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Hiking Brinton Brook Sanctuary!


Saw Mill River Audubon Brinton Brook Sanctuary

Saw Mill River Audubon Brinton Brook Sanctuary

Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary! Brinton Brook Sanctuary, located in Croton-on -Hudson, is managed by the Saw Mill River Audubon and is its largest sanctuary at 156 acres.  The preserve originated as a donation of 112 acres to the National Audubon Society from Laura and Willard Brinton. In 1975, after Laura Brinton’s death, an additional 17 acres were added to the preserve. Saw Mill River Audubon gained full ownership of the preserve in 1991 from the National Audubon Society.

Brinton Brook Sanctuary provides necessary habitat for wildlife and includes over three miles of hiking trails.

Virtual Tour

Brinton Brook Trail Map

Brinton Brook Trail Map

Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary! Using this trail map we will be traversing through forest, meadow, wetlands and the shoreline of the 5 acre Brinton Pond.

We find the trailhead of the 1.2 mile yellow blazed Pond Loop Trail (the longest trail found in Brinton Brook Sanctuary) both to our right and right in front of us. Let’s head straight on the Pond Loop Trail and see where it takes us. The Pond Loop Trail is marked with twenty interpretive signs and traverses through woods, a meadow and around Brinton Pond before it heads southwest back to the parking lot.

#1 Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary

#1 Welcome to Brinton Brook Sanctuary

Here we come to the first of twenty interpretive signs (please note we will see and note some but not all of the interpretive signs) which welcome us to Brinton Brook and reminds us we are in a sanctuary where all life is protected.

#2 Tulip Tree

#2 Tulip Tree

Just up the trail we spot the second interpretive sign which refers to the Tulip Trees, the tallest trees found in the eastern US. Common names are Tulip Poplar or Yellow Poplar. Tulip Trees belong to the Magnolia family and are named as such due to its tulip shaped leaves and flower which blooms around late May and early June each year. Due to the height of the trees we generally only spot the flowers once they have fallen. Since we are in early fall we missed the flowers this year. But there is always next spring!

#3 Black Locust

#3 Black Locust

The third sign we come across has to with Black Locust trees which are found all around us in this section. A member of the Pea Family, Black Locust trees are native to the southeast of the United States and are considered to be an invasive plant elsewhere due to its ability to monopolize where it has established. In May, Black Locust produces extremely sweet smelling cluster of flowers. Mature Black Locust tree trucks are deeply furrowed and its roots help fix nitrogen levels in the soil.

Kiosk with Signage

Kiosk with Signage

As we walk the trail has widened and we find a kiosk straight ahead which includes a trail map. Let’s head to the left to continue our hike on the Pond Loop Trail.

#4 Ecotone

#4 Ecotone

Shortly after the kiosk we come to interpretive signage #4 discussing an Ecotone. An Ecotone is an transition found between two different habitats (in this case forest and meadow). Sassafras Trees are plentiful in this area.

#5 Area of Change

#5 Area of Change

We have now officially left the forest and are standing in a managed meadow. This meadow must be constantly managed otherwise over time, due to ecological succession, this meadow would convert to forest.

#6 Two Kinds of Forests

#6 Two Kinds of Forests

Leaving the meadow behind we reenter the forest and come to interpretive signage # 6: Two Kinds of Forests which discusses Red Maple (the most common Maple tree found in Northeast America) & Northern Red Oak which is found primarily to our left on the hillside.

As we arrive at Brinton Brook we see a massive old growth Red Maple.

Old Growth Red Maple

Old Growth Red Maple

Nearby is interpretive signage #7: Pond View which discusses common wildlife found in and around Brinton Pond such as Wood Ducks.

#7 Pond View

#7 Pond View

We have now arrived at Brinton Pond. The pond, created by the impoundment of Brinton Brook (a tributary of the Hudson River) is man made and was created as an “ice pond”. During the winter chunks of ice were carved from the pond and stored (this was in an age before the modern refrigerator) for use. As we can see by the growth of plants in and around the pond, the pond is slowly becoming marshland.

Brinton Pond slowly transforming to Marshland

Brinton Pond slowly transforming to Marshland

What’s that we see on a rock? It’s a female Wood Duck and its ducklings!

Female Wood Duck and ducklings

Female Wood Duck and ducklings

Heading east we come to the next interpretive signage “The Edge of the Pond”.

#8 Edge of the Pond

#8 Edge of the Pond

The sign discusses wildlife we may see near the pond and pictures a dragonfly and a Wood Frog. As we walk we don’t see any frogs but we hear plenty of Green Frogs (which sounds a bit like a banjo) and Bullfrogs (which makes a bellowing call) announcing their presence from the pond.

Pond Dam

Pond Dam

Continuing east the trail crosses over an earthen dam of the pond.

Skunk Cabbage and Sensitive Fern

Skunk Cabbage and Sensitive Fern

And here is the next interpretive sign which discusses the wetland plants found to the left of the pond. Common wetland plants found here include Skunk Cabbage, Sensitive Fern as well as Spicebush (the most common wetland shrub found in Westchester County).

Turkey Trail Trailhead

Turkey Trail Trailhead

Just past the wetland heading north is the trailhead of the blue blazed .5 of a mile Turkey Trail which climbs to the highest elevation in the sanctuary (390 feet). Let’s stretch our legs and take this trail.

TurkeyTrail (no understory)

TurkeyTrail (no understory)

As we climb through the forest notice that there is little to no understory. The culprit is an overabundance of White-Tailed Deer. With no natural predators to control the herd, the deer population in the eastern United States has exploded in recent decades. All these hungry deer feed on saplings and native shrubs displacing them and give many non-native shrubs (such as Japanese Barberry which deer do not eat) a competitive advantage.

White-Tailed Deer Running

White-Tailed Deer Running

What’s that blur to our right? A White-Tailed Deer which must have heard us discussing it is running away with its tail up high.

Turkey Trail Con-Ed Powerlines

Turkey Trail Con-Ed Powerlines

As we head east there is an abrupt end to the hardwood forest as we come to to a meadow near Con Edison power lines. We are now at the highest elevation in Brinton Brook at 360 feet.

Coyote Trail

Coyote Trail

As we continue on the Turkey Trail heading south the entrance to the green Blazed .4 mile Coyote trail appears to our left. Let’s go ahead and take it!

Highlands Trail (Croton Arboretum)

Highlands Trail (Croton Arboretum)

Heading southwest on the Coyote trail we pass the white blazed Highlands Trail (which has arrived here from the Croton Arboretum) which now jointly follows Coyote trail.

We have now arrived at an intersection with the Red Blazed .7 of a mile Hemlock Springs Trail which is named after the stately Eastern Hemlock tree.

Unfortunately many of the Hemlocks found in Brinton Brook Sanctuary are dead or dying due to the Woolly Adelgid, a non-native pest from Asia. The Adelgid feeds by sucking sap from Hemlock trees.  This exotic pest was accidently introduced to North America circa 1924 and is currently established in eleven states ranging from Georgia to Massachusetts. It is estimated that 50% of the geographical range of the Eastern Hemlock has been affected by the adelgid. Biological control (i.e. using adelgid predators to control infestations) has been the major emphasis of control since 1997.

As we continue to head east, the Highlands Trail exits to the nearby Hudson National Golf Club. Now the Hemlock Springs Trail heads south west and we come to the first of two Brinton Brook crossings.

There is something that looks like a small piece of gray rope on the ground…wait a minute! It’s a ring-necked snake! These snakes are normally nocturnal so we are lucky to spot one!

Ring Necked Snake

Ring Necked Snake

Leaving the ring-necked snake we pass first entrance Yellow Blazed .5 of a mile Laurel Rock Trail. Just as we pass we hear a beautiful songbird melody. And we’ve spotted the culprit! It’s a Wood Thrush! Wood Thrushes are common in mesic (moist) forests.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

As we continue on we pass the 2nd entrance to Laurel Rock Trail and cross Brinton Brook.

Green Frog

Green Frog

As we cross over Brinton Brook there is a sudden splash! The culprit is a Green Frog. See him hiding? Green Frogs are common residents of streams, ponds and wetlands. We have now arrived back on the Pond Loop Trail which we left some time ago when we went to go explore the Turkey Trail.

Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory

While we missed some of the interpretive signs we will catch the remainder of the 20 signs now starting with sign#17 which discusses Shagbark Hickory the tree seen in the picture above. Shagbark Hickory is one of the most common Hickory trees found in the eastern forest. It is readily identifiable due to its peeling “shaggy” bark. Shagbark Hickory nuts are feasted upon by Eastern Gray Squirrels and Black Bears among others.

Sun Trap

Sun Trap

Continuing on our way we come to sign #18 which discussed the opening seen straight ahead as “a sun trap” which is a natural clearing in the forest where migratory birds may be spotted in the spring and fall.

#19 Feathery Ferns

#19 Feathery Ferns

Two more signs to go! Here we see sign # 19 “Feathery Ferns” which describes common ferns found in the Brinton Brook Sanctuary such as the Christmas Fern. The Christmas Fern is evergreen and is said to be named “Christmas Fern” due to its fronds resembling Christmas stockings.

#20 Trail end or beginning!

#20 Trail end or beginning!

We have now reached our last sign on the Pond Loop Trail #20 “Trail End or Beginning!”. For us it is the end of the trail and we are back at the parking lot! Whew! What a great hike! It is my hope that this virtual hike inspires you to check out Brinton Brook Sanctuary for yourself!

Click here for directions!

Feel free to Comment with Questions, Memories or Suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

Hiking/Ecology Books!

1. The Nature of New York – An Environmental History of the Empire State – This work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State

Click here for more information!

2. Eastern Deciduous Forest Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources!

Click here for more information!

3.60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

4. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

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