Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bennett Hill, Part 1

I became ill during my day off one recent Monday and felt even worse when it was time to go back to work on Tuesday morning. So I called in to work sick and set about to give myself a day of napping, green tea and ibuprofen. But around mid-day I got to thinking that this might be my only chance to hike Bennett Hill in May, the time when I'd expect the Pink Lady Slippers (now more correctly called Moccasin-Flowers) to be in bloom. I'd seen them there before in past May hikes.

So in spite of my sore throat and aching, I put Seamus, Fergus and Daphne into the back of my car and set off for Bennett Hill. It's a little known nature preserve in Clarksville, New York just outside of Albany. It's surrounded by farm land and is a botanical and ornithological wonder. When I arrived at the trail head and got out of my car, I was immediately struck by the wonderful cacophony of birdsong. I also noticed that the Black Cherry trees were in full bloom:

The trail head begins in an old meadow and progresses into the woods. We were greeted by more birdsong, of course, now including that of a Wood Thrush. And by these Wild Geraniums, Geranium maculatum:

The dogs ran ahead of me along the trail and were even more excited and animated than usual. Or maybe I was just too ill to enjoy their antics as much as usual. But they were having a grand time. Fergus and Daphne are hiking buddies:

The trail took us steadily into the woods with farm fields to our right:

This is hill country, and the views through the trees of the farm fields and surrounding hills were as nice as the woodlands:

Some of the trees were quite old and quite large. It was obvious that no one had logged this hill in a long time. The dogs ran back and forth, up and down hills, and were quite lively:

The old farm fence between us and the cattle was in very poor shape and in some cases, no longer standing. I saw cattle hoof prints in the mud and knew that they sometimes came up onto the hiking trail. I just hoped they weren't too anti-dog in their bovine belief systems:

They were a colorful lot and seemed to include animals from many breeds. There appeared to be dairy cows, heifers, and steers. With the downed fence, I certainly hoped there was no bull:

It was beautiful and rich countryside. As is usually the case, the biodiversity of this ecotone, where different habitat types join, is much higher than either one alone. The bird songs and wildflowers were spectacular, but no Pink Lady Slippers. I expected to see them at the top:

Eventually the trail turned away from the farm fields and we headed into the woods. Seamus discovered for the first time the joy of chasing squirrels. I tried to dissuade him, but he was on a roll and I must admit, the squirrels did indeed seem to be intentionally taunting him:

As we gained altitude, the woods became deeper and darker. Seamus thought it was all grand. You can see him there on the trail:

I know that volunteers maintain the trail and they really outdid themselves when they build this bridge. The dogs are used to these bridges now, so didn't give this one a second thought:

The surrounding forest became primarily Hemlocks:

And up we climbed. This photo shows Seamus waiting patiently for me to catch up:

Little Daphne was smelling many new and exciting new smells. There were no trail maps and few markers, but the trail was fairly clear and my memory from previous hikes was helpful. I've divided this hike into four posts, so will post more each day. I'll add a video to this post also:

I took this video just after we arrived at the trail head and before letting the dogs out of the car. The small roof in the grass used to be a kiosk with trail map, etc. but apparently has collapsed. But the birds were singing and the day was beautiful:

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