Parting Thoughts

My place may not be ideal for any of the typical outdoor recreation activities; however, my place is visited frequently as part of walks or even to just absorb the surrounding beauty of nature. There are distinct paths that indicate human (and canine) travel to the site. Additionally, since my site is a part of the University’s Centennial Woods Natural Area, it serves as an educational resource for students and members of the public alike. I do consider myself a part of my place.

Places are sculpted by every raindrop, every breeze and every frost. Just like these natural processes, my actions will forever be a part of the uniqueness of the place. I may not be as permanent as the ancient shale that can be found along the brook, but I am no less a part of my site as the mink that briefly swam in the Brooke or the Pileated Woodpecker who rested on the branch of an Eastern White Pine at my site. My new outlook of humans being a part of nature rather than detached agents will serve me as I connect to new sites in my hometown. When we consider ourselves as part of nature, we are more likely to tread lightly on the Earth.

When first entering my site location, I could see and hear two geese flying over my spot. They were likely returning to the Burlington area from their spring migration. Other signs of spring could be seen of the ground level as well– particularly, in the vegetation that was beginning to leaf out a bit more since the last visit. I even spotted some dandelion plants beginning to grow and fiddleheads expanding into ferns. There wasn’t much activity of terrestrial animals in my site, but there was a slug resting on one the trees– likely enjoying the damp conditions. In terms of aquatic changes, I noticed that the bank behind the rock which was flooding in April has now been completely incorporated into the path of the brook. The increased precipitation and the last of the snow melt has likely accelerated this process.


No flowers, but fungus!

At my site, there were no flowers beginning to sprout at the ground level and none of the trees were blossoming either. However, the appearance of the buds did change from my last visit. All of the buds have adopted a green color and some of the smaller woody plants have even begun sprouting leaves! In addition to the change in buds, the path of the river has expanded since the last time I visited. During the fall and winter, the brook was confined to the area behind the central rock of my site and there was a small silty bank. Now, however, the brook has taken over the bank and the brook flows in front of the rock as well as behind. This change is likely due to the snow melt and increased precipitation that is characteristic of early spring. I was disappointed in the lack of flowers at my site, but the fungus growing on several logs partially made up for what color was absent from flowers. An abundant amount of orange shelf fungus was growing on downed trees. Additionally, though signs of vegetative life were constrained to the small leafy plants that were finally beginning to reappear from the blanket of leaf litter and snow, I did hear some signs of wildlife. The birds did leave the trees long enough to capture images, but I did identify the call of a chickadee and a crow.

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.

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.

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