Thursday, December 27, 2012

Frost crack

What: A few weeks ago, one of the kids at Crow's Path and I found a white ash (note the diamond shaped grooves etched in the bark) that had a strip torn out from the trunk. The missing section was about 6" wide running a cork screw from the base of the tree right up the bole about 30' up. While pondering about how the scar got there, we started looking for the missing chunks. We found the lion's share about 20' away from the tree - chunks of wood with bark still attached. Also visible in the scar is a thin seam running the length of the exposed area.

The tree was dead and has been for some time, while the crack was fresh (it wasn't there three weeks earlier). The majority of the crack ran along the side of the tree facing southwest towards an open field (and the winter sun). We decided that the explosive event must have been due to frost cracking.

Ecological notes: Frost cracking occurs on super sunny days that are also super cold. When the sun was shining down on the white ash, the tree's bark heated up rapidly (like your cat's fur when it lays on the ledge next to the window). As the bark warmed it conducted heat inward and the core of the tree slowly heated as well. Wood's not the greatest conductor of heat, so the process is a slow one.

If the tree happens to be in full exposure it's got lots of time to conduct heat to the inner heartwood. In deeper woods, however, where there are lots of other trees around to shade each other as the sun moves across the sky, the bark cools as quick as it warms and the core is less likely to heat up. You probably well know the difference on a cold day of standing in the sun versus standing in the shade. As soon as you step into a shadow you're hit with the shivers. This whole heating thing isn't necessarily a problem, at least until the tree starts to cool.

As the tree heats up it expands, and when it cools it contracts. As soon as the sun sets or ducks behind another tree, our dead ash began to cool and cool rapidly, starting with the outside, that was only staying warm because it was in the sun. As the bark and outer wood cools (and cools rapidly) it contracts. If the tree cools too fast: kablooey! The tree can literally explode. There's more to it than that, but that's a start.

Recap of how frost cracking occurs:
  1. Tree grows up to be big, with one side exposed to the south
  2. Cold sunny day
  3. Over a long period of time the bark warms, conducts heat to heartwood, which expands
  4. Sun sets/casts a shadow, outer layers of the tree cool very quickly
  5. As it cools it shinks around the expanded inner wood and kablooey!

Conditions conducive to frost cracking:
  1. Larger diameter tree (stores more heat, can expand more)
  2. Cold, sunny day
  3. Dark barked tree (dark colors absorb more heat)
  4. Smooth bark (rough bark, like a radiator, dissipates heat)
  5. Tree growing in open
  6. Defects in wood (doesn't handle contraction nearly as well as healthy wood)

Where: Frost cracking typically occurs on the south, or sun-exposed surface of thinly barked trees. Edges of woods are great places to find this. I see it most often on species where Vermont is at the northern edge of its range (like red oak - I'll post more on the crazy oak inside an oak healing pattern - aka frost ribs - on these trees later this winter).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Beavers in the Retention Pond (Part VII)

Some great news! UVM has decided to pull the kill traps, at least over the holiday break, expressing also that after break they would return to the issue and re-evaluate other options. There's even the possibility that they'll convene a group from Rubenstein and the community to discuss these other options. Thanks again to everyone for providing support in their own unique way. Alicia keeps reminding me what a complex issue this is, which is why it's so important to have so many voices and perspectives, to remind us of the complexity when we try and control/manage wild things.

And a huge thanks to Katie Flagg, who wrote the 7Days article, for shedding light on this, and acknowledging the complexity. She was on WCAX this week to talk more about her article. I love the end: "The Centennial Woods [Natural] area is really beloved by a lot Burlingtonians. People use it to walk their dogs, they go out there all the time, but there isn't a great way right now for teachers, students, Burlington residents to weigh in on how that area is managed. The beavers themselves are now actually slightly outside of the Centennial area. What everyone would like, and I think UVM and the naturalists have agreed on is better communication about how the land is being managed."
WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Friday, December 21, 2012

Beavers in the Retention Pond (Part VI)

What: 7Days just published an article about the beaver situation. Thanks to all the people that have gotten in touch with me about ways in which they can help. I was called a "renegade" by one staff at UVM Grounds, which was unfortunate to be labeled a renegade for making public what's happening on public land. Though, I suppose I'd be in alright company. In Thoreau's Civil Disobedience he writes, "But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it." So for all the people that have gotten in touch with me (from around the country too!!) asking how they might get involved, I encourage you to speak up, to let folks at UVM know what you want to see happen, whether you agree with me, them, both, or none of us. Simply let your voice be heard.

I'd start by reaching out to meEnrique Corredera, who is the director for UVM communications, and Sal Chiarelli, Director of Physical Plant. You can also write letters to the editor to comment on the 7Days article. As Alicia said in the article, this isn't a case about good vs bad. There are cases to be made for many different solutions, so it's important to be strong, but open minded in this; as were Afrika Bambaataa's renegades of funk.

As mentioned in the article the three initial conibear traps were removed by someone walking into an unmarked, retention pond with a gate wide open. In response UVM started locking the gate and put up no trespassing signs to secure the new traps the hired trapper set on the berm between the upper pond and lower pond (I've seen deer on several occasions in the retention pond, though even with gates locked the deer could walk in through one of the other large holes in the fence). So accessing the pond would now be a legal violation (I think this statute covers the possible repercussions, though there may be others as I don't know the legal system).

Last year NPR's Fresh Air had a special celebrating 100 years of Woody Guthrie. They talked about a verse often edited out of "This Land is Your Land":
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
Other notes: I'd also like to expand on Katie Flagg's use of the word tame in her article. To me that word is less like the domesticated use of it (like kitty-pets in Erin Hunter's Warriors series), and more like the meaning Antoine de Saint-Exupery describes so poetically in his book The Little Prince:
"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean-- 'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
"'To establish ties'?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower... I think that she has tamed me..."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Beavers in the retention pond (Part V)

What: I've just finished editing and touching up my students' entries to the Natural History Dictionary. Took a lot longer than I hoped, but it's certainly worth it. Definitely a work in progress, but I think it's shaping up to be something really really helpful and fascinating!!

So last Friday the kill traps went back up. UVM has killed at least one of the beavers so far, and another one went missing since last Thursday (with finishing up grading I haven't been able to spend as much time out there, so there very well could still be three left, but I was only been able to see/hear 2 last night; all the time spent grading means that this footage is all old). I'm not universally opposed to trapping, I just think in this case it's being done irresponsibly (ecologically and in terms of the community perspective), in a short-sighted way, and as a result of prior ineptitude.

UVM Grounds won't respond to my questions about the process involved or why it's so imperative to kill them - an unfortunate lack of transparency - so I'll speculate based on personal observation and what I've heard second hand. From what I gather the beavers have to go because part of the requirement for managing the retention pond (built as a mitigation for paving the parking lot next to the Centennial Field) includes monitoring and managing for both water quality and water height. Apparently they have to check these every month to meet legal obligations. Water height is an easy one, but I would assume they're either not doing it regularly or doing it poorly as the beavers have been there for 4.5 out of the last 7 months (a 2 month stretch from June to late July, and again from late September until now). Most of that time the water has been about 4' higher than normal.

As for pollution, I don't know how beavers being there would make any difference or what kind of pollution they'd be measuring (biological or chemical). It's not like any of the vegetation is doing any biofiltering of anything this time of year. And the volume of water flowing out should be the same as if the water were 5' lower. Beavers don't really carry rabies and there's never been a rodent-to-human infection, not that that should be a concern (if it was they'd probably want to do something about the raccoon population.

Beaver scat! A rare site! Basically it's just saw dust. This is from Mill Pond 
Humans are far more likely to carry giardia than beavers (beaver fever's a misnomer - most birds and mammals can carry the parasite, and people get giardia when they go camping usually not because they drink contaminated water but because their hygiene goes down the tubes). A study in the northeast found that muskrats had a prevalence of for trophozoites (the stage where the parasites is actually parasitizing, rather than just being transferred from beast to beast) of 96%!!! while for beavers it was less than 15%. There are two muskrats living in the lodge with the beavers and were here well before the beavers established their home and will be here well after (they don't share the same resource depletion strategy as beavers). It seems unreasonable that they'd be testing for Giardia sp., however, and I'm sure there's another reason why the beavers need to go. I'd love to know...

Where: Retention pond under powerlines in Centennial Woods

The amazing capacity of beech to stump sprout. Look at all those latent buds! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wild hive!!

What: Conner Roberts, a student in my CCV class Natural History of Vermont, found a wild hive of bees in our last class. We weren't sure at first if it was active, but putting my ear up to the hole you could definitely hear a buzz coming from inside!! When I took Zac out to see the hive he knocked and you could hear a furious buzz emanate from the hive.

I wish I could age the honeycomb based on color and texture so we could estimate how long the cavity had been inhabited by bees. Zac and I assumed that it was at least a couple of seasons old as the comb at the bottom (image below to right) was super dark and dense. The comb hanging down (image on left) seems like it's from this most recent season.

Ecological notes: A lot of folks ask me what bees do in the winter. They are such excellent pollinators because they need to collect and store enough nectar to sustain a population of a few thousand during the winter. The nectar is fanned and evaporated down into honey, then capped and store to be eaten during the long winter. The honey fulls their little bodies as they huddle and shiver to maintain the hive at a temperature of around 80 degrees! By staying active, they generate heat (much like running around or doing jumping jacks to stay warm on a cold day.

Pulp at base of pine (about 1/2" thick,
mix of pulp, seeds, and bee carcasses!
Where: Centennial Woods, old (maybe 150 year old) white pine tree that died about 15 years ago in the 1998 Ice Storm. The scar was created much longer ago and there had been enough time for carpenter ants to invade the tree, hollow much of it out, and then abandon their nest. I'll post more on the 1998 ice storm sometime this winter.

Other notes: Zac brought up the idea of search image. This is the second wild hive I've found, and they share quite a few features. Here's what we noticed that might help us cue in to future sites for a wild hive

  • Near an open field (about 20' back from edge)
  • Within 100' of flowing water 
  • In a hollow white pine
  • White pine had several pileated holes in it (both were hollowed out by carpenter ants)
  • Lots of pulp at base of tree
  • Opening to hive elongated vertically, one hive was about 5" tall, this one was closer to 15"

Friday, December 14, 2012

Beavers in the Retention Pond (Part IV)

I'd love to not be posting exclusively on beavers, but they've been on my mind an awful lot these last couple of months. Other stuff is still happening (like a wild hive of honey bees a student of mine found nestled in an old white pine), so more to come on that later.

Other notes: Following up on my Monday post, the second reason that I'm upset by the way the "beaver problem" was handled is that it shows a lack of transparency and input from public voice. It's not surprising that Centennial Woods holds a dear spot in many people's hearts. Every time the University or City proposes some other development in or around CW, it just galvanizes the residents and students that love it. We want to have a say in the shaping and management of CW, to make sure that the emotional connection, and personal experience of the woods holds weight in how the land gets managed and stewarded. The decision (and lack of public input) doesn't appear to take this in to consideration; it doesn't even show a huge consideration for or knowledge of the ecology of that area. Even if Fish & Wildlife said that the beavers could be trapped and not moved, that doesn't mean that that's the other only option. I see two sets of options.

The first in relation to the beavers:
1. Trap all the beavers
2. Relocate the beavers
3. Do nothing
4. Wait until spring to see if beavers leave on their own, and then return to questions 1-3

The second set of options is what to do after the beavers are gone
1. Install beaver baffles around the outflow pipes
2. Cut down trees around pond to remove habitat
3. Do nothing

I'd prefer options 4 and 1. Again, people love this area and want input. Much like CW, few animals are as charismatic as a beaver is. These beavers in particular had become small-time celebrities - so when FWS says "yeah, go ahead and trap them" their comment is on one hand practical and on the otherhand completely ignorant of the context of this specific case - how embedded in the education of many students and hearts of community members these beavers were.

Two of the boys I mentor, one 7 the other 9, came out to Centennial Brook with me last year to meet the parents of one pair of these beavers. When I told the older boy the beavers had moved back in to Centennial Woods, he gathered up a group of his friends and brought them out to meet these beavers. While out visiting the beavers, Sam (the TA for my Natural History of Centennial Woods class) ran into them and they exchanged stories and watched three beavers making last minute preparations for winter, caching beech, cherry, and birch saplings near their lodge. The following day the boy brought his mom and grandma to the pond to meet Melvin and the other two beavers. I got to follow up with them and exchange more stories. Almost every time I go to the pond I meet up with someone down there and we share stories. The beavers have become an anchor for those of us who are connected to Centennial Woods.

It would be amazing if management decisions as sensitive as this were based not on relative ease, but took time and weighed multiple options with multiple voices. It might take more time, but it would empower community members and students to share their voice and make sure that management decisions reflect the needs, desires, and heart of the community that they effect. It'd be great if making "the right decision" included more that just a dialog about how to maintain the functionality of the outflow pipe. How wonderful if the list of consultants contacted for this decision included people deeply connected to the land, who knew this land not from a distance, but hold its stories in their hearts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


What: While out at the retention pond in Centennial Woods the other day I spotted a most gruesome scene. Actually, within a little more than a square foot there were three cool finds. See if you can spot them (or at least what I thought was cool) in the photo above.

1. Golf ball. I've seen staff from UVM Grounds on numerous occasions hitting golf balls down into the retention pond. I picked up about a dozen yesterday. Most of them are driving range balls, but occasionally a nicer Titleist ball will show up.

2. Deer scat. A neighbor tipped me off a couple years ago that in the winter, deer in the area often spent their mornings grazing on the north side of the retention pond. That slope has great southern exposure and gets warmer before the other areas - it also has a lot of ground cover. I was surprised, however, to find a few fresh piles of deer scat in the ponded area. I haven't seen their tracks within the fence in the past few years.

3. De-brained short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda). Easily the coolest find was a de-brained short-tailed shrews. Much like grizzlies that eat salmon heads during the salmon runs, in times of plenty members of the weasel family (Mustelidae) will consume only the most delectable parts of their prey. And apparently for weasels that's the brain. According to Mark Elbroch, chipmunks will also eat the brains of mice and leave the rest, which was news to me as I didn't know that chipmunks would eat prey that large.

Shrews are toxic to most mammals (they secrete a venom in their saliva that helps incapacitate larger prey). A mammalogist friend got bit by one a few years back and his arm went numb - imagine the effects on a green frog! I have found two half digested shrews thrown up by red foxes. Here the mink ate it's brains and so didn't have to worry about poisonous saliva. I assumed mink (Mustela vison) and not one of the other smaller weasels (long- and short-tailed weasels) as there were tracks about 15' away in a little stream. Mink also prefer aquatic habitats.

It was a pretty neat find and the second mink kill in that spot in the last couple of weeks.

Where: Centennial Woods

Other notes: Miraculously the fourth beaver (well now the third since UVM killed one of them) showed up again. While out the other night I could see two of them and heard a third making a low grunting noise. All three of them, at about the same time, started making that noise. It reminded me of when my chickens make a really uncomfortable clucking sound when our backyard woodchuck comes around. It's not a sign of imminent danger, but a signal that another presence is in the area - I wondered if the beavers were grunting at the fox that I've seen tracks from in the last week.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beavers in the retention pond (Part III)

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Beaver clearing trail for a beech sapling

What: Centennial Woods feels a bit emptier today. On Friday afternoon I got the very sad news that UVM was kill trapping the beavers that many of us have come to know so well.

What I know so far is that they have killed one of the three beavers, the one we called Melvin, using conibear traps. There are three conibear traps set up on well-worn trails running between the upper and lower reservoirs of the retention pond. Conibear traps are incredibly effective at killing animals. While they can be baited, these aren't. UVM hasn't locked or closed the gate to the detention pond in over a year and with regularity I find mink, gray fox, raccoon, red fox, deer, domestic dog, and domestic cat tracks in the pond (this morning fresh raccoon and red fox tracks on the wet snow inside the gate). While the traps weren't baited when I checked them, they're located in access points the beavers use with regularity. Trappers place traps where their quarry go. And where their quarry go so do their predators - or anything curious about their scent. This is why Conibear traps also kill so many beagles and other domestic dogs that investigate the one place around a beaver pond where a beaver leaves its scent on the ground (you can find lots of depressing articles on beagles found dead in these types of traps).

Sam and I spooked the beaver while
coming down to check the game cam

Rose Leland told me on Friday that this was the best course of action and that everyone they had talked to recommended this. I find this problematic for two main reasons. I'll post my first here, and the second in a couple of days. First, it's irresponsible management. The beavers had obviously moved in during the summer, immediately backing up the outflow pipe, felling several large beech trees that landed on the fence, and built a visible lodge. All of this is easily visible from UVM's Ground's office and the spot where UVM Grounds employees hit golf balls down into Centennial Woods. They clearly could have seen the effects the beavers were having.

If the beavers were indeed a problem, UVM could have done something at that time to a) beaver-proof the fence around the retention pond, and/or b) transplanted the beavers. The beavers did move out of the pond sometime during the late summer (perhaps UVM did transplant the beavers). But because the habitat and access to it still existed, it would only be reasonable to assume that beavers would return, which they did in late September. Again the signs of their presence was obvious. UVM's negligence in dealing with this until December (almost 10 weeks later), meant that options were severely limited as it's now too late in the season to transplant them. But even the assumption that killing them is the only way to deal with them (if you believe dealing with them is even necessary) is false as beavers have been known to adopt other beavers in their home territory. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the initial pair of beavers adopted the second pair after UVM destroyed their habitat at the other retention pond. An assumption on my part, but due to last year's long growing season and tame winter, beavers this year should be better off and have larger caches. They would, therefore, be more likely to adopt other beavers. Had UVM responded sooner we wouldn't be mourning the loss of a beaver that had touched the lives of so many.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Beavers in the retention pond (part II)

What: I went back and set the game cam up further back from the fence. It doesn't quite capture them crawling under the fence (I put it too far back), but it does give a pretty good sense of how curious and observant they are. They definitely, in both this video and the previous one, noticed the game cam and spent time to investigate it.

Ecological notes: The three or four beavers that live in the pond are two pairs. The second pair moved in about 4 weeks ago when UVM Facilities destroyed the habitat surrounding the other constructed retention pond by the Sheraton. With no food the beavers headed down stream, found this pond and took up residency with them.

I think that two of the beavers were siblings (one from each pair). And I think that they're probably also the same beavers that were living here last spring. Sam and I have both been watching the beavers in the spring, and it took time to earn their trust (where they wouldn't slap their tails at us). I would assume that this beaver remembered me (and the trust it had for me), which is why it only took a couple times to have it come right back up to me.

Where: Retention pond in Centennial Woods.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Beavers in the retention pond (Part I)

What: Sam and I went out last Tuesday afternoon (11/27) to set up the game cam. They've got a number of trails that run under the fence around the retention pond that they've used so we decided to stash some aspen on the uphill side of the fence and put the game cam facing the water on the downhill side so we could get video of them dragging the branches back to the water.

We got about 70 videos starting at 4:30pm and ending around 4:30am. The beavers used the path about every 30-45 minutes or so for the whole 12 hours. The video is a compilation of the three beavers making foraging trips from the retention pond to the beech stand (we caught about a dozen trips on camera). The photo to the right is of our second set up to get shots of the beavers crawling under the fence. The game cam is attached to the beech log in the foreground.

Ecological notes: There were 4 beavers in the pond three weeks ago, but we've only seen 3 at a time in the past couple of weeks. Their cache seems to be primarily beech, with some red maple, white ash, elm, white birch, and witch hazel in the mix. They've also been eating heaps of staghorn sumac, scant black cherry saplings, and an occasional glossy buckthorn. Stay tuned, as there are more videos to come (with all the warm weather, the pond should stay thawed for at least another week or so and they'll be out and about)!!

Where: Retention Pond under powerlines in Centennial Woods

Friday, November 30, 2012

Anatomy of an urban beaver pond

Anatomy of an urban beaver pond
*** This will be the first in a series of three or four postings on the beavers that are inhabitant the detention pond under the powerlines in Centennial Woods. I've got some videos from a game cam as well as other information on how they prepare for and deal with the transition into winter. Subscribe with link to the right to keep up to date on Wild Burlington happenings!

What: The above photo I took on November 28. The pond started to freeze over on the 23rd with a thin sheet. Over the first few days the beavers were actively maintaining openwater. They've since stuck to maintain some exists along the edge of the water as well as a few openings in the middle of the water. The darker "C" shape in the middle is where the water is deeper and therefore warmer. The little snow fall we've gotten has melted into the ice. There's more snow on the right side of the pond (it's the south side and is shaded by a thick wall of white pines). The lodge is constructed on the bank. It's unclear if they've also dug into the bank while constructing it.

Walking the perimeter, they've done substantial work since they moved in about a month and a half ago. Looking at the northern border of the detention pond, there's no doubt that beavers are skilled at what they do. Each of the few dozen trees they've felled are all in perfect alignment. The one thing they didn't account for was the chainlink fence. Hopefully when the big red maple still standing in the background comes down it will crush the fence and make some of those trees a bit more accessible for the beavers.

The "dam" is really just an outlet flow structure for the detention pond. You can see the open water channel running on the upper left corner where the beavers move back and forth from their lodge to the dam to do maintenance work. They maintain holes throughout the winter, or at least try to. I'm not sure the exact reason, but I would assume it has something to do with keeping an escape route in a dire emergence and also having access to land if their food cache runs low mid-winter. It might also allow them to access early spring vegetation even if their pond hasn't frozen over.

The beavers have a number of runs that extend from the pond up to the surrounding woods. They've harvested mostly staghorn sumac, and actually have climbed a rather steep slope maybe 60' or so from the water to drag them back down. They did quite a bit of work flattening out a good deal of the phragmites, making channels to bring back the haul back to their larder.

And our beavers appear to have a flair for the artistic. I've been continually impressed at their ability to chew plants that are three plus feet off the ground. This one stood about 2.5 feet at the top.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Red Spotted Newt

Posted by Sophie Case. Sophie is a senior Environmental Studies student at the University of Vermont. She loves speaking Spanish, cooking fresh and delicious foods, and playing music. 

While hiking in the woods one dreary fall afternoon, something flashy and bright red caught my eye. It was scurrying across the ground quickly, and stopped for a quick break on top of a branch. I took a closer look, and realized that I had never seen this creature before. It looked like some sort of salamander, but I wasn?t near any running water. I quickly snapped a picture, and decided to investigate further once I got home.

As it turns out, the creature I saw was a red eft (Notophtalmus viridescens), which is the the juvenile stage of a red spotted newt, also known as the eastern newt. I found that the red spotted newt is actually quite common in North America, and tends to live in small lakes, ponds, streams, or wet forests. The range for these newts extends from South Ontario to Nova Scotia and as far south as eastern Texas and Florida. The adult stage of the red spotted newt lives mostly in aquatic environments, while the juvenile stage is a terrestrial creature. Adults range in color from from olive to brownish green, have red spots on their back, and yellow bellies. Red Efts have a completely bright orange or red body.

Red spotted newts breed in April and May. Breeding is instigated by the male who attracts the female newt to him with his bright red spots. He then releases and odor while wiggling, which further attracts the female. The two mate and lay eggs that hatch in three to four weeks. Thus begins the three stage life cycle of this amphibian. The first stage is aquatic larvae (the eggs), the second stage is terrestrial efts (the red eft), and the third and final stage is the aquatic adult. Female red spotted newts lay between 200 and 400 eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the efts spend most of their time hunting.

Their diet consists mainly of caterpillars, invertebrates, spiders, and flies. Red Spotted Newts are one of the easiest newts to keep as a pet, as far as maintenance goes, but one has to be aware that they can live up to 20 years, so it may be more of a long term investment than most pet owners are ready for. Although the ref eft isn't too uncommon to see around the woods, I was excited to see a bit of wildlife on a rainy autumn day!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Free Masons

Posted by Hannah Brill. Hannah is a Sophomore at UVM in the Environmental Program. While walking through the Green Mount Cemetery in Centennial Woods, a symbols engraved on one of the gravestones caught her eye. She decided to dig a little deeper and found something much more interesting then expected.

As I walked through Green Mount Cemetery here in Burlington I noticed a peculiar symbol embossed on one of the fancier gravestones, which belonged to the Spafford family.  The symbol is simple: a “G” engraved inside a compass and ruler (see image below). This natural history mystery led me to do a little research behind the peculiar symbol.

Once I began researching more about this mysterious symbol I opened a door into a much more peculiar world then I had expected. The engraved symbol belongs to the Freemasons. Freemasons are an international “secret” fraternity. It’s not very secret because so many people know about it. Five million of them walk among us, globally. They have lavish temples, ancient legends, and roots in the medieval crusades. The creation or beginning of the Freemasons is uncertain but some spectators say they can be traced back to the late 16th early 17th century during the stonemason guild of England, Scotland, and France.

The members of this society are powerful, among the elite include George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Hennery Ford, Mozart, Napoleon Bonaparte, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer MGM studios, Warner brothers, Fox, the man who created the UN and the CIA and many more. The Freemason society may not be that hush-hush but they do have many secrets that have created a lot of buzz and conspiracy’s surrounding this enigmatic club.

This organization has caused a lot of commotion over the years. Their secret rituals, handshakes, meetings, and lavish temples (their clubhouse) have made others uncomfortable. Because of the powerful elite nature of the members and the secrets they have kept for centuries has created many conspiracy theories against the freemasons. One in particular that really caught my eye was the idea that this group is actually a secret government within our government.

Some suggest that Freemasons established America to be a country of their own that they have secretly controlled since the American Revolution. There many “coincidental” occurrences that have had people wondering how true this may be. George Washington, our first president, was an avid Freemason. Above is a picture of George Washington at the laying of the cornerstone. He is all decked out in Freemason wear, an apron, their compass and ruler symbol, and a gavel. Since then one out of every three United States presidents have been members of the Freemasons. The gavel, used in our current judicial system is a major symbol of freemasonry, coincidence or not?

Also while researching I found a very mysterious Masonic connection on the dollar bill. As you can see if you circle the M A S O N and connect them with lines they create a seamless star of David, or pagan star (both common symbols of Freemason.) Also, as mentioned above, the creator of the UN and the CIA were both invented by a Mason. This may or may not be a coincidence but it sure has created some conspiracy theories that the Freemasons have been in control of the country, government and economy.

Any man can be a Freemason. He must ask to be one, Freemasons never ask you to join. They are a group based on moral systems and beliefs in God. All religions are welcome however one must have a religion. Some regard Freemasonry as a religion but they disregard that accusation. Even though the inside of their Grand Lodges look a lot like churches. Inside the lodge is an alter with a volume of sacred law and sacred books of whatever religion those masons believe in. Once you decide to become a Freemason it is a life altering commitment. It is an attempt to be reborn and become a new person, a Freemason; a good and moral person they emphasize. That sounds a lot like religion to me, or maybe it is just another coincidence.

There are three degrees of masonry; entered apprentice, fellow craft and master mason. At every level the mason will learn another secret pass code that will allow him to enter his next degree. However, this pass code must be kept secret just like everything else they learn. If you break your oaths as a Freemason you will be murdered (well at least there are historic records that support this).

This organization is based off and continues to grow off elaborate secrets.  It is hard to describe what exactly Freemasons are because a lot of it is speculative and pieced together from leaked secrets. We can however identify that the members of the largest single organization that is secret happens around the world and holds some of the most richest and most powerful men on earth. These people may or may not have dark agendas and have invisibly controlled and produced our current day society. So now when you see Freemason symbols on bumper stickers, flags, gravestones, t-shirts, buildings, etc you will know that there may be more to those images then the eye can see. It’s a society built off secrets non-masons may never know.

For more information, you can watch this documentary on the Secret History of the Freemasons

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rascals in the trash

What: I'm still on California time so I couldn't quite fall asleep when I wanted to. Feeling restless I made my way down to the beaver pond to check in on the beavers. There's a thin sheet of ice on the top of the retention pond! When I arrived one of the beavers was swimming around breaking up the ice and by the time he made it over to say hello to me it had a good chunk stuck to his fur. On my way back home I stopped by the dumpsters behind Centennial Field to see if the raccoons were feeding. I could smell popcorn as I walked up and sure enough heard rustling in one of the bins. I was greeted by three cuties filling their fat little bellies on the spoils.

As it turns out the pile of trash bags was a bit too low for the raccoons to use as a ladder to get back out of the trash cans so they were stranded in a pile of popcorn, candy, and bread - not bad by a raccoon's standards! Can't blame them for jumping in, but still poor planning. Watching them helplessly try and escape I realized two things: 1) raccoons can't jump to save their life, and 2) their front arms are strong but they can really only use them to hang on, not pull themselves up. I found this out by dangling some rope down into the dumpster so the raccoons could climb out. They were able to reach the bottom of the rope to latch onto but couldn't manage to pull their fat (and I mean really fat) bodies up. They had to swing their hind legs out to the side and grab onto another rope with their hind feet. They fell a couple of times while trying to figure out a system. I wound up putting a pallet in the dumpster to set them free. 

Ecological notes: About 3 weeks ago a couple of friends and I spotted a family of 4 feeding in the bins. Tonight I only spotted 3. One was awfully shy and hid under a sheet of cardboard. This time of year, in preparation for winter, family groups (consisting of the mother and first year kits) typically split up. This avoids competition for food during the lean winter months. In Samuel Zeveloff's awesome book Raccoons: A Natural History, he says that in colder regions, the family group will last through the winter. From what I found there seems to be disagreement over what the gender/familial relationships are within groups of raccoons. It was hard for me to tell what the gender breakdown was as males and females look the same, but I would assume that the boldest of the three was mom (pictured above, she was also the biggest), and the others were her offspring.

Where: Dumpsters behind Centennial Field in Burlington

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Marcescence in beech trees

Kaleigh Wood is a senior Environmental Studies in the Rubenstein School at UVM. She enjoys exploring outside, running and cooking.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a stroll through Centennial Woods (CW) for a class assignment. The leaves littered the ground with their colors and gave my steps a pleasant crunchy sound as I made my way deeper into the woods. I looked up to find that most of the trees had shed their leaves. I kept walking and suddenly I was surrounded by this beautiful tree that was still full of its vibrant orange leaves. While I haven't taken dendrology and my tree identification skills are sub-par, I did know this one. The tree that was still holding onto its exciting leaves was an American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). I started to wonder, why do Beech trees hold onto their leaves after all the other deciduous trees let theirs fall?

I went on a run with my trusty running buddy, Lily Morgan, who happens to have a strong passion for trees. I was explaining what I had seen in CW and started to ask her what she knew about the American beech; she started rambling some things in Latin and I quickly stopped her and asked her about the leaves and why they stayed on for so long. She gave me a lesson from Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels on beech. We found out that beech and oak trees are actually somewhere in between evergreen and deciduous trees, explaining why those tree species can hang on to their leaves throughout  the winter.

We wanted to know more, we found out the genetic reasoning why Beech can hang on to their leaves, but what was the ecological advantage of it? I explored the internet and found an article in Northern Woodlands magazine. The author, Michael Snyder, (who is the Chittenden County Forester in Vermont) explained that some plants will retain dead plant matter, known as marcescence. It turns out there are many theories to the advantages of marcescence. One theory is it’s an adaptive advantage for trees growing in dry and infertile areas (where Beech trees grow!), because if they do not drop their leaves onto the ground they deprive the soil of organic matter which other trees need. Beech and oaks don't need the added nutrients so they  continue to thrive. Keeping leaves on their branches and not on the ground allows them to out-compete other species surrounding them. Additionally oak leaves are high in tannins and reluctant to decompose, further reducing available nutrients to other would-be competitors.

Other advantages of marcescence are, trapping snow which leads to more moisture at the base of the tree, the dead leaves on the limbs protect buds from frost in the winter, and finally the leaves can protect the trees from browsers such as deer and moose. The dead leaves can hide buds so they are less likely to be eaten and are more likely to grow new buds and twigs in the spring. Not only do Beech trees provide CW with great views after most trees have dropped their leaves, but there are also advantages to this interesting adaptation.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Norway Maples in the US and Centennial Woods

Posted by Maxwell Siegel- A junior in the Rubenstein School at UVM who is interested in environmental studies, and specifically sustainability studies. Forests and nature in general has always been a passion of his worth pursuing.

The Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is an extremely common species of tree across the United States, whether they line urban avenues, or make up large portions of deciduous forest. One begins to wonder, “Why is a Norway maple growing in North America?” Most Americans are accustomed to the look of the Norway maple and do not question their presence in the United States. In fact, the leaf of the species is the trademark icon for my hometown of Maplewood, New Jersey. The Norway Mmaple is the maple that suburban and urban Americans think of. But when did this species make its way from Europe to North America, and how did it become so popular and widespread?

According to the USDA Forest Service Norway maple is the most widely distributed native maple in Europe, existing in locations with elevations ranging from 0-6000 feet. The first Norway maples made it to the United States in 1756 but were relatively rare until the late 1800s when their popularity exploded. There are several reasons for the cultivation and spread of Norway maples throughout the Untied States. The first being the aesthetically pleasing color and shape the species presents, as well as its extremely immediate and sustained accelerated growth patterns. The species is well adapted to urban environments as it can withstand “moderate pollution, dusts, pavement and dry soil” (USDA forest service), making it an ideal species for lining urban and suburban streets and landscaping properties. They provide ample shade and can quickly become the centerpiece of a yard.

The true boom to the U.S Norway maple population came after Dutch Elm Disease decimated the Elms across the nation, including all of the Elm that had previously lined roads. The urban landscaping niche needed to be filled, and thus the Norway maple stepped into the batter’s box and has taken over the continent’s maple distribution and make-up. Here in urban Vermont these trees are quite common and fill their new niche rather well, making up for the disappearance of Elms along roadsides and in yards. Because they are fully capable of reproducing, the have spilled out of the concrete and are filling our forests as well. It can be estimated that Norway maples entered our state between 1860-1900 and “blossomed” between 1925 and 1950. In Centennial Woods, here in Burlington, the Norway maple thrives. It can live in varying soils because moisture is not a limiting factor. The largest Norway maple I have personally seen in Centennial Woods is in the North-Western section of the woods, and can be approximated to an age between 90-110 years old, dating it back to somewhere between 1902-1922. Another stand fills the gaps in an area that was selectively logged in the late 60s, regeneration from those first Norway maples that had since matured.

It is difficult to determine whether or not the species should be considered “invasive” or not, only because it can out compete native maples such as sugar (A. saccharinum) and red maples (A. rubrum). The diversity of maple species in Centennial Woods seems evenly distributed, however with more research a more accurate depiction of the impact of Norway maples could be determined. But that is for another time!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Holy Crows

Posted by Jess dePiano. Jess is a junior ENVS major/Ecological Agriculture minor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and is very interested in ecology and wildlife conservation.

What: Centennial Woods is a great place to observe some pretty dramatic phenological changes that are occurring as we approach the winter months. By now, pretty much all of the deciduous trees have lost their leaves (save the reluctant Norway maples), insects are few and far between, and animals are preparing for the long, cold months ahead. One amazing event that is occurring right now is a mass migration of crows flying over the Burlington area. This daily migration was first pointed out to me by one of my professors at UVM, Teage O'Connor. Seeing this migration over the past few days made me wonder: Where are the crows going? Where are they coming from? Why are they traveling in such large groups (sometimes in the thousands!)? I decided to do some research to look into these questions.

The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) generally migrates short-distance during the winter months. The crows that we are seeing flying over Burlington are traveling to a communal roost (possibly near Red Rocks) where thousands of birds can be found roosting each night. This type of behavior is typical of American crows at this time of year, although to the observer, the sight of hundreds or even thousands of birds flying overhead is extraordinary.

Crow behavior is fascinating. These birds are extremely intelligent creatures, although some regard them as nuisances. Crows travel and forage for food in family groups year-round. When winter approaches, however, massive flocks form and migrate together to roosting sites, like the one here in Burlington. Over the past 60 years crow roosts have become increasingly urban and increasingly large (the largest recorded was estimated around 2 million crows). The sheer number of crows roosting together provides them with protection from predation (strength in numbers!), warmth, and the chance for adolescents to meet potential mates. Also, since crows forage in groups, belonging to such a large group may increase their chances of finding food in the winter. In an urban area like Burlington, the crows have a much better chance at finding food to scavenge and are less likely to encounter large predatory birds (compared to more 'wild' areas).

The migration is a daily one for crows, some traveling well over 10-20 miles to get to Burlington. They arrive in the evenings in a steady stream from around 3-5pm. As winter progresses, we should expect to see more of these birds migrating in the late afternoon into Burlington in search of shelter. If this winter proves to be especially harsh, crow populations may reach over five thousand. If you get a chance, take some time out of your day to watch this incredible event. I personally have never seen anything like it!

Where: Burlington, VT

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pine borers

Posted by Aaron Rosenbluth. Aaron is a sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio studying Natural Resource Planning and Economics. He loves being in the outdoors and is happily a member of the UVM outing club!

What: Two months ago I was in Centennial Woods leaning against a fallen tree taking notes. The sun was out and I couldn't have been happier listening to the summer grasshoppers sing and birds above me chirp. After almost a half an hour out there, I looked behind me at the tree I was leaning against and realized I was leaning against a phenomenon that I've seen countless times over the years, but have never really thought twice about. What I saw was a simply massive maze of tunnels/passages in the wood. The tunnels weren't very deep down - just under the bark layer - about 1cm deep, but it was a fascinatingly huge and sprawling system. I figured these tunnels were created by some sort of insect species, but which one and how and why?

After some preliminary research I quickly realized what type of species I was starting to investigate; species within the realm of wood-borers, or species which eat and destroy wood (Xylophagous species, from Greek "xylon" for wood and "phagus" for eater). These species range considerably in their characteristics (as well as richness, with over 10,000 species of wood-boring insects identified).

  • All make unique patterns or “galleries” where they live and lay their larvae, 
  • all produce and leave behind unique types of frass (excrement from eating wood), 
  • all prefer different species of wood to bore into, 
  • and all prefer different levels of health in the tree's which they choose to bore into. 
Once larvae have completed development, new adults will chew an exit hole through the bark and emerge. These exit holes are either round, D-shaped, or ovular. Typically, these wood-borers are insects and arthropod species (beetles, moths, ants, bees) whose larvae are laid in and subsequently mature under the bark layer of trees.

After realizing the tree I was leaning against was once home to massive borer community, I looked around the area (a stand of conifers, mostly white pine and hemlock) and was surprised to find that most of the downed trees in the area had once been host to this same borer species. After researching with Eiseman and Charney's Tracks and Sign of Insects and many hours of poring over internet databases, I was unable to come to a conclusion on exactly what species of borer did this, however I did come to the conclusion that it was some sort of bark beetle of the Curculiondae family within the sub-family Scolytinae (linked at the bottom of this posting is an official Vermont State report on insects which likely contains the correct species). These beetles feed on the cambium layer of trees, creating distinguishable patterns in the inner bark and outer sapwood. It is unlike bark beetles to bore deeper than 3mm into the sapwood layer of the tree, which matches what I observed in my tree. Most commonly, bark beetles will attack a tree that is already injured or diseased, often killing it in the process.

The most basic bark beetle gallery begins with the creation of a mating chamber, from which a female excavates a linear tunnel of uniform width either perpendicular or parallel with the grain of the tree (mine went parallel). On either side of the tunnel, the female creates small little niches and lays an egg in each one. I was able to see these niches in my downed tree species (these were in white pine, Pinus strobus); they look like tick marks that are evenly spread out following the main tunnel (see image above).

Ecological Notes:
Wood borers serve the ecologically keystone task of facilitating tree decomposition by creating holes and channels in the woody tissue, phloem, and bark of the stressed, diseased, or dying trees which they feed on. This allows for fungi to enter the tree and begin decomposition.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spooky Happenings in Centennial Woods

Nathan Hanna is a junior at the University of Vermont Studying Environmental Studies. He grew up in the woods of New Hampshire and enjoys exploring all aspects of nature.

It’s that time of the year again! Goblins and Ghouls are roaming the earth looking to spook wary wanderers and black cats are abundant. Everywhere you go there is bound to be some sort of bone-chilling history, and Centennial Woods is no different. I researched various past events and mysteries that may have you wondering if you are really alone in the woods. I also explored the ways in which the nature of Centennial Woods has played a role and has been affected by these frightening tales.

Story #1
The first eerie mystery involves the Greenmount Cemetery, which borders Centennial Woods and overlooks the city of Winooski. The cemetery dates as far back as 1763 and contains some of Vermont’s most important historical figures. General Ethan Allen, who captained the Green Mountain Boys and fought for Vermont’s independence, has an extravagant, 42-foot statue that was erected in 1873. A plaque at the front of the monument explains that Ethan Allen “was buried near here.” Through this enigmatic plaque, there was confusion as to if his remains were actually buried in Greenmount. In 2000, there was a project to restore the monument, and during this process, workers discovered a crypt buried underneath the monument. Rather than opening the crypt to find out for sure if Ethan Allen’s remains existed at Greenmount, Vermont elected to keep it a mystery in order to protect historical integrity. Avid hiker and Centennial Woods explorer Will Russell recalled a night last winter in which he heard strange noises around Ethan Allen’s grave site. Could this be our past freedom fighter roaming his former land? If you find yourself walking the borders of Centennial Woods near the cemetery, especially around this time of year, keep your eyes peeled for any ghostly happenings!

Ecological Notes:
Graveyards include an abundance of flora, and Greenmount Cemetery boasts a wide range of plants and trees over its fifteen acres, many of which are native to Vermont. Evergreens such as the white spruce (Picea glauca), white pine (Pinus strobus) and the white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) provide great coverage from wind and snow for the graveyard. Other aesthetically pleasing species present include the paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and the red maple (Acer rubrum).

Story #2
Another frightening story includes a body that was found in the woods just one year ago. A woman was out walking her dog when she happened upon a dead body wrapped in a blanket. To this day, nobody knows for sure what happened to this man. Perhaps it was due natural causes, or maybe something in the woods got him. The harsh winters of Vermont have been known to swallow up innocent souls and leave bodies strewn on the cold hard ground.

Ecological Notes
Plants and wildlife have to fend for themselves every winter, and some do this better than others. Beavers for instance, adapt well to cold temperatures. Normally crepuscular animals (active primarily during daybreak and twilight), beavers spend the daytime leading up to winter to build their lodges. Since the surface of the water they live in may freeze solid, beavers will chew down extra trees for underwater food storage. On the other hand, many trees, plants, and animals fall victim to the ice and wind and eventually meet fate of the lost man of Centennial Woods.

Story #3
Photo taken by Gary Allen
Our next spooky tale involves an abandoned ski hill. In the winter of 1962-1963 the South Burlington Rope Tow was opened for operation on what is now Centennial Woods land. The slope was open for a few years before it was mysteriously destroyed and left as a barren wasteland. There were accounts of children playing with fire around the time of the disaster, and it is believed that these troublemakers caused the destruction. Some say that if you head to this section of Centennial Woods on a quiet winter afternoon, you can still hear the raggedy old rope tow and the sounds of old skis running across the snow.

Ecological Notes:
Today, Red Pines (Pinus resinosa) inhabit much of the forest where the ski hill used to exist. The presence of Red Pines suggests past fire activity because red pine regeneration peaks in the years following fires. Fire adaptations include a thickened bark and an elevated crown.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stars on Earth: How to find them, and how to make them shine

Amanda Spears is a sophomore in the Rubenstein School of The Environment and Natural Resources studying wildlife biology. She is (informally) a field naturalist in-training with a passion for birds.

Centennial Woods is absolutely breathtaking and brimming with life this time of year. . .during the day. But what about at night? Do we all assume that it rests with the sun to prepare for it’s early morning the next day? If you've been in the woods at night then you know that it’s just as awake at night as it is during the day, or rather it’s best described as a re-awaking. Owls, flying squirrels, deer, rodents, opossum, raccoons, frogs, and scores of insects use the absence of light to evade predators, and/or capture prey. Being in the woods at night is admittedly eerie, perhaps because you tend to feel the presence of life, something watching you, that uneasy feeling that you are not alone.

I’ve been out to Centennial Woods dozens of times, during the day of course. Recently, a few friends and I took advantage of a particularly warm evening and headed out for a night hike. We started at the main entrance off Carrigan Drive, and walked in quite a ways, stumbling upon a few bedding deer, and trying to hoot up a Barred Owl. No luck. However, sweeping our headlamps back and forth across the path, every once and awhile a small flash of light would catch our eyes, looking much like a bead of dew catching the morning sun - or in this case our headlamps. It had not rained recently, so what were these twinkling earthbound stars? Curiously we targeted one and walked slowly up to it, and what we discovered awed some of us, and frightened the rest . . .

it was a Wolf Spider!

This particular guy was hanging amongst the leaf litter and debris, perhaps patiently waiting for a meal to walk by. He looks a bit like a mini- tarantula, doesn’t he? So how does he produce that light? We’ve heard that spiders have eight eyes, and as it turns out, the arrangement of those eyes is a way to classify and identify certain spider families. Lycosidae, or Wolf Spiders, have 4 small anterior eyes and 4 large posterior eyes, giving them excellent eyesight to use for hunting, evading predators, and courtship. These eyes are also responsible for producing that glint: light from the headlamp reflects off the tapetum lucidum in the spider’s eyes. You’ve seen this elsewhere, maybe from a deer in your headlights, or even from your cat. The eyeshine from these animals is the same as this spider’s. 

Not all light that enters the eye is perceived by an organism. This is particularly problematic for nocturnal animals. The tapetum lucidum is a layer of cells in the back of the eye behind the retina that reflects incoming light back across the retina, allowing an organism to make the most of scant light at night. Not all the reflected light is absorbed by the retina on its second pass and so the glow comes from the light that "escapes" back out the eye. Those organisms that have a tapetum lucidum are, in most cases, nocturnal. Different colored reflections can be diagnostic for identifying animals at night.

So this Halloween, when you are out and about walking from this house to the next (for whatever reason), remember to bring your flashlight or, better yet, your headlamp. You may be lucky enough to catch a spider’s eye, or eight!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bunker in Centennial Woods

Posted by Andrew Mamrak. Andrew is a Junior Environmental Studies student with a focus in ecology and conservation in the Rubenstein School of Natural Resources at UVM

Ever since the very first time I set foot in Centennial Woods, I have been drawn to the large concrete structure beyond the stream, not far from the main entrance off of Carrigan Drive. This rundown pseudo-bunker is clearly not a natural component of UVM owned Centennial Woods Natural Area. It has, however, become a graffiti and spray paint canvas for college students and local kids trying to leave their own mark or message on.

Knowing only a little about the past uses of Centennial Woods from my Natural History of Centennial Woods class, I still did not feel confident assuming that this structure was somehow a part of a past farming or possibly even the old skiing area located a short distance to the southeast. This large and clearly historical piece of human presence in the area sparked my curiosity and I decided to find out just what it was and what purpose it served.

After beginning some online research of my own to no avail, I decided to head to the University of Vermont Libraries special collections to see if I could find some information on past land use and history of Centennial Woods. After some assistance from the librarian Sylvia Bugbee and later Prudence Doherty I was able to look at some historical maps, blueprints and even some really interesting deeds from when the area changed hands over the years. While doing my investigating I found that there was a series of monuments spread throughout the area. Most of these monuments denoted ranges of specific parcels of land and/or marked elevation as part of an old coordinate system (see Sarah's posting on property line markers). Although I could not find any sort of description of a bunker or larger concrete fixture, I did learn that the historical Vermont, New York and New Hampshire militia organization founded in the 1760s, also known as the Green Mountain Boys, had connections to the land that is now Centennial Woods. Due to the architecture of this structure I believe that this was built for some type of training purpose for the Green Mountain Boys before Centennial Woods was a protected natural area owned by the University of Vermont. Also, knowing the fact that concrete was not made widespread in American until around 1850-1880, I would make the assumption that this structure was built post-Civil War era. The Green Mountain Boys were originally led by Ethan Allen and is now the unofficial name for the Vermont National Guard. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Posted by Matt Barrows. Matt finds fungus fascinating, and is a Senior at UVM majoring in Environmental Studies.

Chaga is not your typical mushroom. In fact, to the untrained eye, you might never guess that it’s a fungus at all! It’s rough and hard throughout, yet porous. The outside looks like charcoal, while the inside has an orange-brown tone. Its size varies as well depending on where you find it. But, where do you find it exactly?

Chaga thrives in colder climates, and can be found across the state of Vermont, yet, it doesn’t grow on the ground or on fallen trees. Rather, it appears as a growth on living trees, birch trees to be more specific, as a parasite (detrimental, but not fatal to the tree). Because the fungus is so hard and grows on standing birches, harvesting it is an arduous process. If you’re lucky to find it growing low enough where you can touch it from the ground, a well-placed hatchet strike can separate it from the tree. If you can’t reach it from the ground, prepare to climb. Just make sure to brace yourself when attempting to harvest the chaga! It seems we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, though. What’s so special about this fungus anyway? Why harvest it?

This strange fungus, typically consumed by making it into tea, is said to have miraculous medicinal properties to say the least. It’s said to have an abundance of antioxidants, as well as having cancer and tumor prevention and alleviation properties. It’s also said to be an immune system booster! Does this sound too good to be true? There’s not a lot of scientific evidence surrounding these claims, but there’s plenty of buzz in the holistic-healing community about this fungus.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hackberry gall psyllids

Posted by Lauren Lenz. Lauren is a junior at UVM studying Environmental Studies. 

What: While collecting some walnuts from a black walnut tree located behind my house, I noticed that many of the leaves covering my driveway had some curious raised growths on them that resembled blisters. The blisters ranged in color, from a dried up dark brown, to a bright and healthy looking green. I’ve seen this before on different kinds of leaves, but have never quite understood exactly what they are and what causes them. Are the growths some sort of fungus? Do they occur because of an insect? Are they harmful to
the tree or plant?

I did some initial research and concluded that perhaps insects caused these blisters, also known as galls. I contacted Scott Stokoe, Dartmouth College farm manager/educator, and avid naturalist, to get some more information on galls. First, he told me that many people see galls and imagine them to be tumor-like growths that are detrimental to the health of the tree. However, that's not exactly what galls are. He had me look at a goldenrod gall, and instructed me to see if I could see or feel any noticeable differences between the stem of the goldenrod and the gall. I looked and felt, and found no differences between the texture and color of the stem and the swollen gall growing within it. The most amazing thing about galls is that they mimic the growth of the stem, and because of this, do not harm or kill the plant.

Scott explained that a female insect (in the case of the gall on the stem of the goldenrod, the goldenrod gall fly) creates the gall when she lays her eggs in the stem. The laying insect or sometimes the larva itself produce chemicals to create an abnormal growth in the plant which results in a place for the larva to live and grow. We cut into the quarter-sized goldenrod gall and found a small larva inside. We also noticed a pathway to the edge of the gall that did not break the outer wall of the plant. I looked up a bit more information that explained that when fall approaches, the larva burrows a path to the outside edge of the gall, but will not use the “escape tunnel” until it leaves the following spring. Therefore, the goldenrod gall fly larvae will winter inside the gall until the promise of spring arrives.

I went back out to my driveway to get a closer look at the galls that appeared to be growing on the fallen leaves. I identified the leaves as being from a Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) tree, whose most common leaf galls are created by a type of midge fly called the hackberry gall psyllid, or hackberry nipple gall maker (Pachypsilla sp.). I cut many of them open, hoping to find insect larvae inside. However, while all the galls showed signs that larvae were the previous inhabitants, none of them actually contained a larva. Upon closer
observation, the underside of all the galls had tiny holes in them, where it appears the larva inside may have taken their “escape tunnel” out. When did they leave the gall? When the tree dropped its leaves? What and where are they now?

Ecological Notes: Many plants have various types of galls, in all sorts of different places (petioles, leaves, lead shoots). However, each species of gall-making insect only creates galls in one specific species of plant. Every insect species creates their galls in a particular place on their host plant, and each species creates uniquely shaped galls. Gall making is not limited to insects; galls can also be created by fungi and bacteria!

Where: Burlington, and all over!