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!