Sunday, August 9, 2009

Western Ridge Trail & Mud Pond - Moreau Lake

I loved the autumn weather this morning, well, besides the high humidity. But the cool air felt great on my skin.

My goal today was to get to Mud Pond. I didn't care how I got there, but to have the Environmental Educator of Moreau Lake State Park being my unofficial treeline guy and calling me on Friday to let me know he spotted a grebe at the pond, I now had a goal.

All summer I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find the parking spot for the western ridge trail halfway along Spier Falls Road at Moreau Lake State Park. Today I finally got to the park at an earlier hour, and the constant spittle and overcast skies really decreased the amount of traffic along the road, so I hit 45 mph and went no faster. I saw a potential pull-off for Mud Pond right at the end of the guardrail, and saw a sign warning that police parking happens there. So I wasn't sure I could park there. A little ways up the road, I found a pull off on the right, with a fenced off uphill area further to the right. I crossed the road and checked out the trail - no markers, so obviously not WR trail. Back in my car I go, and not much further ahead I found a pull off on the right again. Across the street, under overhang from the trees, I saw the signs for trailhead parking. Was this it, I wondered? In I walked, immediately uphill. The trailhead opens up to a large rocky powerline corridor. Rocky, and covered with wildflowers! I kept walking, to see a nice parking lot, and to my left was the yellow marker for the Western Ridge trail. I've finally made it!

The walk itself was amazingly nice. It's all woods with understory and wet soils, which meant many mushrooms and fungi, and indian pipes. Besides being able to label things as corals (white and yellow), I really don't know the different species of fungi. And the two purple mushrooms were quite interesting.

Along the walk I became a bit sad, and wasn't sure why. I realized it was because I had not seen a single soul. Most nature enthusiasts would favor this, and I usually don't care to see other people, but I've become accustomed to meeting Moreau Lake visitors, and I have loved meeting them. I felt better today when a young cyclist came upon me and remarked on the stinky skunk we both had smelled. I then saw a couple with two nice pups, and another cyclist.

And yes, I did make it to Mud Pond. Finally! I had not been there on my own since spring, the last spot I had knowingly been bitten by a tick. I was absolutely surprised to see that 98% of the pond was covered with lily pads. Finding the grebe was going to be like a Where's Waldo game. I never did see the grebe, unfortunately. But the pond was so calming to study that I didn't mind. I also found a 'secret' spot near the pond that still had blueberries! While there I had a laugh as I could hear what sounded like two people arguing over something they had seen.

So birds! This is what I saw/heard along Western Ridge, before reaching Mud Pond:
- Mourning Dove (1 - where I parked, it slowly walked out of my car's path)
- American Goldfinch (2)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (5 to my delight)
- Black-capped Chickadee (15!)
- Blue-headed Vireo (1 - it was so upset with my presence that when I took a break on my way back, it perched above my head and pooped on my hair. Thanks, vireo. Thanks. It's lucky that I was so excited to see one for the first time!)
- Red-eyed Vireo (3)
- Cedar Waxwing (2)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- American Crow (1)

I also spotted two deer along Western Ridge, and saw the damage they had done to multiple silver maple saplings. I was also impressed with the indian pipes (both white and pink) and Lycopodium.

Upon reaching sight of Mud Pond, I saw a massive nest - not sure if it's a wasp or hornet, but it's size was impressive. Birds at Mud Pond included:
- American Goldfinch (21 heard, 1 male sighted!)
- American Crow (4 - one kept whining)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
- Blue Jay (1)
- Common Raven (1)
- Yellow Warbler (2 - another last pair?)
- Cedar Waxwing (6 - they had yellow tail tips)
- Gray Catbird (4)
- Common Yellowthroat (1 female dancing around a small tree right in front of me!)
- Great Blue Heron (2 - this was birding on hard mode, I had to find them within the pads, anyone without binoculars likely would not have seen them)
- Ducks, unknown sp. (13 - they were simply too far away for me to see any identifying marks. However, they had very dark brown plumage that resembled American Black Ducks)
- Canada Goose (3 - by all those ducks)
- Belted Kingfisher (1 - would not sit still, kept flying over the pond, calling)
- Wood Duck (7 in the separated spot of water - 1 female with 6 juveniles!)

I headed back to the area with all the wildflowers. There was birdsfoot trefoil, various ferns (I don't have a fern guide), pokeweed, goldenrod, red clover, mullein, bladder campion, common st. johnswort, yellow wood-sorrel, possibly snapdragons or lobelia (must learn the difference), sweetfern, blueberries, fleabane, yarrow, virginia creeper, buttercups, joe-pye weed, evening primrose, and I got all excited when I positively identified one plant of false solomon's seal, which currently has the pale yellow berries flecked with pink/red.

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