through a spruce-fir forest

10.10.23 ~ start of Balsam Nature Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park

Another trail! After visiting Mount Mitchell’s peak we found the Balsam Nature Trail, a 3/4 mile loop off of the Summit Tower Trail. The terrain here was very uneven, much to Tim’s relief after the flat pavement going up to the summit. Lots of up and down, even steps in some places and narrow passages between outcrops.

We didn’t encounter any wildlife or hear any birds calling. I’m guessing because this is a well-traveled trail and the creatures are hiding from people, if they are there at all. Every few minutes a couple or a family or small group of friends would overtake us and pass us. And just as often we’d pass folks hiking in the opposite direction. It was the most traffic we’ve ever experienced on a trail.

huge outcrop
ferns everywhere
a hemlock sapling – good luck precious little being

The best part of this walk could not be photographed — it was the amazing scent of balsam and Fraser fir. What an unforgettable olfactory delight!

Sadly, though, there wasn’t much left of healthy evergreen foliage. Most of the green we saw was mosses and ferns.

I am very familiar with the hemlock woolly adelgid insect pest that destroyed the hemlock grove surrounding my childhood home. It originated in East Asia and arrived here in 1951. According to Wikipedia, by 2015 90% of the geographic range of eastern hemlock in North America had been affected.

But I had never heard of the balsam woolly adelgid until I saw it mentioned on a trailside sign, explaining why there were so many dead and dying trees in this forest. This insect pest arrived here from Europe in 1900 and was discovered in this forest in 1957. The devastation is obvious in many of these pictures.

Mosses and mushrooms seem to be thriving with such an abundance of dead wood. I tried to identify the moss in the above picture — it seems to be some kind of feather moss. It looked different than the mosses I usually see. According to Britannica there are approximately 12,000 species of moss distributed throughout the world.

The spruce-fir forest is a forest type dominated by needle-leaved, evergreen red spruce and Fraser fir trees. It exists only at elevations above 5,500 feet, and contains plants and animals that are adapted to cool, moist conditions. Some of the plants and animals living in Mt. Mitchell’s spruce fir forest are found over much of the state. Others, however, are the same as (or are close relatives of) those found in the spruce-fir forests of New England or southern Canada.
~ trailside sign

The climate of a spruce-fir forest can be harsh. Wind and ice storms are facts of life here: trees with their tops missing are common sights. And, as with any high-elevation ecosystem, rain, fog, sleet or snow can occur unpredictably — in any month, at any time of day.
~ trailside sign

uneven uphill terrain
halfway point

Though spruce-fir forests are found in a broad region of northern North America, they occur south of New England only in a thin zone along the Appalachian Mountain chain.
~ trailside sign

red spruce roots

All that being said, I was still enchanted with this forest and will cherish my memories of this little taste of New England here in North Carolina.

to the observation deck

10.10.23 ~ start of Summit Tower Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville, North Carolina

It was a steep quarter-mile trek from the parking lot to the summit and observation deck, but the view at the top of Mount Mitchell was well worth it!

Elisha Mitchell (August 19, 1793 – June 27, 1857) was an American educator, geologist and Presbyterian minister. His geological studies led to the identification of North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell as the highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River. … Elisha Mitchell fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls in 1857, having returned to verify his earlier measurements…
~ Wikipedia

looking up from along the trail
one of the rest stops Tim made good use of
a view from along the trail
I believe these are other mountains in the Black Mountains range

After reaching the summit we went up a ramp to the observation deck. From there we had an impressive 360-degree view of forests, mountains and clouds, as far as the eyes could see.

On the way back down I started noticing the many kinds of lichens growing on the trees and the wooden fences.

Sometime back in the 1980s we took our kids on the Cog Railway up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. All this time I thought it was the highest mountain on the east coast, until moving to North Carolina and reading about Mount Mitchell, which is 396 feet higher!

Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 ft (1,916.6 m) and the most topographically prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River.
~ Wikipedia

I can see what is meant by Mount Washington being the most topographically prominent mountain, though. Mount Mitchell is surrounded by other peaks in the Black Mountains range, which has 12 summits higher than Mount Washington’s.

I had another treat waiting for me as we headed back down the trail.

little surprises

10.4.23 ~ Cabe Lands Trail, Eno River State Park
Durham, North Carolina

This trail was pretty much a seemingly endless straight line through the forest. But imagine my delight when I noticed a small patch of princess pines growing alongside the path. It’s good to know they live down here in these woods, too! It was like running into an old friend.

These tiny plants are usually less than 6 inches tall but they look like miniature pine trees. They were fairy forests in my mind when I was a child.

Wonder — is not precisely knowing
And not precisely knowing not —
A beautiful but bleak condition
He has not lived who has not felt —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1347)

sun ray lighting up a fallen leaf in the princess pine forest
downy rattlesnake plantain

At first I thought I also had the good luck to stumble across a wintergreen but the above plant turned out to be a downy rattlesnake plantain. Apparently this orchid grows in New England, too, but this is the first one I’ve ever noticed.

There are 18 trails in Eno River State park, over 30 miles of them, so we have plenty of places to explore in the coming months.

a day to remember

3.27.23 ~ Harkness Memorial State Park

Please bear with me as I post more photo memories to take with me when we move! Harkness Memorial State Park is one of my favorite places, year-round for the waterbirds and in the summer for the flower gardens. On this walk we were immediately greeted by a sweetly singing song sparrow, who flew from branch to branch, teasing me. But I did get a few pictures of him!

song sparrow singing his heart out ~ it’s spring!
song sparrow
wading herring gull
American Black Duck, #76
(thanks to Donna for the identification)

American Black Duck Anas rubripes: Common coastal migrant and wintering species. In summer, an uncommon breeding species in freshwater and brackish habitats, especially coastal marshes; inland nesting occurs in freshwater marshes, densely forested swamps, and beaver ponds, mainly in central and western Connecticut.
~ Frank Gallo
(Birding in Connecticut)

The American Black Duck hides in plain sight in shallow wetlands of eastern North America. They often flock with the ubiquitous Mallard, where they look quite similar to female Mallards. But take a second look through a group of brown ducks to notice the dark chocolate-brown flanks, pale grayish face, and olive-yellow bill of an American Black Duck. Numbers of this shy but common duck declined sharply in the mid-twentieth century. Hunting restrictions have helped to stabilize their numbers, although habitat loss remains a problem.
~ All About Birds webpage

dabbling and dripping
mute swan
no mate in sight
out of the water
osprey, waiting for a mate to return?
I heard this Carolina wren singing very loudly,
but it took me a long time to locate it!
lovely snowdrops
Race Rock Lighthouse, 12 miles away on the horizon
Connecticut’s beautiful rocky coastline
very blue sky to the north
flock of brants swimming in the sound
brant
wrack line art
sand art

Today was a beautiful, calm, spring day. No wind! A woman was there trying to fly a kite, which is possible there more often than not, but she had to give up. The temperature was 52°F (11°C) so I had my first walk of the year with no thermal leggings, wearing my spring hoodie. 🙂 I am going to miss living by the sea very much.

sunlight before first frost

10.16.22 ~ Harkness Memorial State Park

In our little corner of southern New England the fall colors don’t peak until late October and we don’t expect the first frost before the 22nd. That makes it difficult to give much of an autumn flavor to my Walktober post. But since we never got to the gardens at Harkness Memorial State Park this summer I decided to go with it and contribute a garden walk this year.

This is my third annual Walktober post with Robin over at breezes at dawn. 🍁 If you would like to see my previous Walktober posts please click here. 🌼

When we arrived at the park there was a huge flock of starlings making quite a racket, darting from tree to tree and to the water tower en masse. Tim estimated that there were hundreds of them.

The gardens surrounding the Eolia Mansion still had a summery feel to them with many flowers in full bloom and many buds making plans to blossom before the frost comes.

bug matching the center of the flower
view of Long Island Sound from one of the gardens

I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.
~ Lucy Maud Montgomery
(Anne of Avonlea)

10.16. 22 ~ Historic Jordan Village Green
Waterford, Connecticut

Heading for home, feeling vaguely disappointed about the lack of fall foliage, Tim spotted a bit of bright orange across the intersection as we were waiting at a traffic light. When the light changed we went for it and discovered Jordan Village Green, which belongs to the Waterford Historical Society.

And so we took another walk!

1740 Jordan Schoolhouse
Beebe-Phillips House

Most of the trees still had green leaves but there were enough trees turning to autumn colors to satisfy my cravings that day. 🙂

falling leaves gather
rusting spokes left motionless
an abiding tree

~ Barbara Rodgers
(By the Sea)

Margaret W. Stacy Memorial Barn
Ralph Madara Blacksmith Shop

The buildings were deserted, except for two blacksmiths we found busy at work in their forge. The man above was working on an axe head. They were pleased to show us their tools and creations. We were delighted to find the perfect holiday gift for someone on our list!

How smoothly nature’s vast machine whirs on with all the big and little cogs revolving in their places! Each seed and bird and flower and fly, in its apparently haphazard existence, plays its part in the output of the seasons.
~ Edwin Way Teale
(Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year)

a rustic birdhouse on the corner of the schoolhouse
cirrocumulus clouds, forecasting the coming rain

Now that late October is arriving we have much more of this delightful season to enjoy! And a few more walks, too, between the rainy days.

the -ber months are here!

9.2.22 ~ Haley Farm State Park

Yesterday the weather was perfect! It was so crisp and cool I had to close my windows overnight because it was so chilly. 🙂 But it wasn’t cold enough yet to immobilize the mosquito population which came after us on our otherwise lovely walk through one of the meadows at Haley Farm. The sunshine on our skin felt so good and there were whispers of autumn everywhere.

Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was, is not, and never again will be; what is, is change.
~ Edwin Way Teale
(Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year)

common wood-nymph

At the edge of the meadow we took another path into the woods for a short way, until the whining mosquitoes and a growling dog encounter turned us around. I love seeing how the sunlight highlights little spots in the darker woods.

Came home feeling refreshed and renewed! In spite of the covid concerns remaining stubbornly in place. Our positivity rate is 9%. We keep testing our kids and our grandchildren when they come to visit. We keep wearing masks in public places. We patiently wait for our new booster shots to be available. It will be nice to finally go get a haircut…

colonial flower garden

7.27.22 ~ Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park

A gray catbird greeted us when we got to the Ebenezer Avery House at the bottom of the hill at Fort Griswold. The last time we visited was in January a year and a half ago. Of course there was nothing growing in the small garden at that time. But this time the air was filled with a pleasant fragrance that must have been some herb or flower I didn’t recognize.

We had a nice walk all around the fort and then it was a delightful surprise to find this little front yard garden surrounded by a picket fence. We lingered here for quite a while, enjoying the colors, smells and visiting butterflies. The flowers were in all stages of life, new ones blossoming right alongside the fading beauties. Please enjoy!

eastern tiger swallowtail
monarch

After we had our fill we made our way back up the hill and past the fort to our car. It was a good workout. 🙂

looking up the hill to the fort

I started to imagine what the people who were in this house during the Battle of Groton Heights might have witnessed from their vantage point that tragic day in 1781.

piping plovers

6.29.22 ~ Harkness Memorial State Park

Another gorgeous day for a walk, this time through the meadow and nature preserve at Harkness Memorial State Park.

All the birds were quite far away and the distance was a bit too much for my zoom lens to handle.

song sparrow high up top of a tree
song sparrow and cobweb

When we got to the bird viewing blind at Goshen Cove I was delighted to see and to add a new lifer to my list, even though the dozen or so piping plovers were so tiny and at a good distance…

Piping Plover, #72

Piping Plover Charadrius melodus: Endangered, rare to locally uncommon migrant; breeds on sandy beaches with limited human disturbance, mid-March to mid-November.
~ Frank Gallo
(Birding in Connecticut)

Piping Plovers are sandy grayish brown birds with white underparts and a narrow, often broken collar. They have yellowish orange legs in all seasons. In the breeding season, they have an orange bill with a black tip, a black collar, and a black line on the forehead. In the nonbreeding season, the bill is black and the collar fades to gray and doesn’t go all the way around the breast.
~ All About Birds webpage

I was so captivated by the piping plovers I almost missed this willet who came strolling by, much closer to the blind. As if offended, he turned and walked away from me.

willet

Three women came into the blind and were very excited by some activity on the osprey nest. They didn’t notice the piping plovers at all. I finally looked at the ospreys, also too far away for my camera…

ospreys

After all that stimulation we left the blind and continued along through the lovely meadow. There was a touch of humidity and although it wasn’t too much for me Tim was starting to feel it. This may be our last extended walk for a while. It’s supposed to get hot and humid tomorrow.

a nice park setting between the meadow and Long Island Sound
Long Island Sound

While we were taking in a view of Long Island Sound we heard the unmistakable call of approaching American oystercatchers. Three of them finally came into view flying over the sound, parallel to the the shoreline. We followed them with our eyes until the they vanished on the horizon. I hope we’ll get to have some nesting on our beach this summer. We saw them about this time last year.

summer solstice in the woods

6.20.22 ~ Bluff Point State Park & Coastal Reserve

This is the third year we’ve celebrated Midsummer since this endless coronavirus pandemic began. Driving on our way to a walk in the woods I was chattering to Tim about the “end” of the pandemic, how it was becoming more or less endemic now and that maybe I should stop tagging my posts with “pandemic.”

last quarter moon

Monday was a perfect summer day and the trees were green and lovely. Tim was already wearing shorts and I was still in my hoodie, typical between-season attire for this couple. 😉 We had forgotten it was a 3-day weekend, a Monday holiday for Juneteenth, so there were lots of people in the state park. No matter, everyone was friendly and in good spirits.

a peek at the Poquonnock River

We had a nice conversation with a young couple from New Hampshire who were very excited about a bird they had spotted. (We finally got a glimpse of it but couldn’t see it well enough to identify it.) And another conversation with a man, about our age, who commented on how good the honeysuckle was smelling and asked me about the zoom lens on my camera. I really didn’t feel too nervous being so close without a mask since we were outside.

it looks like these two trees are lifting the glacial erratic up off the ground

I took a picture of these trees holding the boulder (above) in November 2020. See here. Interesting difference between autumn and summer surroundings.

beach rose blossom
honeysuckle blossoms
greenery!

It turned out to be the longest walk we’ve taken in ages, a whole hour and a half! And I don’t know what it is about catbirds this year — they are turning up everywhere! It was one of those days where it simply felt exhilarating to be alive and present.

gray catbird
twig art on glacial erratic
the twig and the glacial erratic in the above picture
clover blossom
another sunlit glacial erratic
another gray catbird

I’m still enjoying daily encounters with the catbird coming to the birch tree outside my kitchen window. He usually announces the visit with a few meows and then begins his repertoire of varied melodies, songs that I imagine he has picked up and adopted along the way.

on another branch

People who watch a banded gray catbird outside their window all summer will find it hard not to wonder exactly where it’s spending the winter, or to marvel that science still doesn’t have the answer. And if the catbird doesn’t come back, they, too, will inevitably wonder why.
~ Miyoko Chu
(Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds)

looking the other way
hawkweed (thanks to Eliza for the id)
a chipmunk on the path

But perceptions will inevitably shift, as fickle as the weather. On arriving home we learned that a fully vaccinated relative has come down with covid and had a very high fever. The news shattered my hopeful illusions. Other relatives who have had the virus have said it was no worse than a cold. One of the most disconcerting things about the illness is that it is impossible to know how it will hit you until you actually catch it.

And then, the next morning I woke to the news that a play we were planning to attend outdoors this week was put on hold:

Update on PEER GYNT: Due to COVID delays, our production will not be opening this weekend (June 23-26) in Wilcox Park. We will update on our revised schedule of performances as soon as we can. Thank you for your understanding and stay safe!
~ Flock Theatre

Connecticut’s positivity rate is hovering around 8%. So, all things considered, I guess it’s too soon to remove the pandemic tag from my posts. This refreshing walk will be recalled as our third pandemic summer solstice celebration. Feeling gratitude for the company of sociable strangers, playful catbirds and a chipmunk with the munchies on this memorable, bittersweet day.