Although small in size, Connecticut is rich in geological diversity. Connecticut formed after a series of orogenies, or island arc collisions, followed by a few million years of rifting, and a couple thousand years of glacial activity for good measure. These events formed the numerous landscapes we currently see in our state, from marble caves in Litchfield County, The Hartford Rift Basin throughout the middle of the state, and the countless North-South oriented drumlins scattered throughout the state. I remember riding in the back seat of my Mom’s minivan as a kid and being mesmerized by the giant outcrops along the side of the highways. My fascination with rocks and the earth led me to pursue a degree in geology. One of my favorite activities is hiking; and while I’m out on a trail or path, I always keep my eye out for any cool and unique minerals, rocks, and rock formations. This hobby has turned into a pretty serious gem and rock collection over the years.

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The Connecticut State mineral is the Almandine Garnet. Garnets can be found in any type of rock; igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. For those of you who can’t recall:

Igneous: Cooling magma/lava flows and intrusions.

Sedimentary: Physical and chemical weathering of igneous and metamorphic rocks followed by deposition and diagenesis.

Metamorphic: Transformation of igneous and sedimentary rocks via extreme heat and pressure.

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While garnets can be found almost anywhere, they are often associated with Schists in Connecticut. Schists are metamorphic rocks that used to be shales, sedimentary rocks. Shales consist of clay-sized particles that are deposited mostly in still-water environments. The sediments undergo diagenesis, creating a shale, and then undergo metamorphism due to additional heat and pressure, most likely through burial, to create a schist. This causes the elements within the rock unit to reorganize, if there is enough Aluminum present in the shale then garnets can form.

The presences of garnets throughout Connecticut is no secret, my grandparents would tell me when they were children they would find them along the side of the roads while walking to school. Interest in gemstones and geology in Connecticut led to the creation of the Connecticut Garnet Trail (CGT). The CGT spans from Milford to Stratford, and consists of 10 sites where garnets can be found. These sites are state forests and parks, conservancy land, and privately owned land. I personally have had a lot of luck finding garnets at the Salman River State Forest in Colchester. More information about the CGTcan be found online at the CT DEEP website. Some useful links are:

https://www.depdata.ct.gov/maps/GarnetTrail/index.html#

http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/gis/garnettrail/ctgarnettrail_all.pdf

Even googling the CGT can yield a lot of great hints and locations for finding garnets in Connecticut. If you are a Gem Hound like me, and this is something that interests you, UConn offers a variety of bedrock and surficial geology maps of the state that can help you find garnets, among other rocks and minerals. Some more useful links are:

http://cteco.uconn.edu/maps/state/Bedrock_Geologic_Map_of_Connecticut.pdf

http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/connecticut_data.html#environmental

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Happy (Gem) Hunting!

-Joe C

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” John Muir

Air Line trail Raymond Brook marsh area Pamm Cooper photo

Raymond Brook Marsh on the Air Line Trail

In the last three weeks I have visited parts of the Connecticut Air Line Trail and because of what can be found there, I want to share what my friends and I have seen during April and May of this year. Since timing is everything, some of what we enjoyed has moved on or faded, but maybe next year some of you may experience the same excitement of discovery and pleasures of observing flora and fauna in their natural environs.

First of all, this trail was established along an old rail bed that went from Boston to New York and was constructed in the 1870’s. Long gone now, this trail system goes from Thompson to East Hampton and is an easy walk or ride of hikers and bikers. And while all seasons can provide their own versions of landscape interest, I prefer spring and summer.

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Red-winged blackbird male staking his territory

This spring was especially interesting because of the cold weather. Many migrating birds were found all at the same time- both those passing through and those returning to breed. On one Saturday morning in early May, along a marsh in the Colchester area, birds were abounding in both color and song. We heard and saw the following in just a hundred yard stretch of the trail: Orchard and Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, warbling and red-eyed vireos, kingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, song and marsh sparrows, common yellowthroats, black- throated green, black and white,Northern parula and yellow-rumped warblers, redstarts, veerys, wood thrushes, red tailed hawks and more. Within a few days, most of the warblers had moved on to northern breeding regions, with the yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, American redstarts and some black-throated green warblers staying on to raise their young here.

yellow warbler singing copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper

Male Yellow Warbler singing in the morning

 

Blueberries abound along the marshy areas of the trail, so of course you would find catbirds and other fruit- loving birds in those spots. This year seems to be a good one for blueberry. Much like last year, the bushes are loaded with flowers and the bees pollinating them, so a bumper crop may follow.

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Blueberry flowers

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber honeysuckle- a native vine

Along the trail, keep your eyes open for interesting plants, especially along stream and marsh edges. This trail abounds with black chokeberry, limber honeysuckle, pink lady slippers, red and nodding trillium, wild sarsaparilla, tall meadow rue, native geraniums and native azaleas- the Pinxter flower azaleas. There are also the invasive autumn olives and Japanese honeysuckles, but these are sources of pollen and nectar for native pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds. A hummingbird spent a lot of time visiting these two plant species, and was in the oak woods finding lots of insects and spiders as well. There is a stretch where the native geraniums- Geranium maculatum grow like a hedgerow along a ditch, and are visited by many bees and early- flying butterflies. You need to go off trail and into the woods to find, as we did, the elusive nodding trillium, which blooms later than the purple species. This trillium is white, and the flower dangles down below large leaves so that it can be easily missed, so it was a nice surprise to find it.

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Nodding Trillium

Raymond Brook Marsh is one of the most extensive inland wetlands complexes in eastern Connecticut. In the evening, just before dusk, beavers are busy getting started for a night of foraging here. You can see them on both sides of the trail, and sometimes they may surprise you with a slap of their tail if they are alarmed. They often climb out of the water on one side of the trail and slide down into the other side, often using the same spots that look like mud water slides. They will swim along and occasionally climb up a on a bank to nibble on various shrubs, like blueberry, that grow along the water.

Beaver after dining

Beaver taking a break after eating a small branch

There are also turtles that can frequently be seen crossing over the trail from one side of the marsh to the other. Besides the ubiquitous painted and snapping turtles, you may also occasionally see a stinkpot (musk) turtle or a spotted turtle as they crawl across the trail. The Cranberry Bog portion of the trail and the Rapallo Viaduct in East Hampton offer a resting spot beside a pond and a spectacular view from above, respectively.

musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle plastron

Musk turtle plastron

 

There are many other parts of the trail that are worth the walk, so bring both a camera and binoculars. Although spring is my favorite time to walk this trail, summer and fall are equally impressive. But I do miss all those spring birds…

 

Pamm Cooper           all photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper