Thursday, December 19, 2013

Flag Rock, Housatonic

Off of Rte 183, on the west side of Mounument Mountain in Great Barrington, is an easy trail up to a great view of the village of Housatonic and beyond. This morning was my first time up there in the winter. With the new snow and sunshine, the day was perfect for this snowshoe of about two and a half hours. The woods were peaceful and quiet with a few chickadees singing here and there.

From the rock, you look out on Housatonic with Tom Ball Mountain beyond.
I found the play of the shadows on the trail decidedly cheerful.
We loved the bright sunshine.
What a great hike!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Jug End Reservation, Egremont

My first snowshoe this year!

Sunday morning the snow was about 8-12 inches deep with only a very light crust. The snow plower was just finishing clearing the parking area at Jug End when I arrived so I was first on the trail that morning. Although the sky was grey, the temperature was in the mid-30s making it very comfortable and enjoyable.

The trail was covered with pristine new snow.
I wondered what animal tracks I would see.
First, I saw lots of deer tracks.
This was awesome! It looks to me like a coyote was chasing a squirrel.
With such long strides, they must have been moving very fast.

And I saw where the squirrel tracks ended. The coyote had a snack.
And I, too, left tracks in the woods.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jug End Road, Sheffield

Because I had a car accident two weeks ago and broke a few ribs and cracked my sternum, I am looking for easier walks. Luckily, the Berkshires have many dirt roads and little-used roads that are wonderful for easy walking. I have been going with a friend; we gab the whole way and and don't even have to think about our footing like you would on a trail.

Actually, the first two weeks in December I stay off the trails anyway, because there are so many deer hunters in the woods for shotgun season. We did hear distant shots but I felt safe on the road.

This week we walked three miles on Jug End Road in Sheffield from the Appalachian Trail crossing to Route 41 and back. The sunshine, the views, the fresh air are healing! I expect to be back on the trail soon.

Inquisitive and friendly animals along the roadside.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The High Line, NYC

A few weeks ago, two friends and I took MetroNorth from Wassaic, New York, (about 1 hour from my house) into New York City. Our destination was the High Line, an elevated freight rail line that has been repurposed into a wonderful one-mile-long thoughtfully designed and landscaped park with an additional half-mile still under construction. Artwork, viewpoints and public spaces enhance the park.

It is incredibly popular both day and evening and is open year round. In fact, a local told me that it can be almost gridlock trying to walk it on nice-weather weekends. The neighborhood, Chelsea and the Meat Packing District, is experiencing a building boom and transformation because of this park. I'd like to return in the spring and summer for the blooming plants, many of which are native species.

We walked a mile in the heart of NYC without stopping for one single car!
We pondered the art along the way.
Native plantings, including trees, flowers and grasses, made a relaxing setting.
Only a few late-season flowers remained.
More artwork along the way. 
Elevators provide access for families with carriages and those with disabilities. 
Here, you are looking at the Statue of Liberty way out in the harbor.
Here are bleacher-like steps and a glassed in view of 10th Avenue.
The elevated views were incredible!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pleasant Valley Wlidlife Sanctuary, Lenox

It was a cold day, but great to be outdoors as always!
Tuesday we walked up Lenox Mountain from Mass Audubon's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox. We took the Overbrook Trail and returned the same way and visited Pike's Pond, one of several beaver ponds at the sanctuary.
At the summit is a view of Richmond Pond with the Taconic ridge in the background.
The old fire tower has been repurposed
as a communications tower.
We enjoyed the boardwalk at Pike's Pond. It was warmer
by the time we returned to the pond.
We are fortunate in the Berkshires to have so many generous benefactors
who have preserved, and given us access to, our wonderful natural spaces.
Thank you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Taconic Crest Trail, Pittsfield

Friday was a cold, windy day with the first snow I've encountered this fall. We walked from Rte 22 in Hancock, up to Berry Pond in the Pittsfield State Forest. Although many trails here are open to motorized vehicles, the Taconic Crest Trail is a foot path. A section of it near Berry Pond has been modified for use by mountain bikers with several switchbacks to accommodate the bicycles. It was a great walk of about 6 miles mostly along the top of the ridge.

First snow of the season!
We saw several of these small Bruce Spanworm Moths also called Winter Moths
because they come out so late in the fall. More about them here.
A man-made pond along the way. 
A lofty deer-stand-for-two created between tree trunks.
It's a reminder that hunting is allowed in the state forest.
We saw that a bear had used this tree trunk for a scratching post!
Through the tree branches are nice views west into Columbia County. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Beavers at Benedict Pond, Great Barrington & Monterey

Half of Benedict Pond is in Great Barrington and half is in Monterey, but all of it is in Beartown State Forest. It's a 35-acre manmade lake with no development around it. An easy, scenic loop trail skirts the water. A few days ago, we saw lots of very fresh beaver activity on the northern and western sides of the lake.

The lake was calm and mirror-like.
Much of it is shallow.

The beavers have been working hard to topple this large birch.
Maybe tonight it will go down!
Here's a beaver path from the water to the tree.
It must take quite a few days to fell a large tree judging by this path!
The Lookout Trail leads to a wonderful place for a picnic with views to the west.
(Photo by Marina Wilber)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shaker Mountain, Hancock

Last week we hiked the trails on Shaker Mountain in Hancock, MA. Part of the mountain is owned by Hancock Shaker Village and part is in the Pittsfield State Forest. We started at the pull-off on Rte 20 opposite Shaker Village. While there is a hefty charge for visiting the Village, well worth it by-the-way, there is no charge for walking the trails. As we drove up, two men were taking off on their bicycles up the hill.

The moderate trail passes several Shaker foundation sites of the North Family and evidence of Shaker waterworks. Also, two Shaker holy sites are on the mountain. It does not have much in the way of views, but has the historic sites and beautifully-crafted stone walls. It was a nice walk of about 6 miles.

The first holy site is overgrown with saplings.
A picket fence marks the four corners.
This stone work may have been the foundation for a shelter building at the holy site.

Originally, this outstanding example of 19th century Shaker stonework
completely enclosed the holy site—several acres.
The forest was bright & sunny as we descended the south-facing mountain.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Poetry Trail, Austerlitz, NY

After our walk to Harvey Mountain, we walked on the trail to the gravesite of Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, her husband, and several members of her family. Her home and gardens here in Austerlitz, called Steepletop, are where she lived from 1925 until her death in 1950. It is an on-going restoration project by the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. A charge applies to tours of the house and garden, but not to the trail.

The trailhead is on East hill Road off of Rte 22 in Austerlitz, NY. A mostly flat wood road passes a half mile through light woods to the grave sites. Along the trail are sign posts with excerpts from her poems. A very nice meditative walk. Although it would have been better if it was not raining!

The trail begins at the gate with selections of her poetry along the way.

Many natural objects have been left as remembrances to her.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Baldfaced Hornet

With the leaves falling, I have seen several baldfaced hornet nests hanging from trees. In doing some research I found that although called a hornet, it is actually a type of yellowjacket. The insect is mostly black with white markings including a white head and is about 3/4 of an inch long.

On the way up Harvey Mountain last week,
we saw this nest hanging from a tree branch.
It's on the right side of photo about 1/3 down from the top.
(Photo by Marina Wilber.)
The nests are covered with a gray papery material and can be larger than a football. They hang from tree and bush branches or from the eaves of buildings. Inside are layers of hexagonal comb like that of bees. The queen and female workers construct a new nest every year. The paper covering is made from vegetable fibers chewed by the workers and mixed with their saliva to make a pulp which is formed into the paper. Each good-sized nest averages about 400 workers.

In the fall, the workers die and the nests are abandoned. The queen lives to start a new colony in the spring. The nests are buffeted by the wind and usually come apart like this one below, that I found on the lawn where I work. The paper covering was gone so you can see the inside.

The comb was in three layers.
Top view: Here is where the larvae are born and raised by the workers
until they become adults with wings.

A closeup of the comb.
Baldfaced hornets are vigorous defenders of their nests and will sting people when it is disturbed. The sting is similar to a wasp's and reaction varies according to the individual. On the positive side, they kill many pests including flies, spiders and caterpillars. Most nests that I have seen are high enough not to be a problem.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Harvey Mountain, Austerlitz, NY

The weather was uncertain on Tuesday but we decided to hike anyway. What's a little rain! 

We parked on East Hill Road off Rte 22 and climbed Harvey Mountain in Austerlitz, New York. It's a moderate hike, only about 3.5 miles round trip to the summit, which is the highest elevation in Columbia County at 2,065 feet. The mountain is widely known for its blueberries, usually ripe in mid-July. Since 1999, the area has been preserved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as Harvey Mountain State Forest.

Some hardwoods had completely lost their leaves
so we could see the mountain behind them.
The atmosphere was hazy
and gray, but the view was still surprisingly good.
The bushes and vegetation on the summit were cut this summer
to promote the growth of the blueberries which should be excellent
next summer! 
The beech trees still had their leaves. Some beech branches will
hold their dried leaves through the winter until the buds swell in the spring.
The deep red oak leaves were shiny in the light rain.