Archive for May, 2013

Hike to Cattail Falls, Big Bend NP, Texas

The desert trail seems to lead to a steep rock face

The desert trail seems to lead to a steep rock face.

Cattail Falls is my favorite Big Bend Hike.  This tiny area is not listed in trail guides or printed on maps as it is an extremely fragile micro-ecosystem and the source of the park water supply.  It is not a difficult hike, a drive of a couple of miles (4 wheel an absolute must), then a walk to Oak Springs, an oasis sheltered by live oaks where we have found migrating warblers in past years.  After some time spent birding at Oak Springs we set off into the desert scrub perhaps another 1.5 miles.  It is a well-marked trail bordered by cacti, Ocotillo, Agave and desert shrubs such as Mesquite and Desert Persimmon.  This year we were led on by a Blue Grosbeak who appeared several times in front of us.

The desert landscape abruptly gives way to the moist environment of the falls.

The desert landscape abruptly gives way to the moist environment of the falls.

The trail leads us toward what seems to be a massive rock wall but a steep, rocky entrance at the side gives way to the falls area.  The flora here is very different from that of the desert.  Cardinal Flower, Long-spurred Rocky Mountain Columbine, Maidenhair Fern and Streamside Orchis fill the little glen.

Long-spurred Columbine

Long-spurred Columbine

The “falls” are a mere trickle at this time of year.  During this visit we watched a Blue-throated Hummingbird bathing in a tiny pool in the face of the falls and heard the echoing call of the Canyon Wren.  BT Hummer bathing

I relocated the Blue-throated Hummingbird’s nest which she had occupied on our visit two years earlier, now somewhat battered and bedraggled.

The nest is situated over a stream leading from the pool at the bottom of the falls.

The nest is situated over a stream leading from the pool at the bottom of the falls.

As we left this tiny, magical spot in the desert, we were horrified to meet a group of 84 eight graders and their minders, hiking into this extremely fragile area.  This is apparently an annual trip for the Fort Worth Country Day School.  Yikes…..

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Connecticut Appalachian Trail Hike

View from Prospect Mountain across the Housatonic River Valley to Canaan Mountain

View from Prospect Mountain across the Housatonic River Valley to Canaan Mountain

I’ll post more on our Big Bend hikes soon, but I wanted to share our day on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail.  Followers of this blog may remember that we are doing day hikes on the trail, hoping to finish at least the Connecticut portion although a goal to finish the entire trail seems out of reach for us at this point in our lives.  This time we did CT AT Section 2, a ten plus mile stretch of rolling terrain from Lime Rock to Salisbury.  It was a perfect day for hiking, little wind, sunny, with temperatures in the mid-50s.  I never heard so many Veeries and Ovenbirds!  My official e-bird estimate was 50 Veery and 40 Ovenbird although there were probably even more than that as their songs accompanied us the entire way.  There were also migrating warblers and many other birds just returned from their wintering grounds.  I particularly  enjoyed the exuberant trilly songs of the Winter Wrens and the sight of Scarlet Tanagers.   The trail followed the Housatonic River for part of the way including the Great Falls.  It’s not Yosemite, but for us here in Connecticut, it was beautiful.

Great Falls

Great Falls

The wildflowers were our gentle companions.  Little patches of blue and yellow Violets, pink and yellow Columbine, Jack in the Pulpits, deep ruby Trillium, Cranesbill Geraniums and Anemones dotted the sides of the trail.  Sad to say the abundant invasive Garlic Mustard and Barberry were also in bloom.  Some traveler before us had noticed morels along the sides and had kicked three of them into the trail.  They weren’t badly damaged so we took them home and made a tasty pasta sauce for dinner.

Wild Columbine.  The most prestigious landscape architect couldn't improve on this!

Wild Columbine. The most prestigious landscape architect couldn’t improve on this!

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Back From Hiking and Birding in Big Bend National Park

Are there any more of you fledglings in there???

Are there any more of you fledglings in there???

We spent the past several days hiking and birding with a friend in the Big Bend area of West Texas.  This was my fifth trip to this, one of my favorite places.  The landscape is completely different from Connecticut with desert vistas and mountains higher than any in New England.  The birds are different too, some breed only in that unique habitat and nowhere else in the US.  It is the season for renewal of life and nesting birds were everywhere.  The Park’s hiking trails are well maintained and easily navigated.  Shortly after we arrived, we went to dinner and passed a Cactus Wren and her mate who were in the process of checking the nest for fledglings.  Their nests are very exposed but they are protected from predators by the sharp thorns of the cactus plants.  The resident Say’s Phoebe had nested just under the eave of the roof of the dining hall, in full view of all the diners as she brought insects to her four hungry chicks.  We ended the day watching the sun set through an opening in the basin called “The Window.”

Sunset through The Window at Big Bend

Sunset through The Window at Big Bend

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Get More of the White From Your Leeks With a Leek Box

 

The most useful portion of a leek is the white part.  Tender and succulent, this portion of the plant develops below the soil surface.  When you see leeks in the store, this white part is seldom more than four inches long, but you can easily double that length with a simple box-like structure.  I bought two lengths of composite “wood” deck planking 8″ wide and sawed them into four pieces; two, three feet long and two, four feet long.  I then propped my four boards up with sticks, making a box around the plants.   These can be easily stored flat for the winter, since you don’t nail them together.

The dimensions can be adjusted to suit the space and the number of leeks you want to plant.

The dimensions can be adjusted to suit the space and the number of leeks you want to plant.

I had let one leek plant go to seed last year and it has yielded a dozen healthy looking leek seedlings, each about a foot long.  I first dug down about eight inches and placed each seedling at the bottom of the hole, covering it so just a few inches showed above the soil surface.   As the season progresses and the leeks grow, I’ll add more soil to the box until it’s up to the top, then I’ll let them mature.  The leeks won’t be harmed so long as a couple of inches of the leafy part get the sunlight.  When you dig out a leek next fall, the white part will be far more substantial than you could buy in the store.

IMG_0169

Keep adding soil as the summer progresses.  Only a small amount of leaf needs to show.

Keep adding soil as the summer progresses. Only a small amount of leaf needs to show.

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