February: Survival

A species that I focused on this month is the eastern cottontail. While walking by my phenology site just after sunset, I saw a cottontail roaming underneath some shrubs but it was too dark for a picture. The next morning I re-visited my site and found that the tracks led to staghorn sumac and paper birch. It appeared that there were a few nibbled twigs on the sumac and chew marks on the birch bark. I was able to identify its galloper tracks in the snow by measuring an 11 cm straddle and using the Mammal Tracks and Scat Guide (Levine, 2014). According to Naturally Curious, eastern cottontails don’t dig holes like other rabbits. Instead they find coverage under woody vegetation or crawl into empty burrows from other animals (Holland, 2010). During the winter months they survive by eating the bark or twigs of woody plants such as willow, birch, white oaks or sumac bushes. During the day they usually hide in vegetation, while their most active hours are at dawn or dusk when they search for food. Their most common predator in areas similar to my phenology site is the great-horned owl (Holland, 2010). With this evidence, I was able to piece together a story for the little critter. On February 27th at dusk, the temperature was around 20 degrees Farhinheit. The eastern cottontail cautiously leaves its coverage under shrubs along the fencing of the retention pond. It gallops over to the staghorn sumac and paper birch in hopes to find some twigs, buds or bark to eat. It is important for the cottontail to eat as many calories as possible to stay warm. The staghorn sumac and paper birch are very important for the cottontails survival because there are very few other options for food during the winter, especially with the deep snow of February covering the understory shrubs. Luckily for this eastern cottontail, the sumac and birch aren’t far from coverage from the cold and great-horned owl. He eats enough calories to hopefully keep him warm through the night and returns to safety.

This month was fairly similar to January’s phenology. The main difference is that the snow is much deeper. I also noticed that the black-capped chickadees are eating the staghorn sumac berries more than last month. This may be because the branches of the trees are covered in snow and it is harder for them to find bugs. Another noticeable change is that the days are getting longer and the sun is setting later everyday. It was overall a pretty cold February, however, there were one or two days that showed small glimpses of spring. 

Works Cited:

Levine, Lynn. (2014). Mammal Tracks and Scat Life-Size Pocket Guide. Heartwood Press.

Holland, Mary. (2010). Naturally Curious. Trafalgar Square. 

Figure 1: Eastern Cottontail galloper tracks. 11 cm straddle. Levine, Lynn. (2014). Mammal Tracks and Scat Life-Size Pocket Guide. Heartwood Press.
Figure 2: Cottontail tracks heading towards stag horn sumac and paper birch
Figure 3: Staghorn Sumac
Figure 4: Fieldnotes

January; Endurance

My phenology site is the same location as the first semester. It is a retention pond located in between the Redstone Lofts and Wing Davis Wilks Hall. Before leaving in December I saw many changes through the months of Fall. Often times during my visits, I would see a cottontail rabbit and a pair of mallard ducks on the pond. Now during January, I have seen no evidence of the mallards nor cottontail. It’s no surprise that the mallards aren’t there anymore because they migrate, however, cottontails are active during January and I was surprised to not even spot any tracks. According to Naturally Curious, January is a month of endurance and active mammals must rely on food caches (Holland, 2010). This might mean that the cottontail may have moved to another area where its food caches were stored. While visiting, I did happen to hear the call of a black-capped chickadee and I found galloper tracks belonging to a gray squirrel according to the Mammal Tracks and Scat Life-Size Pocket Guide (Levine, 2014). I was also able to identify several tree buds including paper birch, basswood and sugar maple using the Winter Twig Identification handout (Watts, 1943). Compared to early December, the site has a thicker and more packed base of snow. The entire surface of the pond is also frozen.

Figure 1. Galloper tracks with a 4.5 cm length hind foot and 11 cm straddle. According to the Mammal Tracks and Scat Life-Size Pocket Guide, this indicates that the tracks belong to a gray squirrel.
Levine, Lynn. (2014). Mammal Tracks and Scat Life-Size Pocket Guide. Heartwood Press. (5).
Figure 2. A twig from a paper birch identified with alternate buds, light grey bark, reddish buds and catkins.
Figure 3. Sketch of paper birch twig. Labeled with Winter Twig Identification handout.
Watts, May Theilgard. (1943). Winter Twigs.
Fig 4. January field notes

Holland, Mary. (2010). Naturally Curious. Trafalgar Square.

Levine, Lynn. (2014). Mammal Tracks and Scat Life-Size Pocket Guide. Heartwood Press. (5).

Watts, May Theilgard. (1943). Winter Twig Identification. 

Extra Credit Prompt #2

During Thanksgiving break, I went to one of our favorite fishing spots in Buffalo New York. The fishing spot is on a stream called Eighteen mile creek, which runs through a town called Hamburg. This phenology site is similar to my usual one in Burlington because they both are part of watersheds that run into massive lakes. My site in Burlington is part of the Winooski watershed which runs into Lake Champlain, while this site is part of the Erie watershed which runs into Lake Erie. Therefore both sites have an effect on the amount of runoff and phosphorus that runs into lakes. The main difference between the two visited sites is that Eighteen mile creek is all natural where as the retention pond in Burlington is man-made and controls the water flowing into the lake. After doing some research I found some history behind Eighteen mile creek. The land around Eighteen mile creek was originally inhabited by the Seneca nation of the indegnous Iroquois people. The Seneca Nation’s name for the creek is Koughquagu. In 1812 settlers started taking over the land, but were afraid of the abundance of gray wolves and panthers. A five dollar bounty was made for each wolf and panther hide. This lead to both species being over hunted and their populations put into danger. Eighteen mile creek is surrounded by several types of oaks, maples and ashes. I’ve seen many species of wildlife around the creek including a few bald eagles. Brown trout and Steelhead use the stream for spawning between early October through May. I have been fishing on Eighteen mile creek since I was real young so I’d say my sense of place there is much better than my sense of place at the Burlington phenology site. Instead of being surrounded by a busy college campus, the fishing spot is a ten minute hike through the woods. This gives great nature aesthetics and I love closing my eyes and listening to the sound of the stream and birds chirp. During this visit my friend was lucky enough to catch a steelhead using an egg sac fly. My brother had a brown trout on the line, but it broke off. I didn’t get much action, but it was still nice getting a line wet.

Town. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.townofhamburgny.com/history/.


Sense of Place At Home

For Thanksgiving break I went back home to Orchard Park, NY which is a town right outside of the city of Buffalo. I’d say that my sense of place here is greater than anywhere else on Earth. I know my hometown like the back of my hand and could navigate around it blindfolded. After being away from my hometown for three months, I have gained a better appreciation for it. In high school I had always thought that I would want to travel far away and live the life of a vagabond. I dreamed about chasing new horizons and thought that the old saying, “home is where the heart is,” was just a cliche. Coming home for a short week reminded me of all the simple things that I have missed over the past three months. My most memorable sense of place in my hometown is my house, which is tucked away on a quiet road in a wooded area. My house was built in 1930 by a farmer and was constructed based on dutch colonial architecture. We have pictures of the house during its construction and the land around it was once baron with open fields. Now it is covered with a canopy of tall silver oaks and sugar maples. Towards the back of the yard is a big white barn with a pasture full of animals including goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, a pot-belly pig and a mean old goose. We’ve had several other animals in and out of the barn, but those are just a few honorable mentions. My mother is also a certified wildlife rehabilitator, so we get a few wild animals through the house now and then. Having all these critters around my house has given me a fascination for wildlife and is the leading reason why I chose wildlife biology as my major. While at home on break I found my sense of place with my animals, especially when my yellow lab named Finley would curl up in my bed. Another significant source of sense of place at my house is my family. My sister and mother usually fill the house with their long and loud chats about anything under the sun, while my brothers usually seek refuge in the garage to work on anything with an engine. Our house is usually a revolving door with my siblings constantly coming and going. Sometimes life at my house gets hectic, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. My favorite place to go outside my house is a state park called Chestnut Ridge, which has several shelters, trails and an overlook towards the city. It’s the perfect place to hang up some hammocks and chill out with my closest friends. During break I did just that and there’s nothing quite like laughing over all the trouble we used to get in high school. These bittersweet memories have painted an image of what my town is to me. Without memory there is no familiar sense of place. Orchard Park, NY would have no meaning to me if it wasn’t for the sense of place that I created there throughout my life. During my visit back home, my mind was filled with aesthetics that I hadn’t felt in months. Maybe home really is where the heart is. 

A picture of my house
My dog Finley in front of my brother’s truck with wind surfboards strapped on
Low quality pictures, taken with my 35 mm film camera, of the overlook at Chestnut Ridge Park

Phenology and Place

Through all of my visits at my phenology site, I have discovered a sense of place. Before this project, I used to walk past the small retention pond on my way to class and think nothing of it. Now I have discovered the characteristics of the site that make it what it is. Over the past month or so I have noticed many phenological changes that have occurred surprisingly fast during this short period of time. During the first week of the project many of the trees still had green leaves, which quickly turned to bright yellow, orange and red colors. As the weeks moved on the leaves peaked their brightness around mid to late October and then started to dull. I noticed two mallard ducks floating on the pond until migrating the first week of November. With no other animals spotted besides a cottontail rabbit, I wondered if the ducks will come back to the same little spot after winter. Many questions like this came along as I observed and visited my site more and more. Through mapping and observing, I also discovered how the pond was man-made to catch runoff from surrounding impermeable surfaces. I noticed that the rocks have little to no weathering and erosion indicating that the pond must be fairly new. I wondered about the history of the location before the man-made pond and surrounding buildings. I assume the site was once part of a cleared land on an 1800s farm before being sold to UVM. In terms of the sense of place component on a larger scale, I thought of the impact the little pond has on Vermont and Lake Champlain. I wonder how much phosphorus is filtered out of the water before being drained into Englesby brook and eventually into the lake. How much of an impact does my little site actually have on creating a more sustainable Vermont? Questions like these occur through the development of a sense of place. I would have never thought so deeply on a small site like this without viewing the area through different lenses. Like I said before, the site used to be just something I walked past everyday. I never would have thought about the location’s history or its impact on Lake Champlain or even wondered if the mallards would be back without finding a sense of place. 

Mapping and Charismatic Species

Over the last week I noticed a few changes of the surrounding vegetation. The bright October leaves have dulled and started falling off of the trees and the reeds around the pond have turned brown. The water level of the pond has also rised due to the rainfalls, which indicates that the retention basin is doing its job by catching runoff. I have also noticed that there is less algae on the surface of the water than last week. This may be because of the water being stirred around and the lack of sunlight for photosynthesis. Six organisms that I have observed at my site are sugar maples (Acer saccharum), basswoods (Tilia americana), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), shaggy mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) , an eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) and a pair of mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). The trees that surround the site are all young and have been planted recently. I noticed the mushrooms on October 30th at around 8:30 pm. I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed them while visiting the site earlier that day. After further research I found that they are called shaggy mane mushrooms, also known as lawyer’s wig mushrooms. I was also surprised to see that the two mallard ducks had green heads indicating that they are both males. I previously assumed that the pair would be one male and a female. I am curious as to why the two mallards haven’t started their migration to the south yet. I noticed that they are always diving down in the water so it could be possible that the pond is a good food source and the two ducks are trying to take advantage of it before leaving. For this assignment I mapped out my site. This gave me insight as to why the retention pond is located where it is. I noticed that the small basin is surrounded by impermeable surfaces such as a parking lot and residencies. It is definitely an efficient spot to catch runoff.

Drawn Map
Shaggy mane mushrooms also known as Lawyer’s Wig mushrooms
October colors are fading

Introduction to my place

My phenology site is located on the redstone campus on the left side of the Wing Davis Wilks hall. It is very accessible and I can walk to it from my dorm in a minute or less. The site is a man-made pond with fencing and planted vegetation around it. There are young basswoods, paper birch and several types of maples around it. A plaque states that it is classified as a wet detention pond and is considered to be one of the most efficient management practices for stormwater treatment. The plaque states that it is designed to capture 40% of the average annual post-development total phosphorus load around its area. After deeper research, I discovered that it was built by the American Society of Civil Engineers. A map of the pond shows how it is broken down into sections of different marsh depths. It states how each section controls the quality and quantity of storm water caught from several storm pipes. A layer of rocks fill the pond to filter the storm water into the ground. The map shows an outlet that filters water into Englesby brook. During my visits, it is difficult getting up close to observe the water because of the fencing around it. I’ve debated hopping over the fence and walking down, but I know the fence is probably there to preserve the land. Looking from a distance still gives great aesthetics despite this. With the bright yellow leaves of the basswoods and birch reflecting on the water, my site resembles something that Bob Ross might paint (or at least comment on the happy little trees). My site has visual beauty, however, the noise surrounding it isn’t as peaceful. Being right on campus, the site is littered with the sounds of cars and noisy college students. Having a location close to the school definitely has its pros and cons. I chose this site with this in mind, knowing that I would be able to visit it more often than other places in Burlington. I’ve noticed during my visits that the pond has a decent amount of wildlife inhabiting it. I have seen a pair of mallard ducks swimming around and diving for food a couple of times and just recently a cottontail rabbit jumped out of the shrubs. I can tell that he lives around campus because he seemed to be fairly comfortable with me. We hung out for awhile and I watched the cute little dude eat a few berries before hopping off.

Below is a picture of the plaque found on site and my field journal notes.