Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Blue Hills Reservation: Natural Gem of the Boston Area (3) Braintree Pass Path

The nearest access to the path is via a tiny parking lot on the corner of Hillside Street and Chickatawbut Road, with room for perhaps a dozen cars.  (I was the last.)  A sign warns to stay on the path due to the fragile nature of the ecosystem.  This is one of the less traveled parts of the reservation: though it was Labor Day, I met only a handful of hikers (and a couple of horsewomen) over the course of almost three hours.  

"Braintree Pass Path  3 miles  easy  (2 to 2.5 hours)
This hike is one of the gems of the reservation.  The trail passes by stands of majestic hemlocks, slopes covered with mountain laurel, and an Atlantic cedar swamp.  An old cellar hole along the way marks the Glover Homestead where settlers farmed hundreds of years ago.  The trail begins at the intersection of Rt. 28 and Chickatawbut Rd.  Park in the small pull-off and walk by the bulletin board down the Braintree Pass Path.  After passing intersection 3072 take the next trail that bears left and follow it downhill to intersection 3121.  Go left again and follow the path skirting the swamp to your right.  Return to Braintree Pass Path via Bouncing Brook Path."     -Ranger Tom's Suggested Hikes

A low-bush blueberry; a huckleberry developing a little fall color.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum).

Fairy gardens.

Late low-bush blueberry.

Yellow stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta) adds delicate color.

I love the delicate white-veined leaves of Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens).

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) is a hawkweed with hairy basal leaves veined with purple.

Miniature landscapes of mosses.

Sweetfern (Comptonia perigrina) --not a fern but a relative of bayberry--perfumes the path.

A grass I cannot identify.

Goldenrods come into their own on a sunny hillside.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) developing its fall color.
An interesting grass.

Lichens found on rocks, tree bark, and sometimes the ground are each a partnership between
an alga and a fungus.  This particular type, called rock tripe, is supposed to be good stewed. 
I find it unappetizing.

The same scene, in panoramic and regular dimensions.

A bulrush (actually a sedge): Scirpus somethingorother.

This pretty dragonfly belongs to a genus called the meadowhawks.  The species is uncertain.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Blue Hills Reservation--a natural gem of the Boston area (2) Fowl Meadow

During our week at camp this year, I saw neighbors carrying inflatable kayaks.  'We just came from the Neponset River--only ten minutes from here,' they told me.  Interest piqued, I looked on a reservation map a few days later.  The Neponset River runs through the west end of the Reservation along a strip of land called Fowl Meadow.  I determined to walk Fowl Meadow and also check boat access to the river.  Though the Meadow is a rather isolated corner cut off from the western end of the Reservation, and "Ranger Tom's Suggested Hikes" ignores it, this was my second excursion into The Rest Of The Reservation, so I make it second in the series.

Fowl Meadow: easy 2 mile hike each way (made a little longer by a loop along the river bank).  Canoe/Kayak access to Neponset River at intersection Neponset Valley Pkwy & Brush Hill Rd.

I parked in a little lot at the intersection of Neponset Valley Parkway and Brush Hill Road.  A short walk on lawn northeastward curving to the left is good access to the river.  A short walk southwestward brings you into the Meadow.

The trail actually skirts the meadow proper in all but a few places, so to get a good look at real meadow means going a short distance off-trail.  But the trail is nice in itself, if not spectacular, and not heavily traveled.  The main trail, nearly ruler-straight, is called the Burma Road, while the loop begins with the perpendicular Fowl Meadow Path.  That path takes you into forest in one direction, and to the river bank in the other.  An odd combination of seclusion and civilization: the loop along the river bank is crossed by brambles in some places, showing it to be rarely used--yet I heard and (and sometimes glimpsed) trains pass half-a-dozen times along the opposite bank.  (I was startled to hear two trains pass in opposite directions only a minute or so apart--realizing only later that there were two parallel tracks.)

There are enough trees near the trail that there is some shade most of the time, but the Fowl Meadow in late summer has its share of flying insects: I regretted not having my hat nor any repellent, so that I was often bothered by insects landing on my head.

A plan took shape in my mind as I walked: I could leave a kayak on the river bank upstream near the far end of the meadow, drive to the parking area, and then walk back along the path to the waiting boat, finishing my excursion with a nice quiet two-mile paddle back to the car.  But it wouldn't work: reaching the far end of the meadow path I came to I-93 with no way to cross it, and the upriver boat access on the other side of the highway.  (The river passes under the highway, but there appears to be no easy way for a hiker to get to that bridge, and perhaps no good way under it, either.)

The part of the Neponset River paralleled by the trail seems relatively monotonous--especially compared to a gem such as the Nemasket.  But the character of a river varies along its length, often being more interesting in their narrower upper reaches.  The Neponset is here already approaching the sea.  I might kayak it from higher up someday.

In the end, I spent a quiet, relaxing afternoon in an unusual ecosystem among interesting plants and nifty animals.

Panoramic view of part of the Meadow proper.

A big, healthy clump of switch grass (Panicum vergatum)--one of the prettiest grasses I know.
The switch grass is still in flower (the delicate violet things dangling out collect wind-blown pollen).

Wood reedgrass (Cinna latifolia) has gracefully drooping branches.

Maybe a white-faced meadowhawk.

Neponset River.

Rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) belongs to a large genus with dandelion-like flowers.

This bizarre thorny vine (three photos) with triangular leaves turns out to be an aggressive invasive--a fast-growing annual plant very hard to control.  (If you see it, kill it--don't let it set seed.)  Reservation folks need to know it is here!

Wild rye grass (Elymus virginica).

A leopard frog near the river bank.

Am I hiding from the deer? or is the deer hiding from me?  Let's find out.

Neponset River.  The far bank is nearly treeless because the train tracks are right there.

The delicate goldenrod Solidago odora.

Most of the deer I startled also startled me--so no photos.  this little one was an exception.

River birch is usually a southern tree.  Its pinkish shreddy bark is striking and characteristic.

Swamp white oak.

Two different goldenrods: grass-leaved goldenrod above, rough-stemmed goldenrod below.

Canada goldenrod.

Meadow glimpsed from the path.

Blue joint (Calamagrostis canadensis) waves tawny tassels in the wind.

Arrow-leaved tear-thumb (Persicaria sagitatum) is aptly named,
with tiny thorns on its stems and along the underside of the leaf along the midvein. 

Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) is a rare example of a plant that is unable to make its own food and so parasitizes other plants.  It twines around them and invades their tissues with peg-like structures.

Mystery dragonfly!

Black bindweed (Polygonum convolvulus), aka false buckwheat, twining around a grass leaf.

Meadow in the wind.