Monday, May 31, 2010

Random Fairfield Parks

Another afternoon of searching for treasure, this time in Fairfield. Here's perhaps the most unusual stone wall I've ever come across in the Grace Richardson Conservation Area. The weird wall/cairn/sculpture was a good six feet tall or so. It begs the question: Why?

Fairfield has a state-wide reputation for their conservation efforts. Their open space properties are consistently marked by decent looking signs like the one above. By the way, don't you just like the name "Binger Woods?"

Sadly, the theme of the day was deforestation from too many deer. All three parks I visited were the same. Much of the forest floor was just dead leaves. The native shrubs, saplings, and wildflowers were absent or severely suppressed by over-browsing everywhere I looked.

Some spots were covered with non-native invasive species the deer won't eat, like this carpet of Garlic Mustard at the Moorehouse Farmstead Open Space.

This native Jack-in-the-Pulpit shows the damage caused by deer. Nearby Jewelweed had been reduced to cropped stems. The plants can handle a certain amount of browsing, but are overwhelmed if the browsing becomes too frequent.

Growing in amongst Garlic Mustard were Indian Strawberries in full berry. This is a fake strawberry that originally came from India (hence the name). It's actually a type of cinquefoil with only three leaves instead of the usual five.

The dry berry feel light and oddly like styrofoam. Breaking it open, the flesh is white and inedible. Nothing at all like a strawberry.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Boehm Pond Wildlife, Shelton

Creeping up to Boehm Pond, alert for wildlife, we spotted what looked like a big Snapping Turtle half emerged. But it didn't seem to have a face, and must be dead and rotting or something. Getting closer for a look...

...the turtle suddenly pulled his head out of the water and scrambled away. Ahhh, so it had been hunting, pulled up on a branch, face down in the water.

The Cinnamon Fern was beautiful in the low light, living up to its name.

Lots of Bladder Sedge here along the shoreline. This video made me laugh.

Pickerel Frogs jumped along the shoreline. It's hard to remember the difference between a Pickerel Frog and a Leopard Frog, but Pickerel's are usually brown and have more rectangular spots going down the back. We also heard lots of Gray Treefrogs on our way to the pond as well.

There was quite a mat of Water Starwort off the opposite shore. The Starwort is native to Connecticut. But this pond seems to get a bit too much fertilizer or septic runoff or geese droppings.

The algae bloom along the surface looked like the Gulf oil spill for a moment. The pond seems rather healthy, however, as there are lots of sunfish and bass swimming about. And a couple of geese honked at us obnoxiously the entire time we were there.

O'Sullivan's Island, Derby

What a difference a few years make! The old hazardous waste site along the Derby Greenway has been turned into a riverside park, much like "The Slab" in Shelton.

The new park can be accessed from the Derby Greenway (providing some nice greenery for this rather hot and shadeless path), or more directly from the Derby boat launch located under the Route 8 bridge (get there via Caroline Street).

Here's what O'Sullivan's Island looked like just a couple years ago. It's not actually an island any longer due to historic filling. The site was seriously contaminated with PCBs and strictly off-limits to the public. (Click the photo to enlarge). An EPA webpage details the contamination issues they had to contend with.

And here's what it looks like now. Lawn and new trees planted (Click the pan photo to enlarge). Here's an article about the clean-up last year.

Looking downriver along the Housatonic you would hardly know you were in an urban area.

Lots of Cottonwood trees along the floodplain there going to seed. The "cotton" was blowing all over.

You can always tell where the good fishing spots are by the numbers of fisherman congregating there. Some very large fish, including big Stripers, swim up the river looking for food.

This area was industrial and densely populated going back to the 1800's, and there is plenty of evidence of that here. The ground is littered with antique pieces of glass and metal, making a walk along the shoreline a bit of an archeological expedition.

Nice job, Derby!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Freedom Trail, Boston

The Freedom Trail in Boston is one of a kind. People commonly visit a few of the more popular historical sites along the trail, but we decided to spend a day walking from the start at Boston Commons to the finish at Bunker Hill. "The Granary" (above) was near the beginning and is remarkable for both its famous residents from the 1600's and 1700's as well as the contrast with the surrounding modern building.

There was Sam Adams, three people who signed the Declaration of Independence, and some of the victims of the Boston Massacre.

The walk was very pleasant. The streets were clean, the architecture interesting. It seems that around every corner was another statue or historic building. Here was Ben Franklin.

One of my favorites was the Old South Meeting House (or Old South Church). This functioned as the city's largest auditorium during the Revolutionary War period, where people like Sam Adams inflamed the crowd.

For a fee you could go inside. It wasn't very busy, which made it easier to imagine the way things used to be. We didn't have the time or energy to explore every historic building along the way, but this one was worth it.

We came to Quincy Market, and found this escape artist putting on a show. A hot dog stand was nearby, so we stopped for lunch.

Further up the trail, the famous stops become further apart, but the neighborhood was always interesting. We went through the North End and Little Italy, which made me feel a bit like I was back in Connecticut for a spell. The Paul Revere Mall (that's him on the horse) was park-like, and then we found this:

It was a dog-tag tribute to the soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The tags chimed softy in the breeze.

The Freedom Trail is marked by a red line. Sometimes it's a double row of bricks, like the picture above.

And sometimes it's just red paint. This is the bridge going over the Charles River to Charlestown.

We stopped on the bridge to enjoy the view. You can see the Bunker Hill monument in the distance.

There was some kind of big event going on at the site of the USS Constitution, and it was so crowded we weren't able to see the ship. We did go in the museum, and we when came out they were shooting a cannon.

The dry dock was impressive. We then headed up the hill towards Bunker Hill. I don't think you could appreciate the fact that the British soldier were fighting uphill unless you walked up the hill from down below.

The monument was not crowded, so we climbed the 294 steps up to the top.

And this was the view, looking back towards where we started our walk.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bicentennial Park, Berlin

My day in this popular park of oh-so-many-dogs started out with woodland spring wildflowers, such as this Rue Anemone, above.

And these Hepatica leaves.

And this Wood Anemone. These were off in the woods to the right of a large meadow, where I stumbled upon what must be a brand new reroute of the Blue-Blazed Mattabassett Trail. CFPA had posted pictures of a spring workshop in the park on their Facebook page. They reportedly had 70 volunteers helping out.

Here was a new map box at the entryway off of Winesap Road.

The old red blazes for part of the dog walk loop were replaced with the CFPA standard blue/red blaze denoting a side trail to a CT Blue-Blazed hiking trail.

They built quite the bridge across the stream.

As well as a swamp walk and steps going up the hill. Those volunteers did a heck of a job!

Nature didn't seem to mind. The big timbers were covered with thousands of flying insects (not sure what kind, but I bet they breed in water), as well as this hefty Wolf Spider.

Housatonic River Cleanup

Perfect weather for the annual Housatonic River Cleanup, a multi-city effort organized by John Valentino and, in Shelton, Leon Sylvester Jr. , and lots of help from area marinas and businesses. We showed up around 10:00 am at Sunnyside Boat launch and found the event tent next door at Ayers Landing Marina. The event started at 8:00 am and the free T-shirts had been picked over, so I got a leftover from 2009.

Boats were taking people out to the islands and distant shorelines, and bring back the collected garbage. Our timing was bad and we had to wait about 20 minutes for the oyster boat that would take us to our destination. It was nice boat ride and we passed some rowing crews in their sleek red racers.

We passed lots of people who had been picking up litter for a couple hours already.

We were dropped off at Two Island Island, which is actually a peninsula that has been used as a gravel quarry for quite some time. Our shore was jagged boulders with rebar jutting out randomly - a treacherous shoreline. But we set to work.

The boulders, the huge poison ivy vine my daughter mistook for a tree, pricker bushes, and incoming tide made for very slow cleaning. There were three of us and it took a good hour to collect just three bags of litter.

How much easier it would be for people to pick up this litter when it is still on the streets! Because that's where it all comes from: Street litter is washed into storm drains during heavy rains, and from there it flows straight into our streams, eventually making its way to Long Island Sound. I'm always surprised at how many people think stormwater goes to a treatment plant.

On a random note: See all that "bamboo" debris in the photo above? It's Japanese Knotweed stalks, an invasive species.

Around lunch time the oyster boat came back to pick us and our garbage up (it was a challenge getting back in the boat!). Almost all the non-crew volunteers were from Shelton High School.

After dropping off passengers at the dock, the oyster boat went to the boat launch to drop off the garbage. Six-Foot subs were on the way, but we had things to do and took off.

This is how much had already been collected by lunchtime, with another four hours of clean-up to go.