels.  Lots and lots of turkey tracks, along with holes in the snow from acorn removal.  I had my eye out for predator tracks, but didn't find any.

Turkey Runway

This one didn't make it.
Squirrel tracks

Turkey tracks and acorn access holes were everywhere

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Far Mill River During a Nor'easter

During a snowstorm, I like to snowshoe down to Gristmill Trail along the Far Mill River in Shelton because I can get there on foot from my house. A few years ago, someone mysteriously built an impressive hut of sticks right on the bank of the river in the flood plain (which is regularly flooded with raging water). The fact that the hut still stands shows how well it was built.
View from the hut
The hut was built illegally. There were trees cut, a lot of rock moved, and some people were creeped out and called the police (you can't tell if anyone is inside while walking past, and there was smoke coming out at times). But it was so well done, no one had the heart to take it down. It has survived multiple floods.
Have a seat

Gristmill Trail follows the Far Mill River
Continuing on down Gristmill Trail, the heavy new snow was perfect for snowshoeing along the Far Mill River.

Far Mill River

Maple-Leaved Viburnum berries
There is food out there for the birds to eat, including these Maple-Leaved Viburnum berries, which is a native food source for many species of birds, including cardinals, robins, and blue birds. I also heard woodpeckers foraging in the storm for insects in rotting wood.

Witch Hazel seed pods - another source of food for wildlife
Gristmill Trail is short but scenic

Friday, September 6, 2013

Groton, Mass: "We Live and Breathe Letterboxing XV"

View from a beaver dam. A deer was on the dam just a moment before.
Every five years, a few hundred North American letterboxers make a pilgrimage to an event called, "We Live and Breathe Letterboxing." This year it was held in Groton, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston, just outside of the I-495 beltway.  People flew in from as far away as Alaska. I threw the tent in the car and drove three hours to Camp Grotonwood.  

There were a lot of festivities and socializing broken up by adventures out on the trail. I started out early the first morning looking for the series "A Little Bit of History" because the route crossed a beaver dam. I was not disappointed. I didn't see any beaver, but an osprey whistled from a tall snag in the middle of the pond before flying off, and a kingfisher chattered as it hunted the pond edges. Green Frogs did their embarrassingly awkward "SQUEAK" followed by a clumsy splash into the pond. There was even a fleeting glimpse of a deer standing on the beaver dam at one point when I doubled back thinking I'd missed a turn. It was all very still and moody. 
The beaver were showing their love for the letterboxers. 
 I honestly did not take many pictures.  I was too busy looking for letterboxes, or socializing, or swimming, or eating. Many of the pictures I did take were a disappointment because the lens had fogged up in the slug weather after I pulled my camera out of a cool backpack, and some of my settings were inadvertently adjusted as well.  

Bog Iron on Mark's Trail
A muddy crossings on Marks Trail had an impressive amount of reddish Bog Iron. I once collected some Bog Iron like this and heated it in an oven at the highest temperature because that's the sort of thing I do. It turned black and could be picked up with a magnet.  The Puritans got their first iron from swamps, bogs, and streams back in the 1600's.
Cardinal Flower
The search for Monty Python's Holy Grail took some of us past clumps of bright red Cardinal Flowers overlooking the marsh. A very nice counterpoint to the overcast day. Cardinal Flower always seems a bit out of place. I also saw the largest patch of Hepatica I've ever seen, but was too busy chatting to pull my camera out. 

Wood Frog
Springtime Bird Watching lead me to this Wood Frog, well camouflaged near the Yellow Birch log. These are the frogs that quack like a duck in the springtime vernal pools, so I guess this was the right frog for the series. 
Jack-in-the-Pulpit fruits
Jack-in-the-Pulpit berries were ripening next to a stream crossing, while a big fat toad was guarding one of the letterboxes nearby. I love toads. They make surprisingly tame and funny pets. One especially large pet toad was catching flies out of the air while my young son was holding it only days after the toad was captured. 
The tiny Partridgeberries (aka "Pahtridgeberry" in Massachusetts) were fruiting and will stay green and fruiting all winter, when they will be most appreciated by hikers. 
 Dye Maker's Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii).
There were lots of mushrooms growing. It's been a mushroom kind of year. This particular fungus had a very velvety finish. 
Whorled Wood Aster
This time of year, I'm used to seeing a lot of White Wood Aster in my neck of the woods, and that's what I assumed this was until I got closer and the leaves were different, sort of whorled around the stem. So I was utterly shocked to discover these are called Whorled Wood Aster :). 

Maple Leafed Viburnum
All in all, it was a great weekend, and I met a lot of boxers while out on the trails from all over the country: California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, and Florida. Not to mention all the boxers I met at meals, the BBQ, and the masquerade ball. I would definitely do this again! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tunxis Trail

The Tunxis Trail is one of Connecticut's wildest trails.  Over the course of a few weeks I set out to hike the most northern twenty miles of the trail, from Route 44 in New Hartford to the Massachusetts state line in Hartland.  After hiking in the densely populated Connecticut Valley all winter and spring along the New England Trail (NET), the Tunxis offered quite a contrast.  

Red Eft (Eastern Newt)

Just driving there was an experience. We passed a dead porcupine on the road.  A porcupine! Another time a turkey ran out in front of my car and just as I was about to hit it, the turkey jumped straight up and took flight, my front window just barely sliding under the awkwardly flapping giant bird. Nearly had a stroke. 

Painted Trillium
Some of the plants up here are more typical of Northern New England.  Normally I see Red Trillium in Connecticut, but the Tunxis was home to several Painted Trilliums, a more northern species. Striped maple and hobblebush abound here, but are only occasionally seen in other parts of the state. Clintonia I associate with the White Mountains, not Connecticut. Foamflower grew in several places along the trail. This is an attractive native plant for landscaping, growing in dry or wet shade, and available in specialty nurseries. The only other place I've seen  it growing wild is on top of Shenandoah Mountain in Virginia.

Indian Council Caves
The most unique attraction along the trail is the Indian Council Caves, formed by an unusual pile of house-sized boulders. In the photo above, look for my dog in the lower center for scale. Yup, and that's just one of the boulders. It's even more surprising because there is nothing like this in the woods leading up to the cave. It's not particularly rocky for Connecticut, and you don't notice many boulders. Then there they all are right on top of each other. It's like a giant was cleaning up his field and threw all the rocks in a corner. 

Pink Lady Slippers
The funniest moment of the trail was when my dog and I startled a bobcat near the trail. The cat was substantially bigger than my dog but, you know, if it runs, chase it.  The bobcat was the fastest ball of fur I've ever seen. I didn't really even notice it's head or feet, and it didn't have a tail to speak of, it was just a streaking ball of fur doing one of those crazy mad cat scrambles. And my little 17-pound terrier was in hot pursuit because she's an idiot. Fortunately for her, she responded to my call and turned around, because that  would not have ended well if the cat had come to its senses, stopped running, and turned on my dog.
And so the next three pictures will have my dog in them.  

Biscuit on some old ruins at a pond near the caves.  

Biscuit and some Pinxter Azalea. 

Biscuit, the goat 
Finishing up the Tunxis was a real pleasure. I started back in October 2011 and promptly broke my ankle on the first part. That's why I have trekking poles now.  The trail has some smooth dark patches of rock that you barely notice, but be careful, because if they are slightly damp you can really slip.  Almost like black ice.  That's what happened to me last October.
Massachusetts State Line Monument. The End. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

My New Blog

I've just started a new blog called "Along the New England Trail."  Why would I do that? Because this "In the Field" blog started out as a very local blog of random stuff I saw while out in Shelton's open space, working for the City as the Conservation Agent.    Over the past few years, however, many of my posts were more about what I saw while letterboxing all over the state.  So the blog has lost it's focus.

This year I've decided to start focusing my letterboxing trips on the New England Trail rather than random locations around Connecticut.  Boxing this trail will take years, no doubt. Rather than have "In the Field" turn into a series of posts about the New England Trail, I thought I'd just start a new blog for these trips.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The New England Trail (NET)

I was planning to start hiking the new "New England Trail" next spring, but it was 50 degrees on January 1, and that simply cannot go unhiked.  So here I am in Guilford, at the so-called Bluff Head parking area on Route 77.   In Connecticut, the New England Trail is mostly made up of the blue-blazed Mattabesett and Metacomet Trails, but a new trail under construction in Guilford is supposed to extend the trail down to the Sound.  It doesn't yet, but it's about half way there, so I thought I'd go check it out the part that's done. It's called the Menunkatuck Trail, and to find the northern terminus you have to take the Mattabesett for 1.3 miles. 

The Mattabesett rises quickly above the highway, and before long road noise is banished for the remainder of the hike.   The first 1.3 mile took a lot longer than I expected and at one point I was convinced I had missed the turnoff for the Menunkatuck.  In retrospect, the trail goes due east across a series of rocky features trending north-south, so it's just slow going. Especially for me, since I rebroke an ankle in October hiking the Tunxis and am a little touchy about walking on slick wet leaves over wet mossy rocks. Slow was the word. 

Green.  Winter greenery is always welcome, but it was really vivid on this hike.  All the warm weather we've had this winter has done wonders for our evergreen plants. Even the vernal pool was green. A tiny salamander larvae floated up out of the algae at one point. 

So, I haven't been posting much this year due to a couple injuries that left me unable to carry my heavy camera and then unable to even hike for a spell.  Excuse the photos today, they were taken with my Droid. 

More green! 

Here's some trail art. Big chunk of white quartz set on a green mossy rock. There was a fair amount of trail art on the Mattabesett.   

And finally I'm at the Menunkatuck!  I love that name.  Menunkatuck. It took me about an hour to walk 1.3 miles. But the Menunkatuck proves to be a much easier path, mostly following old woods roads. I suppose this is because it's heading south and isn't going against the geology of the area. 

Very shortly there's a kiosk for Broomstick Ledges, which I'm completely unfamiliar with. There's a sign for both the Town of Guilford and the Guilford Land Trust, leaving me wondering which one of them owns the property.

Good thing there is no hunting allowed on Sunday, because I'm not wearing blaze orange!  Although I'm not crazy about hiking past hunters, I am happy that deer are kept in check so all the animals can live there, not just the most adorable ones.  Forests completely stripped by deer are tragic. 

Heading back to my car on the Mattabesett, the trail is again more rugged, and perhaps more scenic, winding up and around linear pools and rocky ledges, with a glimpse of distance hills through the trees. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ten Mistakes I've Made Planting Letterboxes

If you don't understand the title to this post, then clearly you have not joined the cult/hobby known as "letterboxing" and none of this is going to make sense. For my fellow indoctrinates, I have the following mistakes I've made hiding my boxes, mostly because I was just copying what I had found locally. It was a few years before I discovered some regional variations in hiding techniques and learned from them.

1. Including ink in the box. Apparently, nobody does this except for most of the boxers in my locale. Ink is really expensive, it gets moldy (above photo) or dried out, it bulks up the box contents so you need a bigger box, and if the box leaks the entire contents can become covered in colored water. Letterboxers often don't even use the ink -- they use their own. So why bother?

2. Using old fashioned Rubbermaid-style containers, even high quality expensive ones ("Housatonic Forest"). They are not designed to have any weight on them and the seal breaks if a rock is placed on them or they are distorted in any way. I only use the heavy rigid Lock & Lock style boxes now, with four locking tabs. A popular source for a more cost effective version of Lock & Lock for letterboxing is Ocean State Job Lot, who sells a nice 13.5 oz "Freshness Keeper" for just $1.25 each.

3. Using duct tape to conceal a box ("Shelton Canal"). It takes a long time to do, and tape comes off in a sticky way. It's also pretty visible in the winter. Now I use a very thin layer of flat black spray paint formulated for plastic. You're hiding a box in shadows, so a dark box disappears best. I've also seen people use dark brown. One nice thing about spray paint is you can do a lot of boxes up in just a couple of minutes. One option is to leave the purchase sticker on while painting and remove it to form a window. That's something to keep in mind if you're planting in an area where the Secret Service might become suspicious of your box and think it's a bomb. Better yet, don't plant there.

4. Planting too close to the trail (Riverview Park). I now assume that every box will become exposed. Someone won't rehide well, an animal might dig it up, or a heavy rain might wash away the cover. A box next to the trail will be seen eventually, and likely tampered with. I now try to hide far enough off trail so that if the box is uncovered, the box still won't be seen.

5. Planting in a drainage area ("Housatonic Forest"). Water washed those boxes right out of their hiding hole! Water can also wash a box down into a crevice where it can't be reached.

6. Planting in a really neat location that is nearly impossible to write clues for ("Lucy the Fox", for sure). I'm learning to plant near something really distinctive. Doesn't always work, but that's the goal.

7. Using cheap plastic bags, especially sandwich bags. They rip, they leak. Best ones are heavy duty freezer bags with double seals. Pint size is best, but very hard to find. I usually carry the freezer bags with me while boxing and replace old flimsy bags that I find.

8. Planting in an animal den. Found the box 50 feet away unopened ("Pine Lake").

9. Including a pen or pencil in the box. You know what? Boxers are supposed to carry that stuff with them when they go looking for boxes. All a letterbox needs is a stamp, a logbook, and a plastic bag to keep the two dry.

10. Planting in a patch of poison ivy during the winter. Oops. ("A Very Long Beach").

I've made plenty more mistakes! But I'll just stick with ten here.