Friday, March 29, 2013
What: Spring is definitely here. The energy of the land has shifted and there's a buzz all around that is singing "Life!" One unfortunate change is that the sap has started to go "buddy" - it has a bitter and unpleasant taste to it. This occurs when the buds swell. Right now, the buds on the silver maple outside my window are completely swollen (all that sap that's been flowing has to go somewhere), and they're about to burst. I'll be tracking this little twig over the coming weeks as it leafs out. You can track leaf burst dates with Project Bud Burst.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
|Sapcicle on a broken boxelder twig|
Websites for sugaring operations are quick to root the practice in indigenous folklore (whether it be the Abenaki story of Gluskape diluting sugar, the Haudenosaunee story of the chief sticking his hatchet in a tree, or another story of red squirrels chewing branches). I tend to be skeptical of the credibility of websites that generalize these stories and say things like, "The Indians made maple syrup. They would take a hatchet and cut a gash in the tree and insert a wooden or bark shim. The sap poured off into pots. The trees were bigger back then, and must have had plenty of sap. The Indians concentrated the sap by dropping hot rocks into the pot to boil off some of the water." Adding to my mistrust of these sources is that I'm always skeptical until I try something myself to prove (or disprove) it or observe it myself (like watching a red squirrel "tap" a sugar maple at Rock Point and come back later to eat the icicles and lick the wound sites).
I paddled the Winooski River with Brian on Saturday and at one point we paddled under a silver maple tree yawning over the gentle river. From some past flood event a few of the lowest branches had been broken off. The sap had been oozing out of the broken twigs and in the cold had formed icicles. Brian and I enjoyed sucking the sweet icicles off the branches. With such a sweet surprise, I'm sure any curious mind would have wondered what other trees would ooze a sweet sap and how could they harvest more of it. I'd start breaking branches, bending them over to collect in little containers. I don't know that I would rock boil them, but I'd drink nothing but sap water for the first month or two of spring when it was flowing in the maple genus. I'll bet harvesting sap from twigcicles would have come before "tapping" the trees, or harvesting in some other way from the bole, or trunk, of the tree.
Where: Broken branches everywhere
Other notes: Maples are still the only species to be flowing so far.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
|Green frog tadpole in pool at base of outflow pipe|
Ecological notes: Green frogs, bullfrogs, and mink frogs (mink frogs are only found in the northeast kingdom) all have tadpoles that will overwinter. These little guys are green frog tadpoles. There were also some unknown (at least to me) species of fish. One that I was watching had its head pointed straight down into the muck (for more on what that muck was, you can visit one of my favorite websites).
Where: I-89 & Patchen Rd in South Burlington
|Unknown fish species enjoying the relatively warm water (probably ~50 degrees)|
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
What: On Saturday Nathan and I went for a wander in Centennial Woods. We were exploring the lower stretches of Centennial Brook in Fox Marsh when we heard some crows making a ruckus to our East. We decided to track down the birds and see what the fuss was all about. Turns out the crows were harassing a barred owl that seemed more interested in napping than paying attention to the crows. After about 15 minutes the crows left the owl at peace. It was interesting to watch the owl over then next 45 minutes or so because any time a crow flew nearby it would caw, just to remind the owl they knew it was there. We walked back to my house to get better binoculars and my camera and the owl was still there by the time we got back. I snapped a couple of pictures of the owl perched near the top of an old white pine.
|Short-tailed shrew skull found in barred owl pellet|
|Challenge: Find its eyes (or ears)!|
Some observations we made about the shrew:
- They have super short hair that rubs well both forward and back (possibly for entering unknown tunnels in search of prey)
- They have large ear openings, but the external ear itself is super small
- Their eyes are all but absent
- Their whiskers are very prominent up the snout
- The snout seemed to have the same reddish purple color that the teeth have
- Their claws were exceptionally long
Other notes: Almost exactly a year ago I spotted a barred owl in the same spot in the same way. I had actually followed the crows to a nearby spot where they were mobbing a red-tailed hawk.
Monday, March 18, 2013
What: I just wanted to post a quick photo of a basswood bud. My friend Emily Stone told me a few years back that the buds looked like a mouse wearing a motorcycle helmet. I love that description, and it's definitely evident in the photo. The buds are edible and delicious (though a bit mucilaginous). Emily also taught me that you could eat the young leaves when they open. It's one of the first spring greens to come out and such a wonderful treat to be able to eat.
The little bumps visible on the twig are lenticels, the mouths along the branch. Basswood twigs, like most other species, are photosynthetic. If you peel back the outer bark you can see a thin layer of green tissue. The lenticels provide oxygen and other gases to move back and forth in support of respiration.
Friday, March 15, 2013
|Frost bite on ear|
- Possums have a super short life span (a 2 year old possum is ancient)
- They have 50 teeth (dental formula: 5134/4134)
- Possums don't "play" dead but actually become catatonic. It's an involuntary response, the crescendo of which is the expulsion of a foul smelling liquid from their scent glands. I'd assume that this deters any predator from wanting anything to do with eating the animal (it also starts drooling, will urinate and defecate as well as lower its temperature and heart rate).
- They only have awn hair, which explains the raggedy look of their coat (somewhere between the insulative down hairs and the coloration hairs we collectively call the pelt and individually the guard hairs)
- Only the females have pouches (and they're super small)
- Possums frequently get frostbite here in Vermont. They're at the northern most extent of their range and have naked tails/ears. Like cardinals, they have moved their range north following urban centers of people.
- Males have a scent gland on the chest that gives the fur in that spot a gross yellow color
- They are not winter mammals, and can lose almost half their body weight during the winter
- Sperm is paired and doesn't swim straight if single
- They're essentially immune to snake bites
- They're total scavengers (which might be why I have such an affinity for them) and apparently have a rapacious appetite for calcium so frequently eat road kill skeletons
- They supposedly even will kill rats, but mostly they scavenger for invertebrates and carrion
- They have a very very slow metabolism (unlike shrews) and move much slower than most animals their size
|Frost bite on tail|
Ecological notes: The frostbite they frequently get doesn't matter all that much, nor is their much selective pressure pushing them to adapt to the winter since they live such short live (rarely living more than one full winter). They are continually pushing their range northward. Young possums can hang by their tails, but adults can't.
Where: East Ave
Other notes: Opossum comes from the Algonquian word "opassum" which translates roughly to "white animal". The word was first used in 1608 by Capt. John Smith. His description of "possums" (the 'o' was dropped in writings as early as 1613), is simple and alludes to the oddball-ness of the creature: "An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein shee lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young."
Other posts with photos of animal feet in them:
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
|Wood frog (note black mask on its face)|
We were out from about 9:30-10:15pm and here's our list
- Jefferson's salamander: 15
- blue-spotted salamander: 8
- Jefferson x blue-spotted hybrid?
- spotted salamander: 6
- Wood frog: 4
- Spring peeper: 2
- 4-toed salamander: 1
- eastern newt: 5 (all dead)
Where: North St in New Haven, about a mile north of Plank Rd. Super hot spot, usually one of the first spots in the Champlain Valley to see movement.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
|Front left foot of a mink|
|Hind feet (right foot is on bottom) of a mink|
Friday, March 1, 2013
What: Second installment of the series of videos from the same two perspectives tracking change over time in Centennial Woods. The videos are not super impressive yet, but in 20 years it'll be awesome to watch the changes develop over time. I chose these spots because they have dynamic water ways, early successional habitat, repeated disturbance (brush hogging under powerlines), and a mix of conifers and hardwoods. We'll see what develops! Phenology notes from the past month: Spring is on the way!! Here are some highlights from the month:
- We had a bit of snow, but mostly temperatures hovering around freezing.
- We also had our first rain of the spring.
- I've noticed honeysuckle buds that burst open (and elderberries that almost opened),
- There's an abundance of skunk prowling around,
- Coyotes were scent marking at the height of their breeding season
- The sap is flowing on maples (silver, red, sugar, and boxelder),
- and today I spotted turkey vultures flying north.