Saturday, September 3, 2011

Late Summer in the Meadows: Warblers and Orchids and More

This morning, I took a trip up to the meadows in the northern part of Naugatuck State Forest, where I have had great success in the past seeing birds among the tall grasses and low shrubs. I had tried to go there late yesterday afternoon, but a bunch of people and their raucous country music and shouting scared me away -- as well as any animals I was hoping to see, I would imagine. This morning, however, it was supremely peaceful, with clear skies and cool temperatures, and the creatures were out in abundance. In short, it was a perfect day for a walk.

It's amazing how much one place can change in just a few weeks. When I was in these fields in mid-July, the grasses were dotted with a mixture of white, yellow, and orange flowers. Now, everything is awash with gold -- goldenrod at its best, I should think:

I've seen Common Yellowthroats in this area before, but they must've had a family or two since I last visited, because these little birds were everywhere I went. I saw a full-grown male with his sleek white-bordered black mask, a first-year male with a mask that looked like someone had only half-finished painting it (everyone goes through that awkward teenager stage), and a few females and immature birds. This pretty girl (at least, I'm fairly sure this is a female) came quite close to me for some pictures:

That yellow sure is intense! At one point, she fluffed up her feathers and looked right at me -- are we showing off a little, perhaps?

Now that I think about it, there does seem to be a little black on this bird's face... so maybe it is an immature male after all? Either way, it was a fun photo shoot, and I really can't believe how bright that yellow is:

A little ways into my walk, I found myself in the middle of what I can only describe as a songbird storm. I had been heading toward a tree where a couple of chickadees were hanging out, and then suddenly they were all around me, down in the bushes and up in the trees on all sides. And it wasn't just chickadees, but also titmice, flycatchers, vireos, and at least three species of warblers, all swirling around me and calling and grabbing insects as fast as possible. I didn't quite know what to do with myself (sensory overload!), so I focused on the closest thing at hand, a lovely American Redstart (either a female or immature male) who was foraging in the bush next to me:

Full-grown males are deep black with bright orange markings, but you can still recognize this as a redstart because of those yellow-orange patches on her (I'm guessing this is a female) sides and tail. This bird was fanning her tail and fluttering her wings, as redstarts do, but too quickly for me to get a picture of this behavior. American Redstarts are a type of warbler (as are Common Yellowthroats), and their tail markings make them especially easy to identify from far away. I was very happy for the chance to hang out with this one up close, though!

After about two minutes, and as quickly as it came, the songbird storm ended and all the little flying creatures dispersed. It was totally strange, and who knows what I missed in all that confusion!

Unlike birds, of course, flowers sit still in one place for easy viewing. Even so, I almost missed seeing these guys nestled in among the tall grasses:

I was really excited when I spotted these flowers. They're Nodding Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes cernua), one of our native orchids. While they're not particularly uncommon, I've never seen them in real life before -- hence the excitement. I found four of these plants blooming within a few feet of each other, with tiny grass-like leaves that I certainly never would have noticed if the flowers hadn't been there. Such dainty blooms, and I love the spiraling effect:

Right next to the ladies'-tresses were two more cool flowers that were new to me. They're both milkworts in the genus Polygala, but it was only after I learned their names that I realized how similar they look to each other. These larger purple/pink flowers are Field Milkwort (Polygala sanguinea):

And growing a foot or so away was the smaller white Whorled Milkwort (Polygala verticillata):

I don't know when I'll next be able to visit these meadows, since my trips to Naugatuck State Forest will soon be restricted to Sundays (deer hunting season starts in mid-September, and this forest allows hunting). The next time I visit this place, it will most likely look completely different -- which just means it will be a new world to explore! I'm looking forward to it. :)


  1. Seeing your photo of the Nodding Ladies'-tresses reminded me that Chris and I spotted the most interesting fungus today that looked a lot like those NLT's on top but were almost definitely a fungus from the "stem" down since they were wide and pulled out of the ground very easily when Chris poked it with a stick. We both exclaimed something like, "Elizabeth would know how to find out what this is!"

  2. Alissa: Whoa, crazy! Perhaps it was something like Indian Pipes or Pinesap, both of which are plants but look very fungus-y? I don't know what would happen if you poked one of those with a stick, but it's possible they might fall over...? Fungi are a big gaping hole in my knowledge base, and I haven't been able to find an online resource to help me look them up. (Haha, books? What are those?) So if it was a fungus, I can't actually be much help except to go back to my original statement: Whoa, crazy! :P

  3. Hi Elizabeth. Lovely, lovely! We also have ladies tresses here, although not that close to where I live :-( They are tiny and stunning, almost hidden in the grass. I know the excitement you feel finding a new species. It's very special. Mel

  4. I want to come hiking with you!!! Maybe I'm just too scary for the birds, but I almost never see the bird that is singing/chirping, and even more rarely get a photo. Very nice!!!
    This site has tons a pictures it's been somewhat helpful, although, fungus is so tricky - you almost have to take it apart to get all the characteristics - - I've been using a book (probably my age and that librarian thing I used to do) *Mushrooms of Northeast North America* by Barron. Using it, I can get my id's to 'probably' and 'most likely' - happy hiking - come on over to the Giant to hike during the week. :-) Osbornedale has some lovely trails as well.

  5. Mel: It is definitely a special feeling to find something new, and I do so like noticing the little things. :)

    hikeagiant2: Oo, thanks for the link -- maybe this will help me at least get started with identifying the fungi I see! Osbornedale does have some nice trails, and I've got a few other state parks near me I can visit if I need a weekday walk as well. Or I suppose I could buy something bright orange to wear into Naugatuck State Forest, but that seems like so much work. :P

  6. Wow, Elizabeth. You're awesome. I looked up the Indian Pipes (and Pinesap) and it's definitely, without a doubt the Indian Pipes. I am especially impressed because I spent at least 20 minutes (before giving up) trying to figure out what they were after writing to you yesterday. My downfall was in assuming they were fungi.

    Again, impressive!!!

  7. Alissa: Yay, my wild guess was right! :D Indian Pipes are super awesome, and I'm glad I could be helpful!

  8. Elizabeth - I just stumbled on this site - maybe you will find it helpful as well