Reflections on Land Use and an Early December Visit

The fall semester is coming to an end, and I’m sad to say this is likely the last time I’ll see my phenology place for a while. This visit was on an unusually warm December day, it was about 40 degrees with the sun beaming down. As I pedaled my bike down the intervale road withering evidence of the summer’s farming season lay to either side of me. A pileated woodpecker flew through the trees lining the road, bringing a flash of red color to the otherwise dull canopy. The presence of an elegant focal species of NR1 seemed fitting for my final visit this year.

Though the landscape seems rather bare at this time of year, even in the beginnings of winter it is easy to see why people have been drawn to the intervale for so long. The rich soils, the proximity of the river, and an abundance of flora and fauna make the intervale highly habitable for people. There is a rich history of land use on the intervale, dating back well before European settlement.

The Abenaki were the first known settlers of the intervale, and their presence dates back to around 3000 B.C. The area was used for fishing, hunting, and some subsistence farming. Repeated flooding from the Winooski River renews the fertility of the Intervale when high waters bring new, nutrient-rich soils and sediment to the floodplain. Accordingly, the area continues to be biologically productinve after thousands of years of human use.

Once European settlers arrived, they quickly realized the area’s agricultural potential and began farming, more intensely than the Abenaki. Settlers flocked to the area, including Ethan Allen, whose homestead is not too far from my phenology place.The commodities being produced have varied over time, from grain to dairy, and now vegetable farming, but farming has been a ubiquitous part of human culture at the intervale.

In the twentieth century, the land use diversified. For a time the intervale hosted a municipal dump, though that was closed in the 1970s. The intervale saw more industrial operations as well, including a wood-fired power plant that still runs today. Right now, the intervale is primarily used to produce local vegetables as well as a recreation area, which is evident from the network of trails and agricultural fields.

(Information sourced from Burlington GeographicThe Lake Champlain Basin Program, and The Intervale Center)

Today I was just a passerby, thinking about the history of my place but also making observations in the present. A flock of crows gathered at the dairy farm across the river, their calls mingling with the few brave songbirds that overwinter here. Since my last visit, my place feels even more dead, with fewer plants covering the ground. The river itself has changed too, likely due to recent rainfall the riverbank has eroded leaving steep unstable banks. I sat for a while, listening to the birds and noticing the earthy scent that accompanies the river. After some time passed, it was time to leave. I noticed some signs of beaver activity for the first time, the more open ground revealed that saplings along the riverbank have been chewed off and harvested. With each visit I learn something new about my place, and I’m sure that there is still much more to discover.

Here are some photos from today:

Much of my place has gone into dormancy, and it looks ready for winter

 

A few shriveled berries were some of the only splashes of bright color left

Even late in the season, my place sees other human visitors

Next spring’s buds have formed on the silver maples

The lack of ground cover makes it easier to see a concerning amount of litter along the riverbank

Regulations on land use have been posted

Erosion of the riverbank

Today was likely my final visit this year, luckily it was on a rather pleasant day

 

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Phenology in Warner, NH

Over Thanksgiving break I visited a new place near my home in Warner, New Hampshire. Here is a map showing where my place is:

Here’s a Link to a Google Map

A Description of my new place inspired by the style of Aldo Leopold:

 

The leaf litter of late November crackles underfoot as I weave through oak and hemlock stands. A warm breeze greets me, comfortable yet unusual for the time of year. I meet a stone wall, built generations ago by farmers who are now long gone. The stone has stayed constant through the passing of years and seasons, the granite remains relatively unmoved even through drastic change of the surrounding landscape. I follow the wall, until I reach a clearing on the western side of the wall, a scar across the landscape from a recent timber harvest.

There is a strong juxtaposition of landscapes around the wall, one side lined with a growing stand of trees, while the other is bare and open. A few songbirds flit amongst the oaks that remain to my left, seemingly indifferent to the approach of winter, while to my right I see the telltale signs of deer browsing on the saplings that have just began to appear where a forest used to stand.

I look to the sky, thin clouds hanging in a blue sky. I see no birds, but their voices can be heard from the surrounding trees, a chorus of low calls and whistles. The sun is low on this late autumn afternoon, casting a pale gold over the entire landscape. After sitting for awhile, I leave, pondering the wall, the clearing, and the remaining forest, thinking of the people who have been here before and who might be here in the future.

 

A comparison of my place in New Hampshire to my place in Burlington in the style of Mary Holland:

 

A standout difference between the ecology of the two places is the proximity of water. My place in Burlington is right on the Winooski, whereas my place in New Hampshire is relatively far from any body of water, which affects the geology and species composition of both areas, as well as the phenology of both those places.

The place I’ve been visiting on the intervale shows telltale signs of its location on a riverbank. The soil is dark, moist and sandy from sediment that the Winooski has carried through the area. The only tree species that is present right along the bank is the silver maple, which is suited to proximity to water. The rich soil supports an abundance of herbaceous vegetation as well, though most of it has been claimed by frost at this point. However, the sheltered location has meant that it has been a little behind the surrounding area in terms of change towards winter.

My place in New Hampshire is on a somewhat elevated location, and lies on granite bedrock covered by a thin layer of sandy loam. The area is not as rich with vegetation, and the dominant trees are Eastern Hemlock, White pine, with a few Red and White Oaks mixed in. There is little understory where the forest hasn’t been disturbed, and where it has been cleared some grasses and and saplings are struggling to grow in the poor soil. The most prominent sign of wildlife is deer browse and an active bird population. Nearly all leaves are off the trees, and although it has been unseasonably warm the area still is inicative of late fall.

Though both places I’ve visited are relatively close geographically, they are very different in terms of ecology and phenology. There is a diverse range of ecosystems, even within northern New England.

Here are some photos of my new place in New Hampshire:

A stone wall separates land cleared in fall of 2016 from land that has been undisturbed since the 1990’s

Telltale signs of previous land clearance

Earlier stages of succession in the recently logged side of my place

Blown down snags on the forested side

Mount Kearsarge, perhaps the most prominent landmark of the area, looms in the distance

Some sketches of things I saw at this place

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The season has changed to grey

The past two weeks have brought wind, rain and cold that have stripped my place of vibrant fall colors. Rain was falling softly overhead, and the river was full, creeping up the bank towards the edge of the woods. All of the foliage has since been knocked off of the silver maples, leaving a tangle of dead grass and leaves on the ground above the silty riverbank. The area is preparing for winter- I could no longer hear songbirds or insects in the surrounding woods. A flock of geese flew overhead, honking and making a racket as they underwent their seasonal migration. Not all species are leaving or going dormant, however. The soft sandy soils left telltale signs that a deer had paid a visit to the spot I’m studying. I have yet to see the effects of a hard frost on the landscape, but I feel that will happen before my next visit.

An event map depicting my experience this week:

Deer prints in the shore:

I had the pleasant surprise of seeing a flock of geese fly overhead:

Here’s a video

It was a grey, dreary morning:

I’ve also composed a poem about my relationship with the seasonal changes my place has endured:

I’ve come to know a place

so close to the travelled path, yet

just out of sight

 

When I’m lucky

I find time to steal away from a turbulent life

down to this place by the river

 

Upon each arrival

it is the same

but different.

Every week or so brings a stark change to the land

 

To me, the change is

dramatic

and sudden

yet I know this isn’t the case

 

The place is always changing,

slowly,

I’m just not there to see it

 

Instead I am elsewhere,

removed from that place

wondering about the events unfolding in my absence

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Fall is Here

A few weeks have passed since my last visit, and when I made my way to my place it was clear that fall has come. The ground was littered with leaves, the air was cooler, and the adjacent cornfield had since been harvested.

Upon arrival I realized that my place was no exception. Sheltered, low, and right on the river, my place has been a few weeks behind the rest of Burlington in regard to the changing seasons, but now it is finally succumbing to the inevitability of the incoming winter. The silver maples’ leaves have been turning yellow and now they line the riverbank and are tangled in the thinning, yellowing grass above the shore. A few herbaceous plants were going to seed. My place was quiet when I visited. The frogs are absent, and the grass no longer rustles with every step as they frantically hop to and fro. In fact, the only signs of animal life I noticed were the footprints of a passerby and their dog left on the shore of the river. I left my place early in the evening, and the sun was already starting to set over the Intervale. I’m sure that by my next visit further change will occur, and the sun will be setting earlier still.

A birds eye representation of my place

Fall has arrived

More tracks in the sand

 

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Getting to Know My Place

I’ve visited my place a second time and done a little poking around. Here’s what I found out:

I arrived at my place early in the morning, just after sunrise. The air was filled with the whir of insects with the occasional bird call mixed in. My spot is low, shaded, and very close to the water’s edge. Possibly for this reason, the signs of fall haven’t quite crept in to my place as they have the surrounding area. Leaves are still bright and green, and the area seems to be bustling with animal life.

My place has a grassy ground cover over soil that seems like silty river sediment at first glance. The dominant tree species is silver maple, there are a few medium sized maples that mark the center of the area I’m studying. There are also a few boxelder trees and buckthorn plants located a little farther away from the river bank. Another observation I made right away is that there are frogs everywhere! They were too quick for me to take a picture, but I’ll try and get some froggy photos in a future post.

My place is a nice spot, I recommend checking it out if you can! Here are some photos:

The sun rising over my place

A Silver Maple leaf, still green and clinging on to summer

The bank of the Winooski

Bigfoot?

Only kidding- stay tuned for more updates!

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Welcome to My Place!

Hello all, and welcome to my phenology blog! The place that I’ve chosen to study for the next few months is located on the Intervale overlooking the Winooski River. The spot can be accessed by the Intervale bike path. This place stuck out to me because of its quiet location and proximity to the river. I’ve also found that biking through the interval to my place is a lovely way to get outside before my morning classes. Here’s a satellite image that shows where it is:

For those of you coordinate inclined people, my place can be found here:

44°30’22.7″N 73°13’34.0″W

 

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