winter wanderings

1.22.23 ~ Leo Antonino Preserve, Groton, Connecticut
first brook crossing on the yellow trail

On a cold and cloudy winter morning we decided to explore a relatively new open space property pretty close to home. Leo Antonino Preserve was acquired by the Avalonia Land Conservancy in 2018. What a pleasant surprise we had as we meandered along the loop trail, so many twists and turns, ups and downs and bubbling brooks to cross. We haven’t had any accumulating snow this January, not even a coating. But the woods did smell like winter and the crisp cold air soon gave us rosy cheeks and runny noses.

spotted wintergreen

We were curious about this mysterious black stuff we saw on lots of the beech trees. Is it another symptom of beech bark disease?

The Leo Antonino Preserve is an unexpected tract of woods, wetland, rock outcroppings and erratics … The trail includes short sections of wide-open travel on packed earth and longer stretches of single-file trail that are rocky and rooty with elevation changes. The trail travels through areas of beech and oak and along vernal pools and active brooks. Erratics and upthrust sections of granite illustrate the geologic history of this section of Connecticut. Also illustrative of the history of this property, the yellow trail features the wreck of an old Chevy truck. The section of the yellow trail north of the Chevy is the most challenging with a scramble over a steep rocky ridge.
~ Avalonia Land Conservancy website

beech marcescence
very green mosses were everywhere

We made several crossings over a (or two?) brook. There were no bridges so we used the stepping stones, feeling grateful that we didn’t slip on the mosses!

another crossing
Tim left the trail, climbed the hill and then appeared from behind these erratics
yet another crossing
the wreck of an old Chevy truck
spotted wintergreen
a rusting metal circle hanging from a branch
ferns growing on top of a rock outcropping
lichen with moss
moss and lichen on different levels
sitting on top of a rocky ridge
American wintergreen
woodpecker work, I presume
???

Near the end of the trail we spotted these black lines on the path. I can’t help wondering if it’s the same black stuff we saw on the beeches…

I’ve been trying to be more selective and to include fewer pictures in my posts, but I had to make an exception for this one. When we started this hike I didn’t expect to take many pictures but it seemed like around every turn there was something interesting to notice. We’re looking forward to returning and trying the blue trail through these woods.

21 thoughts on “winter wanderings”

  1. Lovely walk. We walked in a wildlife preserve last Friday that remind me a lot of the area you have written about here. Lots of rocks, moss, and small plants trying to survive the winter cold. Nice post Barbara.

    1. Thank you, Peggy! It’s wonderful that we have so many open spaces and wildlife preserves around us, and that we can appreciate the change of seasons as we visit them as the years go round. I always enjoy seeing your nature walk posts.

    1. Thank you, Ally! It was wonderful noticing so many things — when starting out I wasn’t expecting much in the seemingly dull, gray woods…

  2. I’m kind of fascinated by that metal circle hanging in the tree. I wonder if it was part of a wheel or maybe a trap of some sort? And how nice that you were able to get out and about without having to tromp through ice and snow! Hasn’t this been a strange winter?

    1. It has been a very weird January. We haven’t had any snow, just a few flakes now and then followed by rain. Not even a coating of snow… Tim thought that metal circle might have come from the truck since it wasn’t too far away from it. But what part of the truck? Who knows?

    1. It looked ominous to me, too, Leelah. But Eliza has identified it for us as a fungus, scorias spongiosa. And apparently it’s edible! I found an interesting blog post about it that says:
      “The fungus doesn’t do any harm to the tree, other than perhaps restricting some photosynthesis, but it’s been shown that the honeydew and fungal growth on the forest floor hinder beech nut germination – an indirect impact on the regeneration of beech trees.”
      https://mushroom-monday.com/scorias-spongiosa/

    1. Thank you, Eliza! I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us! Interesting to learn how the beech blight aphid feeds on the beech sap and then secretes the honeydew which the fungus grows on. Fungi, mosses and lichens — what a fascinating world.

    1. Hi Amanda, nice to meet you and many thanks for your kind words. I’m thrilled to find another blogger as obsessed with Scandinavia (especially Norway) as I am!

  3. Another find for you Barbara and how nice to have a Winter walk, complete with a babbling brook, bright-green moss and wintergreen, all this time of year. I’ve never seen wintergreen before, just remember it from a brand of type of chewing gum. The erratics are so huge. That black mess on the tree does not look like it bodes well for the tree … of course, neither do the holes made by the woodpecker. 🙂 The wreck of the Chevy truck is interesting – did Tim ID it, or did it have identifying characteristics? I also wonder about that black mark in your last photo. So much to see and photograph and it doesn’t matter how picture-laden the posts are … we enjoy all of those shots. I try to condense walks a little, or leave out a few photos, but I have a difficult time choosing, so ultimately leave them all in.

    1. Turns out that black stuff is harmless. Eliza identified it as scorias spongiosa. A special beech aphid drinks the tree’s sap, then excretes honeydew which the mold grows on. Apparently part of the local ecosystem.
      https://mushroom-monday.com/scorias-spongiosa/
      I’ve read that woodpeckers don’t make holes in healthy trees but only in trees already infested with ants. These holes are pretty big, though, so I’m not sure if I should blame them on woodpeckers. Tim found a metal tag on the truck that said it was a Chevrolet but it didn’t say what make, model or year. One of these days I’m going to break open one of those wintergreen leaves to smell it and maybe even taste it. There are so few of them, though, that I don’t want to disturb them.

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