Let’s Chase Some Butterflies!

A couple of weeks ago I went on a very much needed vacation from work. Nine days of sheer bliss. I was so excited to be able to go out with some friends that I haven’t seen in ages and visit some fun places.

One of these fun places was Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens in South Deerfield, MA. It is the Lepidoptera source in Western Massachusetts. It has a 8,000-square foot indoor conservatory with nearly 4,000 exotic and domestic butterflies in a tropical environment. They are open every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. They have an on-site food court with a nice variety of food, plus a gift shop and outdoor gardens.

Magic Wings focuses on butterfly-related education, recreation, entertainment and gardening needs.

My friend and I first went into the gift shop. For $1 they have a poster with the names and pictures of some of the more popular butterflies and which country they are native to, which I wanted to have while in the conservatory.

After you pay for your ticket the first room you enter into is basically a big education room. It has displays for everything you could possibly want to learn about butterflies. There is also some live animals on display, including some really cool frogs, lizards, moths…and giant cockroaches. Yeah…. My friend and I actively avoided that display case like the plague. There was a mound of what looked like 30 or 40 of them. Not our cup of tea.

Next was the conservatory. Be aware that they recreate the tropical environment that butterflies live in and it is hot inside (about 80 degrees). No sweaters or jackets are needed inside.

Upon entering I was instantly surrounded by gorgeous plants.

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Everything inside is so beautiful! Within seconds after that I found my first butterfly. This fellow is called a Cairns Birdwing (male).

 

I followed him around for a while. Loved his coloration. He lead me to a little pond with a couple of tiny fountains and some koi fish.

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Very peaceful sounding. It was about this point I noticed the beautiful flowers that were hanging around. This lovely hibiscus was right next to the pond. Love the fiery red.

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It was very nice just to walk around and take in all the plants, flowers and animals that are there.

The next butterfly to grab my attention was the Blue Morpho. I had to follow it around a while before it finally landed. It was playing hard to get with me. I think the blue coloration on him was very striking. He was one of my favorite butterflies.IMG_8678

After I got the Blue Morpho’s picture my friend found me and showed me that she had a little one riding her leg. Apparently she was a human taxi! It was there for quite a while.

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While we were walking around we found out that there are tiny little quails running around the Conservatory. They hid among the plants and in the corners of the rooms. They are fast little guys but I managed to get a couple of pictures of them.

They were so cute! Wish I could have gotten a better picture of them.

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Can you tell I loved the hibiscus flowers?. The colors are fantastic!

I sat down on one of the benches and rested for a minute. The staff, referred to as flight attendants (funny!), told us if we sit really still and don’t make sudden movements the butterflies might land on you. Well, they were right.

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This butterfly, called a Rice Paper, found my shoe to be a neat place to hang out. My leg started to cramp up from sitting in this position for so long but I really liked watching it.

After a while I got up and started walking around again. Its at this time that one of the flight attendants beckoned my friend and I over to a quiet part of the Conservatory. She brought us over to a tree and whispered to us to quietly look at the Atlas moth.

The Atlas Moth I found out is the largest moth in the world. It only lives about two weeks because it has no mouth. Because of this they have to rely on fat storage from their immature stages of life.It was huge! A female Atlas moth’s wingspan can reach up to twelve inches with a surface area of sixty-two square inches. I was happy I was able to see and photograph it.

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These little Glasswings fluttered by me when I was done with the Atlas moth. I almost didn’t see them with their see through wings. Cute little things.

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A Tailed Jay was next to catch my eye. Almost blended in with the leaves.

I took a break from photographing the butterflies and started looking at all the lovely flowers. There is so many to see!

I should note that there are other animals in the Conservatory other than the butterflies, moths and quails. There is also a turtle, birds, an iguana (plus other reptiles) and a cool looking stick bug.

After meeting these fun animals I went back on my search for new butterflies and these were the beauties I found.

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There were so many more to chase but it was getting a little late and my friend and I were starting to get a bit hot and tired. That 80 degrees was starting to get to us so decided to pack it in for the day. All in all this is a fantastic place that the whole family can come and visit. If you do a camera is a must! Definitely a place you want to take your time walking through.

Hope you all enjoyed all the butterflies. See you again soon! I think next time I will write about the very first time I took my  DSLR camera on a road trip. A bit of a flash back! It involves a waterfall and a steep climb down a hill after it had rained. Yeesh!

A Beautiful Detour

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While we were on the way to Talcott Mountain State Park for the first time my traveling companion turns to me and asks if I first want to stop and “see something pretty?”. I looked at him and asked him to specify. He answers “flower pretty”. Since I adore all things flowers I said yes.

So we made a detour to a bridge called The Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge. It is located at 1 Old Bridge Road in Simsbury, CT. Let me tell you I am happy we stopped for a look.

This lovely bridge was built in 1892 and spans 183 feet over the Farmington River. In 1992 it was replaced by a new two-lane bridge. In 1995 it became Simsbury’s “Flower Bridge” through the work of a coalition of community groups, town officials and local businesses. In 1996 groups began to develop community gardens on and around the bridge. Sixty-two wooden flower boxes are hung along the railings and small gardens of annuals, perennials and herbal plantings are planted at both entrances. There are also thirty-two gigantic hanging baskets. The plants are dead headed and clipped daily to ensure continuous blooming from late May to October. In November the boxes are decorated with Winter greenery, branches and berries, which remain until the following Spring. I will have to go and see the Winter decor. Sounds great!

The bridge was retained as a pedestrian and bicycle way and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. It is used by hikers, bicyclists, pedestrians, artists and nature photographers who love flowers (that would be me!).

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When we got there the first thing that I noticed (other than the flowers of course) was how immaculate the place was. There was no garbage, dirt or other awful things to dampen the appearance. It is very clear that this is a much loved attraction and people care about it.

 

I truly admire the work that all the volunteers do to make this bridge look so fantastic. There is a level of care here that you don’t see everywhere.

The second thing I noticed was the fantastic view of the river. I could have looked at it all day!

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I took my time looking at all the beautiful plants and taking pictures. I definitely gave my camera’s battery a work out! The day we went it was one of those warm sunny days that is just perfect to be outside. The ones where you don’t want to go back inside the house.

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This is a lovely place to have a wedding or to do senior photos. I found out that you can book your wedding there for a $50 donation fee. Plus, it is a great place for artists to come paint.

I love how all the boxes were decorated. They each had their own personality. My favorite was the one with the American flag in it.I love the colors!

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We were just about to leave when we looked out at the river and saw a line of people lazily  riding down the river in kayaks , canoes and rafts. Looks like they were having a lot of fun! Wish I could have joined them.

We had been there while and decided that it was time to head off.  First I had to get a shot of the bridge in its entirety. Very glad I did.

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Next time you are in Simsbury, CT take a minute and pop over to the Bridge. I can definitely say that this is on the list of prettiest places to view the river and flowers.

Next time a fun place in South Deerfield, MA.

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A Sad View From My Window…

Hello everyone! Sorry I was gone for awhile. I needed to take a little break from the Blogging World because of work (Easter was insane!!). I am back and ready to share some more of my travels.

First though, I had to share something with you. I woke up (a little blurry eyed) and opened my curtains this morning and this was what I saw…

Yes, ladies and gentleman that is snow. Not an odd thing to see in New England…except that it is April 4th. And my calendar says it is supposed to be Spring. You know, the season of blooming flowers, singing birds flying around happily and warmer weather.

However, it seems Mother Nature has forgotten to take her medication and thinks it is still Winter. Not cool, Mother Nature. Not cool at all.

Look at it. All slushy, cold and gross. Ugh. I came home and could hear people outside shoveling the awful white stuff. There were also plows out driving around trying to clear the roads.

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It’s not right I tell you. Not right at all!

As I write this it is 25 degrees (and yes it feels like it!). It is supposed to be pretty cold for the next few days so I think I will stay under a warm blanket and wait for this horrible weather to pass. Hopefully next week we will be back in the right season. That way I can finally head back outside and wander around again.

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Next time I will be writing about one of the two prettiest Spring locations I visited last year. Whenever I look at the pictures I took there I smile. I hope you do, too!

A Walk in the Tall Grass

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Nestled in Longmeadow, MA is a place called Fannie Stebbins Memorial Wildlife Refuge. It is a wonderful sanctuary with hiking trails, marshland, ponds and lakes.

I first went here last Summer. A friend of mine told me that he had heard that this is a great place to find all kinds of birds and that he wanted to go check it out. He was nice enough to take me with him.

The Refuge was established in 1951 and contains over 330 acres providing habitat for a large variety of rare plant and animal species. You can do lots of activities there such as birding (you will rarely go there without seeing people with cameras), snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

There really is something for everyone here.

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I had to laugh. On our way there we actually drove past the street that leads to the entrance. We had to turn around. You see, this place is so big but you wouldn’t know it from the main road. It is hidden at the end of a long street.

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There is a map at the entrance to the nine  hiking trails to help you find your way around. My advice is to take a picture of it with your phone. Why? Well, unfortunately a couple of the trail signs we found while hiking were in need of some paint touch ups and were a little hard to read. Not a bad thing, just wanted to give you all a heads up in case you are directionally challenged like me.

We decided to just take off and see where the trail would take us. I should note that you will be walking through tall grass (it got higher than my knees at some parts) so I would be hesitant on wearing shorts while walking through. If you do, wear strong bug and tick repellent.  And good boots are a must, too. Things like flip flops are just a bad idea.

I would also bring a camera and some binoculars if you have them so you can see all the birds flying by. Birds such as eagles, owls, hawks and assorted woodpeckers have been spotted there.

 

You can also see plenty of deer tracks in the grass. I saw a bunch while I was there, but unfortunately no deer themselves. Hopefully one day.

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In one of the fields you will see a bunch of bird houses. They are for the blue birds that are there. I am told that the local boy scout troop put them up and maintain them and I believe they also helped put up some of the bridges and walkways that are there, too. Unfortunately we didn’t see any blue birds while we were hiking.

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There are train tracks that run through the refuge. Trains do run on them but not too often that you can’t walk on them.

We walked around for a while more and decided to stop for a break. We had been hiking for about an hour and a half and started to get hungry. We got a little distressed when we remembered that we had only packed a couple of bottles of water and some granola bars (we didn’t think we would be exploring for so long).

As we were complaining about our lack of proper planning we suddenly got a whiff of something. Something delicious. We started to search in vain for the source of this wonderful aroma. A few minutes later we finally found them.

 

Wild seeded concord grapes. We gorged ourselves on them. Trust me when I say that grocery store grapes are not even in the same league as these fantastic grapes! They were so juicy and sweet. I took my camera out of my bag and proceeded to run around filling it with as many grapes as possible. There was no way I wasn’t taking some of them home with me for the next day.

After our snack we headed back. We wanted to see the animals at the giant pond further up the road from the entrance. This is the spot you will see all the birders and their cameras and note pads chronicling their finds for the day.

As we were leaving the hiking trails I was met with this wonderful view of a little pond.

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It was so simple but very beautiful.

The pond has a large variety of animals there, such as herons (I saw a blue one while there), a family of swans, ducks, blue jays, cardinals and reptiles of all kinds.

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I loved watching this little family of swans. They had a little baby with them but he or she kept hiding from view to get a good enough picture. Hopefully I will get one next time.

We watched the ducks and other birds for a about a half an hour more and decided to pack it in for the day.

This place is a definite must for birders and hikers alike!

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60° in February!

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Today was a lovely day. It was sunny, warm and 60°. It feels weird writing that. It should be cold outside.

After I had gotten some chores done I decided to go out some where and enjoy the warm weather.

I called up my Mom and suggested we go feed the ducks at Stanley Park. She loved the idea so off we went to the store to buy some bread.

With several loaves of bread in hand we drove to the park.

When we got there we discovered that we had worn the wrong foot attire. Why? Because all the snow and ice that was there had started melting because of the warm temperature and neither one of us had worn snow boots. Oops!

We were undeterred, though. We had bread and by golly we were going to feed those ducks!

It took us a while but we finally trudged (and slid at times) our way to the duck pond. Surprisingly there wasn’t many people there so the ducks were very happy to see us.

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They went nuts when we started feeding them. They merrily quacked away as they eat.

As I got down to my last few pieces of bread a little boy and his Grandpa came up next to me. The little boy was just delighted by the sight of so many ducks around. He giggled as he threw the pieces of bread his Grandpa gave to him.

It was great to watch this little guy have so much fun doing something we adults might find boring. It was definitely a little lesson to slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life. To just relax and take in everything around you.

After some walking around and visiting the surrounding area (as much as we could) we decided to head home. Our shoes were wet and we had a craving for some coffee.

I hope you all enjoyed your day where ever you may be!

 

A Lazy Sunday

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One lazy Sunday last Summer a friend and I decided to go out for a ride. We had been visiting lots of forests and hiking trails as of late and had a desire to find something new.

“Why not find some waterfalls” my friend suggested. So after a quick internet search we found one not too far away.

In the cozy town of New Marlborough, MA is a beautiful waterfall called Umpachene Falls. It is open from May 1st to Oct 1. The Umpachene River dumps into the Konkapot river, which flows around the park.

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It is important to note that the Falls are for the residents and friends of residents of New Marlborough, but if you ask politely the grounds keeper shouldn’t have a problem with you having a short visit.

On the day that we went there was no grounds keeper and the few people that were there didn’t seem to mind us looking around.

There is a small parking lot to park in and plenty of tables and swings so you can sit and have a small bite to eat. The park does have a rule that you respect the park by leaving NO trash there or consume alcohol while visiting. The park closes at 8 pm.

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You can see the Konkapot River right from the parking lot. It is a very quiet area. It might have been because there was only a handful of people there that day, though. Since the last few places we had visited had been packed with people it was nice to have the place basically to ourselves.

We were surprised to find out that the path to the falls was very short. As in right off the parking lot. You walk up a small hill and there it is! What a treat it was to not have to hike a long way to see something.

 

What a view! It is absolutely gorgeous! To this day I still can’t believe that there wasn’t more people there.

The people that were there were of the older crowd and a couple with their young son who was elated to see such a pretty sight. He was playing in the water and having a grand time!

Swimming is allowed there at the swimming hole but there are no life guards so be very careful when doing so.

One older gentleman had brought a lawn chair with him and was sitting down reading a book. I am not gonna lie, I was very envious of him! That seems like a perfect way to spend the day. And what a location to do it at.

I sat down on a rock that I found and just sat there with my eyes closed listening to the sound of the water. I wish i could have made a recording of it! A little loud but nice and peaceful.

After a few minutes I got up and took a few pictures. I surprisingly didn’t take as many as I normally do when I visit somewhere new. This time I just wanted to take it all in and enjoy it while not having to take a hundred pictures or worry about things like “is my light ok” or” what f-stop number should I use”. It may sound a bit corny but sometimes it is just nice to just live in the moment and enjoy it!

We stayed there a little while longer and decided it was time to go (it was getting a bit too hot).

On our way back home we stopped at a place called The Southfield Store. If you haven’t heard of this place you really need to visit it! It is a cafe’ and bakery. They have home made pastries, pies, tarts and cakes (which are fantastic and mouth watering when you first see them). They also have sandwiches, chips and a assortment of drinks.

It is also a casual late week dinner option from mid-May till Nov 1st.

For more information you can visit:

www.oldinn.com

www.newenglandwaterfalls.com

What a view!

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Several times last year I had the pleasure of hiking the trails of Talcott Mountain State Park. It is in Simsbury, CT and it has a beautiful view no matter where you look. The park is open to hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, picnicking and other fun things.

On top of the mountain sits the 165 ft high Heublein Tower. It was built as a Summer home in 1914 for Gilbert Heublein.

 

The tower trail is 1.25 miles and depending on your fitness level it takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the top. The first leg of the hike up is a vertical climb so take your time going up. After that the trail levels out so once you pass the first bit you all should be fine.  Also, the trail is littered with these little annoying black rocks so be careful especially going back down.

Once you get to the first look out areas you will totally forget about that first leg you just hiked. The views are amazing.

It really is a fantastic view and this isn’t even the view from the top at the tower. That one is even better!

***A Safety Note-When you park your car you will notice a helicopter pad. The reason for that is because some hikers like to go out a little too far on one of the small look out areas to get a better look at the view or a better shot with their camera…and slip and fall down the mountain. Trust me when I say I have looked down the mountain and it is a very steep drop down with lots of trees to break your fall should you slip. Please do not be one of those people they have to air lift out to the hospital.

Now after you continue on the hike to the top after taking in the view at the little look out areas you will come across a very nice looking rock wall.

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It doesn’t have a name (I looked online and couldn’t find anything) but this picture does not do it justice. It is massive and beautiful. Every time I pass it I have to take its picture and I am not the only one! I have seen people climb it. I personally do not recommend that. The middle part protrudes out and has jagged edges to it that I imagine will cut you if you are not careful. Plus, if you fall you will not have a nice landing.

The surrounding forest is really nice and the sounds of all the wildlife fill the air as you walk by.

You can find a great deal of wildlife here including birds, squirrels, deer, foxes and rabbits. There is also the occasional sightings of the turkey vulture, bald eagle and pileated woodpecker. My second time visiting I did see a gorgeous red tailed hawk flying by at one of the look out areas but was not fast enough with my camera to get a picture. I also did hear a woodpecker but couldn’t find him or her. Next time maybe.

After you pass the giant rock wall you are just a stones throw away from the tower.

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The tower was built for Gilbert F. Heublein in 1914 as a Summer retreat and home and interestingly was designed to withstand winds of 100 mph. I can attest to this. The third time I went up there it was a windy day and I felt nothing up there.

Ownership of the tower has changed hands a couple of times over the years and in 1965 became part of Talcott Mountain State Park. The tower has been renovated as a museum with period artifacts and beautiful furnishings.

They museum is fantastic! It is at the bottom part of the tower.  They have a wealth of information of the history of the tower and the furnishings are lovely. My favorite part was the living room. Must have been nice to have had dinner in such a pretty room. I also enjoyed the sitting room. Can you imagine how great it would have been to sit down  there in the morning with your coffee and read the morning paper while staring out at that view? Definitely better than the view I have from my apartment!

Now to the top of the tower. My advice is to take your time looking at the museum so that you can catch your breath because there are several flights up a winding stairwell to get to the top of the tower. I especially advise this in the Summer time because there is no air conditioning in the tower and it gets really hot up there. Can you tell I found out the hard way?

Time for the view!

You really are up in the clouds while on the top of the tower! You can see 365 degrees up there. To the northwest, the Berkshires dominate the horizon. The south is where you can make out the the Long Island Sound in a thin blue streak. You can also make out Mount Monadnock, which is 80 miles away in New Hampshire. There really isn’t much you can’t see in the area from the tower.

There is a gift shop there, too. It has all the things a gift shop would have. Post cards, key chains and to my sheer delight walking stick medallions. I had never heard of them before and just had to buy one for my trusty walking stick. What a nice way to commemorate such a lovely hike! Will definitely be looking for more of those walking stick medallions!

If you are looking for a hike with a terrific view and some history to go along with it I recommend Talcott Mountain State Park!

For more info check out:

www.ct.gov