Sunday, September 14, 2008

Damp in Durham

I spent a damp, foggy day letterboxing in Durham, starting on the Mattabassett (blue blazed) Trail, where the view from the trap rock ridge was lost in a white out, at least at first. Slugs were crossing the trail, and my glasses kept fogging up. After lunch the fog finally burned off and I was able to enjoy the view of the valley below. The photo is a land snail taking advantage of the wet weather. It was only about 1/2 inch long. I had no luck identifying the snail - there are many similar land species.

I then headed over to CFPA's Field Forest behind the High School for some more letterboxes, where I found this violet mushroom. It was the most slippery, slimy thing I have ever touched. I believe it is a Viscid Violet Cortes (Cortinarius iodes).

Durham is a most pleasant town, with lots of farmland and trails. Here are some photos.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Milford Point Audubon

This is a pipefish I caught with my bare hands just off the shore at the Connecticut Coastal Audubon Center in Milford. Pipefish are related to sea horses. I used to have a Long Island Sound aquarium and I'd come down to the tidal lagoon at Milford Point to hunt for creatures to put in the aquarium. It was fascinating. The animals ate each other quite a bit, and by spring my tank was pretty bare. Lady crabs, the purple ones with wicked sharp claws, stood motionless over the hermit crabs with claws cocked and ready to strike. Moon Snails enveloped clams and snails with a humungous foot, then slid under the sand to digest their food. The fish ate the shrimp. After a couple years I discovered to my horror that I had a 12-inch long red polycheate worm living in there with at least 3 billion legs. I had apparently raised him well.

Pipefish, I discovered, would stalk the little shore shrimp I had in the tank, who were carrying a clutch of eggs under their tails. Every so often the pipefish would unobtrusively slip in and steal an egg, which helped to explain how they could eat anything with those tiny mouths. This particular pipefish was swimming about my feet and few inches of water while I was speaking with a friend. I simply reached down and grabbed him.

The Milford Point Coastal Audubon Center is a great place to get away from the crowds and walk along a natural beach. Here are some more pictures.
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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Autumn Olive Sweet Tarts

Autumn Olive is an infamous invasive shrub well known for taking over fields from farmers and conservationists. But did you know the berries taste just like Sweet Tarts? No kidding. You don't eat them like normal berries, you suck on them and then spit out the big seed. This Autumn Olive was at the Ansonia Nature Center, but they are found throughout the area along roadsides and old fields. When ripe, the berries are red with little speckles on them, and one shrub can produce a huge amount of berries.
Unlike some other invasives, Autumn Olive does have value for wildlife. The berries are eaten by birds in preparation for fall migration, and the shrubs provide dense cover for nesting as well as erosion control. On the other hand, they quickly replace valuble hayfields and meadow habitats, and the fast-growing shrubs are a major hassle and expense to remove.
I have developed a grudging respect for some invasives. These plants and animals are marvelously competetive. They are simply better at what they do, which is why they win and take over.
Update 9/9/2008: A fascinating article in the NYTimes yesterday discusses how, in the big picture, contrary to conventional wisdom, exotic species actually contribute significantly to biodiversity and evolution. Which isn't to say that certain species don't cause terrible problems, just that the arrival of exotic species is not the end of the world.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Candy Cane Pine Sap

This Pine Sap I found off-trail at the Ansonia Nature Center has an unusually bright candy cane appearance. Pine Sap, along with its cousin Indian Pipes, are plants that have lost the ability to photosynthesize, and so are not green. Instead, they are indirect parasites on other plants such as beech and oak trees, by feeding on fungi that are feeding on tree roots.

These types of plants ususually look more like a fungus than a plant, with a dull white or tan appearence, yet like other plants they produce flowers, nector, pollen and seeds. I've never seen Pine Sap this colorful before.

And...once again I was being watched. I spent the afternoon exploring unmarked trails between the Ansonia Nature Center, the adjacent state forest (600 acres), and the "Paugussett Last Settlement", where I now have a letterbox. More on that later.