By Corey Husic
On September 12, Michael Genecin and I (Corey) led a hike to Middlesex Fells Reservation, a state park that lies just a few miles north of Boston accessible via the Orange Line. The Fells consist of over 2,000 acres of forest, meadows, small lakes, and granite outcrops. John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony and the namesake of Harvard’s Winthrop House, explored the Fells in the 1600s.
Six participants (plus the two leaders) showed up for the hike on this beautiful Saturday. We hopped on the subway, and about an hour later accessed a trailhead near the Oak Grove T stop. We climbed up a wooded slope, flipping over rocks and logs in search of salamanders and insects. At the top of the hill, the tall oaks opened up to a clearing of scrub oak, lowbush blueberries, cherries, and sumac. One of our hopes for this trip was to find ripe blueberries. Unfortunately, we were much too late in the season and found nothing more than a few shriveled fruits.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves as we caught glimpses of the Boston skyline in the distance and found a number of insects flying around. Cabbage White butterflies fluttered by and a few Common Green Darner and Wandering Glider dragonflies patrolled back and forth over the clearing. Closer to the ground, we found a number of Autumn Meadowhawks, small, red dragonflies that are apparently quite friendly.
Michael and I took the opportunity to show the group a number of fragrant plant species growing in this area. The Fruit Loop-like smell of Sassafras trees was well-received, as was the spice of Sweetfern.
We also found several interesting plants at this location. Blue-stemmed Goldenrod was just starting to bloom between the rocks and a few Pink Lady-Slippers had gone to seed on the shaded slope below us. These plants were exciting to see, as they are not particularly common species–especially within the greater Boston area!
We wandered our way down the hill and onto a trail that took us East. We went slowly, watching butterflies flutter across the trail and listening to a noisy flock of chickadees foraging in the pines. After a while, we decided to head back towards the T along a small trail that took us down into a ravine. We (well… mostly I) fervently searched under rocks along muddy stream beds for salamanders to no avail. We did, however, begin to find a number of Black Birch trees as we went down the hill. The twigs of this tree have a pleasant wintergreen flavor. After Michael showed the group, everyone was chewing on birch twigs for the remainder of the hike!
We bushwhacked our way out off the trail and back to the road that led us back to the train. Although we found almost no migrating birds or blueberries, we had a fun afternoon exploring the Fells and introducing several new member to what the Naturalist Club is all about.