Rainy Observations

Figure 1. A rainy afternoon

The old saying, April showers bring May flowers, could not be more true when describing the weather in Washington, DC this past month (Figure 1). And, while the combination of quarantine orders and rain should compel people to remain indoors, local paths and sidewalks are teeming with life – both human and flora and fauna.


Figure 3. Camellia Tree with several flowers in my front yard

My allergies have been through the roof ever since moving back home. The trees, bushes, and flowers in my backyard seemed to reach peak bloom (Figure 2) in the beginning of April and have yet to let up. While my allergies may cause some unwanted congestion, the beauty of these blooming plants helps me through these monotonous days. On weekly family walks, we’ve been able to watch the neighborhood plants all bloom at different times. First, it was the Cherry Blossoms lining our busiest street. Next, the tulips and Camellia trees (Figure 3) popping up all over our and our neighbors’ yard. And most recently, it has been the Dogwood and Japanese Maple trees spotting several front yards (Figure 4 & 5). My dog, while she often never passes up a tasty beef treat, recently seems to have herbivore fever and proceeds to eat every plant in sight on our walks (Figure 6).


Figure 7. A baby bunny sitting outside of the fallen stormtube
Figure 6. My dog snacking on some Buttercups

Spring fever is in the air. The local squirrels and foxes are busy running around teaching their young the ropes of survival, all while severely riling up my dog in the process (much to my father’s dislike). Every morning, a small red fox stares down my dog through the old wire fence in our backyard. I have yet to document this almost comical interaction though film, but the loud yaps from the fox act as a neighborhood alarm clock these days. In he mid-April, just around Easter time, my backyard was graced by some extra special residents – a family of small wild rabbits. We first spotted the mom and dad bunnies hopping around the yard, feasting on the weeds and fallen flower petals, but soon discovered two babies living in our fallen stormtube (Figure 7). Here, mid-April weather consisted of heavy winds and cold temperatures, and we believe that the mother and father rabbits placed the small babies in the tube to protect them from the elements. After the babies left from the tube, our excitement shifted to bird watching. Our backyard seems to be a small battlefield, with robins, cardinals, and blue jays (Figure 8) all working to stake their claim. And, while I was not able to spot it, my mom told me that a neighbor posted a bald eagle sighting. This sighting tends to stir up lots of excitement in my area because one, they are truly magnificent birds to see in real life, and two, their return to the area indicates that the health of the Potomac River is improving!

Figure 8. Blue Jay scanning the yard


For the first few days of April, people in the area seemed to follow the social-distancing guidelines quite well. On walks with my dog, I could go through almost the entire walk without running into anyone. But now, whenever the weather is even remotely good (meaning no rain and warmer than 50˚F) people flock to our local parks and common spaces (Figure 9). They’re experiencing, like most of America, cabin fever and are looking for a quick fix. I too find myself going a little stir crazy without access to the mountains, but I must remember that going out on a long hike could do more harm than good. As the weather here gets nicer, I know that the drive to venture outdoors will only increase, but recreating responsibly will help to flatten this curve so that we all may be able to return to normal, or maybe a new normal, soon.

Figure 9. People not following social-distancing guidelines while waiting for food

I hope that this pandemic may pass soon, but in the mean time please take care of yourself and those around you by staying indoors, washing your hands, and, if you must venture outside, please follow all safety guidelines.

February Expeditions

Figure 1. Trees of Centennial
Figure 2. Squirrel Hole

This week saw a large increase in the amount of snowfall coming down in the Burlington area and beyond. The freshly fallen snow blanketed the ground and trees of Centennial (see Figure 1), reminding me of Christmas time. However, this mid-winter wonderland was starkly contrasted with the chirping of birds in the close distance. Since January, the snow cover has increased significantly in addition to appearing more powdery than the icy cover which coated the forest floor last month. The groundhog’s prediction must have been correct this year because the birds chirp constantly now, signally the coming spring. I had some trouble locating defined wildlife tracks this past visit. The deep snow seems to have kept the larger animals in their winter homes and or caused the smaller animals to dig underneath the top layer. I did, however, located a few small grey squirrel tracks originating at a smaller pine tree and headed in the direction of a small snow bank closer to the stream. Most likely, this squirrel felt the warmer weather earlier this week and deemed it safe to venture out to find more food. On his or her path through the woods, I noticed that the tracks seemed to disappear briefly as he or she dove into the deep snow (see Figure 2) – maybe to avoid a passing predator? A fox? I looked for any tracks to back up this suspicion but ultimately came up empty handed.

Figure 3. Worm’s Path Through Tree Bark

As the squirrel scurried across the small frozen landscape, he or she seemed to stop at several trees along the path to the snow bank. I examined the trees, looking for small scratch marks, but instead found something quite different but just as intriguing. On a small section of exposed tree, there were small carvings (see Figure 3). At first I thought these carvings to be human made, but upon further inspection I came to the conclusion that they were most likely made but a small worm digging its way through the underside of the tree bark. Either way, it was an interesting find!

Figure 4. Snow Bank Housing A Small Grey Squirrel

Returning to our small grey squirrel. The tracks terminated at a small snow bank (see Figure 4). I think this could be a good little shelter for the squirrel on warmer days, shielding the small creature from the harsh winds of today and yesterday while also providing a sufficient amount of warmth from the surrounding insulation.

Winter Adventures

Howdy folks, and welcome back! Lots has been happening around Burlington since my last post, mainly snow. While last semester, my phenology site could be found along the Burlington Bike Path, I decided to move it for this semester into Centennial Woods (the sheer amount of bikes in the bike room makes it almost impossible to hit the road). From WDW hall, my new location is a quick skip and a jump across campus. Start by heading off of Redstone Campus towards the Patrick Gym by walking either under the Redstone Lofts or walking behind Coolidge and Southwick Hall. Once at the Gym, turn right and walk through the lower parking lot of the Harris-Millis Complex until you reach Main St and the large crosswalk. Continue to walk straight until you reach the American Cancer Society house (pretty white house with green trim) and turn right across the crosswalk (wait for the walk sign). Walk straight down this street until you see a green sign saying “Centennial Natural Area” and walk down the trail into the woods. Once in the woods, follow the trail until the first small open clearing and that’s where you will find my new site!

Figure 1. Grey Squirrel Tracks
Figure 2. Hare Tracks

On this visit, I found countless squirrel and small hare tracks. Sadly, the snow cover in Centennial more resembled ice than powdery snow making tracking slightly more difficult. To add insult to injury, the larger tracks scattered around the forest floor were contaminated with human tracks making identification nearly impossible. The squirrel tracks gave me the least difficulty in identifying because of the small size and distinctive foot pattern (see Figure 1). The long foot length helped me to classify these prints as Grey Squirrel. After the squirrel tracks, I found what I assume to be rabbit tracks (see Figure 2). Like the squirrel tracks, these new ones were small and close together. However, they did not match a hopping gait like that of the squirrels. Instead, these tracks followed a galloping pattern similar to what hares leave when jumping through the snow.

Figure 3. Sugar Maple Twig

This new spot I chose happens to be surrounded by Eastern Hemlock Trees, easily identifiable with their still green needles and distinct height. Scattered within the Hemlocks, I could make out a handful of small Sugar Maple saplings. I also found a few twigs (see Figure 3) littered across the ground also belonging to Sugar Maples.

My Field Notes

A Visit Home

While Vermont was covered in a thin layer of snow as my plane took off last Friday morning, there was no sign of winter in Washington DC where I landed a mere hour and a half later. In fact, both the temperature and copious amounts of vibrant leaves still situated on the trees suggested that winter would not be arriving for quite some time. As we drove past the Potomac River, DC looked almost untouched from when I left it three months ago. The bridges and monuments were still covered with scaffoldings, and, as we drove through Georgetown, the houses and storefronts remained unaltered, save for a few new wreathes placed here and there in preparations for the coming holiday season. I was not expecting much to change in my short time away, because, to be honest, nothing changes quickly in DC. City council members and neighborhood associations alike take pride in the historical aesthetic of most neighborhoods in my area, and as such put in place hundreds of permits and restrictions which keep any real changes from occuring. Every once and a while a store will move down a block and a new one will take its place, but the structure of the building will always remain the same. Growing up this somewhat bothered me, but now I find it oddly comforting. No matter how many times my life changes, I can always drive through these old cobblestone streets and see the same houses I did as a child and know that in fifty years I can do the exact same.

However, the change of seasons does bring some welcomed change to the area. This change is most evident down on the waterfront, where in the summer months you can normally find kids playing in the fountain at all hours of the day. Runners and bikers constantly pass by you on their way down the Crescent Trail, and shoppers complain of the sweltering heat instead of the extreme cold. On Friday, the fountain was turned off, most likely since the first week of October when the temperature finally dipped below 80˚, and only a handful of runners could be seen. Instead, most people were up the street, hurrying across the busy Georgetown streets with loaded bags trying to get ahead of the holiday rush. At the local high schools, mine included, sports teams were beginning their annual Christmas tree sales, and young kids traded in corner lemonade stands for hot chocolate and apple cider stands. While the lawyers, business men and women, and – yes – politicians were busy typing away in their downtown offices not even ten blocks away, Georgetown seems to be taken straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie this time of year. Thanksgiving was still a few days away, but as you walked through the bustling sidewalks you could swear to hear the faint melody of Christmas carols floating out of a nearby store. This is one of my favorite things about DC. The leaves are still on the trees and the forecast does call for snow for at least four more weeks, yet people here do not care. The Christmas spirit flows through the air and infects everyone who walks through it.

My house was a nice mixture of both the permanence of Georgetown buildings and excitement of the holiday season. The tree in our front yard remained unchanged, but my front door now sported a brand new wreath my parents bought from the local farmers market. Inside my house, new decorations glittered, but it still felt the same. Walking in, I imagined it to feel different now coming from college, but it felt as if nothing had changed. It seemed like everything there had taken a pause the last few months and someone finally pressed play. My parents informed me about a few changes in the neighborhood, a German diplomat moved in across the street and the Tuckers finally fixed their broken garage door, but besides that everything remained just as I left it. With all of the uncertainty and unpredictability of college life, it was relaxing to know that home will always be a stable place to return to and recharge.

A Sense of Place

The Winooski Bridge has undergone quite a few changes over the years. And, currently it is going through even more changes with the seasons and the new restoration projects. Here at the Winooksi River Bridge you cannot observe many changes enacted by the construction taking place further down the trail, but the seasons are in full swing. Just last week, leaves littered the ground and squirrels scurried across the path in search of the perfect acorn. Now, snow covers the small path and the lining trees. With the addition of almost a foot of snow, the path has become increasingly less and less populated. Without friendly faces passing you as you bike down the path or look out onto the water, the bridge seems lonelier. The wind whips through the river delta carrying with it the smells of winter. A holiday feel floats through the air as well as you pass the small houses just below the bike path which have slowly started to set up Christmas decorations.

Something which caught my eye this visit was a small sign posted on the board just left of the trail. It detailed the importance of Lake Sturgeon and their scarcity. The poster reminded me of something the Melosira captain talked about when I toured the boat over parents’ weekend. He said that Lake Trout, while not Lake Sturgeon but still a pivotal species within Lake Champlain, are starting to be tagged for research purposes. This tagging process has become tricky when dealing with an increase of fishing in the Burlington area. Now, a large handful of Lake Trout tagged is ending up at the end of some hook instead of relaying key data back to the researchers. As I watched a man cast what was likely his last line of the season, I thought of how the increase in fishing has changed the physical makeup of the lake over the years. Not even 100 years ago, the Winooski delta probably played host to countless species of fish, including Lake Sturgeon, but with the increased emphasis in fishing during the early half of the nineteenth century the fish populations began to decrease. Since all ecosystems are interconnected, a loss of fish species in one could have caused a rippling effect in the plant species, giving the landscape surrounding the bridge a completely different look than what it once was.

Furthermore, the addition of houses, residential, and recreational land has affected the landscape. Before the bike path and the houses, the only thing which cut through this land was an old train path. To keep the train stable, the land on either side of the tracks was dug down so the train could be elevated. Once the city of Burlington retired the train track, residential parties took advantage of the dugout flat lands around the path to build their homes. This furthered the human impact imposed on the land, and while the Christman decorations add a special joy to my weekly bike rides now, it is interesting to imagine what the land once looked like without homes, bikes, train tracks, or even the bridge itself.

Northern Red Oak Leaf (upper left), Horsetail Grass (upper middle), White Oak Acorn (upper right), Eastern Grey Squirrel (bottom left), Jumping Spider (bottom middle), Ladybird Beetle (bottom right)

On this particular cloudy Wednesday afternoon, the squirrels were alive along the Burlington Bike Path. Not only did I observe numerous squirrels around the Winooski Bridge, but also all along the bike path. With the combination of all of the fallen acorns and colder weather, the squirrels here seem to be hastily preparing for winter. In addition to fallen acorns, the ground leading up to the bridge is littered with leaves of all kinds. Most of the ground leaves have already turned brown, but brief spots of bright yellow catch your eye every once in a while. Along the path, most trees are bare, their leaves having made a new home among the ants and other insects on the ground, but several young Northern Red Oaks still sport their colorful red leaves, showing that there is still some time left before the winter truly arrives. And, if you look hard enough along the edge of the path, just below the beautiful red leaves, you will see a plant which makes you look twice – horsetail grass. At first glance, these tiny grasses look just like young bamboo shoots, however, they are actually quite common around watery areas. On the bridge itself, there are no squirrels running about. If you look closely at the metal bars, you will see small spider webs covering almost every inch. Today, a jumping spider watched over the web while an unsuspecting ladybird beetle slowly made its way towards it (thankfully it flew away just before getting stuck). Without higher traffic across the bridge, and thus less people shaking and disturbing the peace along the metal bars, spiders are able to create more stable webs (and just in time for halloween might I add).

Since last week, the trees surrounding the base of the bridge have lost most, if not all, of their leaves. There are also less bird species around the bridge than was there just last week. While I heard a few birds during my ride to the bridge, the only ones I saw at my site were two Black Crows perched in a tree. Looking out over the bridge towards Lake Champlain, you can see that the water levels are lower than last week. The water clarity has increased since last week, especially closer to shore. Normally there is some soil debris in the water from the river delta bank, but since the soil is getting harder as the weather becomes colder, there is less breaking off into the water.

Map of Winooski Bridge and surrounding landscape

Field Notes taken at site:

Winooski River Bridge

Start the nearly 5 mile trek to the Winooski River Bridge on the Burlington Bike Path. This path runs along the entire waterfront, but the most popular pick-up location for the bike trail is right across from the ECHO Center and Creemee stand (quick pre-bike snack possibly). Follow this beautiful trail down passed the kids joking around at the skate park, passed the old train cabin, and passed the folks tanning on North Beach (maybe not so much anymore). Just a few pedals passed North Beach, you will reach the Ice Arena and Leddy Park. Here, you can take a small set of stairs down to a secluded beach and have a quick mid-ride snack and water break. Once refilled and back on the bike, you will head straight on the bike path, but be alert here as the path begins to cross some neighborhood roads, and cars frequently drive by. After the fourth street crossing, you will almost be to the destination. Normally, this section of the bike path is fairly quite seeing as most of the family attractions are closer to North Beach or Leddy Park.

You will know you have arrived once the trail turns from pavement to wooden planks and the tree cover gives away to a beautiful 360˚ view of Lake Champlain and the mouth of the Winooksi River. In the fall, the red rusted color of the bridge blends in perfectly with the orange, yellow, and red leaves of the surrounding foliage. Here, people move a little slower, taking more time to appreciate the surreal views all around them. Standing on top of the bridge helps you to notice everything around you that much more. Last time I visited, I watched a dog play fetch with his owner while a family paddled underneath the bridge in a small canoe and the crisp scent of fall filled the air. The place also offers a sense of community to all bikers who travel along it. The runners and casual day-walkers usually turn around before reaching this bridge, so the majority of people who cross this bridge are fellow bikers. As you stand taking in all of the views, passing bikers will slow down and give a polite wave or even a hello. Yesterday when I visited, a woman was already stopped looking out over the water. When I pulled my bike up next to her, we sparked up a conversation originally stemming from a shared love of fixie bikes, but later turned into a crazy story of how we both lived in the same neighborhood in DC.

I hope you can all get out on your bikes this fall and take a trip to this beautiful place before the weather gets too chilly. In total, I would say you should crave out a nice 3 hour chunk of time for your first visit, but normally it is a quick 1 hour and a half visit.

Field Observations:

  • fewer people are on the bike trail, and the ones that are this far out are mainly bikers
  • the trees have all started to change
  • more leaves in the water and on the ground than last time I visited
  • more animal activity, ie. squrriels constantly running around and collecting nuts
  • the weather is changing more rapidly (it was sunny and clear when I began my bike ride but quickly turned cloudy)

Hello NR001!

Hello and welcome to my phenology blog! For this blog, I will be visiting a bridge along the Burlington bike path to watch the leaves change and observe other seasonal changes. I hope you enjoy!


Skip to toolbar