Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Field Trip: Proctor

Just before Christmas, Mo and I headed down to the old quarry town of Proctor, located in the Vermont Valley just outside Rutland. While the heyday has come and gone, the quiet town is now home to the Vermont Marble Museum. Old abandoned quarries and an amazing mill next to the dam. It's part of a line of limestone/marble quarries that runs, well pretty much down the east cost down into the great caving belt in Kentucky. Mo's done a lot of cave exploration and I recently have been to a few, all in limestone. A lot of excavations - whether as a quarry or road cut - exposed old cavernous fractures in rock, slowly etched away by acidic rain water. These hidden caverns are called karst topography, which I wrote about previously.

Because the substrate - rock and cement here as there's basically no soil - is so rich in nutrients from the limestone, moss readily grows on the concrete slabs and inside of the old mill, which is empty of its former occupation and currently used as storage for RVs and boats.

The water weaves intricate patterns on concrete structures. The acidity of the rain draws out calcareous elements, slowly depositing them in fissures and grooves, and along the bottoms of tiny ledges.

Marble floor tiles with a paper birch emerging from the ruins
It is one of the strangest places I've ever been. The town was swimming in marble. And the built everything out of it. Even in the crappy little office in the image above the floor tiles were decadently made out of marble. As with the moss, the calcium rich substrate allows trees to grow in odd places and deal more readily with shade that would otherwise stress them too much to allow them to grow. In the above photos there's a birch tree growing between tiles and we found them growing throughout the building and on the roof.

The bedrock geology map below shows the town of Proctor composed of and surrounded mostly by north-south running bands of dolostone and marbles. These are the same rocks that jut out along the cliffy edge of Lake Champlain.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Field Trip: Mud Pond in Williston

Grumpy old cattail herma
Mud Pond has been on my bucket list for a few years now, since I heard about the microburst damage there. Last week I finally made the trek out there with my sister, and wow was it totally worth it. We hopped off the trail after about a 100 yards following a set of gray squirrel tracks. It broke out of the hemlocks into the open of a red maple swamp. We quickly switched to a gray fox trail, which crossed fisher, mink, long tailed weasel, and red fox! The tracking was totally amazing with a ton of different habitats woven together.

The fox lead us down to a creek which ultimately drained into Mud Pond proper. There's a great mix of American elms and green ash in with the red maples. The ice on the creek was gorgeous and we spent a while photographing it before heading out on the dam to explore the old, abandoned beaver lodge. The mud caking the outside had largely washed away and we could poke our heads in to see the feeding platform. It's not often you get to look inside an old lodge, so that was wonderful. The rim of the pond is a dense tangle of cattails and sedges that as the land slopes up grades into an even denser tangle of alders and then maples.

Possibly a goldfinch nest in a speckled alder
The highlight was towards the end where I saw a long swoop carved gently into the snow. It started in a little patch between hemlocks about 4 feet before ending in a flurry of little squirrely tracks. These circled around themselves for awhile before disappearing up a tree. I've never seen definitive flying squirrel tracks, so it made the whole day worth it. Plus there were several bird splatterings on the snow filled with snow fleas (a type of springtail)! We wound up getting completely and utterly turned around for some reason, but eventually made our way back to the car.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A study in growth

Striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) - the top of this year's growth
Looking out my window at the striped maple Sam & I transplanted last year made me want to start a long-term documentation project. The shrub caught my attention because it seems to be turning colors from the top down; this is the opposite of virtually everything else, which tends to turn from the top and outside working in and down. Maybe being a small shrub with a single stem of leaves makes this pattern so different? Maybe being in super low light conditions? 

Anyways, I've started various projects in the past, but this one will be easy - each year around Nov 1 (even marked it on my calendar) I'll take a quick photo of the striped maple to track its growth and branching pattern. I guess I probably should have put the marker just below the terminal bud, but below the first set of lateral buds will do. The other thing that will be neat to see is how the tape affects the color of the bark. Striped maple has photosynthetic bark, and my assumption is that it will drop its chlorophyll content and shift to a deeper red/purple color (as the older bark is). Though the tape isn't totally opaque, so we'll see about that too.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ancient ruins in the deep

Heiligenschein (German for 'holy light'), that halo of light around radiating out from my head's shadow

Looking out towards the causeway 
Been awhile since I posted anything here. I went canoeing a couple weeks ago and spotted a bizarre underwater formation just off the cliffs of the northwest edge of Marble Island in Colchester. It was undoubtedly construct by someone - a square shape with rounded edges about 12' in diameter, with a break in the rocks - an opening? - facing out from shore west towards the bay. It was constructed of dolostone boulders each about the size of a basketball.
A closer look at the object
The water level is already near its annual low (declines throughout summer into the fall, then begins to climb as leaves fall and evapotranspiration shuts down. Of course trends are also contingent on lake freezing over, precipitation, and warm winter days) and even with the lake at record low levels, the person would have had to have been about 7 feet under water. An impressive feat. The question of why they built it is another matter. Not really sure, it's just below and awesome rock that stands above the water by quite a bit. There were a few fishing hooks/line around on the shore so maybe this was built as bait to lure fish in? Maybe just for fun? Maybe a solar sculpture? Not really sure. It's totally inaccessible other than to a couple of private landowners and boats.


Lake data from 2014

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rock Point inventory: Brick's Brook

Next stop: Brick's Brook. Much of the sediment deposited atop the calcareous bedrock is lacustrine in origin (from a lake), deposited 11,000 years ago when the glaciers were retreating - melting - but still blocking drainage of the fresh water to the north through the St Lawrence seaway. Water pooled up in the Champlain Valley, the only outlet being the Hudson River valley to the south. The drainage point here is about 600', so Lake Champlain, which was known as Glacial Lake Vermont, was about 500' above where it is today.
The wet meadow, this is the "headwaters" of Brick's Brook

At the edge of the meadow, it starts to cut into the soils
About 25 down from previous photo, excessive erosion exposing roots of white pine
(which once upon a time was a fence line as witnessed by the barbed wire embedded in it)
The melt water draining off the mountains into the lake via the Winooski, Mississquoi, Lamoille, etc. would have been a muddy mess with glacial sediments. So Rock Point, which is adjacent to the lake, would have been a deep water environment, buried in alternating layers of silts and clays each year when the lake froze over. These silts and clays drain very poorly, accounting for  the wet meadows and depressions found scattered over the land.

Further still downstream. Slopes of banks still steep. 
Once the glaciers retreated far enough to the north, finally opening up the St Lawrence seaway, water exploded out of the Champlain Valley, draining in a matter of hours or days down to an elevation of 300'. At that point, because the glaciers were so heavy, their weight had actually depressed the entire northern part of the continent - much like a large putting all your passengers at the stern of a flexible boat - by about 300' in this area. The glacial lake gradually grew saltier and saltier as water from the ocean filtered into Champlain Valley. The rivers continued flowing into the body of water; the Winooski River delta's edge terminated at Rock Point, depositing patchy layers of sand atop the lacustrine silts and clays.

Soil map generated by Web Soil Survey: http://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/WebSoilSurvey.aspx
This sandier stuff erodes rather easily. Brick's Brook, which is only about 600m in length, starts as a trickle in the Old Pasture. A small bridge passes over the small notch carved into the clay soils. At the edge of the meadow, soils are much sandier and within 50m, the notch is a deep valley with steep slopes. Eventually the stream eroded down below the sandier soils, exposing silts and clays. Because these smaller soil particles are more difficult to erode, the valley widens rather than cutting further down. Towards the lower end of the stream the slope of stream is much gentler, water does not drain as well, and the course of the stream begins to meander, with water pooling up much more. In this section there are often green frogs and wood frogs.

Near the bottom, mellow grade to the brook and shallow slope to the banks due to erosion over time
High water table wreaking havoc on the hemlcoks and yellow birches
Species list is not complete (there are 5 different plants I need flowers to key out):

Maple, redAcer rubrumAceraceae (Maple)
Maple, sugarAcer saccharumAceraceae (Maple)
Ivy, poisonToxicodendron radicansAnacardiaceae (Cashew)
Birch, yellowBetula allegheniensisBetulaceae (Birch)
Viburnum, maple-leafViburnum acerifoliumCaprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Honeysuckle, ??Lonicera ??*Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Bittersweet, orientalCelastrus ????*Celastraceae (Bittersweet)
Dogwood, red-osierCornus sericeaCornaceae (Dogwood)
Witch-hazel, AmericanHamamelis virginianaHamamelidaceae (Witch-hazel)
Basswood, AmericanTilia americanaMalvaceae (Mallow)
Ash, greenFraxinus pennsylvanicaOleaceae (Olive)
Hemlock, EasternTsuga canadensisPinaceae (Pine)
Buckthorn, commonRhamnus cathartica*Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn)
Buckthorn, glossyFrangula alnifolia*Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn)
Blackberry, commonRubus allegheniensisRosaceae (Rose)
Cherry, blackPrunus serotinaRosaceae (Rose)
Raspberry, blackRubus occidentalisRosaceae (Rose)
Rose, multi-floraRosa multiflora*Rosaceae (Rose)
ThimbleberryRubus odoratusRosaceae (Rose)
Aspen, quakingPopulus tremuloidesSalicaceae (Willow)
GRAPE sp.Vitaceae (Grape)
Virginia creeperParthenocissus quinquefoliaVitaceae (Grape)
Jack-in-the-pulpitArisaema sp.Araceae (Arum)
Jewelweed, spottedImpatiens capensisBalsaminaceae (Touch-me-not)
Solomon's seal, falseSmilacina racemosaLiliaceae (Lily)
Crowfoot, small flowerRanunculus abortivusRanunculaceae (Buttercup)
Lily, troutErythronium americanumLiliaceae (Lily)
Skunk cabbageSymplocarpus foetidusAraceae (Arum)
DandelionTaraxacum officinalis*Asteraceae (Aster)
Meadow rue, earlyThalictrum dioicumRanunculaceae (Buttercup)
Baneberry, redActaea rubraRanunculaceae (Buttercup)
Nightshade, enchantersCircaea spOnagraceae (Evening primrose)
MiterwortMitella diphyllaSaxifragaceae (Saxifrage)
Nettle, woodLaportea canadensisUrticaceae (Nettles)
Nightshade, deadlySolanum dulcamara*Solanaceae
SpeedwellVeronica spScrophulariaceae (Figwort)
Fern, ladyAthyrium filix-feminaAthyriaceae
Fern, brackenPteridium aquilinumDennstaedtiaceae (Bracken)
Wood fern, spinuloseDryopteris carthusianaDryopteridaceae (Wood fern)
Wood fern, intermediateDryopteris intermediaDryopteridaceae (Wood fern)
Horsetail, woodEquisetum sylvaticumEquisetaceae (Horsetail)
Horsetail, meadowEquisetum pratenseEquisetaceae (Horsetail)
Fern, sensitiveOnoclea sensibilisOnocleaceae (Sensitive Fern)
Fern, ostrichMatteuccia struthiopterisOnocleaceae (Sensitive Fern)
Fern, cinnamonOsmunda cinnamomeaOsmundaceae (Royal fern)
Fern, interruptedOsmunda interruptaOsmundaceae (Royal fern)
Fern, maiden hairAdiantum pedatumPteridaceae (Maidenhair)
Fern, New YorkThelypteris noveboracensisThelypteridaceae (Marsh)