Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nicholdale Farm, Shelton

Cedar Apple Rust Fungus
Just a few quick shots from the Nicholdale Farm Land Trust property today in Shelton. Near the entrance are several specimen red cedar trees that were just covered in these decorative fungi today. 

I love how easy it can be to identify things sometimes with the Internet. I just Googled, "orange fungus red cedar" and had an ID within a few seconds. Beats paging through identification keys.

The fungus lives in galls that suddenly sprout orange "spore horns" (seriously) in spring after a cool rain. Boy did they ever. The fungus is unusual in that in needs two host species: apple and cedar. And yes, there are lots of apple trees nearby.  

Box Turtle
Heading south of the Land Trust property along the gas pipeline, I walked over a box turtle possibly just sunning himself. The red eyes mean it's a male, and based on the the number of rings on the shell he's about 15 years old. Box Turtles in the wild usually live 20 or 25 years, but in captivity they can last much longer. I hope this guy is able to stay out of trouble for many years to come.

I took a photo of his underside in case anyone catches him again. You can use the markings to help identify individual turtles. Let's call this one Ted. Ted the Turtle. If anyone spots him in the future, take a picture of a belly and let me know. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sleeping Giant - Green Trail (mostly)

Arrowhead I found on the Green Trail - the Giant's Head is in the distance
To avoid the noisy crowds at Sleeping Giant (why do people have to shout at each other along the trails??), it's not enough to just go on a weekday, or to stick to the "quiet side" (Chestnut Lane).  Pick a cool, damp, moody day. It's the best weather for hiking, aside from the hazards of slick rock. I walked almost the entire length of Sleeping Giant, mostly on green,  before I saw a single person. 

Fog on Hezekiah's Knob (Blue Trail)
I set out from Chestnut Lane (no cars parked) and headed up the blue-blazed switchbacks to Hezekiah's Knob, which normally had a great view, but was shrouded in fog. The lack of sun glare and shadows, as well as the general dampness, was better for taking photos, however:

Columbine on Hezekiah's Knob just staring to open
Coming down off of Hezekiah's Knob 
 I then followed the easy Green Trail all the way to the end.  It runs along the center of the Giant, between ridges, along streams and wetlands. I found a broken quartz arrowhead after passing the Red Circle Trail. The rock formations and wild leeks were set to the sound of a babbling brook, spring peepers, and singing birds. I couldn't hear any cars or people. It was great. 

Wild Leeks and Red Trillium

Wild leeks line a stream in front of a cliff along the green trail

Really Big Millipede (about 3" long)

Red-Backed Salamander found next to a letterbox
 After a long walk between ridges, the Green Trail gradually rises to a ridge walk and abruptly ends at the Chest with amazing views (the fog had cleared by this time). 

End of the Green Trail

View of New Haven and East Rock

Friday, May 2, 2014

Peak Wildflowers at Sleeping Giant

Late spring this year, and the woodland wildflowers are finally at their peak today. Trout Lilies peaked last week (the Tower Trail was full of them), but the Blood Root, Dutchman's Breeches, Trillium and Marsh Marigolds were at their best today.   Compare with a post from April 24, 2010, when many of these flowers were past their peak and the Columbine (which blooms a bit later) was in full bloom.  Here's a sampling from today, in no particular order.  The greatest concentration of wildflower was near the intersection of the Violet and Red Circle Trails, and there was a whole lot of water gushing down the brook. But there are plenty of wildflowers going up the Tower Trail if you're looking for them (especially Trout Lily).

Blood Root, Tower Trail

Trout Lily, Tower Trail

Dutchman's Breeches and Red Trillium, Violet/Red Circle Junction
Marsh Marigolds - Red Circle/Blue in Tarkaland ;)
Fiddleheads and Dutchman's Breeches, Tower Trail
Garter Snake, Nature Trail

Dutchman's Breeches - I forget where.

Trout Lily, Tower Trail

Dutchman's Breeches, Violet/Red Circle Junction

Flooding on the trail at Red Circle/Violet Junction

Dutchman's Breeches, Violet/Red Circle Junction
Foliage of Bloodroot and Wild Leeks aka Ramps
(Never, ever, ever dig these up)

Partridgeberriesleft over from last fall. Giant's Elbow, Violet Trail.

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!