January has passed, and we enter the month of February. February is the month of survival, as well as many changes. The following excerpt from Naturally Curious is an excellent description of February.
February is complex month – at the same time many creatures are fighting for survival, others are bringing progeny into the world. Deep snow can mean starvation… the stirrings of spring have begun, albeit often under several feet of snow (Holland, 2010).
While the floor was thicker in ice, the forest felt more alive. There were birds audible throughout my walk, and I was lucky enough to pet a few dogs during my trip. As I went higher in elevation towards my site, I spotted a few tracks that I identified to be a domesticated dog.
A previous lecture from Professor. McDonald explains the distinction between the ferril and domestic dog track (McDonald, 2020). A domestic dog has several indicators that help determine the species. They tend to have longer nails because they are not walking as frequently, which does not allow them to “grind them down” in a sense. Also, their toes are not as strong as other canines, and therefore the toes will point in a different direction. When looking at other canine prints that are not domesticated, you can see a clear enough distinction.
When I first arrived at my location, there was little sign of animal activity. It was even harder to find tracks due to the warm temperature, which was melting the snow quickly. However, I spent about 20 minutes at my site and just sat to see if maybe wildlife would be more apparent after I settled. To my delight, I was correct and began to hear birds chirping. I looked above to see if I could find the exact tree or nest where the chirping was coming from but, no such luck. As an educated guess, I would say the chirps resembled a Yellow Warbler most closely. According to The Cornell Lab, “Yellow Warblers use a variety of short chip notes, some with a metallic sound and some with a lisping or buzzing quality. Males sometimes other chip notes with their songs, and females may answer a song with a high-pitched chip.” (Medler, 2015).
The Yellow Warbler
Taking a closer look at the Yellow Warbler, they mostly live in open woodland habitats, and they tend to nest in shrub-like areas. Near my phenological site, there are several young trees and shrub species, which would explain why I heard a warbler. Some tree species that Yellow Warblers tend to nest in are honeysuckle, white cedar, and willows, which are all present in Centennial Woods (Medler, 2015).
Yellow warblers are insectivores and frequently feed on beetles, midges, and caterpillars. According to Cornell Labs, “Yellow Warblers forage along slender branches of shrubs and small trees, picking off insect prey as they go or briefly hovering to get at prey on leaves.” (Cornell, 2019).
I was suspicious about the bird I heard being a Yellow Warbler because I assumed they had migrated for the Winter but, upon further investigation, they are still around in Vermont during February.
I visited my site on the warmest day since the beginning of the semester. As a result, I noticed several phenological changes, such as compressed and wet snow. This did make it harder to track, but it did allow me to get a glimpse of the grass near the stumps of trees. This is the first sign of vegetation, which gets me very excited for the Spring.
I took an up-close view of the twigs nearby, and there was little sign of change from my last visit. There were still buds but no sign of further blossoming. There were still no signs of vegetation growth.
Cornell University. (2019). Yellow Warbler Life History, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow_Warbler/lifehistory#food
Medler, M. (2015, May 3). Yellow Warbler Sounds, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow_Warbler/sounds
Robert-Hamilton, D. (2018). [Graph depicting the difference in tracks of a dog, a wold, and a coyote]. Retrieved from https://i.pinimg.com/736x/01/d8/8b/01d88b9bab9f4577ad10714b6f19a0a5–wolf-spirit-silhouette-portrait.jpg
McDonald, M. (2020). Winter Tracking and the Subnivean Zone [Powerpoint]. Retrieved from https://bb.uvm.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_140174_1&content_id=_3215632_1