The last weekend I spent in Boston, I had a real hankering to go hiking. Not structured hiking like I’d been doing the last several weekends, but a real, honest-to-goodness, rock-climbing, tree-wending hike. I hemmed and hawed over a few places before deciding to visit Middlesex Fells Reservation. It was accessible by public transportation, it was large and wild, had several paths that were purported to be pretty nice, and I had the chance to see some cool wildlife.
Am I totally going to do the others when I visit again? Yeah! Did I regret choosing Middlesex? No, but I did regret not checking the batteries in my flashlight before I left, because finding your way out of a rocky forest in the dark sucks.
The very first thing I did when I got off the bus was take a wrong turn into a neighborhood and get followed for half a mile by a hawk that jumped from roof to roof and squawked at me. What kind of hawk does that? Really? I think he must have been raised by buzzards.
After running away from the old bird, I ran smack into a wall of trees and knew I’d arrived.
The Fells is a really nice place to explore as long as you watch your trail markers, keep a trail map on you in case you do miss the markers or they’ve fallen off, and watch out for mountain bikers.
So of course the first thing I did was miss a marker and go off on a game trail, where I found a couple of garter snakes and a ribbon snake, who quickly hid under a rock before I could get a good picture of him. When I left that area, I noticed an odd little gremlin hiding inside a tree cavity:
This is an American toad. The cool thing about it is that it’s in the genus Bufo, which means ‘toad’ in latin. The swellings behind its head are called parotid glands; these are what produce the toxins toads use for protection from predators.
Anyway, as it got into the afternoon, I began to realize that there were (a) no restrooms in a 3,000 acre park, and (b) there were too many people around to find a quiet corner in said park. The Fells is a state park; I can’t figure out why they wouldn’t at least have something at an entrance for people to use. Instead, I made the two-mile trek into a small town outside to raid the Dunkin Donuts and its restroom.
When I got back, I suddenly noticed the surprising distribution of the birds I was seeing. First, if I stood still, these little beauties would fly up:
Chickadees! They were quickly followed by white-breasted nuthatches, then a few sparrows before finally a single hairy woodpecker would fly up. It happened at least half a dozen times, and I’m still not sure if they were just the same birds following me around.
In the rocky part of the Skyline trail were several other flying things, including this spotted skimmer and So. Many. Grasshoppers.
I also saw my arch-nemesis of bird identification, the great crested flycatcher.
Fortunately, this time there is only one bird that looks remotely close that lives in this area, so it wasn’t too hard to identify.
As I looked at my map and realized I once again needed to pick up the pace, I noticed a glimmer through the trees. It turns out there’s a reservoir in the park that acts as a water supply for the surrounding town. The trail goes near enough to see the beautiful water feature as well as what grows next to it:
These fungusy-looking flowers are called Indian pipe or ghost plant. They’re very small, delicate plants (not fungi!) that grow in forests and actually feed parasitically off fungi.
The trail I took (the Skyline Trail) is also really varied, from this:
To some areas that may have you questioning whether you’re on the main trail, on a game trail, or have just resorted to rock-climbing:
Unfortunately, I apparently don’t walk as loudly as I thought; a couple of young lovers didn’t realize they hadn’t actually left the trail yet before they decided to physically celebrate their love. Talk about awkward.
Anyway, around sunset, the last, grassy trail I decided to explore was approximately 10 inches wide and led here:
Who in their right mind would take a bike down that thorny mess? On the other hand, coming up the trail from that direction allowed me to see three little critters that don’t live in the Midwest:
It’s a whistle-pig! Okay, it’s more commonly known as a groundhog. But ‘whistle-pig’ is just more fun to say. The other two scattered after a brief surprised pause, leaving this one to ignore me and continue eating.
As I crested the last ridge before I started downhill toward the entrance and the bus that would take me home after 14 miles of hiking, I realized how awesome and peaceful the park was around dusk. Oh, and I’m still a sucker for sunsets.