After a long break of brutally cold weather, my first steps back into my Centennial phenology location immediately elicited feelings of surprise. Throughout all my previous visits I was immediately greeted by a thick wall of bushes and vines, virtually eliminating any view of what lays to the Northwest of my location. However, upon entry the usual greeters were all dead/dormant, buried under snow revealing the clearing to the Northwest. Travelling further into the site added to my surprise as the usually turbulent brook was completely frozen over allowing for an easy crossing. On all previous visits I had to balance over the typically waterlogged trees that fell over the brook, leading to the occasional slip and inevitable feelings of regret for choosing such a difficulty traversed area as I continued working soaking wet. Needles to say, I was quite happy to see the frozen brook.

The complete burial of the thick undergrowth that I have become so accustomed to combined with the lack of leaves on all angiosperms created a sense of eerie lifelessness throughout Centennial Woods. This was added to by the complete absence of the usual bombardment of the sounds of the forest being that the most vocal of birds migrated for the winter. Though there was a general silence throughout my visit, it was occasionally disturbed by the creaking of trees blowing in the wind, heightening the sense of eeriness. One Eastern White Pine in my location was particularly noisy being that a partial downed angiosperm (that I could not identify) was resting on its branches, creating a symphony of creaks with each gust of wind.

Although the absence of noise created a sense of lifelessness, any brief observation of the snow underfoot would reveal that Centennial Woods is anything but lifeless. Throughout my site there were various sets of tracks in the snow, indicating the recent passage of a ground dwelling animal. With such a high prominence of people in Centennial a lot of the snow was previously disturbed, making identification difficult. However, after venturing slightly off the normal path I identified various tracks. 

This first track still greatly eludes me. Seeing as how there are four tracks with the back lacks being larger then the front two, I immediately assumed that the animal who made this is a galloper. My initial thought was that these prints belong to a Cottontail Rabbit; however, the stride length is much too great to belong to a cottontail so my next thought went to a Snowshoe Hare. Even still, the stride length appeared much to great for even a larger hare making me question if these four prints even belong to the same animal. A reevlaution of the front paws illuminated that they might be too inline with each to be derived from a galloper, further adding to my confusion.

This next set of track did not present much of a mystery. They were clearly made by a diagonal walker as there were only two prints indicating a direct register. The absence of toes and the shape resembling a hoof illuminated that these prints belong to an ungulate mammal. As these prints are rather small and the indent created by the “V” in the hoofs is not particularly deep, I believe that these are tracks belonging to a White Tail Deer.

Like the first track, this set of tracks also present a conundrum. Initially, I believed these tracks belonged to another diagonal walker because I believed there was only two prints for each stop. However,  reevaluating the gait pattern revealed that these belong to a pacer. These tracks were also different from the supposed deer tracks because there was a slight channel created as if the animal was dragging something, most likely a tail, leading me to believe they could belong to an opossum or beaver. The depth of the tracks stray me from this thought because such small animals would not be able to make such a deep impression in the snow. Also adding to the mystery is that fact that some of the clearer tracks showed two distinct holes as if an ungulate punctured  the snow with its pointy hoofs. Though I cannot say for sure what animal exactly made these tracks, following them (albeit outside the boundaries of my location) revealed my first sign apart from tracks of animal habitation: a pile of urine.

Although I identified these prints last semester I would like to revisit them in light of recent knowledge about tracking. Because I believed I saw an “X” mark in the track, I identified these prints as belonging to a fox. However, I now believe they are from a domestic dog because of the direction of the nail marks and distance between each toe. If these were from a wild canine one would expect to see all nail marks generally facing parallel to the direction of travel as opposed to pointing at various angles. Additionally, the distance between the toes reveals that the animal lacked the strength to keep its toes from splaying out upon impact, further emphasizing the idea that these tracks are derived from a wild canine.

As this was my first trip to Centennial where the deciduous trees had completely abandoned their leaves, this was the first opportunity to identify trees based solely on their twigs and buds. Throughout my site I identified a Sugar maple, Boxelder Maple, Norway Maple, and a Northern Red Oak (this last identification coming from prior knowledge of the area as opposed to the twig/bud method. Additionally, I identified a new species for the first time; what I believe to be a Shadbush based upon the hairs on the terminal bud.

Supposed Shadbush Twig and Bud

Twig Diagram, unidentified

p.s.- I’m sorry for the lack of twig photographs in the field, my phone died after only taking one from spending too much time taking pictures of tracks.