Friday, October 31, 2014

Back to Black Bayou Lake NWR with Kermit

(As always, you can click on any image to view them larger, in a gallery)

I recently spent half a day paddling through Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge with Kermit. This time we went much further out, and explored some new areas. It was a beautiful day, with many alligators out basking. I was told by a naturalist at the Visitor Center, that there are roughly 7,000 alligators at that site.

I found some great information on alligators at the Savannah River Ecology Lab website, which is an old and well-respected lab in the field of ecology. Apparently a common, and effective method for conducting population surveys on alligators is at night, shining flashlights, which reflect especially brightly off their unique eyes. As part of my Master's research at the University of Illinois, I conducted anuran call surveys at night. I am generally very comfortable out in the woods, day or night, but wading through wetlands at night (alone) to perform call surveys was sometimes disconcerting. Given that, I cannot imagine what it would be like to venture out at night to conduct nocturnal surveys of alligator populations. 

When I look at alligators, I can't help but feel like I am staring at a living dinosaur. They just look so ancient. Accordingly, alligators are the "...last living reptiles that were closely related to dinosaurs, and their closest modern kin are birds (SREL)." Also, there is only one other species of alligator besides the american alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), which is found in China. 
I have only seen alligators a couple of times in my life. When I was a young child I visited Gator Land in Florida with my grandparents. More recently, when I was in Charleston South Carolina  (almost two years ago) for a wedding, I saw many alligators while visiting a wetland on a former plantation (I took many photos during that trip, but they ended up getting deleted by accident).

But I found it to be a much different experience, for me, to be paddling in the same water that alligators are swimming in. A couple swam ~20 or 30" from my canoe, it was breathtaking and startling. It's humbling to be in an environment with such a large predator. It is especially important to respect such wildlife, and maintain a safe distance and awareness.

When I worked in Sequoia National Forest, I remember sometimes feeling disconcerted by the mountain lions (of which I was fortunate to see 3), another large predator that can be dangerous to people, especially if you are not being careful.

Paddling through a forest! Incredible!

Happy Kermit!

An Anhinga anhinga! Beautiful bird!

I suspect this is a species of Bidens. From what I have seen. this is prolific throughout the state.  

Any idea what species of snake this is? There are 54 species of snakes in Louisiana (7 of which are poisonous) .

I suspect this might be a species of Argiope, but I am not sure! So if someone out there can identify this for me, please leave a comment below! I did not take this with my macro lens, next time I definitely will. I only took a short walk through the woods before heading out. This spider was large, about the size of my palm.
I only had a quick few of this beautiful little turtle before it slid into the water, so if anyone can identify this for me, please leave a comment below!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Black Lake Bayou National Wildlife Refuge

Kermit seemed to enjoy watching the various species of heron, egret, anhingas, and other water birds. 
My wife and I moved to Louisiana about a week and a half ago, after I accepted a position with the USDA. So far, I have found Louisiana to be a very beautiful state, and we are both excited to explore a different part of the country! While I absolutely love winter , I find myself appreciating the warm autumn weather here. It's almost November, and I am still in a t-shirt and shorts!

Yesterday, I took Kermit paddling at Black Lake Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, in Monroe. The Black Lake Bayou NWR consists of forested trails, a lake, and baldcypress/tupelo wetlands. Last night I started reading the book, Bayou-Diversity, by Kelby Ouchley, since I have a great deal to learn about the natural history in the area. The book was recommended to me by a member of the Friends of Black Bayou nonprofit organization, who I spoke with at the beautiful visitor center found on site. 

I had the opportunity to see two alligators, which were swimming about 20-30 feet from the canoe. As I floated along, parallel to one, it stealthily sunk into the water, without leaving any ripples, and just a few bubbles to indicate where it had been. It was incredible! 

The flora and fauna down here is unlike anything I've experienced before, it's exciting and fascinating! 

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), is a deciduous conifer that has a limited range throughout the southeastern United States, and up along the Mississippi River to the southern tip of Illinois. 

Such an amazing ecosystem! I have wanted to explore a bayou for years, it's exciting to now live near so many unique and beautiful areas. 

Just along for the ride!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Roaring Brook Falls

Roaring Brook Falls is another great piece of conservation land in Cheshire CT. Access is found at the end of a neighborhood on Roaring Brook Rd, which is off Mountain Rd. I visited the Roaring Brook property a couple of times, including the last at the end of September, before leaving for Louisiana. As is typical this time of year, the stream was very low when I visited . Oftentimes the cascading waterfall is quite impressive.

the remains of an old mill are on site

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brooke Memorial Preserve and Fresh Meadows Preserve

I have been visiting as many of the conservation properties in the area as possible. So yesterday after work I explored Brooke Memorial Preserve and Fresh Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Cheshire, CT. I took Kermit and my little point-and-shoot camera, which is less versatile, but more portable than my DSLR. 

The trail in Brooke Memorial is growing over and reminds me an old logging road, common throughout New England 
Kermit was happy to pose

A lone sugar maple tree is turning

The trails at Fresh Meadows cut through forest and shrubby meadows
There are many thickets of autumn olive on site, a highly invasive shrub with edible berries 

catalpa- invasive?

I spotted this very small deer about sixty meters in the woods. It was tough to get a halfway decent shot with the point-and-shoot.

Kill site?

Fresh Meadows borders the property of Edward Tufte, a famous statistician who taught at Yale. I had the chance to see him speak at the Foellinger Auditorium while at I was at the University of Illinois. His property has many large sculptures, one of which is visible from the east side of Fresh Meadows.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quick trip to Sleeping Giant

I recently went for a short walk in Sleeping Giant State Park, up along some of the red and blue trails. 

The invasive insect hemlock woolly adelgid is wrecking havoc on hemlock trees in Sleeping Giant and throughout southern New England. The insect feeds on the stored starches in the tree, severely weakening it, usually resulting in death 4-6 years. In many ways the hemlock is a keystone species, that creates unique environmental and ecological conditions. Researchers are studying the factors that limit and control the spread of the insect, and why some trees are more susceptible than others. 

Kermit always enjoys exploring the woods!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A farm in the foothills of the Catskills

This past weekend I visited my best friend at his farm in Jefferson NY, a small town in the northern foothills of the Catskills. It is a beautiful piece of property (~100 acres) of open pasture land and forest. While I did not grow up on a farm, we did have chickens, which has since made me a bit of an egg-snob. As a kid and then at the University of New Hampshire I had the opportunity to work on two vegetable farms, which were great experiences.

It was interesting and exciting to visit my friend's young farm. In a way he is bringing a very old farm back to life, the land has not been in agriculture for a few decades. Farming is certainly more than a job, it's a way of life, and it seems to suit him perfectly.

The northeast is dotted with small farms, and their historical remnants. My grandparents grew up on farmland in New Hampshire which are now housing developments, but much of the historical agricultural land in New England converted back to forest when farmers headed to factory jobs in the city, or to better soil conditions in the Midwest. The property I grew up in Springfield NH was an old homestead. Besides the standard stonewalls found throughout the Northeast,  the stone foundation from the house, a stone slab where the barn was, and the old stone-lined well is all that remains. While wandering in the woods, my twin brother and I would occasionally find remnants of the old farm: such as gnarly old apple trees, metal wheel rims, and rusted-out steel buckets. [The photos below were taken by my wife.]

They have sheep, goats, chickens, and bees. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A poem by Wendell Berry

"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Green Mountain National Forest- Grout Pond

For the long weekend, I took Friday off and headed (with Kermit) to the Green Mountain Nation Forest, in Vermont. I have done very little hiking or exploring in the Green Mountains, so I was excited to check it out. Because of a minor injury in my foot, I did not want to do any strenuous backpacking or hiking, but I did not want to just car camp in a packed National Forest or state camp ground. Grout Pond Recreation Area seemed like the perfect fit for what I was looking for. A five-mile long trail circles Grout Pond, and within the first two miles there are several primitive camp sites along or near the pond. Additionally, there are several more miles of trails in the area around the pond. There is a small public access area to the pond, however, there is no boat launch, and motorized watercraft are not permitted.

The forest in this area is characterized by mixed hardwood and coniferous trees. To me, it seems like a semi-boreal forest, with some areas dense with fir, spruce, yellow birch, and the occasional mountain maple. Needless to say, it is very thick, and difficult to bushwhack through. However, we spent a significant amount of time exploring and bushwhacking off-trail.

Jewel weed (Impatiens capensis) is abundant along near shore and in the wet areas of the forest
Normally when I backpack I sleep under a tarp, but since it was not too far of a walk in, I chose to bring a tent, along with plenty of other items that I would not typically drag out on a real backpacking trip. 

Kermit was happy to rest after spending hours walking through the dense forest.
Some leaves are beginning to change 
I used a spruce twig bundle to start the fire. The first night it took me 2 matches (out of practice?), but only 1 the next day.

It's always great to be out in the middle of the woods, by a fire at night. On nights like those, as I lay down by the fire, and stare up at the stars, a quiet calm settles over me, it is similar to the comfortable sensation one has after meditating.There is something ancient and primal about laying down by a fire and staring up at the stars. It's an activity that connects us back to our ancient ancestors. Surely as long as humans and other related species have used fire, they have stared up into the cosmos, considering their place in the universe, and wondering what tomorrow will bring.The night sky in rural Vermont was incredible, as clear as the view is Springfield New Hampshire, where I grew up. I was able to see two comets streak across the sky, along with two satellites steadily float by. It was great!

Saturday morning I was up before sunrise, so Kermit and I headed down to the pond to see the calm morning water and watch the day begin.  

The first night and morning were pleasantly chilly (a low in the high 40s)
Kermit waited patiently as I explored the pond during sunrise

A view of the trail around Grout Pond, along a wet portion. 
On the second day, I walked the loop trail around the pond and explored along the shoreline. The trail cuts through several wetland patches, which is where I found this beautiful flower. I was taking photos to ID it, when this energetic bee stopped by!

Fantastic weather
A beautiful fungus 
Gold thread (Coptis groenlandica)

Some of the hobblebush, or moosewood, (Viburnum lantanoides) is beginning to change colors to an incredible deep-purple. 
Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) is one of the plants I never encountered while was in Illinois. Unlike many edible plants, indian cucumber root has a decent-tasting root. 
Indian pipe! Such a cool little plant
Great-looking shelf fungus on a dead beech tree
I found this beautiful spider while I was out collecting firewood. As you can sort of tell in the photo, I accidentally damaged its intricate web before I noticed it, when I was dragging a dead sapling I cut down.

Even if you're only able to stop by for a day, I recommend checking out Grout Pond. I certainly hope to make another trip this fall, but with a canoe.