Monday, March 14, 2016

Babcock Ridge revisited

By Beth Sullivan
The day was too beautiful. It begged for a special hike. Last fall we walked Babcock Ridge and got a bit turned around at a couple of places. It was a great hike but the trail was not yet ready. But the Avalonia volunteers in North Stonington have been busy all winter and it shows!
We needed to get out with GPS equipment on the trails so maps can be created and posted on the trails and on-line for visitors. The entry is a small pull-off lot at 113 Babcock Road. There is room for several cars. Once signage goes up after a formal dedication later this spring, it will be far easier to spot from the road.
The trail is blazed in blue and starts out as an easy wide trail, the “stem of the lollipop” before the loop portion begins. Through force of habit, I always go counter-clock wise, to the east first. If it makes a difference to anyone, this way has a steep upslope segment with an “easier way” alternative offered. No problem at all. The clockwise route would provide a longer but somewhat more gradual slope upward.

Mourning Cloaks announce spring

We got the GPS, smart phone and camera all ready to go, and set off. Immediately we were greeted by several Mourning Cloak butterflies. These are the first to emerge in the spring after a winter hibernation. They tend to like to overwinter in crevices and cracks in rocky areas and hollow trees. There are plenty of both at Babcock and the warm sun brought them out. We had at least a dozen on the whole hike. A perfect first sign of spring!
One of several Mourning Cloaks out and about on a warm day.

A short way farther along the trail, we could begin to hear the “quacking” sound of Wood frogs in the vernal pool. As we got closer the chorus got stronger and was joined by a few Spring Peepers. I was apparently not quiet enough in my approach, because they stopped their calling. However the water was in constant motion as I could see individuals swimming in the shallow, warmed water. They will be laying eggs soon,as will the Spotted salamanders, and the vernal pool will host larval Marbled salamanders and Fairy Shrimp, as well. If you approach, be patient, sit still, the chorus might resume for you.
The early Spring vernal pool was noisy on this sunny day.

Wetlands to see

The trail drops down to a wetland area. Here you make a choice. The blue trail goes pretty straight up the ridge. A yellow-blazed “easier way” crosses the beautiful green, mossy wetland and makes a switchback trail up to the top in a more gradual way. I would take the wetland option, just because it is pretty.
Wetlands spread out rocky and mossy.

When the trails reconnect, it continues up and up to the top of the rocky ridge. Along the way you can see large ledges, caves, and rock faces covered with lichen and fungi. You can imagine what creatures would use these caves for denning opportunities.
Wonder what might live in this cave?

At the top, elevation about 290 feet, the winter views are far and wide. A few little side trips off the trail to peek over the edge are well worth it! We encountered a garter snake sunning against a warm rock. It was not happy to be disturbed! The trail crosses through the stone wall and actually joins the southern portion of the Erisman Woodlands loop. Here you can make some more choices. You can continue on the Babcock trail and head south back down to where you began, or you can follow the Erisman loop trail, extending the hike, in essence making a figure eight. It was well signed and easy to follow. Enjoy the top. If you are lucky you might glimpse the elusive Pileated Woodpecker that resides up there.
This Garter snake was not happy we disturbed its sunbath.

The trail offers choices and is easy to follow.

This day we took the Babcock loop back down. We noted old barbed wire, signs of historic boundaries, some of which was so deeply embedded into the trees it was completely encased. The wetland is more spread out, rockier here, and the stream is fuller and babbles more.
The elusive Pileated Woodpecker. Photograph by Niall  Doherty.

Ancient barbed wire, embedded deeply, speaks of the land's history.

Looking at the landscape in winter, it is easy to imagine the path of the glaciers, leaving rocks and ledges and all sorts of rocky till, making valleys for the water to collect and flow.
The trail is a bit more than a mile and a half, easy to follow, with lots to look at. I cannot wait for the season to progress, the greenery to change the views. Maybe next time I will go clockwise!
There is a special dedication of this Preserve, tentatively scheduled for May 14th. Please check the website for details.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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