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Valley Garden Park is located on the Wissahickon formation of the Delaware Piedmont- an area of sediment deposition from the Appalachian mountains. The earliest record of land use history I could find was the account of the property being owned by the most prominent family in Delaware- the DuPonts. According to a plaque in the park, the land was partially forested and partially cleared for agriculture while under the ownership of Ellen DuPont in the early twentieth century, she later enlisted the help of a landscape designer to transform the area into a recreational space. There are remnants of stone structures and parts of equipment in the park that indicates a history of agriculture, however, many of the trees are several hundred years old which indicates that the area was not entirely cleared. Compared to my phenology site in Burlington, this site is far more homogenous in terms of tree species. Besides the decaying trees, which are far too decomposed to accurately identify, every tree on my site is an American Beech. One only needs to look at the golden brown forest floor to recognize the domination of the Beech species. Beyond the trees, I was able to identify a wild privet bush that was producing some black berries, ivy and two species of moss growing in the rock formation: Rhytidium rugosum moss and sheet moss. The complete absence of leafy plants growing on the forest floor directly contrasts my phenological site in Burlington. This is likely the case because this site is on a steep, and therefore dry, hillside while the site with more ground cover is located on the basin of a brook which supplies a greater amount of water and nutrients. In terms of animal species, I noticed that while I’ve observed both mammal and bird species in my Burlington site, I only observed bird species on this site. This likely occurs due to the fact that my site in Delaware, unlike my site in Burlington, is not close to a body of water and is located on a very steep hill which may be difficult for some mammals to climb. The birds I did observe, however, were in greater abundance than those I witnessed in Burlington. I spotted many robins, song sparrows, and even a red cardinal. There were no animal tracks to record, given that the snow was completely melted and there was no exposed mud, but I did notice that some of the berries appear to have been missing from the bush: a possible sign of bird visitations. Some cool observations: tons of lichen growing on rocks, beeches sprouting from the rocks, and tree growing around a metal sign!




Phenological Phases

The first visit to my site in March revealed that the few phenological changes that occurred resulted primarily from the increase in precipitation as of late. The soil, or what can be seen of it under the snow cover, appears entirely saturated from the months of snow cover and the recent quantity of precipitation that has fallen on Burlington. Additionally, the brook which runs through the center of my site appears to have slightly more movement than the last time I visited, reflecting the brief warming period that occurred last week. Obviously, the vegetation in my site has changed drastically from the first visit. From bright green, to an array of golds and coppers, to a sea of brown; my site has experienced every shade imaginable except for the lime green that sprouts from buds in late spring. Given that Vermont winter’s tend to linger, I don’t expect to see a change from the sea of brown for a while. The forest floor, reflecting these changes has shifted from exposed soil with an abundance of small leafy growth, to a carpet made entirely of fallen leaves, to a blanket of snow.


Ecological Community

Based on the “ecological potential” present at my site, I would classify the ecological community as a Northern Hardwood forest. Upon identifying the community that mirrored the composition of my site, I further researched the Northern Hardwood forest and discovered that many of the flora and fauna observations I had previously made were noted as identifying characteristics for the particular ecological community. Specifically, the most prominent tree species on my site (birch, maple and white pine) in addition to the undergrowth of moss and ferns match the description provided by the Green Mountain club. This organization also highlights the prevalence of animal species such as woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, and white-tailed deer– all species I have either witnessed firsthand or documented signs of. Fungal growth on trees is also listed as yet another defining characteristic of this ecological community. Throughout my time visiting the site, I have witnessed an incredible abundance and variety of fungal growth. Additionally, I would suggest that a portion of my site, the area which is closest to the brook, resembles the ecological community of a disturbance floodplain. The shape of the land, a basin of sorts, allows for water to flow down into the area and support undergrowth. The “disturbance” portion of the floodplain results from the fact that the site would serve as a favorable habitat for ecosystem architects– beavers in particular (many downed trees have appeared over the course of my visits).

Thompson, Elizabeth Hathaway., and Eric R. Sorenson. Wetland, Woodland, Wildland: a Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont. Vermont Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy, 2005.

“The Northern Hardwood Forest.” Green Mountain Club, 23 Mar. 2017, www.greenmountainclub.org/northern-hardwood-forest/.


Changes in My Site

The major difference between my site last semester and this semester is the thick blanket of snow that covers the entire area. The brook, which flowed freely in the fall, now is completely frozen over and most of the ice is also covered in snow. Not only are leaves absent from the trees, the snow covers all of the fallen leaves as well. Additionally, the once vibrant undergrowth of small leafy plants if snuffed out by over a foot of snow. Though lifeless at first glance, the deer tracks reveal that this site has been visited recently. Before, I only detected small animals at my site.

Twig Indentification

Unfortunately, my phone died from the cold before I was able to take photos of the twigs at my site. However, I was able to sketch multiple twigs and label their features. When the weather is more forgiving to my iPhone’s sensitivity to the cold, I will return to my site and attempt to capture actual images of the various twigs.

Signs of Animal Activity

Upon first entering my site, I came upon a very distinct set of what I believe to be whitetail deer tracks! The shape of the print clearly indicated that the animal was either a deer or moose, and since the tracks were no larger than 3″ in size, it is relatively safe to conclude that the animal was a deer. The pattern indicates a diagonal walker and the shorter stride reveals that the animal was likely smaller in stature- perhaps a fawn or doe. Other than these set of tracks, there were not many other signs of animal activity on my site. The unbroken blanket of snow and the fact that the possible foraging vegetation was covered in this snow meant that what activity might be occurring was hidden from me. Perhaps rodents were living in the subnivean zone and entered from a location inaccessible to me.

The Mink!

My only regret regarding my phenology blog is that I was not able to capture footage or picture of the American Mink on my site. So, though I’m no artist, I decided to draw a sketch of a mink similar to the one I saw at my site.

Additionally, with the past lecture in NR 1 discussing the methods in which animals prepare for winter, I felt inspired to do my own research on the mink in the winter.

Based on the information gathered from the Missouri Department of Conservation, I can conclude that the mink remains active during the winter. With thick fur and an ability to invade the burrows created by other organisms, the mink’s adaptions allow them to survive in the winter. In fact, mink even breed in the winter.

For future reference, I wanted to include information about snow tracks that this animal leaves behind in hopes that I will again discover this fascinating little creature on my site!

Source:

“American Mink.” MDC Discover Nature, nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/american-mink.

Winter Wonderland Winds

The last visit of 2018 to my phenological site provided me with a wintry scene. The snow was falling lightly and appeared entirely untouched by both human and wildlife prints. The entire site was covered with about a centimeter of light snow, however, there was a thick layer of ice covering nearly the entire site. This may have resulted from melting snow refreezing in cold temperatures or perhaps flooding of the brook that turned to ice when the temperature dropped. Though the icy ground cover surprised me, I was shocked to see that the upper trunk of a tree in my site had been blown off the lower portion by strong winter winds. The tree limbs covered a large portion of my site. Though I didn’t witness any wildlife at my site, the area was soon visited by an excited dog who investigated the brook.

Though the tale of Centennial woods’ underling geology is as old as the tale of earth itself, the history of Centennial woods, as we have come to know it, occurred 19,000 years ago with the retreat of the Laurentide glacial sheet in Northeast America. As the landscape was freed from the ice that had controlled the landscape for many years, growth of vegetation and immigration of wildlife began. This wave of life eventually came to encompass the Abenaki people, a native people of Northern America who have influenced the landscape of Vermont for thousands of years. The Abenaki people were primarily hunters and gatherers (with some agriculture occurring more recently; thus, the likely left the Centennial woods natural area as just that- a natural area. Whether Centennial Woods was a completely forest area is unknown; however, historians agree that a significant disturbance of the area likely began with the arrival of the European settlers. With the rise of agriculture that the settlers initiated, it can be inferred that Centennial Woods was owned by one or several farmers. In fact this inference is strengthened by evidence of barbed wire found within the forest, indicating fences either to keep livestock in or predators that would eat the crops or animals out. The more recent history of Centennial Woods is known more clearly. According to the Centennial Woods natural field guide, the land was owned by UVM alumnus Fred Fiske who purchased the land for agriculture. Given the presence of trees that are many decades old, it is likely that the farming operation was abandoned or the area was replanted prior to the sale of the natural area to the University of Vermont in 1974. Since then, the environmental protection of the area has been governed by the Board of Trustees. Today, the area is used both as a natural area for the public to enjoy and as a forest for UVM students to learn about ecological principles or conduct research.

Sources:

  • Klyza, Christopher McGrory, and Stephen C. Trombulak. The Story of Vermont a Natural and Cultural History. University Press of New England, 2015.
  • Borie, Louis. University of Vermont Natural Areas.  [Burlington, Vt.] : Environmental Program, University of Vermont, 1977.

Holland’s Comparison

The ecology of the phenological site in Centennial Woods and Valley Garden park share a human influence. Both Sites have been altered due to human use of the land; however, the way in which these uses influenced the land differ. The homogeneous composition of the Valley Garden site reveals that the stand of pine present resulted from the intentional planting of trees. The influence on Centennial woods is more subtle- the path alters the ground cover vegetation. The sites completely differ in species composition horizontally and vertically. The site at Centennial Woods possesses far greater diversity in species and levels or age of vegetation (ground cover, understory, overstory). Additionally, the Centennial woods site possesses greater diversity in micro-landscapes, containing a creek, flatland with leafy vegetation and a cliff. The Valley Garden site, however, is completely flat and remains uniform throughout the entirety of the stand. Though Centennial Woods contains a greater concentration of leafy vegetation in some areas, both sites are essentially covered in Eastern White Pine needles. As the vegetation in my local stand is entirely coniferous, the changes that occur from season to season are far more subtle than that of the coniferous and deciduous site in Burlington.

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