“Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times”

  • Asian proverb

There are so many places of interest in our small state of Connecticut that we should never lack for something new to do, or even to  do  again, if one really enjoyed it the first time. Here are some of the excursions that I have really enjoyed- and some of them have the added attraction of being free-of-charge, once you get there.

The West Cornwall Covered bridge is a wooden covered truss bridge built over the Housatonic River in Cornwall, Connecticut. You can drive over the bridge or walk over and take in scenic views upstream and downstream. On the eastern side there is a paved walking trail that follows the river for several hundred yards up the river on the eastern bank. This bridge is found at the junction of routes 7 and 4.

looking upstream from the Cornwall covered bridge Pamm Cooper photo

looking upstream while midway across the Cornwall covered bridge

Kent Falls State Park, located on Route 7 in Kent, features a series of waterfalls that that cascade down 250 feet through the woods. The Falls Brook from the town of Warren is the stream that feeds this series of water falls, and it enters the Housatonic River a quarter mile away after completing its journey down. A hiking trail a quarter mile long is alongside the falls and, although it is steep, it is not a hard walk. There are scenic vantage points and steps built in places along the way.

Kent falls lower section Pamm Cooper photo

Kent Falls at its lowest section

spikenard

Spikenard abounds in the open woods alongside kent Falls

Also along route 7 in Kent is Bull’s Bridge, a covered bridge that opened in 1842 and which spans a gorge along the Housatonic River.  There is a hydroelectric dam outlet just upstream from the bridge that the water passes through with enormous power. There is a small trail along the river’s edge where the noise and power of the raging water can be viewed safely.

gorge below Bull'S Bridge

Gorge rapids just above Bull’s Bridge

The Thimble Islands are a group of small islands in Long Island Sound in the harbor of Stony Creek in Branford.  These islands are made up of pink granite bedrock, and they are actually the tops of hills that existed prior to the last ice age, rather than deposits of rubble that make up most islands that resulted from retreating glaciers. They are thus very stable islands and many are privately owned, and may have one to several summer homes on them.  There are tour boats that will take you on a 45 minute trip around the islands for under $20.00.

two of the thimble islands Pamm Cooper photo

Two of the Thimble Islands Branford, Ct.

A Thimble Island

Another of the Thimble Islands

Another good trip for people who don’t mind a boat ride and a little maritime history is the Light House Cruise out of New London. Taking approximately 2 hours, this trip is rich with history and scenic views along the Thames River and into Long Island Sound. Some of the lighthouses featured are the New London Harbor lighthouse, on the west entrance to New London Harbor, the Latimer reef lighthouse on Fisher’s Island Sound, and the Race Rock lighthouse, which is part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

Race Rock lighthouse Pamm Cooper photo

Race Rock Lighthouse

In Collinsville, there is an old factory, the Collins Company, which was a world-renowned manufacturer of cutting tools, like axes, machetes, picks and knives. Sited on the Farmington River, this picturesque factory opened in 1826. There is a trail for walking and biking along the Farmington River not too far from this old factory that can be accessed in various places on route 4.

collins company factory

Old Collins Company in Collinsville

Downtown Hartford has many points of interest including Bushnell Park, conceived by the Reverend Horace Bushnell and designed by Hartford native Frederick Law Olmsted. There are many beautiful specimen trees including the state champion turkey oak, and a double-trunked gingko. While at the park, you may want to ride the famous carousel, which is one of only three left in existence that feature the horses carved by Russian immigrants Stein and Goldstein. Downtown Hartford is within walking distance of the park and has many buildings of interest, including the blue windowed 18-story,skyscraper  at the northeast corner of Pearl and Trumbull streets.

State champ[ion turkey oak Quercus cerris Cirumference 17 feet Bushnell Park

State champion tree-turkey oak in Bushnell park

Carousel horse- Bushnell Park in Hartford

Carousel in Bushnell Park in Hartford

gold building reflections downtown Hartford pamm Cooper photo

Building reflected from the Gold Building windows in downtown Hartford

Blue glass skyscraper behind the Mechanics Savings Bank in downtown Hartford -Copyright Pamm Cooper 2013

Skyscraper with blue tinted windows on Pearl Street in Hartford- Pamm Cooper photo

Another good day trip is a visit to Harkness Park in Waterford. Featuring flower gardens, panoramic views of Long Island Sound, and the Roman Renaissance Classical Revival mansion of the Harkness family, this place has something for everyone. There are four 111 year old full thread leaf maple tress creating a stately grove near the owners’ dog cemetery, plus numerous themed gardens with statuary and other features. There is a stretch of beach where you can sit or take a walk, but no swimming is allowed, or you can fish if you like.

P1350371

Annual cutting garden at Harkness Park

There are many more places of interest in Connecticut that make for interesting day trips, and since we have such a small state, several destinations that are near each other can be undertaken in a single day. Old Wethersfield and Old Main Street in South Windsor both have wonderful old colonial era buildings, for instance, and are a hop, skip and jump away from each other. Most of the places and trips mentioned above require little hiking, and have either dramatic or peaceful sights and sounds unique to their place in the outdoors- like rushing water, views of the sound, boat horns and perhaps the fragrance of flowers.

Newberry rd S.W.

Farm on Newberry Road off historic Main Street in South Windsor

Pamm Cooper

 

 

Viceroy butterfly on 'Miss Molly' butterfly bush September 2017

Viceroy butterfly on ‘Miss Molly’ butterfly bush

“By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer.”
–   Helen Hunt Jackson, September, 1830-1885

September brings a wealth of inspiration to the senses. Leaves of Virginia creeper are red already, there is the intoxicating scent of wild grapes in the pre-dawn foggy mornings, asters and goldenrods bring colorful splashes to the landscape and sunsets may fill the cooling sky with brilliant deep reds and oranges. Tree Hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, had a great year, and many still have panicles of colorful flower heads. While many plants and insects are winding down to an early retirement, there is still a lot going on in the great outdoors.

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester Pamm Cooper photo 2017

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park

It may be the time of year for oddities, now and then. For instance, there is a horse chestnut outside our office on the Storrs campus that has several flowers in full bloom this week. While many shrubs and fruit trees, like cherries and azaleas, may have a secondary bloom in the fall after rains, cool weather with a late autumn warm spell following, a chestnut blooming at this time of year is a more remarkable event. A bumblebee spent time visiting the flowers, so a second round of pollen and nectar is a bonus in that quarter.

bumblebee on horse chestnut flower 9-28-2017

Horse chestnut with visiting bumblebee – an unusual bloom for September

Red-headed crickets are a first for my gardens this September. These small crickets have a distinctive red head and thorax, iridescent black wings, and yellow legs.  At first glance, they really do not appear to be crickets because of how they move around vegetation. They also have large palps with a paddle-like end that they wave around almost constantly, giving the appearance of mini George Foremans sparring in the air before a fight. Found mostly only three feet above the ground, they have a loud trill and are usually more common south and west of Connecticut.

red headed bush cricket backyard garden 2017

Red-headed bush cricket

While visiting Kent Falls recently, I came upon a few small clumps of American spikenard. Aralia racemose, loaded with berries. Highly medicinal, this native plant is found in moist woodland areas such as along the waterfall trail at Kent Falls. Roots are sometimes used as a substitute for sarsaparilla, another Connecticut wildflower.

spikenard Kent Falls 9-11-17

American spikenard berries ripen in September

Many migrating butterflies like monarchs and American Ladies are on the move now and may be found on late season flowers like butterfly bush, zinnias, Tithonia, Lantana, cohosh, goldenrod, asters and many other flowers. In annual plantings where I work, honey bees are especially abundant on Salvia guaranitica  ‘ Black and Blue ’  right now.  And while many butterflies and bees can be found on various butterfly bush cultivars, the hands on favorite seems to be the cultivar ” Miss Molly” which has deep red/pink, richly scented flowers that attract hummingbirds, flower beetles, fly pollinators, people and bees galore. This is a great addition to a pollinator or butterfly garden. Other late season bloomers for our native insects and butterflies are black cohosh and Eupatorium  rugosum, (chocolate Joe-Pye weed), as well as asters and goldenrods.

American lady on Tithonia sunflower

American Lady on Tithonia sunflower

Black and blue salvia

‘Black and Blue’ salvia is great for attracting hummingbirds and honey bees

Snapping turtles are hatching now.  The other day while mowing fairways, I spotted long dew tracks and there at the end were two little snapper hatchlings. Very soft upon hatching, they are often heron chow, and these little turtles will travel long distances to find a good habitat.

newly hatched snapping turtle 9-25-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Newly hatched snapping turtle

Every day at my house, we engage in a “Where is Waldo?” type hunt in the backyard gardens. What we are looking for are the tiny gray tree frogs that are hanging out on certain plants during the day. Snapping up any insects that get too close, these guys are a lot of fun to watch and look for. Most of ones we are finding are green, and are slightly larger than a thumbnail right now.  It gives us all some free entertainment before the leaves fall and we move on to- raking leaves…

two thumbnail size gray tree frogs Pamm Cooper photo

Two tiny gray tree frogs in my garden

Katydids, crickets and sometimes tree frogs are making a racket at night. Although really not unpleasant, to me, they are loud. But more enjoyable to listen to than the neighbor’s barking dog…I found a katydid eating a hyssop flower recently, but who cares about that this late in the year?

katydid eating hyssop flowers in September

katydid eating hyssop flwer

Bees are having their last hurrah now as the blooming season winds down. While native goldenrods and asters are important food sources of food for late season bees and wasps, there are many garden plants that are important nectar and pollen sources as well. In my own garden, I have two hyssops- anise and blue giant hyssop. There were bumblebees and honeybees that went on both, but there were small bees that preferred only the anise hyssop. These bees were very noisy, and hovered near flowers before landing, behaving like hover flies. Most likely these bees were in the Megachilid genera- the leaf-cutting bees. Abdominal hairs collect the pollen in these species and may take on the brilliant colors of pollen from the flowers they visit.

Megachilid leaf cutting bee on aster Belding September 2017

Megachile family leaf-cutting bee on aster

As the season winds down, there are still some caterpillars to be found, like the beloved wooly bears and other tiger moth cats like the yellow bear. A spotted Apotelodes was a good find. A robust, densely hairy caterpillar, this large fellow is notable for three sets of long hairs called “pencils” along the dorsum, and for its equally conspicuous red feet, making it look like it is wearing five pairs of little red shoes.

spotted apatelodes on honeysuckle Cohen Woodland field 9-12-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar showing its little red feet

And just for fun, next year consider planting a candy corn vine, Manettia inflate, on a small trellis.  An annual vine, flowers last well into the fall before the first killing frost. This South American native has tubular flowers that resemble candy corn, and they are a favorite of the hummingbirds (and myself!) in my backyard.

candy corn vine an annual fun plant Pamm Cooper photo

Candy corn vine

 

Pamm Cooper