Wednesday Wanderings: Harris Conservation Area

Contributed photoHarris Conservation Area

Welcome to Wednesday Wanderings. In this new monthly column, I’ll share some of my finds and musings as I explore CLC’s Public Conservation Areas. I hope these missives will inspire you to visit these properties. Please help us keep these public lands open by practicing social distancing, keeping your dog on a leash, and carrying out any trash you may bring with you.

This month’s featured wander is Harris Conservation Area, located at 105 Bloody Hollow Road in Austerlitz. If you’re using GPS, please be aware that there are two Bloody Hollow Roads in proximity, and you’ll want to make sure you’re heading to the intersection with Stonewall Road.

Before you hit the trails, pause and reflect on the original Indigenous stewards of this land: the Mohican tribe. Despite tremendous hardship in being forced from here, today their community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.* Many Mohicans were forced from Columbia and Berkshire Counties when their lands were offered as bounty to Revolutionary War veterans.

The first recorded property deeds for Harris indicate that the land was owned by John and Storey Gott, whose heirs sold the land to the Curtis family in 1840. The Curtises and subsequent landowners farmed parts of the property, likely raising sheep as well as corn, oats, potatoes, rye, and buckwheat. The Curtis family also kept half an acre of apple trees – see if you can spot them as you wander! You may also see remnants of stone walls and foundations along the trails.

I suggest taking the Yellow Trail to the pond. This small pond appears to be man-made and likely wasn’t built for swimming or cattle. The pond may be the result of mining for magnesium oxide, which was harvested in the early part of the 19th century, and used for stained glass and other industrial purposes.

At the north end of pond is a bench for quiet reflection. While you sit, keep your eyes and ears open for birds. Harris is home to several different forest types, and is also part of a large, unbroken block of forest called the mid-Hudson Wildlife Corridor which make great habitat for birds like the barred owl and red-shouldered hawk, which require large habitats. Barred owls have been spotted swooping over the pond, and can be distinguished from other owls by the distinct cadence of their calls, which many birders describe as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” Other forest birds you may see include the pileated woodpecker, blue-headed vireo, and Blackburnian, black-throated green, and yellow-rumped warblers.

Continue your journey on the Blue Trail, and then join up with the Red Trail. Along the Red Trail, you’ll see ledges that are excellent bat habitat. Rare species of bats have been identified here, so it’s important to stay on the trails and admire their dwellings from afar to avoid disturbing them. The Red Trail will connect you back to the Yellow Trail, which will lead you back to the parking lot and the conclusion of this month’s wander.

This Wandering draws heavily on the Natural Resources Inventory and Breeding Bird Survey of the Harris property, created by our friends and partners at the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology program.

* Land acknowledgment language provided by the Stockbridge Munsee Cultural Affairs Department

I’d love to hear about your wanderings. Email or share your photos on social media – CLC is on Instagram @clctrust, and each Public Conservation Area has its own Facebook page.

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