Phenology in the Dark

To make this trip a bit more interesting, I decided to visit my spot after the sun had set, which is why all the pictures have strange lighting. This made for a much different experience than usual, and I felt more connected to my place than usual. I think the main reason for this is that when it’s light out, I pretty much only use my vision to take in the world around me. When it’s dark, even when you have a light, you can’t see any further than a few feet ahead, so my other senses, especially my sense of hearing, were engaged a lot more than usual.

When it comes to changes since my last visit, there are many. Last time, it was very wintry, with snow and ice the ground. There is a little bit of snow from the storm a day or two ago, but for the most part, the ground is not covered by snow and ice. The snowmelt is making the soil very moist, and leaves and other organic matter are mixing with the soil, creating a slippery surface that’s very difficult to walk on. There’s also more signs of animal life than last time; I saw a rabbit walking to the site and there were quite a few stripped pinecones on a fallen tree at my site.

More Pinecone Pieces

Pinecone Pieces


If I were to classify my site, I would classify it as a Northern Hardwood Forest. The first distinction t be made was between upland and wetland; while many areas of Centennial Woods could be considered wetlands, my site is on top of a hill and not too close to any bodies of water. Since maples (especially sugar maples) and beeches make up the vast majority of trees near the site, it fits the profile for a Northern Hardwood Forest. I am tempted to classify it as a White Pine-Northern Hardwood Forest, as there are quite a bit of white pines present, but Centennial Woods has experienced many human disturbances, and the presence of White Pines is probably caused by that rather than soil conditions.

When I looked at my place on Biofinder, I found a few things surprising. The most surprising is that my spot is marked as highest priority for a rare species. Biofinder did not say what that rare species is, but whatever it is it’s somewhere in Centennial Woods. My spot is also high priority for landscape diversity, but given that it’s a forest in a pretty urban area means that’s really not too surprising. Finally, my spot is marked low priority for interior forest. This is also surprising because given Centennial Woods’ proximity to the suburbs, I wouldn’t think that it really has much interior forest.


Landscape Scale

Species Scale

It’s been a while since I’ve last been here, and so much has changed. One of the most significant changes is the groundcover; there’s snow! Granted, there isn’t more than an inch and it’s only off to the side of the trail because the trail, due to heavy usage, is pretty much a sheet of ice. It was a struggle to get to my spot, and if I hadn’t worn my microspikes in, I’m not sure if I would’ve made it. The second major change is that now, all the leaves are off the trees. There are still some beech trees with a few leaves on it, but that’s not abnormal, and other than that, all the other trees have dropped their leaves. This is a change that I think probably should’ve come last semester, but the unseasonable warmth prevented that from happening.

In terms of wildlife activity, there isn’t much. I heard a bird, but it was only one, and I’m not entirely sure what it was. It was difficult to find wild animal tracks, but once I ventured a little bit off the beaten path, I managed to find a relatively well-formed deer track. While there weren’t many signs of wildlife activity, there were plenty of dog and human tracks, which is probably one of the reasons there isn’t much wildlife.

Deer Track

Human Footprint

Dog Tracks


When it came to tree identifications, it’s definitely a lot harder in the winter. I had some difficulty even trying to find the twigs on the trees, but even when I did find them, it was still hard to get positive identifications. Also, I tried to take some nice close-up pictures of the twigs that I did find, but my phone camera isn’t the best at close-ups, so they might be a bit blurry. The trees I was able to positively identify by twig are Red Maple and American Beech.

Red Maple

American Beech

Red Maple Twig Sketch

Where’s the Snow?

Although it’s not officially winter yet, Centennial Woods is definitely looking very wintery. When I was last here, there were a good amount of leaves off the trees, but now, almost all of the trees have dropped all of their leaves. The Only exceptions to this are some of the diseased maple trees I observed earlier and the beeches. While these trees haven’t dropped their leaves, the leaves remaining on the tree are very dead. With all these leaves falling, the composition of the forest floor has changed and now instead of being primarily covered in pine needles, there is a thick layer of leaf litter. There’s also a lot of pinecones on the ground. Since it’s getting colder out, I didn’t see very many animals. There were some birds flying in a flock overhead (maybe migrating) but I didn’t see the squirrels and chipmunks that I’m accustomed to seeing.

The trees sans leaves

What the leaves still on the trees look like

Thick leaf litter on the forest floor


While many phenological signs indicate that it’s winter, there still isn’t any snow. Burlington got some snow last week, but it has been pretty warm past week, so any snow that accumulated has since melted. Having no snow sure makes it a lot easier for me to get to my site, but in the past, this would’ve been a problem. This is because Centennial Woods used to be home to a ski hill. The hill, officially named the South Burington Kiwanis ski area, was opened in 1962 and operated for five years before the rope tow and associated machinery were accidentally burned down by children who were playing with fire. At first, I wasn’t sure of the accuracy of this story, but I saw some information online that gear of the rope tow, one of the lift line towers, and some supports, can still be seen in the area. So I hiked in a little deeper than usual and after a whole lot of up and downhill, I arrived and found the remnants of the ski area. The gear was rusted and the supports were charred, but it was very clearly a ski area, although the part of the forest that contained the ski trail has since grown back. There used to be many of these small, local ski areas in Vermont, but due to current trend in towards large resort areas, many of these areas closed. It’s incredible to think that less than fifty years ago, there was a ski area on the University of Vermont campus.


Old ski lift crank

Remnants of a ski liftline and charred supports


“South Burlington Kiwanis Ski Area.” New England Lost Ski Areas Project, www.nelsap.org/vt/sburl.html.

As I walk along Van Saun Mill Brook on a trail many feet wide, I see many stories playing out in front of my eyes. The first, and most visible, is that of a refuge, designed to provide the residents of suburbia with a place to get away from life. Between the oaks, sycamores, poplars, and maples are benches, birdhouses, and many other items placed by humans in an attempt to make the area more welcoming to both human and non-human visitors.

The second story is one of a place struggling to hold on to the little bit of wildness it has left. Across the brook, you can see the backs of stores, hear the highway, and smell the curry made by the nearby Indian restaurant. Nestled in the scrubby vegetation along the banks are bottles, cans, and other litter. The trees are covered in graffiti. Clearly, this area is used not only by those looking to get away from suburbia, but also by those who see the woods as an extension of suburbia. While these groups may seem different, they both want freedom, with the first group looking for a place to be free from everyday suburban life and the second group looking for a place where they can freely drink and do drugs without facing any of the social stigmas or legal implications that are often associated with this sort of activity.

Immediately after stepping foot on the Mill Brook Nature Trail, there are many visible physical differences between it and Centennial Woods. For example, my spot in Centennial Woods is on top of a hill, but the Mill Brook Nature Trail is very low lying, with very damp soil. The composition of the forest is also very different. In Centennial Woods, the trees are primarily White Birches and Red and Sugar Maples, with some Eastern White Pines towering over all the other trees. Other than these trees, there are some ferns, but not a whole lot of ground cover. On the other hand, the Mill Brook Nature Trail is mostly Pin Oaks and Silver Maples, with a few other trees that do well in damp environments, such as Tulip Poplars and American Sycamores. There are also a lot of small scrubby bushes that cover a lot of the ground not occupied by trees, especially along the banks of the river. There are also a lot of Poison Ivy vines on the trees.

The two locations are also at very different points phenologically. In Centennial Woods, most of the trees have lost their leaves but on the Mill Brook Nature Trail, most of the leaves are still on the trees. A reason for this could be the weather in each area. In Vermont, there have been quite a few overnight freezes, but in River Edge, NJ, which is almost 300 miles south of Burlington, has not experienced as low temperatures.

Bench overlooking the brook

Trail entrance

The brook

The trees still have their leaves

Thanksgiving Location (Embedded Map Not Working)

Some big changes since my last visit. Fall is here for real now, with the temperatures dropping rapidly and the sun setting very early. Fall is also visible on the trees, as almost all of them have dropped their leaves; the trees that haven’t dropped their leaves yet no longer have green leaves. Another major change is that as a result of the high winds the area experienced last week, there are a lot of downed branches. Something I found interesting is that all of the ferns in the area are still green. Ferns change color and die pretty quickly after the first frost, and although it’s pretty late in the season, I guess the first frost hasn’t happened yet. There is a lot more animal activity though, as the squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals are stockpiling food for the winter.

The ferns are still alive

Leftovers from a squirrel snack

One of the many downed branches

Leaves now cover the trail

Most of the leaves are gone


Fall is Here

It’s only been two and a half weeks since I last visited, but there’s been so much change. The trees are starting to change color, with the canopy now being a mix of yellow and green, as opposed to the solidly green canopy during my last visit. I noticed that while some of the trees directly off the trail have some yellow leaves, the ones off the trail are almost completely yellow, and I’m curious as to why that is. On some maples, the leaves have changed colors, but not to yellow. I’m not sure if I didn’t notice it last time or if this is a new phenomenon, but many of the maple leaves have black spots on them, which seems to indicate tar spot disease. It’ll be interesting to see if this gets better or worse as time passes.

Maple leaf with tar spot

The eastern white pines, despite being evergreens, are also much different than last time. Although they’re very high up, making it difficult to assess foliage levels, the ground is now covered in pine needles and pine cones, which seems to indicate that the pines are dropping their needles.

The forest floor

Unfortunately, I didn’t see much wildlife during this visit as there was a lot of human activity. I saw a few joggers, a dog walker, and a class that was doing fieldwork; all this activity kept the wildlife away. However, after everyone left, I began to hear birds chirping, insects buzzing, and even saw a few squirrels and chipmunks. The wildlife may not be very active when there’s a lot of people present, but it’s definitely there.


Welcome to my phenology blog! I chose Centennial Woods as my location for the semester mostly because it’s really easy to access, but also because it has a lot of variety. I know there’s a lot of human activity in Centennial Woods, so I made sure to pick a site that was relatively far from the entrance. To get to my specific location within Centennial Woods, take Carrigan/Catamount Drive east until you see the trailhead for Centennial Woods. Once you get there, take the main trail until you get to a large clearing where multiple trails diverge. Take the one that goes straight uphill and continue on that trail until you come to an area that’s blanketed with pine needles and has a large dead tree stump in the middle. Take a seat on the downed log right next to the stump and you’re there.

The area is dominated by maples, with Sugar, Red, and Norway maples making up the majority of the woody plants. There are also a few small American Beeches and even fewer Black Cherries. The pine needles on the ground are from very tall Eastern White Pines, which are difficult to see now due to the leaves on the deciduous trees, but should be easier to see when the deciduous trees lose their leaves.

Tree stump in the center of the site

Some fungus

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