Photography by J. Mita Studios

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chasing Clouds

As I left Manchester, CT today around 11 a.m., I was amazed at the incredible clouds in the sky.  Rarely do we see such drama in Connecticut.  I only had my mobile phone with me, but the urge to photograph these clouds was too strong to resist.  As I looked to the north, there was a huge rain front apparent, but west and east seemed to have some character.  However, where was I going to go to find a vantage point to photograph these formations, even if I only had my phone camera.  So began my two hour jaunt chasing clouds as I tried to avoid the solid gray rain line and follow the much more interesting thunderheads.  Of course, as I traveled 84E, I did a bad thing and turned on my phone to get a photo of the road as
I traveled toward Boston.

As I drove on the highway, my first thought was to go as high as I could.  My first stop would be Fox Tower in Vernon, CT.  As I entered Henry Park I was disappointed to see more gray covering the sky.  I hurridly followed the tower road up to Fox Tower, but the most interesting clouds were behind the tree line.  Even so, I tried to capture a few.

I would not be satisfied until I tried another vantage point.  As I traveled toward Tolland on Rt. 30, I decided as I sat at the traffic light, just as it turned, that I wanted to try Soapstone Mountain.  The gray cloud was right over me and sprinkles began, but I swerved left and headed toward Stafford Springs. 

The closer I got to the mountain, the more the rain came.  At last I saw the sign for Soapstone, and traveled up the  long winding mountain road.

Soapstone Mountain is an easy place to drive to.  It offers an amazing view all the way to New Hampshire.  The Nipmuck called the mountain Missatchawag, or "place at the great hill."  I have spent many hours up there, hiking as a child and climbing the fire tower at the top.  The fire tower is now gone, replaced by a much lower observation deck, but you can still see a wide expanse of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. 

Out of my car, the raindrops began to alleviate, and I climbed to the deck and was well pleased.  The clouds were large and clear, and I snapped away, learning how to use the phone camera zoom which I never knew how before.  The wind was snapping the trees a little, and I saw several hawks flying across the many hills surrounding Soapstone.

The many directions I could turn offered more great subjects.  The sun was shining at this point and I had a wonderful half hour just gazing and snapping.  I was totally alone on the mountain.  I felt as if my ancestors were whispering to me on the constant wind that blew. 

On my way home, I took Route 30 from Stafford towards Crystal Lake.  As I saw the clouds in front of me, I had the urge once again to stop along the way.  At the farthest point of Crystal Lake is a pull off area.  That is where I parked and found I couldn't take my eyes off of the lake.  It was stunning, and the entire time I was there I did not stop taking photos.  The Nipmuck used to call the lake Wabaquassett, which means "place of cattails."  That sounds much more fitting than Crystal Lake. 

So ended my day of chasing clouds. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Heron Nests In Connecticut Marshland

I am lucky enough to live in an area of Connecticut that mimics the Maine landscape.  My roots go back to Maine.  Our family owned the entire county of Windham, until a great uncle gambled it away.  If only!!!! 
Here in my town we have marshes, rolling hills, wildlife galore, and we are actually classed in the same zone as southern Maine, zone 5B.  We have had moose sightings, bear sightings, and golden eagle sightings. 
One such place that is reminiscent of Maine is right off I-84, near exit 68.  I travel this every day and noticed a marsh that is seen from the highway.  This particular marsh catches the light beautifully any time of the day, and there have been times when I just wanted to stop my car right on the highway to photograph the marsh.  I have yet to do that.  It isn't the most sensible thing to do.
I noticed several large nests in the dead trees standing in the marsh water.  I decided to investigate and took myself to Crandall Park 2 in Tolland, CT. to follow one of the trails to where I thought the marsh could be seen.  I was right.  The trail is off to the left of the soccer field parking lot, and a sign with the directory of the trails marks the trailhead. 
As I followed the trail, I came to the place where I left it to get down to the marsh.  There is no trail that leads directly to the nesting area.  You have to get off the trail and walk through some rough, tree strewn terrain to get to the marsh, but it is worth it.

                             The Marsh View From the Trail

Once I found my way to the bank of the marsh I was delighted to see three nests, all with nesting Great Blue Herons.  My first shots were of the middle nest, which is actually the most visible and has nothing blocking the view.  I watched the nests for at least half an hour and learned a few things about the nesting habits of herons.

               The Middle nest.  You can see a feather
                  in the nest.  Perhap it is a tail

I don't know much about the social structure of herons, but I heard that they mate for life, and often times when one dies the other may commit a type of suicide.  I had a personal experience with this happening with one heron couple I tracked for a while in Somers, CT.

This setting is great to try out your wildlife photography, because the herons will not leave the nest.  They may move away from it and perch nearby, but they are not spooked as easily as other nesting birds.  Because they are a large subject, they lend themselves well to any level of photography one has. 

The heron left the nest to perch nearby.  Chances are there are newly hatched herons.

When I directed my attention to the far right nest, that heron did not leave the nest.  I have to believe there are eggs she is setting on.  I wish I could be above the nests to see inside.

                                         The Far Right nest

The last nest to the left is harder to get a good picture of because there are many branches that get in the view of the camera.  To the far left of the nest, the highway is right there.  However, the photos could be taken in the middle of nowhere because the highway is easily not included in any of the photos.

                                        This one flew away while I was
                                        taking the pictures.  She probably
                                        doesn't have anything in there yet.

A long shot of the middle nest and the far right
 nest with the beautiful grasses that grow there.

There are marvelous opportunities for photos at Crandall Park.  There are flower gardens, waterways, bridges, cattail ponds, trails, and wonderful wild specimens.  After a summer rain the park is full of many mushrooms and toadstools.  Right now you might even find a few lady slippers.  Just keep your eyes to the ground and see what there is to see.

To get to Crandall Park in Tolland CT. from Hartford follow I-84E to exit 68.  Off of exit take a left onto Rt. 195.  Follow up the hill and take your first left which is Cider Mill Ext.  At stop sign take a left (you have to) and follow Cider Mill to the park on the right.  There are a few parking lots you can choose to park in.  Many trails run through the park, as well as bike paths.   There is also a pavilion where you can picnic and there is a beach you can go to from June 25 through Aug. 25. 
Crandall Park 2 has a dirt drive that first leads to the Parks and Recreation building.  Just keep on driving and you will come to the soccer field where the marsh trail can be found.  This is a lovely place to visit very early in the morning when the herons are fishing and there is a mist on the pond.  Bring your coffee and your camera and enjoy the morning.