Friday, September 26, 2008

A Return To Meriden's Hubbard Park

As I emerged from a trail near the top of Hubbard Park's East Peak, I stopped to admire the view of the Castle Craig standing high upon the hill. The scenery was stunning with the clear blue sky and blanket of fog creating a dramatic background.

The castle sits upon east peak which is a portion of the trap rock ridge that runs north all the way from Long Island Sound through Massachusetts up to the New Hampshire border. The ridges were formed by volcanic activity and erosion 200 million years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. The castle itself was made out of native trap rock and has a metal staircase that will lead you to the top for a nice view.
On October 29, 1900 Walter Hubbard presented the tower to the city of Meriden. About 250 people showed up for the event and Mr. Hubbard provided six barrels of clams for his guests. Click on the photo of the plaque for more details about the tower.
I spent quite a bit of time hiking around the trails on Saturday (9/20/08) . I wasn't particularly focused on looking for birds. One of the trails I climbed up was pretty steep and I had one tense moment when trap rock started to slide from under my feet making me lose my footing. When I reached the top, I saw a colorful hot air balloon floating around the landscape like a lollipop without a stick.
As I started back down the path, I turned towards the woods and I found myself staring directly into the eyes of this deer. We watched each other for about a minute or so until the deer got tired of looking at me.
It's hard for me to believe that Ronald Reagan was president the last time I hiked the trails at Hubbard Park. So much has changed in the world since then, but it's comforting to know that no one has figured out how to put condos or a Walmart on the Hanging Hills of Meriden. They remain almost exactly as I remember them. Why did I wait so long before coming back for a visit? I suppose I must have felt that I had seen all there is to see there. Now I realize that you can never see all there is to see. Our senses are constantly interacting with each other before sending messages to our brain, and there are so many variables that can alter our perceptions. I believe that each moment in life is unique unto itself. We may not always have the clarity of mind to recognize it as such but that doesn't make it any less true.
Sunday Morning Birding (9/21/08) :
It occurred to me that with all the time I spent hiking, sightseeing and daydreaming on Saturday, I hadn't really spent that much time birding. I returned Sunday morning to focus on searching for birds. This time I passed through this gate and stayed on the main road instead of taking the trails. You actually see a better cross section of habitat if you go this way. The gate doesn't open until 10 am which is nice because there are no cars to bother you. The few hikers, joggers, or dogs that passed by me weren't a problem either because the road was plenty wide for all of us. At one point, I did see a group of about 40 hikers heading up the hill towards me. It reminded me of the scene in Frankenstein when a mob of angry villagers were trying to hunt down the monster. Fortunately, they turned left onto another trail as I continued on my trek up the hill. Part of my walk took me past the Meremere Reservoir. I was admiring the ridge that bordered the shoreline on the opposite side when a pair of Common Ravens flew along the treetops from right to left letting out loud croaking calls as the passed by. I would hear these birds several times but they always seemed to stay just out of sight. It seems they were well aware of my presence. Whenever I followed the sound of their odd vocalizations, I could hear them fly off before I would have a chance to see them. I spotted two Carolina Wrens in the low shrubbery along the edge of the road . Two Northern Cardinals were steadily moving towards the wrens and pestering them with a constant barrage of chip notes. American Goldfinches were picking seeds from some old flower heads and Black-capped Chickadees were chattering in the trees above them. I also saw a Great Blue Heron, Eastern Phoebes, and a Belted Kingfisher before reaching the end of the lake. I saw a nice variety of warblers along the way too (no luck with photos-that's an older photo of the yellowthroat). There were several chattering flocks of hyperactive Tufted Titmice in the park. Each time I followed them, I seemed to come across a few warblers. The Black and White Warblers and Pine Warblers looked pretty much as I expected them to. I saw what I believed to be Blackpoll Warblers that take on a different look in the Fall. They were a dull color with rather nondescript streaks. Their wingbars stood out boldly though. I had to strain my neck to get a look at two Northern Parulas in the very top of a tree. I identified one of the warblers as a
Black-throated Green Warbler, but it didn't show much black on its throat at all. It was singing a very weak version of the zee zee zee zo zee song. The song had a gurgling sound to it, almost as if the bird was gargling with a mouthful of Listerine and singing at the same time. I saw a Common Yellowthroat in a patch of briers. One of the birds had my curiosity as it took cover low to the ground and did not show itself again. Could it have been a different species? I also saw other warblers that I was unable to identify.

There was a stretch of road past the reservoir before the cliffs that had some interesting woodland habitat. There were lots of dead standing trees mixed in with the cedars, hardwoods, and Mountain Laurel. I came across two very vocal Hairy Woodpeckers. They were making their usual distinctive peek notes, but also let out some loud squawks and rattles when they left an area. I also saw Red-bellied, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers on this portion of my walk. It looks like at least one of them has it out for that tree in the above photo. After passing the woodpecker area, I was startled as a Barred Owl flew across the road just a couple feet off the ground and right in front of me. I caught a brief glimpse of it in a tree before it flew off deeper into the woods. Yellow-throated Vireo and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which I hadn't seen since much earlier in the year, were two other species that I was pleased to see.

It was now past 10 am in the morning. I thought that my best option would be to head up to the cliffs to look for migrating hawks. I hear that mid-September was prime time to see them. I spent a couple of hours searching in every direction from West Peak. I saw two Red-shouldered Hawks, a Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vultures, and a Merlin, which flew right past my head!
There was also this hawk, which I figured to be a Cooper's Hawk. I sent confirmation from people who are more experienced identifying hawks in flight, so I posted this photo on a birding forum to get a second opinion. Some birders thought the hawk might be a juvenile buteo, judging by the short tail and chunky appearance.

When I posted this second photo, which shows the same bird from a different angle, most people agreed that it was a Cooper's Hawk, although a well fed one. The problem I have with identifying hawks in flight is that you often see the hawks at odd angles or at great distances when the field marks aren't visible. Experienced hawk watchers can identify birds by their wing beats and other means. I was disappointed that I only saw a handful of migrating birds of prey. It seemed like a perfect place to watch them from. When I came home, I discovered that Hartford Audubon had cancelled their hawk watching trip because they had only seen a few migrating hawks at their hawk watching site on Saturday and expected conditions for hawk migration to be even worse on Sunday.

If you live in CT and have never birded at Hubbard Park, I highly recommend it. It's worth the trip just for the views. If you plan to walk to the top I should warn you that it is over 3 miles each way! I probably walked a total of fifteen miles between the two days. If you just want to take in the views or look for raptors, you can drive to the top after 10 am, but I believe the gate closes for the season at the end of October and doesn't open again until Spring.

directions:Meriden Hubbard Park - Meriden, CT: From I-84 to Rte 691 - Take Exit 4 and turn right at end of exit. Hubbard Park is less than .5 miles on your left. From New Haven - 91 North to Exit 17 - Follow .4 Mile to Rte 691 (Waterbury). Take Exit 4 off of Rte 691. Take left off exit. Hubbard Park is less than .5 miles on your left. Park in the lot on the far side of the pond near the playground. walk past the gated main road and underneath the highway bridge. When you come to the split, staying to the left will bring you to Castle Craig and staying to the right will bring you to the radio towers and West Peak.


Jayne said...

Looks like a beautiful place Larry, and you saw so many bird too!

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

"Our senses are constantly interacting with each other before sending messages to our brain, and there are so many variables that can alter our perceptions. I believe that each moment in life is unique unto itself. We may not always have the clarity of mind to recognize it as such but that doesn't make it any less true."

Larry- You're getting all philosophical and this is SO TRUE. Honestly, I was thinking these thoughts myself last weekend but I couldn't have said it aloud better than you.

Is this place close to your home? It looks fabulous and I hope you'll take us there again. (Hint, hint, maybe when the fall colors turn...)

I noticed that your deer are still golden brown. Ours have turned to their gray coats here all ready.

I enjoy your descriptive writing style Larry, and I loved Hubbard's Park.

Larry said...

Jayne-I agree with you on both points.

Lynne-I am pleased that you can relate to what I was saying in that paragraph. I often have those types of thoughts when I'm by myself wandering though wooded areas.The challenge is to consolidate what would be several pages of variations on one idea into a paragraph that can convey the general concept of what I'm thinking. I do plan to return to this location during each season.

Patrice said...

I agree with Lynne. You are wise.

Mary said...

You never cease to amaze me, Larry. You just rattled off a list of birds you saw in one outing that would take me a year to see :o)

Your photos are glorious - I love the one of the reservoir reflection. Wow!

The deer, castle, hot air balloon...what a great post.


Marie Louise said...

Larry - was that you in the paper last week?! Practically a celebrity!

Lana Gramlich said...

So very lovely! I love that castle tower--what character. :) Great description of the balloon as a lollipop w/o a stick, too.
Unfortunately it seems Gustav blew most of our birds away. Most of them were year-round visitors. Now we're lucky if we get a few cardinals & a couple of doves &/or blue jays in a day. It's saving us tons on seed, but it hurts my heart, too. Looking forward to our Winter visitors already. That gives me a glimmer of hope.

Anonymous said...

Another place I would love to go. I love the castle, wow!

Great post as always, it is so neat the way you make a person feel like they are there.

Good birding to you!

Larry said...

Patrice-Thanks patrice-and thanks for stopping by.

Mary-I'm sure that if you put your mind to it you would see as many birds as anyone Mary. I'm glad you like the photos because come from you that is a compliment(you always have great photos on your blog).

Marie louise-If I was in the paper I wouldn't know about it because I don't often read the paper but I doubt it because someone would have brought it to my attention.-Thanks for stopping by though.

Lana-It doesn't surprise me that you like the descripton of the hot air ballon-Always the artist in you coming out.-It sounds like it might be time for you to grab some binoculars and go where the birds are.

birdfreak-Thanks-I appreciate that.It's good to hear from you.I've been cutting down on my blogging time by necessity so I haven't kept up with reading other blogs.I'm going to stop by and see what the birdfreak team has been up to.

Ruth said...

What an interesting, well written post and great pictures to accompany it. I would love to see what you saw, especially that castle. Nice picture of the Yellowthroat. They are a challenge for me to capture on camera.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

I love coming across woodpecker trees!
Such points of intense concentration--I imagine a pile of red chips beneath it too?

Amila Salgado said...

Sounds like a good trip. We have Hawk Eagles here and their juveniles can at times cause ID trouble.

I liked the analogy
"lollipop without a stick"

steadyjohn said...

Although I live only a few miles away I must, lamely, admit I have never visited the park or the tower which I pass by nearly every day on I-84. Now a visit there has been pushed to the top of my agenda; thanks Larry.

I noted with some curiosity the inscription on the Castle Craig plaque stating the peak "has the distinction of being the highest point within 25 miles of the coast from Maine to Florida". I remembered being on Cadillac Mountain at Mt Desert Island in Maine some years ago and the fact that at 1500 some odd feet it was the highest point on the East Coast. Then I turned to the City of Meriden web site and see they correct the issue: "East Peak/West Peak where the Castle is located is reportedly the highest mountain within 25 miles of the coastline from Cadillac Mountain in Maine to Florida."

Larry said...

Steadyjohn-now should be a nice time to vistit with all the foliage and perhaps a few hawks may pass by when you reach the top.

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, what a nice informational walk and talk! I love the shot of the castle and the fog! That's a keeper. Sorry about your hawk watch not turning out but the ones you did see were special. I had an amazing encounter with hawk migration guite by accident on sunday. The story will post tomorrow if you want to come see. BTW, I did enlarge the photo of the pipit in the last post. You did get some very good detail of the bird. Well done all around. Your desciptive writing is getting even better too!

Anonymous said...

I just saw what you identified as a cooper's hawk while hiking in Hubbard Park today.
I would not have known what it was if not for the photo on your wonderful blog. Thank you so much.