Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow for the Holidays

Merry Christmas from Shelton! Here's the Charlie Brown Christmas tree that gets decorated every year by hikers. It's along the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path about a half mile from Huntington Center, off of Lane Street, at the edge of the Land Trust's meadow.

An unmarked trail nearby leads to the spot where you can get a glimpse of the Far Mill River and Means Brook coming together. In the photo above, the upper Far Mill River is coming from the direction of the house, while the smaller Means Brook is coming in from the right. They join and then flow off to the left.

The Far Mill River continues downstream on it's journey towards the Housatonic River. This is part of the "Huntington Wellfield" open space, a section of the Shelton Lakes Greenway, acquired from the water company in the late 1990's.

A few years back there were beaver in here, but they've disappeared after making some neighbors very unhappy with the flooding their dam created.

Winterberry is festive along the river. The Winter Solstice is tomorrow and people from many different cultures throughout the ages have marked the happy occasion (the days will be getting longer!) by decorating with cheerful green evergreens and red berries. Happy Solstice!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coral Reef

It's been pretty cold and dark out lately, so how about a trip to the tropics, via my livingroom?

This is a coral reef tank. A very bad one, actually, because a proper reef tank requires lots and lots of attention and water monitoring, which I find tedious. Everything you see is real, and most of it is alive. Except for the green ferny-looking algae, everything that looks like a plant is actually a colony of animals, and if you touch them they'll suddenly shrink back. It's gardening with animals. The "live rock" came from the ocean tropics and is filled with worms, isopods, sponges, and algae. It's composed of a purple corraline algae, which continues to grow and encrust everything with purple, including the glass (only a razor blade gets it off).

I learned the hard way about the dramatic effects carbon dioxide has on reefs. Reef animals take a lot of calcium carbonate from the water and use it to build their skeletons. So you have to test the carbonate/pH periodically and add more as it's removed by the coral. Like most of you, I had heard that increased CO2 levels are causing acidification of the oceans and threatening the reefs, blah, blah, blah. Then, at one point my coral started to die back, so I did some testing and discovered I had added way too much carbonate over the past few months. High carbonate equals high pH, and that's caustic. This is the opposite of what they say is happening to the ocean.

The solution was to add just one tiny ounce of seltzer water (water with CO2) to the entire tank. WHAM, the pH and carbonate shot down to correct levels. Holy Cow! A tiny bit of CO2 can do all that?? Suddenly the concept of ocean acidification became very real. My coral perked up immediately and lived happily ever after.

Here's Ricky and Lucy, my clownfish, still in bed, where they spend the night staying perfectly still to escape predators. In the wild they would be in an anemone, but these are tank-raised fish and have adapted to my soft coral. You can't have many fish in a reef tank because they pollute the water.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quinnipiac Oak

While hiking the Quinnipiac Trail in Hamden I picked up some White Oak acorns that were already sprouting. These can be hard to find since wildlife snap them up right away, but there were dozens. Some are outside for the winter, but one I let grow in the window sill:
Oaks in the Red Oak family will not sprout in the fall, but oaks in the White Oak family will sprout immediately. For that reason, and because they are much sweeter than Red Oaks, squirrels will either eat the acorn immediately, or nip off the sprouting end before burying it. How do they know to do this?

White Oaks were once the dominant tree in Connecticut, comprising maybe 25% of all trees. Now they are much less common (Red Maple is now the most common tree, and Red Oaks are now much more common than White Oaks). Oaks in general are declining in Connecticut, for various reasons that are not well understood. In Fairfield County, one factor is the deer population, which favors oak seedlings and acorns, especially those of the White Oak.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back to the Giant

Went back to Sleeping Giant today and fought off the mob at the busy end of the park. This is one popular place to hike. And I think there was a requirement that everyone must bring a dog. The Tower Trail was a parade of dogs.

Here's a Raven on the cliff face of the quarry (the biggest cliff I know of in these parts). They look like a big crow, but their call is more of a throaty "cronk" as opposed to the "caw" of the crow (here's a Youtube video of a Raven calling). Raven LOVE cliffs.

As a matter of fact, the first place I ever saw a Connecticut Raven was right here on the Giant's Chin, where there is another big cliff. I was sitting on this ledge and a Raven was just hovering below me without flapping his wings (I had previously seen a Raven only once, in Maine). Ravens have made quite a comeback in Connecticut. I can't remember how long ago I first saw them here - 10, 15 years ago? Now I see them all over. In Shelton they are said to be nesting in a cell tower.

Here's a "Raven's eye view" of Quinnipiac College from the Giant's Head. There appeared to be quite a few Quinnipiac students enjoying the trails today.

I came down via the easy Tower Trail, which is in deep shadow in the next picture because of the Chin, which looms overhead (that's the cliff where I first saw Ravens). This deep notch between the Chin and the Chest seems to have its own weather. In October this is where I stepped into a thick bank of fog for the scariest creepy hike I've ever had:

As soon as I emerged from the notch, it was a sunny day:

Would you expect wildflowers to be blooming at the end of November? I found these Herb Roberts blooming along the Tower Trail. It is uncertain whether these flowers are native to Connecticut or originally from Europe. They like rocky hilltops and will bloom into the fall.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Trumbull Dog Park

Well, I finally got over to the Trumbull Dog Park. It's located deep inside Indian Ledge Park, residents only allowed. But it was Thanksgiving, so in the spirit of Arlo Guthrie we thought that one big pack of dogs was better than two small packs of dogs, and rather than try to bring their dogs home we decided to have our dog join in. Besides, we never heard of a town ticketing on Thanksgiving before.

A lot of people don't understand the purpose of dog parks, which is socialization, NOT exercise. The photo below shows the proper way to greet, which is something dogs have to learn. People greet with rituals like a handshake or by saying, "Hi. Nice to meet you." Dogs sniff butts to say hello, and a polite dogs learns to let other dogs sniff HIS butt. This is the proper way for dogs to greet each other.

The Trumbull Dog Park was nicer than the neglected Milford park, but not as nice as the one in Ridgefield. It is very close to what the park in Shelton will be. It has two sides, one for small dogs and one for larger dogs. It's set in thick woods, so there is no grass, and a lot of woodchips have been set down instead. The area at the top of the large dog enclosure was muddy, and our dog came home with some of stinky mud on her, though not enough to keep me away from a park like this.

The photo below is a set of three pan photos stitched together (you may need to click on it to get a better look). Some of the others in the park were having trouble with their dog eating the sticks and digging in the mud.

We made the mistake of not reading the rule until we were leaving, but met all the rules anyway. No children under 10, that was interesting. I guess they don't want any little kids getting bit or acting inappropriately with the dogs, which makes sense. Might be hard for parents to use the park if they also need to watch their kids, though.

Old Mines and a Park, Trumbull

Old Mine Park in Trumbull is appropriately named, being just full of interesting old tungsten mines. These are in the wooded sections of the park, not the manicured area down below, as seen here:

Walk up the trails behind the ballfields and picnic area. Here's one of the bigger mines right along a hiking trail, surrounded by security fencing. The trails are mostly old mining roads, and easy to walk:

The tungsten ore was removed from what were formerly hydrothermal 'veins', and hauled to the processing plant down below where the picnic area is. The ore reportedly was not very good quality.

A bit further up the trail is another of the larger mines. This one goes back another 10 feet or so from the rock face, where you see black shadow in the photo above the water surface.

I used the camera's flash to illuminate the cave and see what it looked like. Hey, anyone see some little heads sticking up out of the water way in the back? They're frogs! On my computer at home I was able to zoom in and count more than a dozen:

Looks like Green Frogs. Give these frogs a puddle anywhere and they will have a party, even as December approaches (by the way, we also heard some Spring Peepers peeping):

The area around that particular hole in the ground was very green, with the rock covered with lichens, ferns, and moss:

Picking through an old mine heap a few feet away, I found these eggs, which I believe are from a Red-Backed Salamander (they would like the moist hole):

In another part of the park, near another mine (I think you are always near a mine at this park) there was a patch of Blue Cohosh berries:

Here's a second mine deep enough to have a security fence:

It's not a big park, but the mines really add interest. Here's a page with some interesting photos of the ore processing facility. Tungsten was mined for use in light bulbs.

As a bonus, this is a Trumbull park that does not ban nonresidents, presumably because they took federal dollars to build the Housatonic Rail Trail that runs through the park.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sleeping Giant: The Other Quiet Side

After pulling into the main parking area and finding it mobbed with November hikers, I decided to try out the north side of the park. I drove down Tuttle Ave and parked at the small lot for the red circle trail. There was a pasture with horses across the street, and not a single hiker. Sweet. The Red Circle Trail and a bridle trail immediate split along this stream.

They do a great job marking the trails at Sleeping Giant. The blazes are always fresh, they're easy to understand, look professional, and there are generally just the right amount of blazes. Because there are so many trails, they have to use lots of colors and shapes. They have "crossover" trails that are blazed one color in one direction and another color in the opposite direction. And finally you have the bridle trails marked with a white horseshoe on black (or "U"), as well as some "X" trails, also white on black. I started out on the "U" trail.

Here on the north side I got an entirely different perspective of Sleeping Giant. The trails were easy to walk, and I came out onto this farmland scene.

My search for treasure then took me onto the Quinnipiac Trail for a bit. Things were definitely more rugged here than on the bridle trails.

You walk up the woodland trail and then BAM, there's a view at the top of Hezekiah's Knob:

After that I meandered on various trails in search of treasure. The trails got much busier. As much as I've hiked in the Giant I still found myself on trails I'd never been on before, like this portion of the Orange Trail, where I caught glimpses of the Tower in the distance:

As the sun sank towards the horizon (it gets dark so early these days!), I looped back towards the parking area, but not before a detour onto the violet trail.

That was probably a mistake, because I found the sun setting while I was still up on the ridge. Oops. I was comforted by the flashlight in my backpack and my gps. Still, the footing is tricky even in daylight. I wouldn't want to hike down in the dark.

Well, I'm sorry, I should have some spectacular pictures of my trip down the gorge to my car, because there were all kinds of waterfalls, cascades, and so forth. They just went on and on as I descended along the stream (the same stream that's in the first photo). I was stunned, having never seen this before (and the water was running pretty well). But it was much too dark. So I will endeavor to return, because that is my new favorite entrance to Sleeping Giant :-).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trail Signs

I see lots of trail signs. Here's a sign for the colorblind:

Here's one that's very precise (because I might not want to hike that trail if it's only 82.633 acres):

"Make some noise and leash your deer-colored dogs":

The sign below doesn't tell you that the so called "PERMIT" is nothing more than a copy of the trail map (I discovered this only after a rather confused and furtive hike thinking I had no permit).

At Cranberry Park in Norwalk they've plastered etiquette signs up all over the park. So I'd like to suggest some more trail etiquette for the Norwalk Parks Department: Be kind and make some maps available so people can find their way. There are seriously no maps available anywhere for this park.

I can't remember where I saw this one, so let's say it was Derby:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chordas Pond Open Space

The City of Shelton recently took title to 1.6 acres of woodland along the shore of Chordas Pond, located on Nells Rock Road near the entrance to L'Hermitage Condominiums and across the street from the large hiker parking area for Nells Rock Trail. The new open space abuts existing open space behind the pond.

Between boulder fields, steep slopes, and wetlands, parts of the open space are pretty tough to bushwack through right now, but we have the potential for a short path along the pond.

There are lots of little "caves" in the rocks along the slope that suggested the possibility of a carnivore inside.

On top of the rocky ridgeline there are partly obstructed views of the pond... well as the cell tower that's visible from Nells Rock Road (located on an abutting property). A neighbor came out to talk, and a raven called from up on the tower. The neighbor said the "crows" nest up there. I've been hearing ravens all summer at Eklund Garden and the trails at Hope Lake. So this is where they were nesting.

I was lucky to find a few survey markers in the bedrock near the tower to verify the property line location.

While I was up on the ridge a Great Blue Heron flew in:

The Conservation/Trails people have always pronounced Chordas as "Kordus", but I note that old timers in the areas say "CHordus", so maybe we've been mispronouncing it. Anyone know where the name comes from and the proper pronunciation?