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Final Post!

Here we are- last week of classes and last phenology blog. I would like to say summer is almost here but it is not. The first visit to my spot of this post was the coldest day so far, and this week was not so warm either. The cold weather may be why the frog activity has decreased so much. I didn’t hear any frog calls from the vernal pools or the open marsh last week, and I heard only a few scattered ones from the open water this week. I think the wood frogs are probably done mating. I hope tadpoles will hatch soon and eat some of the mosquito larvae (Fig. 1). The larvae were everywhere and were probably only a quarter of an inch long. They really seemed like fish, the way they moved in a school. At one point a big beetle swam toward them and they scattered in a very fishy way.

Figure 1: Mosquito larvae in a vernal pool (4/28)

The leopard and pickerel frogs might just be winding down their mating, or maybe it was too cold the days I was there. The wind chill was about 30°F last week but closer to 50°F this week. The landscape doesn’t look particularly springy either. There are small signs though- the buckthorn on the edge of the woods has leaves, and there are small herbaceous plants starting to grow in the vernal pools and on the forest floor. There was definitely a noticeable difference between the amount and size of green plants around one of the pools last week to this week (Fig. 2). Buds are appearing on some of the trees too, although it won’t look so green for another week or two. 

Figure 2: Vegetation difference in a vernal pool from 4/22 to 4/28

While the frogs laid low, there was just as much bird activity as previous entries. I actually saw two great blue herons, instead of the usual one who hangs around. I guess they were probably a mating pair- one had more prominent black bars than the other, so they could have been different sexes. One also let out a call, and boy was it not what I thought a heron would sound like. It was a horror movie scream. I wish I had gotten a recording of it- it was so out of place with its otherwise graceful appearance. 

Another bird I wish I recorded was a belted kingfisher diving into the water. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I looked it up later and it had the right color, size, and behavior to be a kingfisher, and belted is the only type we have here. It hovered like a hummingbird over the water for a few seconds before diving in. It didn’t catch anything, and flew away making a chk-chk-chk call. 

This has definitely been an unusual semester for NR2, but it was nice to be able to do my phenology blog here where it is easier to see a greater diversity of wildlife than in Burlington. This area of woods is a good place to run without running into anyone else, so I’m sure I’ll be back many times and I will be keeping an ear out for more frogs!

Figure 3: Beautiful blue sky!
notes 4/22
notes 4/28

Since my last post, I’ve kept going to my new quarantine spot at the edge of a marsh off the LaPlatte River every week. Things don’t look all that different than they did the first time I took notes three weeks ago- we are still deep in the infinite brown depths of mud season and there are no leaves on the trees yet. Looking a little closer, some ground cover has sprung up in patches, at least producing the illusion that spring is coming soon (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Leafy plants emerge from the leaf litter, promising more plants will start growing soon

Many of the most noticeable signs of spring and summer on their way involve changes in animal behavior. On the way there, I passed by a chickadee that had starting singing its song (Fig. 2), rather than the year-round chickadee-dee-dee call, meaning breeding season for chickadees has begun (Cornell, 2019).

Figure 2: a male chickadee’s song (4/6)

It is also breeding season for Eastern newts (Fig. 3), which are abundant in protected vernal pools like these, and mate early in the year because their offspring go through a long juvenile (red eft) phase (Riemland, 2000).

Figure 3: Eastern newts mating in a vernal pool (4/6)

Some wildlife haven’t really changed behavior since March. Cardinals, redwing blackbirds, and mallards all kept doing their thing, and the great blue heron has been hanging around too (Fig. 4).

Figure 4: Hard to see, but a heron sat on this log the whole time I was there a couple days ago (4/14)

The most obvious change between the end of March and these first two weeks of April is the frogs. The wood frogs in the vernal pools have still been going strong, but have now been joined by noise from the main marsh and open water. On April 6th, the marsh was absolutely filled with frog mating calls (Fig. 5), which together sounded like a malfunctioning boat motor. I didn’t see any but it was not hard to locate them. On the 14th, the same low, boat motor-sounding calls could be heard, but they were fewer and came from easily distinguishable individuals rather than seeming to come from one great mass (Fig. 6). I think this was because it was five or ten degrees warmer and much sunnier the first week, and since amphibians are cold-blooded, they are much less active in colder weather. I am interested to see what they will be up to next week.

Figure 5: frog mating calls from the marsh 4/6
Figure 6: frog mating calls from the marsh 4/14

I can’t tell if they were leopard frogs, pickerel frogs, or a mix of both. The species are very similar. I think the nearby frogs in Figure 6 are pickerels, because their calls are lower in pitch (Amphibian Life, 2020). It would be easier to tell if I could see them- leopard frogs are green with round black spots, while pickerel frogs are brown with black square spots (Amphibian, 2020). I can only remember seeing leopard frogs around here, not pickerels, but I might just have not known the difference. However, both of their ranges include Vermont, and they both have breeding seasons that center on April (Amphibian, 2020).

Figure 7: a bonus friend!

notes 4/6

notes 4/14

References

Amphibian Life. (2020, January 29). Leopard Frog vs Pickerel Frog. Retrieved from https://www.amphibianlife.com/leopard-frog-vs-pickerel-frog-do-you-know-the-differences/

Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2019). Black-capped chickadee. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/sounds

Riemland, S. (2000). Notophthalmus viridescens: Eastern Newt. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://animaldiversity.org/site/accounts/information/Notophthalmus_viridescens.html

Everybody’s phenology blog is going to be pretty different, mine included. I was still on campus last week for the first round of notes, and I went to a small patch of woods between Redstone campus, the track, and the golf course. I don’t really live near there but it looked like people used the area a lot- there were some paths, a plank set up on a log as a bench, and some metal rings with frayed rope nailed into trees which had grown around them. It was a pretty trafficked place and human-dominated spaces could be seen easily in all directions. What drew me in there was the crazy number of small animals running around- mostly robins, squirrels, and chipmunks. They were not bothered by me at all and kept right on doing their thing. It probably wouldn’t have been an ideal permanent spot, but I still enjoyed watching the squirrels and chipmunks.

Now I’m moved back home in Shelburne. Today I went out through the field behind my house and into the woods, where the Laplatte River is surrounded by a web of marshes and ponds before it enters the lake. It’s different from Redstone woods in pretty much every way: I didn’t see anyone else the whole time, there are no human buildings or spaces visible, and the ecosystem is interior deciduous forest, wetland, and open water instead of deciduous forest and edge. These characteristics made for very different animal species composition. As a very small and non-rigorous study, I set a timer for 5 minutes and counted all the animals I heard or saw and sorted them by species. (I tried not to double-count.)

Fig. 1: Number of individuals observed by species over a 5 minute period in Burlington


Fig. 2: Number of individuals observed by species over a 5 minute period in Shelburne (wood frog was left out to preserve scale because there were at least 20-30)

Interestingly, I observed only one of the same species in both places (fig. 1 & 2) even though many of them include both Shelburne and Burlington in their ranges. One important factor was the water in Shelburne, for the ducks and geese especially. Same goes for the wood frogs. On the other hand, I didn’t see any chipmunks or squirrels today (I’m sure they were there, but not so many or so unafraid of people (fig. 2)). Overall, there was a striking difference in species composition between the two spots, especially considering how close together they are geographically (fig, 3).

Fig. 3: Geographic locations of the Redstone Woods spot (A) and the LaPlatte marsh spot (B).

Something that really stood out to me today were the frogs. I thought it would be too early in the spring for any amphibians, but as I approached the marsh, the sound of wood frogs going crazy was loud and intense. They were all concentrated in the network of vernal pools on the edge of the marsh, and stopped croaking when I got within a few feet. In the interest of the new time-based guidelines, I decided to research a little bit about the life cycle of the wood frog. 

Fig. 4: Wood frogs call for a mate in vernal pools

As with all amphibians, wood frogs begin their lives in the water. Eggs hatch between 9 and 30 days after they are laid, usually in early to late March, then grow into tadpoles in the ponds or vernal pools they were laid in (Vermont, n.d.). Once they are juveniles and matured enough to hop around they leave the water and live on land, eating insects, arachnids, worms, snails, and slugs (National, n.d.). Up to 70% of wood frogs will be killed by predators before they can mature to adulthood (Vermont, n.d.). When the year gets shorter and the temperature drops is when wood frogs perform their most famous feat. As soon as the ground temperature drops below freezing, wood frogs release an enormous amount of glucose into their bloodstream- as much as 200 times the usual amount- which acts as antifreeze and preserves their vital organs while most of the water in their bodies turns to ice (Vermont, n.d.). Wood frogs’ bodily functions stop completely over the winter, sometimes for many months. When spring comes, though, they thaw out, and continue as if nothing ever happened. Wood frogs breed relatively early, in early to late March (National, n.d.). They congregate in vernal pools and shallow ponds, and males release a distinctive “duck” mating call (fig. 4) until they breed (Vermont, n.d.). After breeding, females lay thousands of eggs (National, n.d.). Wood frogs typically live up to three years in the wild (National, n.d.). 

Fig. 5: Great blue herons can’t get corona, right?

References

National Wildlife Federation. (n.d.). Wood Frog. Retrieved March 31, 2020, from https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Amphibians/Wood-Frog

Vermont Center for Ecostudies. (n.d.). Wood Frog. Retrieved March 31, 2020, from https://vtecostudies.org/wildlife/amphibians/wood-frog/


notes 3/26
notes 3/31

February: Survival

Things at Redstone Quarry looked remarkably similar to when I visited in January at first glance. There was about the same amount of crusty snow, there were still no leaves coming in, and there were a lot of dog prints as always. However, a closer look showed that the winter was very much getting on. For one thing, even though there was a similar level of snow, there had been a major blizzard at the beginning of the month. Branches had been knocked down and the cattail marsh had been significantly flattened. This could have reduced habitat for birds and other wildlife who like to forage and shelter in the protected spaces within the marsh.

February (above) vs. January (below) at the same patch of cattails. Even though there was about the same amount of snow each time I visited, heavy snowfall (especially from the blizzard a few weeks ago) matted down the dried-out cattail reeds.

Another difference was that there was noticeably more bird activity. My two visits are a pretty small sample size, but I did see and hear a lot more birds than last month. One bird that I encountered quite a bit but saw only once or twice in January was the cardinal. I heard one call very loudly as I arrived at Redstone Quarry:

a cardinal sings, with chickadees and tufted titmice in the background

After texting my dad to ask my mom to confirm its identity, I tried to document all the cardinal signs that I saw. It turns out that the bright red of a male cardinal may catch the human eye, but the same is not true for a phone camera. The cardinals seemed to like the very top of the cliff, which was protected from predators but still had lots of bushes and vines to hop around in. This, plus the fact that the sun hadn’t risen over the cliff yet, made it hard to see birds on a camera- however, I did get a nice view of one in the sun on the way back to campus which was exemplifying cardinal’s preference for ground foraging ( ).

A male cardinal on the top of the cliff at my spot in Redstone Quarry, and an easier to see one next to Ledge Road (plus some extra wildlife I saw even further on the way back to campus, which I think was a red-tailed hawk (Nature, 2019))

Cardinals are a common sight in the winter, because unlike most northern songbirds, they don’t migrate- they stick around all winter, eating whatever seeds and dried up fruits they can find because none of their preferred insects are around at this time of year (Kaufmann, 2020). One of the ways cardinals adapt to the winter is by foraging in mixed-species groups (Kaufmann, 2020). I saw them accompanied by chickadees and tufted titmice, two other staple songbird species of the winter months. Grapevine is also an important species to the cardinals at Redstone Quarry. My guess is that old grapes growing on the cliff, relatively protected from predators, are an important food source for cardinals as well as many of the other birds in the area.

I can’t wait for spring……

Works Cited:

Kaufmann, K. (2020). Northern Cardinal. Retrieved February 26, 2020, from  https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/northern-cardinal

Nature of New England. (2019). Red-Tailed Hawk. Retrieved from http://www.nenature.com/RedTailedHawk.htm  

Moving to Redstone Quarry

I am in a new phenology blog spot this semester. My old spot was nice, and it was close to campus, but it was pretty small and in close proximity to a road which became much more significant after the leaves fell and the illusion of privacy was gone. I chose Redstone Quarry, because I happened to visit it for the first time last week and not only was the road noise much quieter, but there was much more visible wildlife and plant diversity. I was especially drawn to the southernmost part of the cliff, which I can only describe as birdageddon. The rock is almost completely covered in grapevine and other sturdy plants, which combined with the cliff provides birds with a safe place to forage and nest, protected from predators and the elements. I watched a group of chickadees and titmice do their thing from just a foot or two away- they seem fairly used to people, which makes sense considering Redstone Quarry is a UVM natural area.

There was significantly less bird activity when I returned this week, although it was about 8 in the morning and chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches- some of the most commonly seen winter songbirds in Vermont- prefer to forage when the day has fully arrived and it is warmest (Foote et. al., 2010). 

The heeby-heeby-heeby call of an early foraging tufted titmouse can be heard starting at 0:12 against a background of other birds farther away on the cliff. A crow calls from the opposite direction, around the houses on Redstone Terrace, at 0:26.

The tree cover directly around my spot is mostly made up of white pine, green ash, and paper birch trees- many of them probably planted as part of the housing nearby. There are also a lot of wetland plants like cattails and smaller trees and shrubs like dogwood.

parts of a green ash twig

While the snow below the cliff was either marked up by human and dog visitors, or over wetlands not frozen enough to investigate, the trail between Redstone Quarry and Ledge Road was full of tracks.

Eastern cottontail tracks

I believe that these are eastern cottontail tracks- they are the tracks of a galloper, with groups of four that have larger hind paws than front paws, which means that it was probably a squirrel, rabbit, or mouse. The tracks are too big to be a mouse, and the staggered front paw pattern indicates a land animal, not a tree animal, ruling out a squirrel (Levine, 2014). Eastern cottontail is by far the most common rabbit in the area, and it would be especially rare to find a New England cottontail or snowshoe hare in a suburban, very limited habitat like this (MacDonald, 2020).

White-tailed deer tracks

I also found what I am fairly confident are white-tailed deer tracks, which might be surprising considering that the area is surrounded by roads and houses for a while before more open area. I don’t know what else they could be, though. The distinctive hoof impressions rule out any non-hoofed animal, and white-tailed deer are the only wild ungulates besides moose in Vermont. It’s pretty unlikely no one noticed a moose roaming around Burlington (still could have been a rogue cow). The tracks pictured here with my foot for reference also fall within Levine’s guidelines of 6-9 cm track length and 3-7 cm width (2014).

References

Foote, J. R., D. J. Mennill, L. M. Ratcliffe, and S. M. Smith (2010). Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Levine, Lynn. Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Pocket Guide. East Dummerston, VT: Heartwood Press, 2014.

MacDonald, Michael. (2020). Natural History and Human Ecology 2- wildlife tracking. [lecture].

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