This preserve may not be large in size but it’s huge in variety and interesting things to see and explore. With easy looping paths, it is easy to experience several different habitats and even overlook the shoreline. Along the trails there are informational signs that describe what you can see. Take some time to read these and get to know this special place.
Total Hike & Seek Targets: 15
A habitat is the combination of plants, soil, sun, water and even weather conditions that make it a perfect place for certain types of animals to live.
Think about a thicket. If you were a small animal or a bird, why would a thicket be a good place to call home? Would you want to walk through a thicket? Take the trail to the highest part of the preserve: the rocky outcrop up in the middle. Be careful! It overlooks the dense thicket where so many creatures live. What can you see?
While you are up there, look carefully for the circular metal marker installed on the rock ledge. It is a National Geodetic Survey marker. A very cool discovery! Check it out.
Vines are plants that climb and sometimes can completely cover a tree. Some have sharp thorns so it’s best to use ‘eyes only’ to explore these. Do you notice any in the thicket? How can these offer protection for small animals living there?
The thicket is the best place to find berries of all kinds. These are the fall and winter food for many birds and small animals. How many different colored berries can you find? Do not eat any! They may be safe for animals but not always for people.
A large portion of this preserve is preserved as open sunny fields. The grasses and flowers provide home and food for the littlest creatures: insects! During the summer season you can see butterflies, bugs and bees. On the ground you can find crickets and grasshoppers. Can you spot any? But during this time the fields are closed to people and dogs, to protect the birds that live in the grass and the birdhouses. Spend some time watching the birdhouses.
You have probably been seeing and hearing many insects on this preserve. A cricket “sings” by rubbing its wings together. A katydid will use its wings to make the “katydid” sound. Can you hear insects singing? Bees and butterflies are some of the pollinators here. As they drink nectar from a flower they collect pollen on their legs and carry it to another flower. The pollen reaches the ovule part of the plant enabling it to make seeds. Be on the lookout for one of the largest insects, a praying mantis, the Connecticut State Insect!
WHAT’S BLOOMING NOW?
If you are in this preserve anytime during the year except the winter you will probably see that some of the plants have flowers. Even grasses have a kind of flower if left to grow tall. As you are looking at the flowers, you might also notice butterflies drinking the nectar or bees gathering pollen.
Joe-Pye weed is a tall plant with a pink or light purple flower cluster at the top of a straight stem.
Goldenrod is a plant that makes small yellow flowers along the end of a curved stem. There are many kinds of goldenrod here and all are favorites of bees and butterflies. Later in the season the flowers turn into brown fluffy seeds. Sometimes you find a bump on the brown stalk. This is a gall, made by the plant when an insect lays its egg in the stem.
You might be used to seeing the short grass on a lawn but in the meadow habitat there are no lawn mowers! Grass in the meadow can grow tall. The end of a stalk might have a smooth plume of many tiny flowers rather than petals.
Aster flowers grow in clusters. Each daisy-like flower is about the size of a penny. The thin petals are usually white but you could get lucky and find a purple or pink aster. All have yellow centers.
The pod at the end of the tall milkweed plant is actually a fruit. It contains seeds that are attached to fluff much like a dandelion seed. They can be carried by the wind to another place to grow into new milkweed plants. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on these plants because monarch caterpillars can only eat the leaves of the milkweed plant.
As the meadow flowers develop into seeds you might see small birds feeding on these plants. Some might stay in the thicket for protection during the winter. Yellow male goldfinches are the same color as the goldenrod. Later in the fall, both male and female goldfinches become olive colored and are almost camouflaged by the field plants.
Walk the trail along the shore, notice how the water level is changing all the time with the tides. Can you see a lot of rocks and sand or is the water covering everything? When the tide is low it is easy for birds with long legs, like egrets and herons, to explore the shallows for fish to eat. It is also easy for you to get down close to the water at a little sandy beach, to look for snails and shells and different seaweeds.
At low tide, you can walk along the shoreline of the Knox Preserve. The body of water here is the Quiambaug Cove and before the railroad came the cove was open to the flow of clean salt water. Oysters have lived in this cove for hundreds if not thousands of years and were an important food source for Native Americans as well as early colonial settlers. Today they are “farmed” offshore in the cleaner waters. Because of their importance to the history of the people in Connecticut, they have been named the state shellfish. Can you find any empty oyster shells along the shore?
Look for Periwinkle shells on the rocks at low tide. It has closed itself into its shell to keep from drying out. When in the water, it lives on the seaweed. It can breathe air as well as water!
Rockweed is a seaweed that has small pockets of air to lift it up to the surface of the water to get more light. You might know this seaweed as ‘poppers’ because it’s fun to squeeze the air out of the air bladder to hear the popping sound.
Ospreys are hawks who eat fish as their main diet. Look for one of the osprey nests that can be seen from different areas on this preserve. Why is this site a perfect place for an osprey nest?