A couple of weekends ago, the Charlton Garden Club (of which I am a member) had arranged for a Saturday morning tour of Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a chilly but sunny October weekend, and our tour guide was Dan Jaffe Wilder, Director of Applied Ecology at Norcross. Over the course of a couple hours, we ended up walking a couple of miles and were overcome with appreciation of what both Dan and the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary had to offer. Anyone looking for a veritable ecological experience from mid-May to mid-November, please check this place out.

First a little background. The Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Monson, MA was established in 1964 by Arthur D. Norcross. He was born in 1895 in Monson and roamed the woods and fields as a child. After serving in World War 1, he and his sister went on to establish the Norcross Greeting Card Co. While he relocated to New York City, much time was spent on the one hundred acre parcel of land in Wales, MA (next to Monson) he inherited from his father and referred to as ‘Tupper Hill’. An avid outdoorsman, over the years he acquired land in Monson, Holland and Brimfield, MA as well as Tolland and Stafford Springs, CT. Now more than 8000 acres have been set aside for sustaining, improving and protecting wildlife habitat. Key to the Norcross Wildlife Foundation’s mission is to propagate, establish, restore and maintain populations of threatened and endangered New England species but also to offer public educational programs in natural and environmental science.

Dan talking to Charlton Garden Club members. Photo by dmp2022.

Our tour first took us up to the dry meadows by the greenhouse. A large field was covered in little bluestem, a native warm season grass. Being there late in the season, we could see stiff asters and various species of goldenrod amid the seas of swaying, silvery-white, little bluestem seedheads.

Little bluestem grassland. Photo by dmp2022.

Near the Trailside Museum and greenhouse areas, a native edible garden had been planted and was still getting established. Not many people are aware of the wealth of native plants that supplied/supply food for Native Americans, wildlife and even us. Plants like wild strawberries can be used as ground covers or as substitute lawns. Raspberries and blueberries are often planted in backyard gardens but consider elderberries, June berries, pawpaws and hazelnuts in your landscape for both the benefits to you and other Nature’s beings.

Edible garden area. Photo by dmp2022.

On to the cedar swamp with Atlantic and Eastern white cedar along with wet, shady conditions favorable to a carpet of moss. Interestingly, seedlings of cucumber magnolia were popping up and not being eaten by deer.  

About halfway through our tour, we reached the wet meadow where the flower that I so anticipated seeing was in bloom. Fringed gentians dotted the slightly sloping hillside their 4 fringed petals unfurling as the sun warmed them. The beautiful blue flowers twist close at night and open during the day. They are one of the last wildflowers to bloom in New England and are quite uncommon.

Fringed gentian with petals unfolding. Photo by dmp2022.

Fringed gentians are biennials meaning the seeds germinate and form a foliage plant in year one and then the second year, they bloom, set seed, and die. Seeds need to land on bare soil to germinate so to encourage greater self-seeding, the crew at Norcross mows this section of the sanctuary low to disturb some of the soil so seeds can reach it. Plants range from maybe 8 inches to 2 feet in height. Fringed gentians do best where the competition is not too great and in moist, neutral to alkaline soils in full sun to filtered shade. There certainly are a glorious sight on a sunny, crisp New England fall day.

On the way back, we passed through the pine barrens, which Dan and his crew are working to restore. Many of our rarer species of plants are dependent on occasional fires to open up areas and stimulate seed germination. Seeds of some plants can lay dormant for decades in the soil. As humans, we typically try to repress fires as they can threaten our homes, businesses, etc. Prescribed burns might occur in a couple of years but for now, they are concentrating on removing competing vegetation but allowing the pitch pines and oaks to grow.

At the former gravel bank, soils are sandy and low in nutrients. We could see the lovely yellow fall foliage of amsonia along with ripe, opened seed pods of milkweeds and the warm glow of downy goldenrod. Sweet fern with its camphor scented leaves thrives in these harsh conditions.

Downy goldenrod. Photo by dmp2022.

While Norcross will be closing soon for the season, check out their website for visiting hours and educational programs and if you do get the chance, plan on hiking the trails of this gem of a wildlife sanctuary.

Dawn P.    

August is ripening grain in the fields blowing hot and sunny, the scent of tree-ripened peaches, of hot buttered sweet corn on the cob. Vivid dahlias fling huge tousled blossoms through gardens and joe-pye-weed dusts the meadow purple.

-Jean Hersey

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Eastern tiger swallowtail on tall garden phlox

August arrived this year with the same intensity of heat and drought that so far has ruled the summer. Added to that, the damage inflicted to trees and other plants by the storm Isaias was another blow to gardeners, nature enthusiasts and homeowners alike. But despite these natural assaults, there has still been a cheerful reminder that nature does still carry on, bringing enjoyable encounters wherever we may go.

butternuts

Butternut trees in Wickham Park in Manchester- East Hartford

red headed bush cricket

The tiny red-headed bush cricket with its ‘boxing glove’ palps

Butterflies of all species have been few and far between, but in the past couple of weeks, more are now out and about. Eastern tiger swallowtails were more abundant than other swallowtails, while hairstreaks and brushfoots have been scarce so far. Red-spotted purples and monarchs are putting in appearances, as well as the diminutive pearl crescents. Tall garden phlox, spotted joe-pye weed, obedient plant, mountain mint coneflowers and butterfly bush are just a few favorites of many butterflies and bees.

pearl cresent and digger wasp on mint

Pearl crescent butterfly and great golden digger wasp shon mountain mint

ironweed and tiger swallowtail - Copy

Eastern tiger swallowtail on New York ironweed

bee on hyssop skullcap August 2020

Bumblebee visiting hyssop skullcap flower

bee on wild senna

Bumblebee and wild senna flowers

Great egrets sometimes stray from the shore and are one of our more elegant shorebirds. This bird is almost the size of a great blue heron and has a distinctive pair of black legs and a yellow bill. They can be seen in shallow water hunting for fish, frogs and small aquatic animals.

great egret on river bank

Great egret hunting on the banks of the Connecticut River near the Glastonbury ferry-August 2020

After summer rains, box turtles may often be seen during the day in open areas as they travel across  roads and driveways or places near woods with low vegetation. Patterns on their shells can be ornate and are usually a dark yellow.

box turtle crossed road day after rain 5-30-16 Pamm Cooper photo

Large box turtle just after crossing road

box turtle

another box turtle after crossing a driveway bordered by woods

Broadleaf tobacco is being harvested now in Glastonbury, where soils along the Connecticut River provide ideal growing conditions for this crop. Unlike shade tobacco, broadleaf leaves are thicker, sweeter and earthy. Because it is grown in the sun, broadleaf tobacco has more oils that produce more flavor than tobacco grown in the shade.

tobacco field and barn Glastonbury

Broadleaf tobacco growing in Glastonbury

In August there are several wildflowers that are lending some color to the landscape in moist areas and along pond and stream edges. An unusual one is the Allegheny monkey flower, mimulus ringens, whose genus  names comes from the Latin word meaning a mimic as the flower is said to resemble a monkey’s face. Sabatia sp. flowers are a stunning pink on long stems that stand out against a backdrop of green cattails. They can be seen on the edge of a pond at the Norcross wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts.

Sabatia large marsh pink possibly s amethystinum

Sabatia in flower along a pond bank at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts

flower fly on monkey flower

Tiny syrphid fly visits a monkey flower

Summer will go on for a while yet, with fruits and vegetables to harvest and enjoy, and with timely rains, I hope. There are still a few flowers that have yet to bloom and clouds and skies that should provide compelling views. Nature will  never cease to provide things of interest for the most casual of viewers and to those who search carefully for its wonders. I do take time to smell the roses as I run by…

spicebush cat August 2019

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are found by those who know to look inside a spicebush or sassafras leaf folded lengthwise

Pamm Cooper