Thursday, August 21, 2008

Black Rock State Park

Here's my new favorite beach not 30 minutes up Route 8 in Watertown, just north of Waterbury. Forget the jellyfish at the shore, this beach comes with lifeguards as well as hiking trails in lovely Litchfield County. Just $5 will get you in. The Mattabassett Blue Dot Trail goes up to the top of a small peak overlooking the lake where, after finding a letterbox, we picnicked. It's called Black Rock due to some graphite that was mined here once, and after lunch we hiked down the red trail, which looks like the old haul road for the mine. A few geocaches later we strolled back along the lakeside trail and finally returned to the beach for a swim, which was clean and uncrowded.
There are no concessions, but the gas station (Citgo?) just down the road has a deli where we picked up fried chicken and a salad.

Later, while my daughter fished, I explored the shoreline with the old point-and-shoot. We discovered some huge snails I had never seen before and suspected they were invasives - there were so many. Sure enough, they turn out to be "Chinese Mystery Snails", which have been reported in Western Connecticut and the Hudson River Valley. The snails are native to Asia, where they are eaten, and they are also used in fresh water aquariums because they close up when water quality becomes toxic, thereby alerting the aquarium owner before the fish die.

Here are some photos of the park.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Indian Potato or Groundnut

In an area dominated by invasive species, it was a pleasure to discover this historic American vine growing on the banks of the Far Mill River near Means Brook (photo above). It's been called Indian Potato, Potato Bean, and Groundnut because the tuberous roots, which contain significantly more protein than potatoes, were eaten extensively by Native Americans. Over the years, many efforts have been made to cultivate the crop, with the 2-3 years required per crop the biggest drawback. Still, efforts continue. The legume is in the pea family, and "beans" are now appearing on the vine.

Another native species, Swamp Loosestrife (left photo), was also growing along the banks (not to be confused with the highly invasive Purple Loosestrife). I've been trimming back some of the invasive Asiatic Bittersweet, Autumn Olive, and Japanese Barberry that dominate the area, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Red Eft

The Red Eft is the beautiful orange terrestrial phase of the Red Spotted Newt. These creatures start out camo greenish colored in the ponds, change to the vivid orange form and live on land for a while, then revert back to the camo form as adults. Back in May 2007 I posted an entry showing the adult aquatic phase hunting in a pond. Red Efts can be locally abundant after a rain. I nearly stepped on this one at Tarrywile Park in Danbury on a very steamy afternoon following a thunderstorm, then saw seven others on the trail during my walk.
Tarrywile turned out to be a very nice park. They have 21 miles of trails on 722 acres, including several ponds and a big hill with a view towards downtown Danbury. Not to mention 6 letterboxes and 3 geocaches (that I know of). Timing is everything. This park looks like it gets busy, but because I arrived just after a big line of thunderstorms the place was deserted and, walking quietly, I saw lots of wildlife. Besides the Red Efts, I saw two flocks of turkey, 10 deer, and this really neat arrowhead, freshly exposed by the thunderstorm (see photos).

Update Feb. 2009: While at the Peabody Museum I took a look at their CT arrowheads on display and the ones that look like mine are called, "squibnocket triangular." Most webpages say they are generally 3,000 to 5,000 years old. Holy Cow!