Fall is quickly approaching! We woke up to lightly frosted cars this morning, and I spotted my first orange-tinged maple while I was driving yesterday. So my trip to the Naugatuck State Forest yesterday morning may be my last summer walk of the year, before fall starts really moving in!
I saw lots of exciting creatures, but many of them were too far away for good pictures. A Great Blue Heron was perched on a branch sticking out of the lake, preening its huge wings. A Belted Kingfisher was hunting, and I watched it catch a few small fish -- it would dive into the water while yelling at the top of its voice, which I wouldn't think would be a great hunting strategy, but I guess it works for the kingfisher! I saw a big owl up in the trees (the first owl I've seen since early May), but it was facing away from me, and it flew off before I could get a better look at it.
Not all the creatures stayed far away, however. At one point in my walk, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk swooped down along the path, passing right over my head, and then perched on a nearby branch:
It was quite the experience, having a big raptor flying right at me. What a gorgeous bird. I'm glad it decided to stick around for a little while.
Fall migration is definitely happening now. This Palm Warbler was making a pit stop on its journey south, foraging in some bushes next to the path:
It's amazing how much this species changes over the year. This fellow was pretty, but so brown and washed-out compared to the brilliant yellow I saw when these birds passed through this forest in the spring. The only reason I was able to recognize this as a Palm Warbler at all, actually, was because it was constantly wagging its tail, and I remembered that behavior from my last encounter with these birds.
It was a good day for really crazy and awesome wasps. Both of these next two creatures are species of ichneumon wasp, and they're some of the fanciest-dressed wasps I've ever seen. This one, ready for Halloween with it's neon orange antennae and black body, is (I'm pretty sure) the species Gnamptopelta obsidianator:
I don't know the exact species of this next ichneumon, but now that I'm on a Halloween track, I can't help thinking how much its white-on-black pattern resembles a skeleton costume:
Here's something new to me -- Wild Grapes:
I'm not sure how it's possible that I've never encountered grapes in the wild before -- they're not particularly uncommon. Apparently one has to be careful, though, not to confuse these with other dark vine-growing berries, like the poisonous Moonseed. One way to know for sure that you have grapes is to check the number of seeds inside the fruit -- grapes have several large seeds, whereas Moonseed only has one.
So I tasted a few of the grapes, and I have to say, they were phenomenal. The flesh was very sour near the seeds (which was about 70% of the fruit), but just below the skin it was quite sweet and super grape-y. I can't really explain what I mean, but the flavor was about three times as grape as any domestic grapes I've eaten. It was amazing. So basically, I would peel a small bit of the thick skin from a grape, squeeze out the inner section of seeds and sour flesh, and then suck on the sweeter grape concentrate that was left within the hollowed-out skin. My method definitely wouldn't sustain me if I was starving in the woods, but it made for a tasty treat. Yum!
Here are some other assorted sights from my walk:
There was fungi popping up everywhere, but I'm not yet up to par on my fungi identification skills. I thought this group of pale- and bright-orange fungi was particularly pretty, whatever their species names might be:
Several trees have fallen in the recent storms and rain, and this snapped tree made quite a dramatic sight, with that tall stake pointing toward the sky:
When we were in Norway, we saw many small carefully-balanced rock cairns scattered across the landscape, left by tourists, or possibly trolls, if the guides were to be believed. Apparently the rock-builders have made their way here as well:
There's something very pleasing to me about this sight, and I hope the structure stays standing for a long time.
As a side note, deer hunting season started yesterday, but I didn't see any hunters on my walk. My sense is that this part of the forest (around the lakes) is close enough to human habitation, and so often frequented by runners and bikers and walkers that it should be relatively safe for me to visit during the week. I will, however, stay away from the deeper parts of the forest -- which includes the meadows that I so enjoy visiting -- and I will be sure to wear bright clothing whenever I'm in the woods. I don't anticipate any problems, but it's probably best to be cautious.