Monday, January 30, 2012

Ridge Hill Reservation: Esker, Swamp, Hornbeam trails

Esker Trail, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
The main trail in Ridge Hill Reservation is the Esker Trail, which runs along the crest of an esker cutting through the property (this is the "ridge hill" in "Ridge Hill").  One can get to the entrance from the back parking lot if you walk east in the meadow along the edge of the woods.  It is a wide and high trail and I frankly find it a bit monotonous. It does provide access to a relatively deep part of the woods and, more importantly, a nice section of the Swamp Trail. It is where you are most likely to see pileated woodpeckers and ravens in the early morning and hear owls at dusk.

Almost immediately after the entrance the trail branches.
Esker trail on left, Hornbeam on right
Stay to the left. You can take the Hornbeam trail on the way back.

Soon on your left you will come to the eastern end of the Swamp Trail, a now impassable trail that theoretically connects the Esker Trail to the western trail complex.
If the weather is right (dry and/or cold) you can make it through a good portion of the trail without getting too muddy. Today I wore my muck boots so I fearless stomped my way in.
A mossy wonderland.
Mosses and lichens in many shapes and sizes. That's a delicate fern moss above, if I'm not mistaken.
Eventually you will reach the impassable bit and will have to turn back.

As you walk further north on the Esker Trail you can see the enormous mound that is the town landfill to the right. (And the Fuller Brook--unpictured--below it). Maybe you'll also see a hairy woodpecker (as I did today).
Fork at the end of the Esker Trail
 Eventually you will come to a fork, signaling the end of the Esker Trail. Which way should you go? Usually at this point I turn around and go back, but today I thought I would follow each path to its end. If you go to the left you will eventually come to this:
 If you go to the right you will quickly encounter another fork.
Going to the left gets you this
While going to the right actually gets you some interesting scenery
and then the trail just disappears.

So there is no real reason to keep going north after the end of the Esker Trail. [2014 Update: The Esker Trail has been extended--there is now a delightful loop at the end of it.] In fact you might be best off walking only as far as the second intersection with the Hornbeam Trail and making a loop of it.
The northern intersection with the Hornbeam Trail approaching from the south
The northern intersection of the Hornbeam Trail approaching from the north
The Hornbeam Trail runs parallel to the Esker Trail along the swampy lowland. There is a nice new boardwalk [courtesy of Girl Scouts] that makes the walk easier during muddier days.
If you, like me, believe that trails should be bordered by lichen-covered stone walls, the Hornbeam should not be missed.
Eventually you will come to a fork.
If you go to the right you will rejoin the Esker Trail and soon reach the exit. If you go to the left you will join the increasingly decrepit "Fit Trail."

Keep going past the pull-up bars (or do some pull-ups if you feel like it) and you will come to the edge of the old Nike Missile site, now the site of the brand new Needham Community Farm.
If you are allergic to bee stings you are advised to keep your distance.

It is an easy walk through the fit trail back out to the meadow.

Official trail maps can be downloaded from the Town of Needham website. Just remember that not all the trails on the map are passable at present. There is a meeting about the future of Ridge Hill, February 9, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. at the Needham Library.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ridge Hill Reservation: North Trail-Chestnut Trail loop

Sign at the Trail Head for North Trail at Ridge Hill Reservation
North Trail is the trail I usually take if I'm looking for a short "walk in the woods" at Ridge Hill. To get there you need to walk past the special event buildings and through the picnic area. Soon you will see a trail map (though right now this is still under construction).
As you walk north on North Trail there is a grove of tall white pine to the left.
 This is a great place to find pine warblers in the spring.

Soon you will see a fork in the trail.
Stay to the right. The trail to the left is unnamed (It offers a direct path to the Wellesley trail system.)

Very quickly you will see what remains of the "Drumlin Trail" to the left.
At present it is overgrown and a great place to pick up ticks. Avoid it. It rejoins the North Trail further on anyway.
Overgrown Drumlin Trail.
Soon you will come to the spot (on the right) where the Chestnut Trail joins the North Trail.
Chestnut Trail to the right
 Make a mental note of this spot. You can take the Chestnut Trail as an alternative route back.

Keep walking up the North Trail and eventually the trail will open onto a gas line easement.
Gas line easement. "Beard Trail" is across the way.
 This is officially the end of North Trail. Across the easement you will see a Wellesley Trail System arrow. This is "Beard Trail"--part of Ridge Hill but really more integrated with the Wellesley system. I usually continue walking north along the easement.
White-tailed deer getting to know one another.
I find the easement a great way to see and hear wildlife. White-tailed deer can be seen pretty consistently. Poachers (hunting is not allowed in Ridge Hill) know this too so it is best to wear orange during hunting season. Today I got to watch three deer (what I assume were young bucks post antlers) do a little dominance negotiation (ears down, tail to the side, some aggressive behavior). And then they saw me.
White-tailed deer, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
White-tailed deer, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
 This is where I saw a weasel catch a rabbit a couple of years ago. Right now the chickadees are singing. Later in the spring you can hear warblers and wood thrush.

The easement can be pretty swampy the further north you walk. You will eventually come to a stream.
It is time to turn around.

Walk back to North Trail and this time on your way south you can take the Chestnut Trail.

Chestnut Trail to the left
Depending on the time of year the trail can be hard to see--last year it was obscured by the growth of young pine trees--so keep your eyes open.

At one point the Chestnut Trail was carefully managed as an educational nature walk. Here is a sample of the old signage on a precious relic from an earlier era of forestry--a genuine American Chestnut tree.
American Chestnut sign
Now the trail is in a bit of disrepair, with at least one large tree fall blocking the path. Even more discouraging is the "Swamp Trail, which branches off on the left when you are traveling south.
Swamp Trail (white trail marker)
The Swamp Trail used to connect the western trails with the major eastern trail, the "Esker Trail." No longer.
There used to be a boardwalk here.
Once during a winter cold snap I did manage (wearing rubber boots) to walk the former trail. But this trail is badly in need of an Eagle Scout boardwalk project. During the summer, needless to say, the mosquitoes make this area pretty unpleasant anyway.

If you continue to walk south on the Chestnut Trail (a great place to encounter scarlet tanagers in June) you will emerge behind the Ridge Hill Reservation garage, not far from the start of North Trail.

Official trail maps can be downloaded from the Town of Needham website. Just remember that not all the trails on the map are passable at present. There is a meeting about the future of Ridge Hill, February 9, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. at the Needham Library.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The other side of Ridge Hill Reservation

Ridge Hill Reservation, trail "across the street"
Across Charles River Street from the main Ridge Hill property is a smaller section that (at least in theory) goes all the way to the banks of the Charles River. There is a straight route through but if you stay to your left on the way in you will loop along the perimeter. The highlight in this woods--dense hemlock groves, including some huge trees, lots of small ones, some agelid-killed.

There is a small brook that runs through the center of the property, offering some intact and picturesque crossings.

And when you get to the end, the trail opens onto a gorgeous meadow, with lovely weathered nesting boxes.
Regrettably, this appears to be private property (there's no signage but also no indication of public access on the official Ridge Hill map).

Wildlife, particularly deer, seems to be thriving. I ran across several huge burrows. What do you suppose lives here?
And spent some quiet moments trying not to scare off a white-tail doe.
She walked calmly away, carefully lifting and placing her feet through the brush and leaves.

There is a public meeting about the future of Ridge Hill Reservation on February 9th (7:15 at the library).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Leucistic Goldfinch Year 3

Leucistic Goldfinch
I was thrilled to see my old friend, the leucistic goldfinch, waiting for its turn at the window feeder this morning. What a gorgeous bird. Perfect plumage for a day like today.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year Cutler Style

Cutler Park, Needham, MA
Took a walk from one end of Cutler to the other (and back). The temperature was in the 50s.
The willow on the ditch, Cutler Park, Needham, MA
Mergansers on the river. People and their dogs and their children on the trails.
Cutler Pond, Cutler Park, Needham, MA
A coating of ice on the pond (not for long).