Closing Comments

May. Spring awakening.

The surrounding trees are in full bloom, and the once-empty branches of silver and sugar maple, as well as boxelder, are now flourishing with leaves. Chickadees swoop from tree to tree, finding the best views of the forest. A woodpecker appears on a snag, mulling its way through the bark to find from tasty treats. The water is much higher, even more than before. The river is sprinting to reach the lake, overtaking the muddy banks. The recent rain has been washing the sandy loam away from the sun-bleached logs while the strong roots of lakeshore grasses hold firm to their foundations.

While the ecological components of my spot here on the Winooski have been active year-long, its the humans that have decided to come and finally make an appearance. The bike path is thriving as older folks stroll to view the looming mountains and the younger crowd flies by on their bikes, eager to reach the causeway. Early season paddlers prove that Burlington and Winooski are intertwine here at the river, a hub for recreation, beauty, and love of mother nature.

I feel at home here. I wouldn’t have said that in the fall when I chose this phenology spot. I have witnessed the changes, the trees losing their leaves, and gaining them back. I have seen the river, at its highs and lows. And I have seen the people, smiling when they stop to watch the mallards float below, or when they look up and see migrating birds heading south. I know this place better than anyone else- a special connection with the land that is so trekked, so traversed.

May. Spring awakening and closing comments.


Spring is here! And with it is the arrival of new seasonal species to the mouth of the Winooski. Upon my arrival to the reeds and grasses on the sandy shore, I found a American Toad huddling in the thick mesh of grasses, keeping warm from the rain. This massive toad seemed a little out of place on the sand by the lake, but likely came from vernal pools hidden in the delta park forest.

American Toad (Loutchko, N.) Photographer 2017.

Because of the sandy soil, no wildflowers are going but the grasses and lakeshore reeds are thriving in the saturated mud as the river had risen significantly from melting mountain snow. Further, the natural community’s tree species are beginning to bloom. Silver maple’s red male flowers contrast the overcast skies, and the sugar maple’s flowers are dancing in Lake Champlain’s breeze.

SilvMap (Loutchko, N.) Artist 2017.

Sugar (Loutchko, N.) Artist 2017.

Since my phenology spot is bordering a preserved park, the edge effect is very noticeable. As soon as you cross the Winooski River Bridge, you are greeted with suburban houses and recreational businesses. My exact spot doesn’t provide a lot of shelter and habitat for forest interior species simply because it is directly on the edge of the river and the lake. However, if you were to venture North of my chosen phenology spot, a suitable habitat for forest species dependent on thick brush and cover could be found.

45.04581, -93.22269

This spot in Minnesota is the same one that I visited in November over Thanksgiving Break. My exact spot lies at the end of a pedestrian bridge, similar to the bike path bridge over my Burlington spot. However, instead of bordering a river, Silverwood Park hugs a lake. Because of this, more ice has collected here than at the flowing river.

The muskrats that I observed in November are nowhere in sight, and likely hibernating in their home under the bank of the shore. Silver Lake is a popular destination for mallards and passing geese. I visited this area at the break of dawn and observed countless ducks land on the ice and in the water, communicating, and foraging for food.

The forest composition is very different as well. Silverwood Park houses a mature oak stand, both Red and White, while the Lakeshore grassland of Lake Champlain and the Winooski is dominated by shrubs and grasses, occasionally spotted with maples. Due to high recreation use by the bridge, visitors have eliminated most of the woody plants that usually line the shore, and leaving the soils to erode, causing a sharp drop into Silver Lake.

March 10, 2017 – Natural Communities

March 10, 2017

My phenology spot at the mouth of the Winooski River falls under two natural community categorizations. The first of the two communities is “Lakeshore Grassland”, which is the exposed part of the delta facing Lake Champlain. This is a rare community because it only occurs along Lake Champlain. The delta grassland is roughly 25-50 feet wide and inhabits the gently sloping shore, which are main characteristics of this natural community type. Further, Lakeshore Grasslands are dominated by cordgrass and reeds. The woody plants found closer inland of my spot are common above the grassland, trees like silver maple and green ash.
Secondly, the mouth of the Winooski exhibits characteristics of a River Mud Shore natural community. The substrate mix of mineral and organic deposits directly line the shore of the river, slightly sheltered from the winds of Lake Champlain. Since the muddy substrate is succumb to flooding year-round, vegetation is sparse, but rice cutgrass and other reeds can be found. As mentioned before, I’ve seen a few herons and tracks of sandpipers. Raccoon tracks are also known to be popular in this community as they hunt and scavenge for fish and amphibians.
Since my last visit, the flow of the river has picked up drastically as the snow melts and more precipitation comes with the spring. The muddy shoreline has been overtaken by the water level, so I can’t see any new tracks from foxes or raccoons. The water drains straight through the sand, leaving it dry and adding more velocity to the river. More so, the grasses still look frail even with the wind rolling off the lake, making them dance.
Finally, on BioFinder, my observations of natural community types are confirmed. The location is seen as a rare natural community- referring to the Lakeshore Grassland. BioFinder reports seven rare plant species directly over my phenology spot. These species could be Meadow beauty, Autumn fimbristylus, Olive spikerush, and/or Lance-leaved violet. A majority of the species on and near my spot are either S2 or S1 ranking in Vermont, meaning they are very rare and populations are small. And the river houses 4 rare and uncommon species- likely fish.

Lake (Loutchko, N. Photographer) 2017.

Ice Out (Loutchko, N. Photographer) 2017.

Ice Cold

The frigid winter water has overtaken the shore of sand and mud that once was a resting and fishing place for cranes and herons. The water is flowing much faster with the increased run-ff from Burlington’s rejected snow. The delta has significantly shrunk and now hugs the tree line. There, I spot tracks, but not too many because of the recent snow. The tracks are likely from a Red Fox hunting along the shoreline for winter birds or for peeks at fish.

Fox Track
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2017)

I see recent tracks of the Gray Squirrel as it must have scurried back to its nest when the snow began falling.

In the fall, I mostly noticed the abundance of Sugar Maple in the forested area since it had dominated the canopy. However, with the leaves shed, I am now able to find and identify more species. In my phenology spot, I have begun to notice Paper Birch on the outskirts of the forested area, American Beech, and one or two Red Maples. See below.

Paper Birch Twig with Male Catkins
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2017)

Box Elder Twig
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2017)

Red Maple
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2017)

Sugar Maple
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2017)

Finally, my favorite twig to identify is the American Beech because of its characteristic narrow cone of a bud.

American Beech Twig
Loutchko, N. (Artist) (2017)

Winter is Here

This past week at the Mouth of the Winooski has been an exciting one. As snow gently coats the sand on the delta and slowly melts away, the speed of the river has picked up. The surrounding area seems quieter. There are no heards of bikers zooming over the bridge and the only a few birds, crows, are left flying overhead. An old couple taking a morning walk pulls to the side of the bridge and gaze at the Adirondacks. I observe them. They say nothing, only absorbing the chilly breeze that rolls off Lake Champlain. The boat house on the opposite side of the river is a ghost town as they close shop for the long Winter season ahead.
I don’t see as many animals as I say in the beginnings of October. Some miscellaneous birds swoop above, looking for somewhere calm to land. I see so sign of fish, but ducks linger and wade points sheltered from the fast-moving water. The sugar maples in the buffer area have lost more leaves than I could ever count, the grasses and roots in the muddy banks have dried and wilted.
I now begin to gain an immense amount of respect for this land. After the very last NR1 lab, where my group explored Salmon Hole, I came to full attention of the negative impacts of urbanization to parks and natural areas. The Winooski isn’t perfectly pristine, but it is obvious that the community has done a great amount to keep it clean and safe. The water quality is better than any other city’s I have seen. The human history is rich – Vermonters take pride in and depend on their river for everything from basic resources to recreation.
I am proud of my Phenology spot and am happy to have explored its connections- both historical and ecological.

Silverwood Park, MN

Silverwood Park is nestled within the Minneapolis metro area, right along Silver Lake. This park is special because it provides for such a pristine environment in comparison to the busy urban area it is surrounded by. Silverwood not only focuses on preserving the environment, but also on outdoor recreation and art. The visitor center holds nature walks, music ensembles, and art classes. It is also home to a coffee shop and a gallery where environmentally-focused local artists can display their work. Below is a map of the park and its trails.

Three Rivers Park District. Park Map PDF

I chose to focus on a spot in the park that reflected my phenology spot here in Burlington: near a bridge overlooking the water. In this case, however, the bridge was over a lake, connecting an island to the mainland. Because of this, there is no sedimentary deposits due to erosion. In fact, the water is so shallow and still that algae grows in thick layers over the rocks near the shore. My Silverwood spot differs with the mouth of the Winooski not only in forest composition, but also in wildlife. While the delta by the Winooski primarily has younger sugar maple trees, Silverwood is a mature oak forest with both red and white. And boxelder trees frame the lake as the lazily overhang along the shore.

Mallard ducks can be found year-round in Silverwood as they forage for food. When I visited, there were about 10 ducks together, all dabbling for something to much on with their tails and webbed feet in the air. Most notably, I was able to witness two muskrats scavenging for food and storing it in their home. The pair would take turns swimming out to a deeper area of the lake and dive for algae. They are fast swimmers!

And finally, as my Burlington phenology spot is along the bike path, I witness a lot of human presence by the river. In Minneapolis, I say the occasional citizen talking a short walk in the park, but I saw a clearer human presence through the fishing lures snagged in rocks and trees. I had not noticed this type of interaction with nature by the Winooski River, so it was eye-opening to speculate the use of Silverwood in an indirect way.

My Minnesota Spot
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2016).

Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2016).

Muskrat Swimming
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2016).

Silverwood Park
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2016).

Peace, a poem.

Lake Champlain
Loutchko, N. (Photographer). (2016)

The cool wind blows the stray hairs that escaped my loose ponytail and tickle my face.
I inhale the largest breath possible and am comforted as I smell the lake all of its inner ecosystems.
I am at peace.
A heron trots by, with insects and minnows in sight.
The drying grasses and small bushes provide lasting shelter from the lakeside winds.
I am at peace.
The sun gleams off the mirror-like waters and the mountainous backdrop reminds me of home.
I am at peace.
And as the ecosystem at the mouth of the Winooksi begins to retire for winter, so will I.

Everything is at peace.

October 24, 2016

The leaves have begun to fall, they thickly coat the deposited sand on which the Sugar Maples grow on. The woody bushes had receded and the reeds in the mud along the river have flourished since last time I was here. The grasses in the sand hold their ground around the piles of sun-bleached logs as winter approaches. img_4684

A few small birds flutter away and small minnows hug the bank, other than that, no sign of life as the wildlife braces for the coming cold.