Friday, March 23, 2012

Early Spring Sights at Southford Falls

Yesterday morning, I felt like a change of scenery from my usual walking areas, so I drove out to Southford Falls State Park, a really lovely park I've visited a few times before, but never at this time of year. This park has a nice pond (which Connecticut's DEEP was stocking with trout while I was there), a stream with scenic waterfalls, and plenty of trails through a rock-strewn deciduous forest. With plants now blooming, there were some very pretty sights to be seen. I like how the red/orange flowers on this fallen maple tree compliment the dead leaves (retained from last year) of its beech neighbor:

The Spicebush buds were just opening in the woods, making clouds of floating yellow blossoms:

And on the ground, some spring wildflowers were getting ready to bloom -- I think I came just a day or two too early to see the actual flowers, but now I know to look for them next time! Tiny leaves of some violets were unfolding:

And Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa) was sending up buds not quite yet ready to open:

On the shores of the pond, a couple of Song Sparrows were hopping around in some blooming alder bushes:

Song Sparrows are quite pretty little birds on their own:

But they were extra lovely among the alder's curtains of bright orange catkins and smaller pink female flowers:

There were plenty of other creatures around, too. Two male Mallards were chasing each other across the pond:

And when one male Downy Woodpecker landed on a tree in front of me (such a pretty bird!)...

A second male flew in after it, and the two chased each other around the area -- I guess it's time for males to stake out territories!

And while I was watching all this, someone was watching me. (Hello up there!)

In the shallow edge of the pond, dozens of pebble-sized wirligig beetles (family Gyrinidae) were spinning around on the surface of the water:

While I was watching the beetles, a little nose and eyes poked up out of the water and looked at me:

And then right after I took this picture, the little Painted Turtle dove back down into the mud and leaves beneath the water.

I startled this diurnal firefly (genus Ellychnia) and it hurried up a tree:

In looking up this insect to identify it, it turns out that while it's in the firefly family, it's actually not a species of firefly that can light up. Wouldn't it make sense to give it a different name, then?

As I was on my way out of the park, I noticed a patch of ground next to the path that was all dug up, and this totally bizarre creature was lying there, dead:

I have never seen anything like this thing before. Or at least, I thought I hadn't. It was big, almost as long as my finger, and clearly suited for life underground, with huge claw/spade-like front legs and a very hard shell on its head and legs. When I touched it, it reminded me of a crustacean, very lobster-like. But as alien as this thing seemed, now that I know what it is, I can actually see its resemblance to its close insect relatives. It's a mole cricket, in the same family as crickets and grasshoppers. Here's a closer look at those front legs:

Apparently these insects are quite common, but because they live underground, we hardly ever see them. I guess some bigger predator must have dug this one up, chewed on its soft parts, and left the hard bits alone. What a strange and interesting discovery!

And now it's that time of year when everything starts to constantly change and grow. I don't know when I'll next get the chance to be out in the woods, but I know that when I do get out there, there will be plenty of new things to see!


  1. Replies
    1. Haha, wow, I completely forgot about this one, Chris! Why is Calvin and Hobbes so awesome?

  2. Not only do you see lots of cool stuff, you also manage to get great photos of them. What an odd creature that Mole Cricket is! Looks quite a bit like a crayfish.

    1. Thank you, Jackie. That's what I thought, too -- like a crayfish or lobster, but with wings.... Very strange!