April 30, 2011

Berkshire Cycling: Washington to Hinsdale

14.5 Miles                 Paved and Dirt
Towns: Washington and Hinsdale
Parking: Washington Town Park on Rte. 8

Bright, clean plumage, territorial calls, courtship behavior: these make late April and early May a good time to keep your eyes open for birds. And it’s easy because the trees are not yet leafed out. My ride today takes me to Hinsdale, starting on a road I travel most every day. Yesterday, just where I’ve stopped on the cycle today, near the beefalo, I saw a hawk fly down to a branch ... close to the road, maybe 15 or 20 feet off the ground. While I was grabbing for my binoculars in came another one. They jumped around a bit, I thought, hmmm, spring rituals. One left, and came back, left. The other stayed, by now with my binocs on it. Back comes the ... male, it turns out and they made whoopee. Up close and personal in the binoculars. I felt like a voyeur, though. As soon as he left she starts eating what I believe was a gift he left her the first time he arrived, proof he could provide while she had eggs. It was some kind of largeish bird, based on what I could see I'd guess a grouse or some such. The eating lasted way longer than the whoopee. When she was finished she carefully cleaned off her bill, walking the length of the branch while wiping it from side to side on that branch. Amazing what spring brings. 

Today I didn’t see any hawks, but the beefalo were there. They are a modern cross between cattle and buffalo and said to make good eating.

The ride takes me over both paved and dirt roads. Our dirt roads can be challenging in the spring time, I imagine more so for the road crews than for cyclists. They are rutted and full of potholes from the winter and subsequent thaw. All need attention, but the heavy spring rains will destroy any work done, so they wait for the weather to stabilize. I ride slowly, watching the woods.

Wild ramps, aka wild leeks
There is a beautiful small stand of ramps, wild leeks, near a small stream. When I moved here 30 years ago I had read of ramps as an early nutritious spring green found in the southern Appalachians. I’d never seen them. But they are here also, a member of the onion family. Unlike our other early lilies, trout lilies, blue bead lilies, they don’t bloom. You can easily recognize them by smelling a broken piece of leaf. If you do cook them, be forewarned: they taste delicious, but smell atrocious while cooking. By the way, they make a good pickle when treated like dilly beams.  Happily, with the current interest in local foods we can sometimes find both beefalo and ramps in the markets here.

Hinsdale Flats ACEC
I rode past Plunkett Reservoir, which in the summer is home to two, maybe three, kids camps. Now it had several men fishing and boats on the water.  The ride passes through the Hinsdale Flats ACEC (Area of Critical Environmental Concern.) Designated in 1992, it is big: it includes 14,500 acres in the Housatonic and Westfield River watersheds, mostly in Hinsdale and Washington. It protects six rare species, critical wetlands, forestland and historical and cultural sites. The ACEC program is is one of Massachusetts best environmental programs, which does not forbid homes or businesses, but brings a higher level of awareness and care to the natural environment. The Hinsdale Flats offer spectacular birding and habitat, including for people. The moose we occasionally see are surely the largest resident, followed by the black bear. It would be a great place to kayak.

Oh yes, this is a cycling blog. This ride is easy; flat for my part of the Berkshire Hills. A good training ride, which I badly need. After six weeks of antibiotics and respiratory infection, I am in hideous shape, in no shape at all actually, and very frustrated. Usually this ride is the beginning of a longer ride, but it still hurts to breathe deeply and I head back home. This time of year there is not much traffic on Route 8, but when summer arrives with its second home residents and vacationers it gets quite busy. 

Roads: North on Rt. 8; left on Kirchner; right on Plunkett Reservoir Rd., right on Michaels Rd., right on Rt. 8.

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