February: Survival

The day I finally had time to trek over to my phenology spot was frigid. Unlike some of the warmer days of February, where I had finally heard the happy chirps of birds, it was silent. No animals- or people- in site. The snow was compacted and icy. Overall, not as pleasant as my phenology treks in October.

Figure 1. (2020) The sun shining through on my walk to my phenology spot.

Phenological Changes:

My spot looks eerily similar to January. The trees are still barren, the ground is still covered in snow. Not a whole lot has changed. It is colder this month and felt more barren than before. But there were no new signs of growth or buds. Very similar to January.

Eastern Grey Squirrel:

Tracks are difficult to find once the snow ices over and I could only, like last time, really identify grey squirrel tracks. I was there during a particularly chilly day and saw no physical animals but was able to find scat and urine all surrounding trees with big leafy nests. The scat was dark brown and round, less than a half inch long and in clusters and the urine was reddish orange. I researched it to determine if it was blood or not and the reddish color could be from several factors: myoglobin from muscle breakdown can darken urine, oxidation, diet, and dehydration are all factors that make this normal (Rouen 2007). The scat, tracks, and urine all made it clear a grey squirrel had visited the area. I additionally found to areas the snow was dug up and covered in leaves, both believed to be food caches.

These resilient creatures do not hibernate, instead they survive off of stored fat and their food caches. On days that are not too cold (give or take 30 degrees Fahrenheit) and are not snowing or raining, the squirrel will spend time outside foraging for food (The Pennsylvania State University 2002). Their food source consists mostly of the high protein nuts and fruit of trees like acorns. These nuts have high caloric value and store well through winter but a squirrel loses a lot of energy going to search for caches. A cache is a spot where squirrels will bury their food to store for winter. It is an innate behavior of squirrels and they may even dig fake caches if they believe a competitor is watching (The Pennsylvania State University 2002)! If they are unable to find these caches though and continue foraging, they will quickly lose fat and can easily die. Eastern grey Squirrels are diurnal, so are really only active during the day. On days that are too cold and during the night eastern grey squirrels will live in well insulated dens, often sharing them with other squirrels to stay warm in the winter (Orkin Canada 2019). Many Squirrels mate in January, and then later spring, so are currently not mating and may be developing a child. Most adult squirrels can build these dens in just one day. They are in essence twigs and leaves woven together often lined with moss, grasses, or even pine needles (Mueller 2017). February for a squirrel is about survival most. They have to be wary of birds of prey, their most prevalent predator: hawks and owls. By staying in their dens at night, grey squirrels can minimize the risk of owl attacks but hawks are a serious threat for them as well. Often in more suburban areas house-cats can actually be dangerous predators. In summary Eastern grey squirrels are just trying to get through winter alive.

Eastern grey squirrels in my phenology spot have a deep connection to the tree species: Sugar maple. While observing I noticed most of the scat and urine I found was under sugar maple trees that contained big leafy dens. These trees are a vital structure to allow the squirrels to create stable and safe homes. I did not observe nests in any other tree species in my area, probably because the sugars were the most stable. Red squirrels, a different species than I observed nut still in area, are known for actually eating the sap of these trees in late winter early spring when their caches run out. Red squirrels and grey squirrels will eat sugar maple buds and flowers, it is a vital food source for them (Holland 2015). This species is very helpful in providing survival for these creatures in the winter.

Snow in one area, further in the woods, looks littered with red blood. I did not go closer to it but it makes me wonder if it was the spot a Red tailed hawk or bird of prey could have snatched an eastern grey squirrel. This is one of their most prevalent predators in Vermont. Many red tailed hawks leave Vermont in the fall, returning in March to breed, but there are still many to be found in the empty branches of trees throughout the winter (VT Fish and Wildlife 2020). While a more common source of prey for them is smaller rodent like mice, they have been recored catching squirrels a lot. If in a tree an eastern grey squirrel may be able to maneuver around the hawks grasp and avoid being caught, but that is often not the case (Hinterland 2020). Because both red tailed hawks and eastern grey squirrels are diurnal, or active in the day, it creates a stressful predatory dynamic between the two.

Field Notes:


Eastern Gray Squirrel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/graysquirrel.htm

Eastern Grey Squirrel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/eastern-grey-squirrel.html#sid2

Holland, M. (2015, February 20). Red Squirrels & Sugar Maples. Retrieved from https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/red-squirrels-sugar-maples/

Mueller, J. (2017, November 21). Nesting Habits of Gray Squirrels. Retrieved from https://animals.mom.me/nesting-habits-gray-squirrels-3948.html

Red-Tailed Hawk. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/vermont-critters/birds/red-tailed-hawk

Rouen. (2007, February 21). Red urine? Retrieved from https://www.homesteadingtoday.com/threads/red-urine.168350/

Where Do Squirrels Nest In Winter?: Orkin Canada. (2019, April 19). Retrieved from https://www.orkincanada.ca/blog/squirrels-in-winter/

January: Endurance

It has been a while since I have last visited my spot. It looks different but it is comforting to know underneath all the snow, it is still the same. While it goes through its natural changes, the sun that lights up the canopy is still the same, many of the resident squirrels still call this home from the fall, and the thick trunks of the maples still stand strong.

Phenological changes:

Pretty much all the leaves have fallen from the trees except for a few scare conifers. The bustle of chipmunks and hawks and squirrels I saw in the fall is gone, the woods are much more quiet. The quarry pond I’ve walked past several times before was almost entirely frozen for the first time! All the ground cover trees are covered in snow.


Finding tracks here in the woods was initially difficult. Many were muddled or very hard to identify but what I did see a lot of is squirrels. What I identified as grey squirrel tracks were the most abundant tracks I was able to find. Grey squirrels are bounders, so their back feet are in front of their front feet in the tracks. The hid feet are longer than the front. But I can also tell that these tracks are from a tree dwelling creature as opposed to a ground-dwelling bounder, because the front feet are directly next to each-other as opposed to skewed. I compared the newer tracks to my ID book and found they are more similar to grey than red squirrels. Which makes sense since I documented many grey squirrels back in the fall.

Separately I found some other interesting indicators of animals in my spot!

Twig ID:

Twigs! I feel I was finally getting good at identifying tree leaves when the started to fall. Buds are much harder. On some of the older growth tall trees like many of the sugar maples in my spot, I cannot even find branches to identify because the twig growth starts so high and I have to resort to bark ID. I could tell the twigs I identified were sugar maples because of their cone shaped buds, their opposite lateral buds, and the reddish brown color of the bark. Here is the list of twigs and trees I COULD identify:

(3) Sugar Maples 1 American Beech 1 Unknown

Here is a Sketch of a Sugar maple twig I saw, as well as some pictures!

Sugar Maple Drawing Labeled
field notes 1/27/20

Sense of Place: The Freedom Trail

I have very strong connections to the town I grew up. I spent much of my childhood and developing years exploring the parks and woods of Trumbull Connecticut. I have been very fortunate to grow up in a town with several parks and trails. And while I equally admire the more urban areas and street I lived on, for this post I am going to be focusing on the place I have the strongest connection to and feel the most attached, the Freedom Trail.

Throughout my several years of living in Trumbull, I have created countless memories walking along the Freedom trail. It is a staple in my small town and has significance in the majority of the residents lives. Let me describe it to you. This man made trail sits in the middle of civilization and nature. You can enter by parking your car at the end of a quiet street and climbing a staircase until you reach the path. The beginning of the trail has a canopy of tree cover, but the urbanized land around you is still visible. It is easy to see houses and hear cars. As you walk farther along the beaten down dirt trail, the houses start to turn to trees until suddenly you are in the middle of the woods. I can see small running streams and rivers from my elevated place on the trail. But if you decide to climb off of the path, you can be rewarded by less traveled quieter paths that run through the woods. Each mile you walk is marked by a bench, donated from the local PTA. You could walk for hours and still not be done, the Freedom trail stretches way into neighboring towns. Ecologically, it is beautiful. The city planners designed it well.

From a personal sense this trail as been formative in who I am today. My sense of place and connection with my town is entirely characterized by my memories on this trail. Thinking back upon those memories, I remember the many after school walks with my mom and dogs when I was little. The first time I ran a mile without stopping and the joy I felt reaching the wooden bench waiting for me. I remember how it turns to ice after the first winter freeze, making it hard to walk without a pair of spikes. The many afternoons spent getting in shape for my high school field hockey tryouts burn in the back of my brain. This is where I would go for walks after school with my friends talking about college and our futures and never wanting to leave. Here, amongst the scuttle of squirrels and chirping of birds, I have listened to hours of good music and good podcasts. This trail IS my sense of place. 

Returning home the trail welcomed me back. It was the same. But I was different. I seemed to pay more attention to the tree species and plants around me, delighted that I could identify more than when I left home. I was able to understand why certain parts of the trail had eroded and others stayed the same. My appreciation for the Freedom Trail has grown since being at UVM. I know as the climate changes, it will too, The increasing intense storms will cause it to weather faster and start to become just a part of the mountain side. The species living there will change, as a warmer climate will drive many out. It will be very different and the whole town will morun. This trail has been a home to so many memories and stories. My sense of place within my town has grown because of this natural beauty.

A painting I did of the trail.

Sense of Place

Hello again! Welcome back to my blog! It is currently snowing out as I write this! YAY for Vermont winters! It’s hard to even recognize my place as its covered in the white powder! Walking to my spot I noticed the Quarry completely frozen over. My path was blanketed in white and the bright fall colors were nowhere to be seen. It feels slightly more empty now that the trees are barren and the forest is covered in white. I have started to create a strong attachment to my place as I walk to visit it weekly with my friend Grace. And as I start to connect and create and attachment to this place I have decided to think about those before me, humans and nonhumans who have also made connections to these beautiful trees and plants.

Clearly we are excited about the snow…

Changes in Phenology…

There are many changes going on currently in the Redstone woods. Just a few weeks ago I saw dozens of chipmunks scurrying around collecting nuts. Now the woods were much more silent. I saw one grey squirrel and one rabbit as I walked to my place. The forest floor is peacefully quiet, but it is different than before. It is completely blanketed in snow, the aster flowers and small plants trying to establish themselves in the soils weeks before are now covered with the cold veil of death. While I still heard the chirping of birds, it felt different as I looked up and could actually see the sky. There are no leaves left on my trees now, meaning there is much more light entering through the canopy. I was the first to visit spot since the snow, there were no other footprints or human activity. I feel connected to my place differently as it gets colder than I did while it was fall. I personally felt a stronger sense of place with the colorful leaves, as I have a strong personal connection to fall. Now as it is colder and I need to bundle up to walk over, I feel slightly more dislike towards the place. This in no means however suggests I no longer feel a strong sense of place in my spot, as I love to document its phenological changes and feel myself change with it.

From a larger point of View…

Looking at my space as a component of larger area I can see the benefits it has for both UVM and Vermont. At UVM even though it is just a small natural area, It provides the students with access to a green space which is both a physical and mental health benefit. It helps to diversify and make campus more visually appealing, this natural area is the backdrop of a parking lot, without it the campus would seem like dreary concrete. Besides health and visual benefits this area also helps to preserve many of Vermonts valuable natural species. While this natural area is small, it is still important in biodiversity conservation and animal habitats. I have seen countless small mammals scurrying through it, the tall oak trees provide food and shelter for these animals. I also see lots of native species growing within my spot, which helps to strengthen Vermonts biodiverse ecosystem. While this spot works to bring nature and animal habitats onto UVMs campus it also helps on a larger scale. Looking at this place in terms of its value to Vermont, it provides yet more natural land that sequester carbon, mitigate climate change, and create a diversity of native genes. You can almost never go wrong with natural areas!

Historical Value…

This natural area separates the UVM campus and the neighboring golf course. It was probably manually planted with the very intention of doing that. The forest, while it serves a purpose also provides a beautiful place for students on campus. I know several students who love this small area of woods because it provides privacy to go sit in nature with your thoughts. I imagine in the 19th century my place was probably not around at all and was mostly farm land. While someone may have had a connection to that place it is very different than my sense of place is today, seeing I cherish it for its tall trees and natural area. Historically numerous other students have probably found their own reasons to be attached to these woods.

In conclusion…

Winter means lots of new things for my spot! The animals are changing- or should I saw hibernating. The trees are bare and the forest floor is more bare. It is colder out and everything is covered in snow. While this is a slow season for forest productivity I still see much going on. Walking back I noticed the roads covered in the ironically cheery rainbows of oil. As salt is placed on the road and pollutants like this oil start to run off into the woods and water bodies, I wonder the damage it will cause. Vermont winters are brutal and we are just getting started.

Field Journal

Adventures in Mapping!

Me! October 30, 2019

My Core Species.

While in my spot I chose 6 species to photograph: Blue Cohosh, Red Legged Grasshopper, Some unidentified bird of prey, a Sugar Maple, an Eastern chipmunk, and another unidentified plant species. At this point many plant species are starting to disappear in preparation for Vermonts cold winter. The tree species In my area are the stable plant species that will survive and stand all weekend, however the other smaller plants like Cohosh will not flourish for much longer. The chipmunks are ready to hibernate and the birds will migrate and come back in the spring. There was less to see than early October but I am predicting more than I will find next week. I identified the species as much as I could using inaturalist but could not identify everything.

Common name: Blue Cohosh, Scientific name: Caulophyllum thalictroides, Family: Berberidaceae, Rank: Species, Higher classification: Caulophyllum

Common Name: Red Legged Grasshopper, Scientific Name: Melanoplus femurrubrum, Order: Orthoptera Rank:  Species, Higher classification: Spur-throated grasshoppers, Phylum: Arthropoda, Family: Acrididae

Common Name: Sugar Maple, Scientific name: Acer saccharum, Family: Sapindaceae, Rank: Species, Order: Sapindales Kingdom: Plantae

Common Name: Eastern Chipmunk, Scientific name: Tamias striatus, Lifespan: 3 years (In the wild), Order: Rodentia, Rank: Species, Higher classification: Chipmunk

Unidentified Bird, My Guess: Rough-Legged Hawk

Unidentified Plant, My Guess: no idea

Changes In My Spot

It is crazy how much has changed in just the two weeks since I last visited my sight. The trees are bare while the forest floor is covered in brown and orange leaves. The chatter of chipmunks, while still present seems more subdued than before. Sitting for the same amount of time, I saw less of them running about. Everything seems darker and less lively than before. I have included two photos below of the same cluster of trees and how different they look now. The leaves are quickly falling and covering the soil. I was unable to even see the dirt beneath me but the forest floor was hard. Since last week the trees have less leaves, the aster flowers I saw are gone, but most plants are still there.

The floor littered in oak and maple leafs.


This is the map I drew, I was able to easily identify the trees in my area but did not include all the trees in the area because there was too many and I couldn’t identify them all. The area I chose is right in the woods and is a big clearing. Making this map really helped me develop a better appreciation for my spot. As I drew it out and spent time amongst the plants identifying them, I started to find a real joy and excitement for doing it and had fun looking at my areas plants. It was harder than I thought it would be to try to include everything on the map. There are so many levels and layers of plants and within just a few feet is a mini ecosystem in itself. I wonder how much more I would see if I put some soil onto a microscope. There is a whole other microscopic world I did not even include in my map. Yet now, I feel more confident of my knowledge of the species in the area and want to show it off to my friends. I appreciate its complexity. Creating a map helped familiarize and appreciate all the areas of my spot.

My map!

My Field notes:

Meet My Place!

Hello! I am so very excited to introduce you to the place I will be observing for the next few weeks. She is very easy to find and loves visitors! Walk along side the back parking lot on redstone campus, in between the quarries. If you see a fence covered in wildflowers and grapes you are on the right track! These fall days have turned her beautiful trees the most stunning shade of red! I will include a photo below. Once you reach the end of the path turn right, you will now enter a densely covered wooded area. Occasionally you will find some motorcycles guarding her entrance, but don’t be put off. Keep walking straight and soon you will find a tree uprooted, lying across the forest floor. Stop. Look around. You have now found the spot of my phenology blog.

Breathe in. The fall air smells like wet leaves and fires. So very fall. In this spot you are completely covered, completely safe. A canopy of trees blankets the sky, leaving small spots for sun to shine through in golden rays. Sit on the tree in the clearing and observe. I will now introduce you to the trees.

If you are looking straight, sitting from the direction you came in from, on your right is a very tall sugar maple. This tree has strong cracked bark, and as you look up you will see the five pointed leaves in a shade of golden yellow. Your left side is also accompanied by a sugar maple, but smaller. Their leaves are still a summery shade of green. As your eyes move around the circle of trees you sit in you will find you are surrounded by five more sugar maples. It is interesting, I hope you notice, that although all the same species, they all wear fall colors differently. The majority of the trees are still green, with just a few leaves turning a lemon-limeish yellow towards the tops. Only one tree is a pure orange. The odd tree out is a tall beech tree A few shrubs of glossy buckthorn, with its circular shiny leaves fill in the surrounding area between trees. I notice a few plants of white wood aster, the white flowers happily peaking out under the fallen red leaves. The floor is littered with these fallen leaves, red and ready to say goodbye to the branches that have housed them so long. Soon they will become a part of the soil, one day helping another tree to grow.

Look Around!

now that you’re here… sit for a little bit! Look around. In the half hour I stayed, the forest started to open herself up to me. Listen. Surrounding the tree trunk I sat on, I heard dozens of little feet pattering around the leaves. Soon they will show their faces, little chipmunks, each cheek shoved with fallen acorns, chasing after one another in a game of tag. This is the season of burying and storing food for winter. Each chipmunk is scrambling, not wanting to be left behind.

Birds chirp, I hope soon I will be able to identify their calls. But for now they all blend together creating a peaceful serenade. Exiting the forest, I watched as a hawk circled over head. Perhaps looking for a chipmunk snack?

Field Notes

Date: October 15, Time: 4:44
Temperature: 54 F

Notes: sunny day, mid afternoon. 7 sugar maples in circle. 3 greenish-yellow, 1 red orange, 3 green. 1 beech. smells like fall. some fallen leaves on ground, mostly sugar maple. lots of chipmunks. 2. gray squirrel. 1 hawk, maybe red tailed.

Welcome to my blog!

I’m Libby, a freshman majoring in environmental studies at UVM! I will be documenting and tracking phenology changes in a section of woods over on the redstone campus at the University of Vermont. Here you will be able to find all of the beautiful process of nature as the unfold in real time! Get excited!