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REMINDER: It is probably unwise to visit your phenology spot during a thunderstorm and tornado warning.

I decided to spend Star Wars Day by taking my final trip to Centennial Woods. Knowing this would be my last visit of the semester, I tried to take in as much as I could.

At first, this meant looking for all of the phenological changes that Spring brings. I saw many of the deciduous tree showing their buds, and while walking I could hear dozens of birds all around me. I tried some of the calls that Allan Strong showed us in his NR guest lecture, and I actually had some luck in getting some birds to come near me! I also looked in a few vernal-esque pools of water that were new to the area with hopes that I’d see some salamanders, but I didn’t end up getting lucky. Overall, I could tell that much of the life of the forest was being reborn, as much green could be seen and commotion from wildlife could be heard.

After analyzing the environment around me, I decided to sit down and reflect on my relationship with this place, particularly how I’ve changed as an individual since my first visit in the fall. I believe the calmness and beauty of this place has helped ease my mind in times of stress. Because of this, I have come to seek spending time in natural areas whenever I need relaxation. We all need places where we either feel safe, at ease, or at home. Until this year, I didn’t have anything like that. Now, I believe this place has become a part of me and my own culture. The forests, wherever they may be, will always offer serenity for me. They are a place that I will go to when happy, when sad, when with friends, and when with my future children. I only hope that I can help forests like Centennial Woods as much as they help me, which has motivated me even more so to be successful in the field of ecology. Ultimately, they are a part of me thanks to the time I’ve spent in Centennial Woods throughout this year, and that is why they are a part of my culture and way of life.

While sitting in Centennial Woods, I find myself in a hail storm. I’m not actually sitting as I normally do because of the inch of slushy snow covering the ground. Despite it being mid-April, it certainly doesn’t feel like spring has arrived. It’s strange that my February visit was warmer than it is now!  Many of the trees around me are coniferous, so they do not show any indication of the changing season. The brook too is covered in slush; I can barely see further out than 30 feet or so because of the hail, but the plant life is blowing around frantically from the wind gusts.

I looked into the brook to look for signs of amphibians, but with the weather I was unable to notice any signs. There weren’t any tadpoles in the brook, likely due to the freezing temperatures, and because amphibians are cold-blooded, I can’t imagine any of them being out and visible. However, I do believe the brook would be a fantastic breeding spot for migrating amphibians, since there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable fish population to prey on the eggs/young.

The location of my phenology spot seems as though it is located on a forest edge, although it is because of the landscape’s transition to the brook, not because of the close presence of urban development. The actual nearest forest edge is at least 100 yards away from me; the sounds of the city and highway are only a distant hum.  However, my location does experience some significant ecological edge effects; any wind, precipitation, or sunlight that comes in from the west hits the forest around me directly due to the lack of tree coverage in the brook. While some wildlife may thrive from living in the tall grasses of the brook, nearby tree-dwelling wildlife are exposed to harsher conditions than they would be if they were situated deeper into the forest. While Centennial Woods may have some interior species, I don’t believe it is in high quantity due to the amount of forest edge exposure. The forest isn’t very large and is surrounded by developed area; I don’t believe any k-selected species particularly would thrive here due to small breeding ground and lack of genetic diversity, as well as exposure to humans and their disturbing presence.

If this picture looks extremely terrible, then I did a pretty good job of showing what I saw. The hail and wind was insane so I tried to draw what it looked like from my point of view, but the weather limited visibility. The grasses and other vegetation in the brook were blowing around and stuck at a near 45 degree angle, as hopefully depicted.

 

Over break, I went home to Salem, Massachusetts. Winter Island, located in Salem, is one of my favorite places to go. It’s a simple place; it has some forest, some rocky beaches, a playground, and open grass where many visitors come to camp. It is often my go-to place when I feel like going for a drive.

On the day I visited, it was extremely cold.  The wind gusts whistled and tossed naked branches around like straws. I sat down on some rocks near the water, and I watched several ducks swim around just 30 feet offshore. Although I didn’t stay long, for it was very cold, I enjoyed observing a natural area that is much different from my phenology spot in Centennial Woods. Instead of sitting in soil and being surrounded by ferns and trees, I was burrowed between several large rocks, tide pools, and had only open sky above me. There weren’t many trees near me because I was so close to the shore, but I was surrounded by lichen that covered many of the rocks. Besides the ducks and a few gulls, birds were scarce. Despite the poor conditions, it was amusing to watch as the tide came in; I actually had to move my seat twice because the water began to reach my feet!

Like Centennial, Winter Island hasn’t served the community in the past the way it serves the community today. It was a coastal defense area known as Fort Pickering during the 17th-20th centuries. Whether much warfare occurred there I do not know, but it served as a small naval defense base in the case of an attack on the region north of Boston. The base, only utilized in times of war, was mostly abandoned after the Civil War and eventually was given back to the city of Salem and became a protected historical site.

 

 

As of February 27th, it has been fairly warm, with temperatures hovering above freezing for several consecutive days at a time. Almost all of the snow has melted as a result, leaving the soil and O layer very muddy and damp. The ground, and all of its twigs, needles, and ferns, all appear to be flattened out, likely due to the weight of the snow over the last few months. Despite the warmth, there aren’t any other signs of spring; there aren’t any saplings or leaves growing on the hardwoods. I do hear birds though, and whether or not they stayed the winter or are early migrators, they bring me hope for warmer days.

My spot in Centennial Woods appears to be a Wetland Natural Community. It is located on a steep hill that has the Brook stretched directly down from it, which remains wet for at least the majority of the year. In the Brook are dense grasses and other typical wetland vegetation. On BioFinder, multiple streams navigate through/around Centennial, all contributing to the moist soil and flow of the Brook. The wetland community is definitely a forested one, having a variety of hardwoods and softwoods as well as many shrubs and ferns located along the edge. Succession is also visible, as there are many paper and yellow birches located along the human-created path leading up to my spot. Wildlife living near the Brook are supplied with a water source and tall grasses for protection, but are also subject to the harsh conditions and predation of being on a forest edge, such as temperature, human-induced noise pollution, and wind fluctuations.

Centennial Woods looked amazing this weekend after the light dusting that occurred. (Definitely my favorite so far!) The sun was shining; the sky was clear. As I hiked to my spot, the wind was blowing the powdery snow everywhere across the forest floor. Clumps of snow fell off the tree branches above. I befriended four dogs that happened to be play-fighting in my spot. Luckily, they didn’t end up destroying the tracks I discovered that crossed right through my usual sitting area! The prints covered a large area, but with the wind blowing the snow the prints weren’t as clear as I was hoping. Identifying them was challenging, mostly because I can’t determine how many toes are present. I believe there are 5 mostly clear toe markings, but the walking pattern does not resemble that of any 5-toed critters listed in our track and scat guides. I’ll have to ask someone with more knowledge in that field. Otherwise, besides the snow, not much else has changed.

There aren’t any hardwood trees located anywhere near my site. Instead, there are a dozen or so Eastern Hemlocks that drastically range in size, as well as two enormous Eastern White Pines. I did find some twigs for these two species, although they don’t seem to have many of the qualities that deciduous trees have. As seen with my drawing, I did not seem to find buds or nodes, likely because it is a softwood and doesn’t have leaves.

5 February 2018

 

Prior to going out to Centennial Woods for maybe the final time,  I did some research on its history. I learned that the 70-acre area was once owned by multiple property owners who used the land for various purposes that included dairy farming. I also learned that in the 90s, an Anthropology class at UVM was in Centennial Woods and found native stone tool remnants. Over the last few hundred years, Centennial Woods has seen local Native Americans, European settlers, and hundreds of UVM students aspiring to learn more about the natural world. When visiting the area after my research, I couldn’t help but look at the forest around me differently, knowing some of its history. I looked at the landscape and tried to imagine a time when these trees weren’t around, and in their place was vast pasture.

 

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