Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Late Season Monarch Caterpillars

Here's a Monarch Caterpillar found recently in a hayfield off of Long Hill Road in Shelton. The Butterfly Weed is blooming late because it was cut along with the hay awhile back, and the entire plant had to regrow. Cut hayfields are the only place I ever see late season Monarch Caterpillars, so I assume this is because the Milkweed and Butterfly Weed are young and tender.

This begs the question: What did Monarch Caterpillars do before people began haying? The butterflies have multiple generations each season, migrating north in spring and south in the fall. In the spring they are looking for newly sprouting Milkweed (Butterfly Weed is in the Milkweed family). In the fall, Milkweed is generally tough and lower in nutrition, so cut hayfields provide a great source of young plants. Perhaps in the old days it was burned-over areas.

The caterpillars you see now should be the final generation for the season. After they change into a butterfly, they will fly south to Mexico for the winter. This little caterpillar has quite a journey ahead of him!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sikorsky Bridge Bike Path, Stratford

Now for something really different: This bike path goes right along the Merritt Parkway on the Sikorsky Bridge over the Housatonic River. It's neither peaceful nor quiet, and you're quite exposed to the elements, including sun and wind. But the views are totally unique.

Park at Ryder's Landing in Stratford, at the corner of Route 110 and Ryder's Lane, immediately south of the Merritt Parkway Exit 53. If you see a big fake lighthouse, you're in the right spot. Crossing over Ryder's Lane (a quiet road), you'll immediately see the asphalt bike path, and very shortly a new interpretive sign installed by HVA with a grant from Sikorsky's.

The path curves under the Sikorsky Bridge, and the racket of the cars above contrasts with the peaceful river below.

After passing under the bridge, the path curves around, and a left takes you up on top of the bridge with a view of the river.

The Sikorsky factory where they make aircraft like the Black Hawk helicopter is right down below. Not too much activity down on the tarmac today, but at other times you can see them testing out the big helicopters.

The river is beautiful. I saw an Osprey flying above the bridge today, and about a year ago I saw a Bald Eagle perched in a tree right over the bike path at the river's edge.

The path continues gradually uphill to Wheelers Farm Road in Milford, where it simply ends after a total length of maybe a mile or mile and a half. If you're biking, you get to coast all the way back. The path was put in when the bridge was redone a couple years ago, but most people are just finding out about it now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Exposed Cascades Bed, Sleeping Giant

It's dry. Very dry. The brook that normally cascades down the north side of Sleeping Giant to Tuttle Road along the Red Circle Trail was bone dry in many places, marked only by a line of moss. Above is the Gorge.

This was a waterfall last April. Seeing the exposed bed of the stream was interesting, though.

Here was a hole formed by water that you normally would never know is there. Water goes in the top and out the bottom.

Here's another hole formed by water, looking down the river bed.

The bedrock type change as you go up the hill. First there is the very soft red-brown shale. You don't see much of it because it's so soft and erodable.

Further up, there is lots of conglomerate, which looks like concrete. It's just another sedimentary rock, but with assorted sized grains including some gravel. It's a reflection of the fast erosion that took place when Connecticut almost became the Atlantic Ocean during the Triassic. We had all sorts of crazy things going on: Earthquakes, volcanoes, dinosaurs... the east side of the state was getting pulled away from the west side, opening up huge fissures where vast amounts of lava spilled into the CT Valley. And then it all just stopped and the Atlantic opened up further east.

Further up the brook, you hit that Triassic magma, all broken up, and very, very hard.

Picking up a rock in the stream bed, I found several little salamanders taking refuge, as well as a flattened out Green Frog.

There were a few pools remaining. A tiny juvenile salamander is just visible. I believe it's a Yellow Spotted Salamander.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trail Markings

I'm a nitpick about trail markings. I'll admit it. I paint the City blazes in Shelton, so I'm a critic. I want to be able to easily follow the trail, but I don't want the forest defaced with ugly markings.

The worst case is, of course, when they don't use any markings at all when there are multiple trails. Good luck with that.

Next comes the trail that are at least marked, but with spray paint. I often find this at small local land trusts which don't have enough volunteer help, don't realize there is a right way to do it, and let a well-intentioned Scout loose with a can of paint. The picture above, though, is at a state park. Go figure.

Next are the metal or plastic markers that are nailed on. They usually look nicer than spray paint. Some are small and not too obtrusive, although larger ones, in my opinion, just don't look very attractive in the forest compared to proper blazes. They protrude from the trees. They don't blend in enough. They don't "belong." Yes, they are much easier to apply and save time in the short run. In the long run, though, they are also very easy to tamper with. People can pull them off and put them back on in the wrong spot. Arrows present an additional problem, as illustrated above. The blue and white trails are diverging in a "Y", but I found the arrows both pointing towards the ground and would have missed my blue turnoff if I wasn't paying very close attention.

Any idiot can turn the arrows, and so I did. This is the direction they should have been pointing.

In contrast, this triple diverging trail point at Sleeping Giant State Park cannot easily be tampered with. Red diamond and the blue trails go right; lavender trail goes left. No confusion except amongst people who haven't learned the basics on how to read trail blazes (If you are one of those: The upper blaze indicates the direction of the turn. There. Now you can follow any blazed trail system).

The Connecticut Forest and Parks Association sets a wonderful example. Their blazes are easy to see, but don't hit you over the head, and seem to belong in the forest. They have a set standard so that blazes are consistent throughout Connecticut even though they are painted by many different volunteers. Blazes are to be 2x6", a certain shade of blue that shows up well at dusk or in fog (photo above), a certain brand of paint, BRUSHED on. This is very time consuming, but the results are worth it.

The above blaze is an example of how CFPA used to mark side trails. They now have the secondary color at the end of the blaze so they don't have to wait for the first color to dry. When the blazes grow too wide from tree growth, they are resized with a dark brown spray paint. Basically, with 825 miles to blaze, they've got it all figured out.

The blue blaze is readily visible if you're looking for it. Otherwise you might not even notice it.

Sleeping Giant has so many trails, they've had to be creative. They have red, blue, violet, orange, green, yellow and probably some other colors I've forgot, as well as different shapes for five red trails (square, triangle, circle, diamond, and hex). There's a black square with a white horseshoe for a bridle trail, and this black square with an "X" (or swords or whatever they are). And not a single sign, but you don't need signs if you have a map.

Signs are stolen pretty quickly, and can also clutter up a park with "sign pollution." Tarywile Park in Danbury has waymarkers throughout the park. The number "2" above corresponds with a "2" on the map. These are great if you have several points where the red and yellow trail come together, for example, and you're not sure which intersection you're at. Of course that does assume you came prepared and brought a map.

In Shelton, that inspired us to create and install some of our own waymarkers.

Here's another form of waymarker at Trout Brook Valley. These are very helpful in identifying one's location, although this particular waymarker is not as rustic and "quiet" as I prefer.

Everybody's Hungry - Shelton Community Garden

After a very late start due to neighborhood opposition, the Shelton Community Garden is really growing. Gardeners have a nice deer fence that excludes most predators.

But watch out for the Tomato Hornworm, for which I hold a grudge. I had a bunch of these caterpillars eat my entire garden one year in a single afternoon.

But wait, looks like this caterpillar is going to make a meal for a host of hungry Braconid Wasp larvae. These tiny wasps lay their eggs on various insects, and the larvae hatch out and eat the host. (One of our very youngest gardeners spotted this caterpillar and identified the parasite).

The garden isn't very big (just 30 plots), but if you get disoriented and need directions, just ask this lady. Seems like she's always there.

The deer fence is barely visible in the foreground of this picture and is working great so far. No deer, rabbits, or woodchucks yet. Bugs, crows, and fungus seem to be the biggest pests. All in all, it's been a great success.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Trout Brook Valley, Easton

Trout Brook Valley in Easton has miles of trails and a little something for everyone. My favorite spot was this open hilltop orchard. It's just not something you usually run into on a hiking trail.

According to the brochure, if you go through the gate there are blueberries in there that people are free to pick in season. It was too hot in the sun, so I didn't explore the orchard area. I assume the fence is to keep deer out.

That's an image of old New England right there. The trail runs right alongside the deer fence. Although I think the farmers used to just shoot the deer and eat them rather than put up fences to keep them out.

Dog owners are allowed to take their dogs off-leash. Hurray! It was so nice not to keep getting tangled up in the leash.

Biscuit was overjoyed, and did a good job staying nearby. She does have a thing for high places, though. Part goat, I suspect.

And then I found a broken arrowhead in the middle of the trail. The third one in a week.

The park is depressingly overgrazed by deer, although the average person probably won't realize it. Most patches of green are alien plants that deer won't eat. But here was a big patch of Naked-Flowered Tick Trefoil, a native plant in the pea family. The leaves look a little like Poison Ivy.

The flowers are tiny. I suspect deer don't care for this plant, otherwise, why would there be so much of it growing here?

A completely different kind of Tick Trefoil was in bloom in a moister area - Showy Tick Trefoil.

They do a nice job of balancing many different uses in the park. Most of the trails are open to mountain bikes, but a few sensitive trails are not. Part of the park is open for hunting, and part is not.

The park does suffer from "sign pollution." Partly that is unavoidable due to so many different types of park users, but it's also partly because big bold arrow signs are used instead of traditional trail blazes, and there are just too many waymarkers, trail maps, and various other things tacked onto trees and put on posts. This sign says, "No Fishing." I think there used to be a stream there.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Milkweed at Osbornedale

Osbornedale State Park in Derby maintains a large field filled with mostly native plants, including lots of Common Milkweed. I had my eye out for Monarch Caterpillars, but found none (and no evidence of caterpillars eating leaves, either). I'm not sure why that is, perhaps the timing.

I did recognize this small bug, the same species that I had recently seen all over the tops of my potatoes. I had identified it at the time as the Small Eastern Milkweed Bug, and here it was, where it was supposed to be, in Milkweed. Why they were in my potatoes is beyond me. All the literature absolutely asured me that these beetles will not harm a garden and only go in Milkweed.

Let's see if we can spot a color pattern here on the Milkweed. Throw Monarch Butterflies in...they're red and black. This one is the Red Milkweed Beetle. I love it when the names coincide nicely with what I found them on.

Here's the Tussock Sedge Moth caterpillar, also known to eat Milkweed.

And the Large Milkweed Bug. Orange/Red and Black seem to be the universal colors for all these bugs, and those colors are a warning to predators. The milkweed contains a toxic substance that these insects are able to eat and store in their bodies, rendering them poisonous. So don't eat them.