Archive for Hiking

Svalbard 3: Going Ashore

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We snuck up very carefully on this sleeping mass of walruses so as not to disturb them.  They were hauled out at Torellneset, a place which receives approximately 4″ of precipitation annually, making it a true “polar desert”

We left Longyearbyen on June 16th, bound for the furthest north we could go, stopping to go ashore every day, provided there were no Polar Bears in the area.  We stopped at Rauldfjorden, Spitsbergen the next day and climbed a hill to get a close look at a 1600’s whaling era cairn and an old grave.  Our passage flushed a Purple Sandpiper from her nest in a “broken wing” display.  I took a very quick look and saw three well camouflaged lovely speckled eggs.

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Our ship “Plancius” seen from the hill above Rauldfjorden.  On the shore below you can see the remains of a seasonal cabin used by fox hunters.

One activity I was particularly impressed by was beach clean up.  We went ashore at Jacobsenbukta, a bay on Woodfjord and each of us gathered debris to take back to the ship where it will be carried back to Longyearbyen for disposal.  The amount and variety of trash was depressing and we only made a dent, but this company is trying to make a difference.

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Picking up trash on Jacobsenbukta

Our next trip ashore was to visit an island released from shore by the retreating Monaco Glacier within the past few years.  The three glaciers in this bay clearly demonstrated the effects of climate change upon arctic glaciers.

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The Monaco Glacier is collapsing as seen from the build up of silt along the edges and this island which was covered just a few short years ago.

Our final trip ashore was at Tordenskjöldbukta where we hiked across the tundra to two small lakes.  We encountered reindeer, birds, Beluga whales were spotted and the spring flowers were in bloom, a beautiful ending to our cruise.

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The reindeer on Svalbard have very short legs and are notably smaller than other reindeer, about the size of a large dog.  Below are a few of the plants we saw, the yellow is a Polar Buttercup and the other three I believe are species of Saxifrages.  164 species of plants have been described on Svalbard, rare for so far north.

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Svalbard 1: Oslo Environs

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We planned our trip to Svalbard by setting aside time on either end for birding on our own.  We hired a local bird guide from the Oslo area to take us to his favorite spots for a day and it was well worth the effort.  He took us to the outskirts of the city where there is a large lake (the Nordre Oyeren Naturreservat) and then to other several other hot spots.  By the time we finished we had compiled a list of about 65 species, including 28 life birds.  While these birds were all interesting one bird stood out.  We were hiking near the lake and a beautiful chicken started to follow us.  With its striking plumage and white rump patch, it looked to me exactly like the  Red Jungle Fowl, ancestor of domestic chickens that we have occasionally  encountered in our travels, living wild in the jungle.  I finally have had a chance to research it and have decided that it must have been a Sicilian Buttercup.  This bird was very vocal and followed us for some distance.  He was probably an escape from someone’s chicken collection.  He gets the name Buttercup because of the shape of his comb, which is cup shaped.

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The next morning we left Oslo and most vegetation behind and headed to the arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

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Visit to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

This lonely barn is near where I saw my

This lonely barn is near where I saw my “life” Sage Thrasher, one of seven life birds for the trip.

I must admit that Yellowstone/Grand Tetons had not been high on my list of places to visit until my friend wolf biologist Cristina Eisenberg told me about the birds and wildlife in the Lamar Valley and the positive effects the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone.  I wasn’t able to attend either of her two seminars there in May, but we traveled there in early June with friends and I found it’s much more than Old Faithful.  The geothermal features were interesting to be sure but we found them crowded with tourists even so early in the season.

Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the U.S., was strangely beautiful.

Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the U.S., was strangely beautiful.

The wildlife was the thing.  The Lamar Valley was instantly recognizable from PBS Nature shows.  It is a true wilderness, sliced through by a road that allows one to view the animals with minimal impact on their lives.  It was the birthing season and the valley was alive with Bison calves known as Red Dogs.  We also saw the harsh side, when we came across a calf next to its dead mother, a certain meal for a wolf.

Bison mothers and calves

Bison mothers and calves

We also got a chance to visit friends Connie and Frank Madia who spend the summers serving as camp hosts in the Indian Creek Campground.  They had an American Dipper family at the entrance bridge and we spent at least an hour watching as the parents came and went on the rushing stream with food for their chicks.  We located a pair of Trumpeter Swans  along the banks of the Madison River.  These Swans have come back from near extinction and the Park has high hopes they will nest along the river.

High hopes that this pair will nest here.

This pair may return nesting Trumpeter Swans to Yellowstone.

We had a close encounter with a Black Bear and her three cubs when we encountered them in a grassy glen about 30 feet off the trail on the Roosevelt Lost Lake hike.  All ended well when we backed gingerly away and bushwacked around the area, giving them their privacy.  This was for me the highlight of the trip.

The wildflowers were lovely.  I saw an exquisite little orchid I didn’t recognize on the Lost Lake hike which I later identified as a Fairy Slipper Orchid (Calypso bulbosa).

Fairy Slipper Orchids along the Lost Lake Trail.

Fairy Slipper Orchids along the Lost Lake Trail.

Not all the wildlife was truly wild.  We did not feed this friendly Raven but clearly someone has been.

Not all the wildlife was truly wild. We did not feed this friendly Raven but clearly someone has been.

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Some Big Bend National Park Fauna

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)  They lack external ear openings to prevent sand from entering their ears.

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus) They lack external ear openings to prevent sand from entering their ears.

Every time I visit Big Bend I am astounded by the diversity of  life that thrives in this harsh desert landscape.  I go to see the birds of course, but there are other very interesting creatures which a hiker encounters.   We encountered the Greater Earless Lizard at Burro Mesa Pouroff.  Another lizard we saw was the Big Bend Canyon Lizard (Sceloporus merriami annulatus) which is native to a narrow range in the Big Bend area.

We saw this Big Bend Canyon Lizard at Sam Nail Ranch.  They adjust their color to blend in with their surroundings.

We saw this Big Bend Canyon Lizard at Sam Nail Ranch. They adjust their color to blend in with their surroundings.

There were also a number of lovely butterflies.   I tried to photograph some, Pipevine Swallowtails and Banded Sisters but ended up with a number of photos of “the rock where the butterfly had been a moment before I clicked the shutter.”  I did manage to get a photo of the Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis).

Hackberry Emperor butterflies don't visit flowers but feed on sap, rotting fruit, carcasses and dung.  Hackberry Trees are their only host plant.

Hackberry Emperor butterflies don’t visit flowers but feed on sap, rotting fruit, carcasses and dung. Hackberry Trees are their only host plant.

There are also several attractive beetles we encountered.  These impressive ones, Black-striped Blister Beetles (Epicauda atrivittata) were on a bush on the way to Cattail Falls.  They were nearly 2″ long.  They can deliver a nasty bite.

Black-striped Blister Beetle

Black-striped Blister Beetle

On our way back to Midland for the flight home, we stopped at a Prairie Dog town to look for Burrowing Owls and I noticed this young Pronghorn Antelope.  I wonder if they are farmed as this one has a collar.

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Hiking in Big Bend National Park

The view from the Window was as expansive as I've ever seen it, the air was so clean.

The view from the Window was as expansive as I’ve ever seen it, the air was so clean.  It can be quite smoggy.

Yes, I know I’ve written about this before, but we’re just back from our sixth visit to this spectacular place and I want to share some of it with you.  This time I invited my close friends, the bird banding team from CT Audubon’s Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary to come with us and we were joined by my very good friend Carla from Texas (she of the excellent bird spotting eyes).  We spent a week hiking and birding and having fun.  The weather was spectacular.  We had to work a little harder to see the birds as there was more water in the park so the birds weren’t forced into the few waterholes.  The bonus for us was that the desert was blooming.

I’ve written about my very favorite spot  Cattail Falls before but this time the Falls had more water than we have ever seen and the little grotto has developed a defense mechanism in that the entrance is thick with poison oak.

I wonder why they call it Boot Canyon....   :)

I wonder why they call it Boot Canyon…. 🙂

We hiked to Boot Spring via the Pinnacles Trail through Boot Canyon and had a number of sightings of the Colima Warbler, a bird that breeds only in this spot in the United States.  This time we saw no bears but the mules had just brought up mulch for the composting outhouses and they were tethered near the spring.

The steep trails are easily negotiated by mules.

The steep trails are easily negotiated by mules.

One of the last hikes we took was to Burro Mesa Pouroff.  This easy hike is only a mile round trip and the box canyon is well worth visiting.

Burro Mesa Pour-off has been formed by the run-off of flash flood waters from Javelina Wash.   To me this spectacular site is more beautiful than any cathedral.  Our bonus was a sighting of the endangered Black-capped Vireo.

Burro Mesa Pour-off has been formed by the run-off of flash flood waters from Javelina Wash. To me this spectacular site is more beautiful than any cathedral. Our bonus was a sighting of the endangered Black-capped Vireo.

Next time I’ll post pictures of some of the birds and other fauna we encountered.

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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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The AT: Day Hike on the Appalachian Trail

The vista from the top of Pine Knob.

The vista from the top of Pine Knob.

I’ve wanted to hike the entire 2,100 plus miles of the extraordinary system known as the Appalachian Trail (or AT) ever since I first learned about it as a teenager.  Family, career and life in general intervened and a few years ago I realized that this was one life goal I would not accomplish.  I am one who does not relinquish my goals easily, so instead I decided to be less ambitious and try to hike only the 53+ miles of the Trail that wind through the northwest corner of Connecticut.  It’s easy to do this as day hikes because there are frequent parking areas that allow easy access to the Trail.  By driving two cars and leaving one at our planned destination, we have gradually chipped away at the Connecticut portion.

The Trail winds though leaf carpeted woods along the tops of the Connecticut hills.

The Trail winds though leaf carpeted woods along the tops of the Connecticut hills.

Too ambitious when we first started to do this several years ago, we had begun at the New York border on Route 55 and planned spend the night in a tent, hoping to hike sixteen miles in the two days.  Two of our sons had decided to join us (afraid the old folks would fall off a cliff, I suppose) and we had set off, each with a 40  pound pack.  The day began well but I finished with one son carrying my pack, filled with the sobering knowledge of my true physical stamina.  For me, a goal of one mile an hour with frequent stops to snack, catch my breath and watch a bird or two became the new reality.

This tricky spot is known as Roger's Ramp.  You scuttle down between two huge boulders.

This tricky spot is known as Roger’s Ramp. You scuttle down between two huge boulders.

We have now done three stints and covered 25 miles, so with the day ahead bright and cool, we decided to hike another section, beginning where we had left off in Cornwall Bridge.  The AT itself is accessed via a mile long steep side trail known as Pine Knob Loop leading to the summit of the Knob where there is a lovely vista.  Once on the Trail itself, we found this section relatively easy going.  One hiker we met told us he had seen a large black bear ahead but we didn’t encounter him and we met few other hikers.   This late in the season we saw only one couple who, from their packs might be “through hikers” on their way to the Trail’s terminus in Georgia.  We stand aside and salute through hikers when we meet them, for their ambition and dedication puts us to shame.

The woods are full of interesting natural vignettes such as this mossy boulder crowned with Polypody Ferns.  You can understand how they get their common name of Rock Cap Fern.

The woods are full of interesting natural vignettes such as this mossy boulder crowned with Polypody Ferns. You can understand how they get their common name of Rock Cap Fern.

Our day was perfect with small jewel like spots of rocky outcroppings and tiny waterfalls, lit  by the sun filtered through golden fall foliage.  Among the birds I saw were four woodpecker species, Pileated, Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied.  We were accompanied by the dee-deeing songs of scolding Black-capped Chickadees and I saw a few other songbirds, with the most delightful sighting being a Golden-crowned Kinglet with his crest raised at me in indignation.  We got as far as West Cornwall Road, more than halfway to our 53 mile goal with our souls restored.

 

 

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