Today was another great day for a trip to the Naugatuck State Forest: clear skies, sunshine, and cool breezes; it couldn't have been nicer. The animals and plants were very active, so maybe they agreed with me.
I've seen Red Squirrels in these woods a couple of times before, but much less frequently than I see their larger gray cousins. So I was pretty excited when this little fellow scampered out of the undergrowth and then posed for a few pictures -- it even let me sneak a little closer before it ran the rest of the way up the tree:
This guy was just barely bigger than a chipmunk, and so much daintier than the more common Gray Squirrels. Apparently Red Squirrels prefer forests with conifer trees, so maybe that's one reason why I never see them around my apartment. In any case, getting close to this adorable creature today was a real treat.
And speaking of treats, I've always wanted to see a slime mold (yes, I'm aware of the strangeness of that statement), and I'm pretty sure I found one today! Behold:
Isn't it magnificent? I had just assumed that slime molds were a type of fungi (or maybe I had forgotten what I learned in my 7th grade science class), but it turns out they're actually an entirely different thing! And there's a lot of crazy stuff to learn about slime molds, if the Wikipedia page is any indication -- I wish I had time to learn more. If you click the picture to zoom in you can see the crazy texture on this thing -- it's even starting to grow over that leaf. So cool!
The rest of today's walk turned up some more cool new things, but in familiar veins: bugs and flowers.
There were more dragonflies than ever, but all of the individuals I got pictures of managed to elude my attempts at identification (this is not surprising). However, even though I couldn't figure out their species, I got to see some cool behaviors. This dragonfly, for example, just recently metamorphosed -- it's still standing on the skin of its nymph form (from which it emerged):
And this rather large dragonfly is munching on what looks like a (still wriggling) ichneumon wasp (a non-stinging insect whose larvae are parasites on other insects -- I'm not sure of the exact species):
That looks like a pretty big meal, even for such a large dragonfly. These guys are serious hunters.
The flowers were putting on a nice display as well. Here's a whole bank covered in low-growing plants of the blackberry family -- are these actually dewberries, or can I just call them "blackberries" like I want to?
This pretty (and very small) flower is Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), originally from Europe but not considered invasive (to my knowledge):
Finally, here are a couple of new flowers for me, whose leaves I've been seeing all winter (since they're evergreen). These plants were growing on opposite sides of the same path and they look very similar, but they are different species. First there's Round-leaved Pyrola, with its glossy leaves that are tinged slightly purple at the stems:
And then there's Shinleaf, with leaves that are not as glossy, and there are some differences in the flowers if you look closely, too (it's hard to see the leaves that go with the stem in this picture, but the leaves directly below the flowers are from the same plant):
Also, a side note: I mentioned in a post last week that a couple of people had apparently seen a Black Bear in the Naugatuck State Forest recently. Well, according to this article, the DEP captured a Black Bear that was in a neighborhood just north of the forest, so I'm wondering if this is the same creature.... It seems likely!