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A Fond Farewell

As I visited my phenology spot for the last time as a freshman in college, I couldn’t help but think back to the beginning of the year, and how different yet the same both the place and I are now. Though I do not consider myself a part of the place, I consider it a part of me. I cherish the time I’ve spent there, whether it was a quick trip in between classes, a few hours spent thinking and sketching there, or just passing through to show it to my friends. It has certainly made me feel a lot more connected with the land. Watching the seasons change, and seeing how the place reacted gave me a window into the broader landscape of Vermont, and helped me empathize with the people who live here now, as well as those who lived here before.

Then again, maybe I am part of the place. Though I’ve tried to minimize my impact as best I can, I’ve left footprints in the snow and the mud. I’ve listened to the birds, and maybe they’ve heard me too. Back in the fall when I was choosing a spot, I was drawn to this one by the chipmunks and squirrels that scampered across the bank. Since then I’ve noticed that they still pass through from time to time, just as I do. Who knows if I’m part of the place. All I really know is that I’m grateful for what it has taught me.

Spring has sprung!

Upon returning to my phenology spot this week, I was delighted to see how green it has gotten. Though there weren’t any wildflowers poking through the leaf litter, there was an abundance of vibrant green moss which carpeted the forest floor and draped over the trees and rocks. The trees and bushes were just starting to leaf out, but there were no full leaves. There were no wildflowers in sight, but some fiddlehead ferns were sprouting. I saw some more deer tracks, though, and instead of being in snow, as they had been so many times, they were in the mud. I also encountered more birds singing than I had before, and even came across a rectangular hole that a pileated woodpecker had drilled in a paper birch snag. I saw a slug on a fern leaf on the forest floor as well.

Georgia Forest

Over spring break I went on a training trip to Richard B. Russel State Park in Elberton, Georgia. We were on a pretty strict practice schedule, so most of my pictures are from our sunrise hikes/runs from our cabins to the boathouse. The forest was made up largely of pine trees, and the accumulation and decomposition of their needles over such a long time had turned the soils red, as shown below.

There are pines at my Vermont phenology spot, but they have nowhere near the effect on that landscape as they do here in Georgia.

Unlike at my Vermont site, there was very little understory growth in the Georgia forest. I concluded that this must be due to the thick layer of organic matter that carpets the forest floor. The herb layer would likely be smothered by pine needles and oak leaves before it could establish itself.

Each morning I set out on a two and a half mile journey to the boathouse. I tried to leave before the rest of the group so that I could listen to the birds sing as the sun came up without disruption. Those hikes and runs were one of my favorite things about the entire experience. As soon as I got on the trail I turned my lights off, and let my eyes adjust to the starlight. I made my way up the path, and though I struggled a bit at the beginning, as I became more familiar with the area and the sun started to peek above the horizon, following the trail became second nature. I began to recognize distinct bird calls that I had never heard before. Though unfortunately it was too dark for me to see the birds, I distinctly remember that their calls sounded much more like songs than the chirps of the birds at my Vermont spot.

Finally, although this was on the dock near our cabin, and not exactly in my phenology spot, an account of spring break would not be complete without mentioning the two reptile friends we made. They did not stick around, but seeing these two critters brought us a lot of joy.

Natural Community

My spot’s natural community proved difficult to identify, since the forest changes a lot depending on the bank, and how far from the brook the trees are growing. Conifers like eastern hemlock and eastern white pine grow up the slope of the southeast bank, away from the brook, while a few deciduous trees such as paper birch, American beech, and basswood are scattered closer to the water. The northwest side’s forest is comprised almost entirely of hardwoods including yellow birch, sugar maple, boxelder, and green ash. Taking this variability into account, I decided that the best fit for my phenology spot is Northern Hardwood Forest. It has the characteristic beech, yellow birch, and sugar maple of that natural community, as well as the cool, moist, loamy soil on a gentle to moderately steep slope. Finally, although the herb layer isn’t visible at this time of year, I know from previous visits that it matches the Northern Hardwood Forest’s description of being neither lush nor sparse.

Upon returning to my phenology spot I was delighted to discover a deer path that started on the far bank, crossed the brook, and continued on the other side before disappearing into the forest.

The recent snowfall has accumulated so that it is at least a foot deep in most places, and the cold temperatures have caused a layer of ice to form over the brook. The water still flows beneath it, and there are a few open patches in the ice, but it is for the most part inaccessible.

Winter Wonderland

The first sign of wildlife I encountered was a set of deer tracks in the snow. As I followed them, I noticed some broken twigs as further evidence of their activity.

I followed them backwards to see where the deer had come from, and traced them back to the brook. As it turns out, they came from the other side, and had made their way through the water to reach my site.

I also came across what I believe to be mink tracks. I had a little bit of trouble identifying them, as they seemed to go from one tree to another, leading me to believe that they were from a squirrel, however there were 5 toes instead of 4, so I ruled out the grey squirrel. By comparing the tracks with the visuals in my tracking guide, I determined that my best guess was a mink, and upon further inspection I realized that the tracks did not originate at the tree, but came from behind it, so mink made more sense.

 

I also encountered lots of winter twigs, and identified boxelder, basswood, eastern white pine, paper birch, and beech trees making up the forest. These are the same trees that have always been there, but the foot or so of snow on the ground made the place feel very different than it had in the fall. The brook seemed smaller, and yet more treacherous, and though I had seen the evidence of life, it was hard to believe that there really were any animals there. I did not hear any birds chirping or squirrels squawking like they did earlier in the year, and no chipmunks scampered across the banks. Nonetheless, it still felt peaceful there, as it always seems to. 

These are some close-ups of twigs I saw as well as a sketch of one:

When I returned to my phenology place for the final time, I was greeted with a new blanket of snow, higher water levels, and some fresh tracks.

Centennial woods was originally inhabited by the Abenaki tribe of Native Americans, however the City of Burlington acquired the land in late 19th century. In 1974, UVM acquired the land and set up regulations for taking care of the land now often explored by students and community members alike. There are a series of trails that wind through the diverse 700 acre area. Additionally, the meandering curves of the brook suggest that its path has not been majorly disturbed by human activity. My place is off the beaten path, and so is less disturbed by hiker traffic. However, the lack of old growth trees in the area suggests that there was disturbance at one point, likely by agriculture, especially since growing crops near a water source makes irrigation significantly easier.

 

Sources:

“Centennial Woods Natural Area: History.” UVM Libraries Research Guides at UVM Libraries, University of Vermont, 7 Mar. 2016, researchguides.uvm.edu/centennialwoods/history.

UVM Natural Areas: A Resolution of the Board of TrusteesUVM Natural Areas: A Resolution of the Board of Trustees, UVM Board of Trustees, 1974.

 

My Home Phenology Spot

My Phenology Spot back in DC was in Glover Archibald Park. This map shows the location:

 

Pictures of the new place, taken by Renee Hovanec.

 

Aldo Leopold Description:

This spot is one that I often walked down to in my childhood. It is not far from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet once I descend from the street into the park, I am met with a different world entirely. A building or two occasionally poke through the trees, but they are easily forgotten as the brisk November air and the smell of damp leaves wash over me. Most of the fall color has left the trees, yet it persists in the leaves on the ground, which is speckled with infinite shades of yellows, browns, and reds. There is not generally much wildlife to encounter here. Deer will sometimes pass through, and I hear the occasional bird song, however, there is one exception. The squirrels are out and about, seeming to defy gravity as the leap from branch to branch. They scamper up, down, and across the trees, sometimes alone, but often in pairs, with one chasing the other, in what reminds me of my childhood games of tag. One began to chatter and screech when it saw me, but soon was distracted and continued about its acrobatic feats. Eventually, the squirrels moved on to a different part of the woods, and my place returned to a more serene state.

Mary Holland Comparison:

Both of my Phenology sites include water features, with extremely variable water levels. In Centennial Woods, the variability is caused by the rain, snowfall, and snowmelt. In Archibald Park there has been very little snow due to the warmer climate, but the small pond that accumulated was due to the increased rainfall. While in Centennial, the water flows over rocks, around boulders, and under branches, the water in Archibald is perfectly still. Both places are off the beaten path, and are inhabited by small rodents: chipmunks in the former, and squirrels in the latter. By this point in the year, most of the leaves have also fallen from trees in both sites, though those in Archibald Park have more recently fallen than in Centennial Woods. Take a moment to listen and the occasional bird chirps will become clear. Each site has different species of birds, but both have fewer than they’ve had in the past few months due to many migrating South for the winter. One species they have in common, though, is the Pileated Woodpecker. They are very rare in Archibald Park and the surrounding metropolitan area, but occasionally their distinctive pecking can be heard to the delight of those who know its origin.

An Awfully Damp Dry Season

When I returned on November 5, I noticed that the water level was significantly higher than it had been on previous visits. Though I’ve heard that autumn is Vermont’s dry season, it’s rained pretty frequently over the past few weeks. I also noticed that with the new water level came a change in its flow pattern. Where water used to flow freely on either side of my central rock, now there was a pool of mostly stationary water. Additionally, almost all of the deciduous trees had lost their leaves, which had fallen to the ground and painted it yellow.

Event Map

Event Map of my visit to my phenology spot on November 5, 2018.

(Drawing by Renee Hovanec)

Bird’s Eye View

When I returned I noticed that the leaves had started to change. The colors were still predominantly green, but some leaves were starting to get a yellow tint. I once again saw the chipmunk (I like to think it’s the same one), and heard a few different bird calls, though I couldn’t identify them. I also heard squirrels chattering, though I couldn’t see them either.

(Drawing by Renee Hovanec)

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