The Morgan Pond Reservoir in Ledyard, Connecticut is strictly off-limits to hiking. Yellow signs every few feet proclaim that that force of law will be brought down upon you should you trespass. The utility takes its responsibility to protect the water supply very seriously - to the point of paranoia. And they have the rangers to enforce it.
The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has permission to lead hikes there, and since it is a rare opportunity for walkers and birders to get back into these pristine woods without risking a $50 fine and a misdemeanor charge - it's a popular outing.
19 people came in total, which could seem like a large herd to move through the woods, but it also means 38 eyes, a few of which are going to spot things that you wouldn't otherwise see. And Maggie Jones, the director of the DPNC, and the woman leading the hike, is a consummate bird-call identifier.
And the birds were out. Yellow throated vireos, scarlet tanagers, orioles. A yellow-rumped warbler in brilliant breeding plumage, a dapper worm-eating warbler, pine warblers, a common yellow-throat.
We also saw catbirds and jays and chickadees and titmice, woodpeckers and cardinals - chipping sparrows and red-winged blackbirds, veeries, cowbirds and a great crested flycatcher.
I found a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers putting the finishing touches on their nest, a little cylinder of moss and lichen that looked exactly like the knot of a tree. The birds would bring some bit of material - sit and squirm in the nest for a moment as though working it in and testing it out and then flit off again.
On the forest floor the wood anemones were in bloom and wild strawberries. Marsh marigold amid the skunk cabbage. Bluets and violets were all upon the path. The white shad was in blossom and the birches were full of catkins.
A red-tailed hawk screamed above us and the turkey vultures cruised more quietly.
The land itself is beautiful - a mixed hardwood forest with granite ledges and fields of glacial erratics - mossy boulders the size of small cottages. The lake today was dark and windswept and wild looking with stands of drowned snags and its rocky shores overhung with pines and birches. In the water there were cormorants and painted turtles basking on logs, and an occasional tree swallow above. An osprey on the move.
The whole troupe of hikers passed within twenty-five feet of a canada goose before the last person noticed "a dead goose". She had stretched herself flat and inconspicuous upon her little island nest of reeds and sticks and down.
A Swainson's thrush posed long enough for us to identify it. But the ovenbird and the black and white warblers teased us with calls but never appeared. Maggie identified at least four different vireos by their calls, but to me it was all just pretty song and flashes of feathers high high up among the catkins.
One woman nearly stepped on a rust-colored snake, which turned out to be a garter snake that must have stained itself in the rust-colored streamlet that emerges from the body of the great dam nearby. And somehow a gray tree frog, invisible on the stony path was noticed rather than stepped on.
A mourning cloak butterfly circled around us a few times while we passed through his territory.
The vernal pools were filled with the egg masses of frogs and spotted salamanders. In a couple of larger pools you could see the lily pad leaves a few feet below the surface beginning to unfurl and rise from the mud.
We circumnavigated the entire reservoir and didn't make it back to the cars until well after 1 o'clock, (which put a much bigger hole in my work day than I'd planned, but with no regrets on that score). When we parted, Maggie gave me her trail map, in case I were going to lead the next one of these hikes for the nature center. They certainly won't have to twist my arm . . .