Jake on Mushrooms Again

Field Guide

Today I took my field guide out to the woods behind the farm fields. Where the path split I found a couple of downed maple limbs with some interesting fungi growing on them. At first I thought that the same mushroom inhabited all of the branches but upon closer inspection I realized that there were two totally different species. The first that I noticed was growing horizontally, it was wavy rather than smooth, and it had brown zones that followed the contour of the margin. Soon I realized that this mushroom was entirely different than the one next to it, which radiated directly out of its limb and was perfectly flat. It too had brown zones but they faded to violet at the margin. It all became clear once I looked at the gills on the underside of the mushroom. The first mushroom had obvious teeth while the second had pores that split into subtle teeth. They were kidney-shaped tooth and violet toothed polypore.

Several weeks ago I found a fascinating mushroom at my house in Vermont. I happened to be borrowing a copy of the mushroom guide and looked it up. Just a few weeks ago I spotted the same mushroom on the backside of the Lemelson center. It was the shaggy mane mushroom, a beautiful mushroom that undergoes a fabulous transformation. At the beginning of its life, the mushroom is club shaped with reddish brown scales. At the end, all that remains is a black residue and the stalk. The mushroom at my house went through the process in two days. Before its metamorphosis  the mushroom is a choice edible but once the gills have liquefied it is less desirable.

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Reading Response

I found chapter two of Reading the Forested Landscape to be an especially interesting chapter. I enjoyed learning about the succession of pasture lands. Broad-leafed plants like plantain develope first, evading the chomping teeth of ruminants with their prostrate leaves. Then comes milkweed and goldenrod which are uneatable to pasture animals, followed by thorney shrubbery like blackberry and rose. Finally, trees are able to mature in this mass of successional species and eventually shades them out, condemning the very plants plants that harbored it… such is life.

Wessels said that a white pine with a divided trunk above four feet tall evidences that it was grown in a pasture because the white pine weevil needs warm places to germinate. I am doubtful of this assertion because I see divided white pines everywhere. The stand of pines where one of the project sites is, is a prime example. There are several divided trees in that stand and they certainly weren’t pasture trees. Wessels has some great observations but I suppose one must keep in mind that his book wasn’t peer reviewed.

Everytime I hear about Native American history I am filled with sadness. I wish that their culture and relationship with the land could be alive today. Wessels mentioned that the average colonialist worked ceasely, “improving” their land with pasture and fences. It seems unfortunate that this lifestyle has proceeded while the Native Americans has nearly died. What would the world be like if I had been born into a native american society?

Though i have heard it before, i never fathomed how many Native Americans died of disease. I had always imagined them dying in war with the colonists. I am impressed by how long they kept the colonists at bay despite their reduced numbers.

Project Notes

The most substantial revision to my section of the final project will be clarifying the methods i used to determine tree ages. I will also use more qualifiers to convey the fact that the ages given are mere estimates.

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November 20th – Alex

I already understood that weevils caused the splitting of many white pine trunks, but I wasn’t sure why. Weevils select pines that receive good sunlight and are not too large. The weevils use the terminal shoot’s previous location as a home and for raising their little larval babies. White pines naturally grow up straight with one trunk – apparently all conifers do as well – so any variation of this is most likely due to over-browsing by weevils.

The stone walls that famously line the woods of New England were actually only around for a short time. Originally, European settlers used zig-zag fencing but resorted to stone walls once local lumber was depleted. Stones are not hard to come by in New England. In fact, when soil thaws in spring, buried rocks can wiggle their way to the surface, as if the soil reproduces them.

A glorified image of New England culture is farmers with fields of sheep and cattle. This picturesque view of pastoral New England ignores how brief and unsustainable this period actually was. Heavier settling of central New England only began after the French surrendered to the British and the Native American population was less of a threat to colonial settlements. In just an one hundred year period, the landscape was rapidly changed from a forested to one of pastures. But by the end of the 19th century, farmers abandoned their homes in New England and headed west, resulting in the semi-reforestation of New England. However, the detrimental effects from the rapid settlements did has left a mark on New England. Wessels explains there are areas of bare rock that were exposed due to over grazing and have yet to grow vegetation or retain soil. European settlers acted as human-locusts and did to the landscape in one hundred years what it took the glaciers to do in thousands.

These grazed fields are a type of grassland. And grasslands, as Leahy explains, can be divided by being either natural or cultural. In New England, the vast majority of grasslands are cultural grasslands, meaning they require human maintenance to remain dominated by grass. New England grasslands of today are radically different from pre-Columbus America. Leahy estimates that more than 50% of New England grassland is inhabited by non-native species.

Near to my house in Philadelphia, there is an abandoned country club, now 7-8 years into its abandonment. It is my wilderness sanctuary among suburban sprawl. Both Wessels and Leahy provided fascinated insight into that piece of land I spend so much time in. I was able to watch succession first hand, as the pesticide-pumped golf course grass become filled with more herbaceous weeds, tall plants like milkweed and thistle, small shrubs, and now young trees. Locust and paper birch are common young trees. Throughout the summer, the new developer that has purchased the land (but has yet to really do anything to it) mows the grass. This has kept the majority of the country club still grassland. In the unmowed areas, the shrubs and plants are so thick one could barely walk through it. I imagine once another decade or so goes by, if untouched, these dense areas will became walkable as larger trees take root. However, the invasive weeds that dominate may disrupt the natural succession. This class has inspired me to make a project site out of the old country club.

A whole semester has gone since I last had Mammal Tracks & Signs. I brought the book with me on a trip to our project site’s fox den. Our den very well matches the description the field guide gives: the den is near an open field and road, it’s about 6-8 inches in diameter, is on the downward slope of a hill, and is on dry, sandy soil. Our group suspects the den has been abandoned because no tracks, scent, or hair has been found.

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“Another good use for a time machine”

Reading the Forested Landscape:
As usual, this week’s Wessels reading was incredibly informative. Although this week was heavy in human history, it was great to have taken in that land use overview. One of the most curious topics in the reading–one that I’ve studied many times before–is the idea of “unimproved land.” In the context of appropriating land from native communities, this practice says much about our disregard and lack of understanding for others. In a larger context, this value of “improved land” further illuminates our dominion over our natural world and environment. This is an idea that I hope to further explore both in and outside of our class.

Leahy:
This week’s Leahy reading has left me intrigued by tomorrow’s site because I realized that I know so little about grasses! They’re something that we never identify in the field and that I never pay much mind to but have always wanted to. Leahy really laid out how culturally significant grasses are to our lawns and our economies. Leahy illustrated this idea very well in the end with his tale of the Alpsman who doesn’t appreciate his beautiful views. Perhaps we should all take a moment to appreciate our natural spaces, whether culturally or naturally defined!

Ferns again:
The ferns are gone! Well, not all… We’ve seen Christmas fern and a few other evergreen ferns out in our sites over the past few weeks, but I was hoping to identify something new. Although I didn’t identify any new ferns, I did identify some fen relatives which appear to be evergreen! Here I’ve got some pictures of princess pine (which can be identified by its flat branches) and meadow horsetail growing in the woodlands by the farm.

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Project:
This week for our project, I read through Noah’s comments. It was overwhelming and I wanted to cry, but we’re gonna pull through.

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ericaceous

Since we have just begun a new circuit of the field guides, I was super excited to get Forest Forensics again, because it was among my favorite guides. Last time I had it, I found what I thought must have been an old cow pasture in the Hampshire woods. This week, I was able to reflect upon many of the sites we have visited this semester, as well as the majority of Hampshire’s woods. These indicators crop up EVERYWHERE. I feel as though now that I’m looking, I find barbed wire every other turn in the forest on campus. Since one thing I hadn’t yet seen that was described in the book was an old pasture tree in a young forest, I decided this was what I wanted to locate in the woods. The problem with setting goals like this is that just because I want something like this to exist in the woods, doesn’t mean that it does, or at least I couldn’t find one this time. I’ll keep looking. Instead, I decided to check out the stand of bendy pines and see if Wessels had anything to say about them. I found some discussion of this phenomenon in Evidence of Old Growth and Wind. It appears as though these trees were affected by a harsh wind or heavy snowfall or maybe an ice storm with directional winds. Wessels says that trees which have been downed by snow or ice often continue growth by creating a new meristem in the lowest branch and growing upward from there. Some of these trees look as if their original meristem is no longer growing, though others look like they righted themselves and grew towards the light once more. If the middle of the bowed trunk represents the age of the tree when it was bent, these trees were about 4-6 years old when they bent if I’m counting the whirls correctly.

Wessels’ history of Native American population decimation was, as these accounts always seem to be to me, a humbling concept. That an entire culture could die due to one disease caused by the mere presence of an alien culture is amazing. I always think of this concept when I visit a friend at another college or institution as I did this past weekend. I always seem to come home sick. We each have a bubble of bacteria and viruses we carry around with us. Much of the information about dating the forest and determining land usage I found we had already discussed in class at one point or another, so it was a nice way to refresh and reflect upon past knowledge.

In the Leahy reading, I was super excited to finally get to read the chapter with the adorable fox illustration! Also, in the same paragraph which talked about the usefulness of time machines, I found that ericaceous plants are in the heath family. I think it seems logical to then say that I am a part of the heath family, right?

For our field site, we got Noah’s notes back from the first draft and we’re all working on rereading and writing up notes for the future revision. Hopefully we’ll be able to get together in the field again before we leave for break.

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And so we come full circle…back to the glorious insects!

Field Guide: Returning to the beginning, I once again found myself using the Kaufman insect guide book. Due to the fact that the only time I could work on my identification skills happened to be extremely early Tuesday morning (bugs don’t seem to be morning critters on cold November days), I took advantage of the vast stock of collected, unidentified specimens stored in my adviser’s lab freezer. First off, I grabbed a large, unassuming-looking grey moth (giving in to my craving for Lepidoptera). When I tipped the specimen into a petri dish for closer inspection, the unassuming became spectacular as I glimpsed its hind wings. The bright orange and black banding declared that this was most likely a member of the genus Catocala, or the underwings. I found all the underwings listed in the Kaufman guide, but failed to find my specimen among them. I then turned to the Peterson field guide for the moths of Northeastern North America. And there it was, nicely placed on the second page in the underwing section. The ashy grey background coloration and the distinctive, wavy black AM and PM lines, along with the three orange bands on the hind wing, named my specimen the Habilis underwing (Catocala habilis). I double checked with an internet search, and everything I found confirmed this identification.

My next selection turned out to be a fairly large (around 2.5 cm) tan beetle, with long antennae (around 2 cm) and four white spots on its elytra. Judging by the length of the antennae, I guessed that it was some sort of long horn beetle. I flipped through the section on these insects in Kaufman, and quite easily matched my specimen to the Ivory Marked Borer Beetle (Eburia quadrigeminata). Again, I checked this with an image search, and it seemed to be conclusive. I also learned, both from Kaufman and the internet, that the larva in these beetles burrow into the heartwood of deciduous trees, and are tough little buggers. There have been reported cases of beetles emerging out of wood used in furniture, windowsills and housing beams anywhere from 5 to 40 years after the tree was harvested.

The last insect I raided from the freezer was another moth—this one displaying the dark background and distinctive white-lined patterns of some genera of tiger moths (Grammia and Apantesis). I found the section on tiger moths in Kaufman, and tentatively matched my specimen to the Nais tiger moth (Apantesis nais). While the patterns matched relatively well, it was much less well-defined in the book. I used Peterson to double check. It turns out that two species in the genus Apantesis have extremely similar patterns, and can be tricky to differentiate. The Nais proved to be one, with the other being the harnessed tiger moth (A. phalerata). Though the book said the pattern could be variable, the thickness of the white lines of my specimen more closely matched the harnessed tiger moth. This species also displays two black dots on the color of the thorax, which my specimen also had. Since tiger moths sit with their wings tightly furled, I couldn’t see much of the hind wing, though I tried gently teasing them apart. I would have to pin the specimen in order to get a good view. As such, I could not use the hind wing in identification. From what I could see from the books and an image search, the hind wing may be rather variable anyway, so it may not have been much help. For now, until further confirmation can be made, I’m deeming my specimen to be the harnessed tiger moth.

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Reading response: The Wessels chapter, as usual, added another interesting and useful dimension to my knowledge of New England forests and land use history. Several of the important clues he mentioned we have learned about already in class, such as the difference between stone walls of old crop fields or agricultural pastures. The others, however, were new. It makes sense that a tree, not encumbered by its neighbors and driven by competition for light, would spread outwards rather than strictly upwards, but I had never thought to apply that in my analysis of a forested area. The hardiness of apple trees came as a surprise, and greatly raised them in my esteem. Previously, I had been unfamiliar with the prevalence and importance of junipers and hawthorns in recognizing over used grazing land and in succession. The role of masting in the determination of successional forest composition was also intriguing. Earlier this semester I attended a lecture at UMASS about the possible signals of masting, which supported Wessels’ assertion that it’s an evolutionary strategy in order to allow more seeds to sprout due to the incapability of foragers to eat them all. However, new studies have disproved the theory that localized climate is the trigger for a mast-seeding year. While the precise signal or signals is still unclear, the presenter indicated that an important factor was the amount of stored resources in the population. It seems that trees that flower in an off-mast year are not fertilized and do not produce many seeds, and retain the energy that would have been put into fruiting for the next year, until all the plants have similar energy stores and flower simultaneously.

The Leahy chapter proved to be most interesting for introducing the intriguing paradoxes surrounding cultural grasslands. This seems to be one of the few examples where human intervention and influence have created, rather than destroyed, a biodiverse habitat. This creates a thorny question for conservation. Even though these aren’t “naturally” created areas, should we conserve them for the host of unique (to Massachusetts) organisms that rely on them? Or, if we do so, are we getting in the way of the landscape reverting to “normal?” Personally, I’m conflicted. I have no idea what the “right” solution might be, or even if such a solution exists. I was extremely surprised to see how many plants common to our grass lands aren’t native. Almost every time I recognized a species, it turned out to be an exotic. This just adds another confusing piece to the puzzle. If so many of the species we would be protecting aren’t native, should we conserve the area at all? How should we define “native” and “non-native” anyway? Almost every species or genus or group has spread and migrated from where it originated, so that “native-ness” really depends on the scale of the time-line you’re examining. I certainly don’t have the answers to these questions, and I doubt anyone does, definitively. I believe that, as we continue to gain a more comprehensive view of the natural world, we will have to learn to redefine many of the simplified, idealized and human-centric concepts of species and conservation that we hold and have held.

Project Site: I haven’t had much time to work on our project site this week, at least actively. I have read over Noah’s comments and critiques, and have started thinking in general terms about how we can address the questions he proposes. Hopefully the rest of my group and I can meet up soon and discuss how we want to proceed with editing.

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Weeds Always Return!!!

My favorite field guide for the semester was without a doubt Weeds of the Northeast. Weeds are everywhere: in your backyard, in the park, across the country, and around the world. Being able to identify them and understand them is an essential aspect of any landscape. With that in mind, having the privilege to use the weeds book again made me more than thrilled. Once again I only had to walk ten feet from my front door to find a new species to identify. First I found common ragweed, a devious pinnatifid that has been plaguing my autumnal nostrils for countless years (Photo 1). The rounded yet slightly pointed lobes can be found creeping all across campus. No wonder they cause such terrible allergies! Nearby, I found a three-leaved clover with toothed leaflet margins (Photo 2). I determined this to be black medic, also known as black clover. My final discovery was a challenge. I wanted to pinpoint the species of grass found in clusters all around the area (Photo 3). The difficulty in weed classification is the differentiation between species and this was a prime example. I decided they are annual bluegrass based on the collar region of the stem. Nonetheless, dallisgrass also looks similar. Perhaps different patches are different species. Thoughts?   I was captivated reading Wessel’s account of New England’s history. While I am incredibly familiar with the traditional history of the United States, I have never considered it in the context of the landscape. The occupation of the new world immediately stirs questions regarding land ownership. European colonizers argued that without permanent settlements, Indigenous Americans did not own the land. Who really owns land? How is it determined? I do not even want to delve into such a complex question. At the moment this idea is food for thought, as I don’t have a fulfilling answer. Another enlightening aspect put forth by Wessels was the connection between seemingly isolated events. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Napoleon’s victory over Portugal indirectly caused the sheep fever in America. Portugal’s previous embargo on merino sheep was lifted because of their military loss. Afterwards the Americans imported and bred these sheep, which became a primary economic resource. Napoleon’s influence is a paradigm example of the interconnected nature of he world. Unforeseen consequences arise from significant changes, consequences that can be influential on a global scale.   It seems fitting that our last Leahy reading and field site of the year is a cultural grassland. Throughout the semester, we’ve looked at a number of natural ecosystems and their inhabitants. Each week I have contemplated the past, present and future of these sites. Most significantly, I have considered human interaction with these habitats through time. There is no doubt we have entered the anthropocentric age: a period determined by human behaviors. Nature is no longer free of our influences. Cultural grasslands are a prime example of “artificial environments”, spaces created and maintained by human activity. Yet, it seems that it is not all bad. These grasslands host a variety of species that thrive and are now dependent on these places to survive. What can we take from this? To every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. We worked to control our environment and now we have gotten what we asked for. Whether we care to admit it or not, we now carry the fate of the earth in our hands. For a harmonious future, we have to be aware of our situation. Be aware of our mess. Be aware of our triumphs. Be aware of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

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Curious Eggs, Cultural Grasslands

Reading Response / Project Notes:

The readings are pretty relevant to our project site. There are definitely elements of the Wessels chapter that relate to the type of land use that occurred on our site, like the barbed wire fencing and other factors. Leahy’s reading on cultural grasslands was very interesting as well. I’ve never heard the terms pampa or steppe to describe meadows before. I’m curious if any of the species listed in the back the chapter are present in our project site. I would call the corn field by our a site a cultural background, even though it is not diverse. Although monocrops like cornfields and lawns are considered by many as “ecological deserts,” they would grow into something magnificent if abandoned. For example, if the cornfield behind our project site were left untended for years, I bet it would become a magnet for wildlife pretty quickly. We would definitely see weeds, wildflowers, and grasses start to invade the site within the first year. If lawns weren’t mowed and cornfields weren’t sprayed with pesticides, they would soon turn from ecological deserts to highly diverse stages of succession.

Field Guide:

I was afraid that this week I wouldn’t find any insect tracks or sign. I never notice them in nature as the evidence can be extremely small. However, I got a surge of inspiration of Noah’s video where he identifies a plethora of insect signs around a house in Tennessee. I went outside my Mod and to my surprise found two leftovers of insects. The first one was some kind of white silky substance, which was bunched up in a ovular ball and felt squishy. This sign could have been any of the silky residues listed in the book, but from the pictures this one looked closest to Mealybugs (messy masses of cottony fluff), or perhaps a sawfly or ladybug since they also have white, waxy filaments (Charney 174). The second sign I found was very distinct. It was several rows of black egg casings, in an interesting pattern (kind of like a bee hive) on a shingle on the side of my mod. I couldn’t find anything in the book that looked exactly like it, but it does looks imilar to the resin coated eggs of Assasin Bugs and/or Tent Caterpillar moths (Charney 11). Each egg coating was very small (less than 1mm) and black with a dark brown on the inside. They were evenly spaced in a triangle shaped matrix.

 

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NATURE IS BEAUTIFUL!

Field Guide: I enjoyed reading about all of the caddisfly larvae in the tracks and signs of insects field guide. I often sat in streams when I was younger and collected cool looking casings. The stream I used to search for them in was filled with sand grain sized garnets so the caddisflies were able to create beautiful shiny red casings.
In the woods, I was particularly interested in finding beetle markings on woods. I often see wiggly lines on wood and think they’re really interesting and beautiful. I did manage to find some of these markings, although I’m not sure they matched up with any of the ones in the book. They most resembled the emerald ash borer, but so far as I could tell, I wasn’t looking at an ash tree. I could be wrong though. Ash trees are ones which have often been difficult for me to identify.

Unfortunately, the other bug sign that I have recently become acquainted with was that of the bed bug. I found a bed bug casing in my mattress and have been getting small bug bites in clusters on my arms and stomach all semester.

 

Sit spot: It was colder this week but I was also more prepared. Soon after I settled myself in to my spot, I heard a flock of geese fly overhead. It took a little longer for any more animals to make a sounds, and then a chickadee started calling from a little bit down the trail. I waited, hoping to hear a response, but no one answered the little bird. For the rest of the time I had, I closed my eyes and listened to the wind, which was strong—I think there was a storm coming, and tried to understand the rhythm of the spot. There are a lot of fast moving things in a forest, like the wind was that night, as well as slow moving things like the trees growing. I thought about the movement of cells and processes in our body and how quickly we are built, and then I thought of organisms which are smaller than us and generally have an even faster paced life. There seems to be a spectrum of this movement in a forest, even if they can feel completely still at times.

 

Project Site:

We took a bit of a break this week. We know that soon we want to address the missing pieces in the essay, mostly the missing information on the fox dens and some more numerical information such as age of trees and square footage of the site.

Reading Response:

Every week I very much enjoy what Leahy et al has to say in The Nature of Massachusetts. They always slip in something unexpected. This week, it was the bit at the end of the descriptive portion about the way people feel when they enter an old growth forest. That they had no scientific explanation for it, but it was a spiritual experience.

The Wessels reading really cleared up what he was trying to explain in Reading the Forested Landscape. I never really understood the pillows and cradles portion of the field guide before. It makes me reassess whether the one portion of our site is actually pillowed, or whether it’s just less flat than the rest of the site is due to land use history.

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Pillows and Cradles to the Max

Wessels:
Last week I did my fair share of reading about pillows and cradles with Wessels’ Forest Forensics field guide. This week, it was fascinating to dive deeper into this topic and learn more of the specifics about when/how each pillow and cradle could have been created. But in thinking about the effects of big storms on forests, I also thought about what effects climate change and increased storm activity may have on our forests–particularly on the oldest and most rare. Wessels spoke of these events happening once a century or every few decades, but many of these storms are projected to increase in number and severity in the coming years. Although they alone may not be enough to destroy forests, if there is a forest already affected by introduced blight or changing hydrology, such storms may be enough to bring down forests of greater and greater size and with greater frequency.

Leahy:
I was a bit surprised by this week’s Leahy reading because I certainly have been one to romanticize the old growth forests of New England in the ways that he has described. Although Leahy said that most old growth forests are fear less impressive to see than many imagine, I certainly hope he’s wrong!
But.. onto a more interesting thought on old growth forests: why do we value them? Leahy described their virtues as not easily quantifiable because of their lack of rare or obligate species that is necessary within the context of the contemporary conservation movement. So what is there to value in an old growth forest? Why do we value age and longevity? Is this just a human value after all? These are questions to consider today..

Field Guide:
My field guide this week was Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks & Signs. I would love to spend more time wit this field guide because it has such a wealth of information inside! I love that Elbroch says “tracking is about real relationships with real animals in the real world.” I’m excited to use this as a  new way to interact with my environment and my home, as Elbroch suggests. This week, I made my first ID while out for a run–a white deer hoof print in some mud along the creek in the woods. I was hoping to see some scat while out (which I didn’t), but I did see a tree that looked like it had the same gray squirrel markings that we saw out by the Quabin!

Sit spot:
Although I went out to my sit spot today at an hour that I have many times in the past, things were visibly very different. Although day light savings has also brought us back an hour, the days have also become much shorter and are continuing to do so. I wonder what cues these send to animals and how they affects their behavior.. I’m sure they’re all out there preparing for colder months! I first walked out in the direction of the field, toward one of my favorite fall night skies. As the sun set, the opposite horizon was aglow with a long gradient that started as a gray-blue and became violet, lavender, pink, and then finally a pale peach as it reached across the top of the sky toward the sun. In thinking about the physics of light, I wondered what exactly is going on way up there in the upper atmosphere..
It was obvious that the cold temperatures have affected things down here on earth’s surface as well. Many of the wildflowers in the field behind me have finally lost their flowers. The birds were still in their active frenzy of flittering and squawking at one another when I first arrived, but as the sky became darker they tucked themselves in for the night. Although I’m sure many birds have left, I’m excited to study the birds that stick it out up here through the winter!

Project updates:
Although I write last week about finishing up our paper, the following Friday we busted out many hours of final work. Together, Ryan, Jake and I made final edits and discussed the full story to bring it all together. I’ve never been so proud to submit a paper! We went a bit outside of the purview of the assignment by bringing in a discussion of the human relationship with the environment and what that means in the context of our site. That was one of the most exciting pieces for me to explore because those questions are the ones that I have been asking all semester. Although I still don’t have many answers, I certainly have many questions regarding how to change this relationship that will guide my future studies.

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November 14th – Alex

My sit spot was in the woods behind the Yiddish Book Center. White pines make up most of the trees but red pine and red spruce are present. This tiny group of trees must have been forested for a while. Pillows and cradles are subtle, but still present. If the land had been cleared and plowed for agriculture, these bumps would have been flattened. The wind was strong and forced the trees to sway violently. Two gray squirrels clambered up a white pine. In the nearby field the apple trees have lost almost all of their apples and now a pile of rotting fruit surrounds each tree. To the east of the woods is a pond with cattails, still full of water. Previously in the spring I had thought it was a vernal pool but now it seems that was not the case since it is still full in late fall. In the distance the Holyoke range has turned dark red and brown. The trees along the top of the ridge are bare.

In the Pillows and Cradles chapter of Reading the Forested Landscape, Wessels helped me internalize the reason behind a phenomenon we experienced on in Field Naturalist, during our travels to the Red Maple swamp. Trees grew on tiny, separate mounds throughout the woods. Wessels explained that these mounds are called hummocks and are formed by trees growing their roots near the surface and on nurse logs or other elevated soil. This occurs when water fills in the soil pores and the tree’s roots cannot access the oxygen growing normally.

The chapter also goes over ways to tell glacial and storm history. Wessels introduced to me the term “boulder trains” were lines of boulders over a broad landscape can give a hint as to a glacier’s movement. Fallen trees are sometimes the result of “blowdowns” and based on what direction the fell, one can figure out not just where the wind came from, but what type of storm and what time of year the event occurred.  For example, winter air masses can cause trees to fall in a southerly direction from their strong winds.

The group worked together to complete the final component of our project site paper. To help explain our site’s geological history, I looked into Lake Hitchcock’s local impact. I learned that north of the Holyoke range (our site) the water levels stayed the same throughout most of the Hitchcock period, whereas many areas along the Lake drained as its time went on. Another realization had to do with the presence of pitch pine, or rather, the lack there of. The rarity of the pitch pine on this sandy soil suggested these trees were once more abundant but due to lack of fire, presumably due to human prevention, their numbers have dwindled.

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Jake – Sibley Bird Guide

Field Guide

This week I had The Sibley Guide to Birds for my field guide. I spent the afternoon slowly wandering through the forest, trying to hear bird calls over the crunching of leaves beneath my feet. The calls were especially pronounced around an opening in the canopy where tall white pines surrounded a small ravine created by a stream. I don’t understand why the birds congregated there. Of the many bird calls I heard in the area the only one that I recognized was that of a chickadee. After trying with little luck to actually see the birds i was hearing, I began to exit the woods. To my surprise, I spotted two little birds perched on branches as I walked back from the woods. The first had a black head and wings with a white breast and flank. I was unable to distinguish much else by the brief glance I caught of it. It traveled quickly between low hanging hemlock branches, stalling momentarily between each one. It was alone. After searching through the bird guide and images of common new england birds I can say with some confidence that the bird I saw was an Eastern Phoebe. It is likely that this common flycatcher was searching for bugs above the slow water of the stream I passed.

I am less sure about the second bird that I glimpsed which had a brown and white camouflage pattern on its breast and brown wings. I found it perched near the edge of a field in a patch of multiflora rose. There are many birds that it could have been but I suspect that it was a Song Sparrow based on its habitat and behavior. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the song sparrow likes open shrubby areas such as marsh edges, overgrown fields, or the edges of forests.

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Sit Spot

My time at my sit spot today was rather cold and uneventful. I noticed the apparent lack of diversity on my sight. The only species that I could see were red maple, red oak, white pine, yellow birch, and hemlock. I think that the foliated lower branches of the hemlock block out sunlight to the understory as there is nothing other than partridgeberry inhabiting the lower regions of the forest. What does it mean when there is a forest inhabited only by generalists?

I noticed that there were many standing dead hemlocks on my sight which accommodate many a woodpecker. I have noticed the sound more than once when I visit my spot. Perhaps the dead snags are mostly hemlocks because they disperse so many seeds that it is only natural that some will be outcompeted over time.

Reading Response

I found the explanation of nurse logs to be really interesting. It is fascinating to think about the different types of seeds and how they correlate with different roles in the forest. For example birch has a tiny well dispersed seed so it plays an early successional role as opposed to oak which has a large poorly dispersed seed.

I am excited to visit an old growth forest. Personally, I hope it is a northern hardwood forest rather that an oak-conifer but I am open to either. I would also like to see an enormous patch of moss.

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Gaia Theory, Pillows and Cradles

Sit Spot:

This week there were several subtle differences in my sit spot. There was significantly less green in the whole area. There were only camouflaged patches of green from ferns, mosses, and conifers. There were no sounds of birds and bugs that I’d heard in every previous visit. The only sounds were that of wind blowing through the trees, and the distant bursts of guns from the shooting range on the mountain. I saw a cute chipmunk pop up from a log and skitter across it into a hole. Other than that, there weren’t many other noticeable changes since last time.

Field Guide:

Lichens are SO cool!!!I never knew that they can actually be symbiotic with cyanobacteria as well. If you think about it, isn’t almost every organism a symbiote? Humans need bacterial enzymes to digest, and many plants do better with mycelium. Maybe our understanding of lichens actually explains the relationships that many other species in the animal and plant kingdoms have. I think the main difference is that lichens are viewed as one organism since the lichen fungi cannot grow on their own in nature; they are dependent on the relationships they have with algae and cyanobacteria. It’s truly fascinating, and it gives some insight into how symbiotic processes can “mold” multiple species into one (like how the cell’s organelles may have once been separate entities). There seems to be a lot of different angles that lichens can be viewed from, such as them being a little ecosystem to them being its own organism, or perhaps them being a lifestyle. The Gaia Theory (presented in the book), states that Darwins theory of evolution, involving competition is incomplete because many species evolve through cooperation, interaction, codependence, and networking. I agree with this theory, but I still think competition (and survival of the fittest) play a part in evolution.

Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate between the different growth forms: crustose, foliose, and fruticose. Fruticose was easily identified because it was the only type that forms shrub-like growths with visible “stems”. However, cructose and foliose formations were often hard to differentiate especially since some lichen were too small to see under the upper cortex. However, finding lichen to identify was no challenge. I walked outside of my mod to the tree 10 feet away, and found multiple species of lichen within one square inch of tree bark.

The first species I identified was rough speckled shield lichen (P. rudencta). At first I thought it was the common greenshield. However, the lower surface (lower cortex) for common greenshield is black, and the lower surface of this lichen was pale tan. Looking at google images of both species showed me that these lichens can look very similar. However, this one had unmistakable rough speckles. Also, it was distinctly blue-green when common greenshield lichens are more often yellow-green (although color and other characteristics are highly variable). The second species on the same tree was fluffy dust lichen (L. lobificans). This lichen is crustuose, the cortex stix directly to the bark. It has a similar color to common greenshield, but has a fuzzy or dusty surface. Although the book states it is common on tree bases and shaded rock, other sources indicate that it can also be find on soil banks in a shaded, dry niche (http://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/182623-Lepraria-lobificans).

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Project Updates:

We turned on project on friday, though it is far from finished. There’s a lot of revising we need to do, as well as some filling in. For the project, I wrote the section on the fox dens, the different trees and their indications, and the soil cores. I also made some maps and soil core diagrams.

Reading Response: 

The Leahy reading used some interesting language. I wasn’t familiar with the words methuselah, bunyanesque, and boles. Methuselah refers to an extremely old man (the text was referring to old growth trees). Bunyanesque means immense size and structure, and the word comes from the tale of Paul Bunyan, who left craters in the earth as he traveled across the land. Boles are simply the stem or trunk of a tree. It makes sense that much of the old growth left in MA is on sites that are hard to access or exploit, and also consist of trees that are undesirable for timber. Although these sites seem like they would be interesting to investigate, I’d much rather see the grandeur and magnificence of an old growth forest with 150 foot high canopies and massive trees covered in mats of moss and lichens. It would be cool to see something as magnificent as the red wood forests on the west coast with white pine old growth forests on the east coast.

There was a lot of overlap in the Wessels chapter with what I read in Reading the Forested Landscape when I had that field guide. However, it was interesting to learn about the season winds, such as microbursts, winter gales, northeasters, and hurricanes. There was also a piece from the reading that relates to our project site. When Wessels wrote that yellow birch and hemlocks are the only shade tolderant small seeded trees in the northeast, it made me think of our site. Our site is abundant in yellow birches and hemlocks, and it would make sense if the pillows and cradles in our site were caused by windfall.

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Marvelous Mounds of Mosses

Field Guide: For this week’s field guide, I had Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians, which I thoroughly enjoyed using, despite the ambiguity between many species of moss. I was quite surprised by my ease in finding mosses to collect. I know they’re a quite prevalent plant, but I had planned to have to walk a little bit along the Upper Lake path before I found some good specimens, at least. Instead, I walked out of my dorm, started along the steep hill ridge to the path, and noticed some moss peeking out between the tufts of grass. I set my things down in order to take a picture and collect a sample to look at under the dissecting scope. As I did, I noticed another patch of moss that looked quite different from the first. I photographed and sampled both, then decided to look around to see if there were any more. Sure enough, underneath a tree at the top of the ridge, I came across yet another species. It made me take a step back, mentally, and realize just how ubiquitous mosses can be.

As I mentioned, I quite liked the setup of the moss field guide. The three key features were clearly explained, and had excellent drawings of most of the various forms within each category. Following the key was straightforward and simple, and the guide had several helpful notes on each form or leaf shape. Unlike some guides, where you get bogged down by innumerable subsections of the key, this book was simple and clear cut. This helped alleviate some of the frustration of the many species of moss that look so very darn similar.

My first sample came from the mid-section of the ridge, and was quite prolific, with many patches scattered amongst the grass. Back in my lab, I teased apart a few stems in order to examine them more closely. I almost classified my sample as acrocarp, but under further inspection, settled on pleurocarp due to the many branches and intertwined morphology. I used forceps to remove a few leaves for examination. It proved to be a little difficult to tell if they were lance or sickle shaped, as the tips curved. It was obvious that they lacked a midrib. I looked through the pleurocarp, lance-shaped leaf with no midrib section to no avail. I then tried the same, except for replacing lance-shaped with sickle-shaped. Through a twisted, convoluted route of tracing similar species, I finally stumbled upon sword moss (Callicladium haldanianum), which has neither lanced nor sickled leaves, but rather ovate. I made this my tentative identification, as it was very similar morphologically, but the habitats did not quite match. Sword moss is supposed to grow on moist soil, and the area where I found my sample seemed rather dry, as it was on a steep, exposed slope.

My second sample was the easiest to identify. The acrocarp stems grew close together, to form a thick, springy mat that was very pleasant to the touch. The stems branched very little, and had large, lance-shaped leaves with obvious midribs. When I first examined them, the leaves were crinkled along their edges and curled over themselves. I plucked a leave to inspect it more closely, and observed that it crumpled in on itself almost immediately. Within 2-3 minutes of removal, the leaf was completely curled in on itself. Curious, I examined the stems I had removed from the larger clump. They, too, had leaves more crumpled than when I first saw them. I put a drop of water on the stems, and watched, amazed, as the leaves quickly absorbed the water, unrolled and fleshed out, forming miniature starbursts. Quite fittingly, the species is named the wavy starburst moss (Atrichum altecristatum). I identified it mainly by leaf morphology and placement on the stem. I thought it may have been slender starburst moss at first, but the wavy was a much better fit, both in appearance and habitat. The habitat fit almost perfectly: wavy starburst moss grows on the sides of ravines, banks along roads, or lawns. Since the place I collected it was a grassy ridge along a road, it lent much credence to my identification.

My third sample proved to be rather difficult, and I’m still not sure if I identified it correctly. When I collected it, the tiny stems were densely packed into rounded mound with defined edges. As I examined them under the dissecting scope, I saw that the acrocarp stems had very little green—only the tips looked lively, with the rest of the 2/3 or so brown and dry looking, and often laced with sandy soil. The leaves, when dry, looked hair-like and curled into loose corkscrews. When I wetted them, they appeared more lance-shaped, with a poorly pronounced midrib. I looked through the section of acrocarps with hair-like leaves to no avail, before turning to the lances. The closest I could find there was the brick carpet moss (Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum), which had a distinctive folding characteristic of the leaves which matched what I observed. As the leaves dried out, they folded in half along the midrib, while the outer edges curled. Brick carpet moss is supposed to have a red-orange stem, however, that my sample lacked. The habitat also didn’t quite match, as they seem to be in moister environments that where I found this specimen. What was really distinctive about this moss, to me, was the neat, tight mounds that it formed. None of the images in the book had a view that “zoomed-out,” however, so I had little to compare it to.

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Sit Spot: In the chill of the morning, I walked up the hill to the trail that leads to my sit spot. The frost-laced grass gave way brittley beneath my feet. As I entered the woods, intricate ice crystals no longer traced the outlines of the leaves and plants on the ground. What causes this? The sun hadn’t warmed the woods any longer than the lawn. Do the trees and undergrowth somehow insulate the forest floor? As I approached my usual spot beneath a red pine, I noticed the scuffed ground around my seat. It looks like my repeated visits have made an impact on the leaf litter. I wonder if other animals leave such traces at oft-visited spots. I’ll have to keep an eye out to see if I ever run across any.

The sun was rising as I sat, ahead of me and a little to the left up the hill. This means that the slope faces mainly south west. This led me to think about the prevalence of red pines in the area. Did they grow here naturally? Since the hill isn’t a high, dry ridge-top, I doubt it. Were they planted? They don’t seem to be arranged in any orderly rows. The ground is fairly smooth and un-pillowed. Was it once used for agriculture? Were the pines planted for a woodlot? Are they a common species for such a use?

The absence of leaves on almost all the trees, barring some oaks and beeches, brought to mind the question of adaptive strategies. Why do some trees drop their leaves early, and others, like the oaks, retain them long into winter? Do oaks get any remaining sustenance by holding their leaves for so prolonged a time? Do they protect the buds? Is it a byproduct of some other characteristic? I may delve into the natural history of oaks to satisfy my curiosity.

Reading response: The Wessels chapter proved, as always, to be interesting. Through our other readings, and mentions in class, I knew that pillows and cradles were a sign of forests that have been relatively undisturbed by agriculture. It was intriguing to learn about how you can read the history of wind damage from what direction the mounds and depressions are oriented. I also never knew that glacial boulders could be the cause of pillows. Now I want to go out to the woods and see if I can discern which pillows are formed with which method. I also vaguely remembered reading somewhere that only conifers usually constituted nurse logs. This chapter clarified why, which makes a good deal of sense, according to what we learned in chapter three about the decaying patterns of different trees.

The most intriguing thing about the Leahy chapter was the lack of obligate species in old growth forests. As a rare, often revered part of New England’s landscape, I somewhat assumed that they supported unique flora and fauna, as that is usually why people try to conserve specific places or ecosystems. It was a little bit of a twist to my thinking. I fully believe they should be maintained, as beautiful living monuments to what our forests once were. However, in terms of the general populace, I feel like it might be hard to convince others of this, due to the lack of obligate organisms. It seems lucky, then, that most of our old growth forests are on protected land, or in places unfavorable for development. Hopefully, as Leahy mentions, the middle-aged forests that we do have will be preserved and allowed to develop into old growth forests. The idea that there may have been obligate species in the ancient forests that we’ve destroyed is an intriguing, and somewhat haunting one. We can never know what we might have obliterated with our actions, as it happened before anyone really cared to look.

Project Site: We haven’t done much for our project site this week, as we have yet to receive comments on the first draft of our paper. I have worked a little bit on finding more literature and resources that may shed some light on areas we were unsure about. I feel like we could have a tighter understanding of the specific use history for our site, even though we have a good general idea of the possibilities. Also, though they might be unimportant flukes, there were a few species whose indicator status did not match up with the habitat in which we found them. I would like to delve into that a bit deeper, possibly, and see if it tells us anything interesting.

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Old Growth and New Finds

With fall slowly slipping into winter, the previously lively Hampshire woods stand barren and devoid of almost everything green. While trudging through the accumulating blanket of leaves it is easy to spot the remaining green patches-the last of the ferns-amongst a sea of muted browns and oranges. Two species of ferns are found abundantly dispersed throughout the forest floor. The rest are brittle skeletons, their curled blades hiding from naturalist’s eyes (Photos 1 & 2). My first find this week was the Christmas fern, a species I’ve seen before on the Robert Frost Trail and other field sites. The lance shaped blades, upward curving teeth, and linear underside scales are distinct and easily recognizable (Photo 3). The other species I found was the hay-scented fern, found at our project site. Its bipinnate, lobed blades are normally found covering the forest floor. According to Peterson, these ferns are not evergreen, which left me questioning my identification. If it is not evergreen, why is it still around so late in the fall? (Photo 4) shows the fern in all its glory.

 

While frantically searching for other types of ferns, I ventured to the stream near the soccer fields. I assumed this new environment would exhibit another fern for me to find. Unfortunately, it had the same composition of Christmas and hay-scented ferns. Close to the water, I found a den structured by the roots of a large red maple. (Photo 5). The den was made on a hummock, a construction explained in this week’s chapter of Reading the Forested Landscape. A hummock is a raised mound of tree roots in response to a nearby water source. The lack of oxygen caused by the inundated soil instigates trees to grow roots close to the surface to compensate. In this hummock, the roots served as an ideal frame for an animal den. I assume foxes made the den although I am not certain.

 

I felt underwhelmed whilst reading Leahy this week. His description of the “unimpressive” stands of old growth forest shattered my ideas already of what I will be seeing on this weeks trip. Leahy’s compelling observations gave me a lot to think about (once again). In reality, old growth forest does not have a diversity of endangered species that needs protecting and would rally humans to defend it. As he explains, “despite an abundance of less quantifiable virtues, the fact that our ancient forests are not brimming with endangered species or charismatic megafauna make them hard to sell as jewels in the crown of our natural heritage.” This set off some red lights in my head. A large portion of my concerns surrounding conservation is the criteria used to initiate it. “Biodiversity” implies a large number of species and covers the protection of rare and threatened species. However, conservation efforts need to be directed towards preserving biodiversity on many levels. Biodiversity should exist within genes, populations, species, ecosystems, and even biomes. Surely, old growth forest is important and that is understood. However, the principles supporting why these forests should be protecting needs to be applied to all forms of conservation action.

 

For this sit spot trip, I travelled to the reservoir in the brisk cool of the early morning. The cold seemed to paralyze all activity except for the twittering of a few birds and the steady breeze shifting the final oak leaves clinging to the top branches. Not a creature was stirring within the body of water. I have never visited the reservoir without observing an array of fish and a multitude of eastern newts. Where were they? I am puzzled considering the lives of fish and newts during the upcoming winter freeze. I imagine the reservoir will have a solid layer of ice in a few months. What will happen to them then? They have nowhere to go and as far as I know, no adaptions to keep them alive. I am eager to see what will happen in the near future. Life always finds a way! ( Jurassic Park :)

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This video is dope!!!

It’s about how trees communicate and exchange nutrients.

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Jake and his big bad project site.

Project Notes

Yesterday, we compiled a rough draft of our paper and the results were really exciting. I feel good about the work we’ve done. Since my last blog post, we have come upon some serious discoveries. I think that the difference between the red sand and what we called the grey silt is simply a difference in color based on the silts exposure to water. I talked to Beth Hooker, who is a soil scientist, and she said that this was likely the case. The grey soil is simply sand that has been changed color by being saturated in water for long periods of water, Beth referred to this as gleyed soil in reducing conditions. Originally, we theorized that the grey soil was a layer of finer sediments underneath the sand that was trapping the water. In some areas the sand was eroded leaving the layer of silt and the water that it trapped — the vernal pool — but this is not the case. Unfortunately, this new discovery debunks our theory about why the vernal pool is forming. Why would water collect atop eight feet of sand? My only other explanation is that the vernal pool… well you’ll read about it in the paper.

We also discovered some sad pitch pines on our site which tells us some interesting things about the succession of the area. When it returned to forest in the late 1800s it is likely that pitch pine was one of the first colonizers.

I also met with Leslie Cox and Steve Roof to learn some really interesting things about the history of HCs land and to retrieve some really awesome maps of the area.

Overall, writing the paper has been a really fun experience. It is nice to be able to share the burden of the work with other people, it seems less challenging that way. For example, it was helpful to have olivia and ryan edit my paper for syntax and grammar, two aspects that i find challenging. I feel lucky that we were able to synthesize our skills in this way.

I have not interacted with my field guide yet this week.

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Weeds in Winter

Field guide: For this week, I had the Weeds in Winter field guide. To begin with, I found a stand of weeds growing at the edge of the grassy lawn between Ham Hall and the Upper Lake dam. They were just at the border of the mown grass and the thin strip of forest that runs down to Upper Stream. The height seemed very variable, with some specimens standing between 3 and 4 feet high, and a few under a foot. A main stalk with alternating green and pale green/white stripes stood fairly upright, with smaller branches growing alternately at an upward angle, each ending with clusters of small seeds. On the taller plants, most of the leaves were gone, except for small, ovular leaves on the branches. Some of the smaller specimens still had large, triangular leaves with rounded teeth. These large leaves seemed to grow out of the main stalk, often near branches, while the small, rounded leaves seemed to be restricted to the lateral growths.

At a first glance, I thought this might be some sort of goldenrod, due to the tall, upright stalks. As I looked closer, however, I was reminded me of lamb’s quarter, by the shape of the leaves especially. I used the book to try and key it out anyway, especially since someone had identified what I knew to be lamb’s quarter as ragweed earlier in the semester, and I wanted to see if they were actually the same thing. By looking at the structure of the stalk, the shape and formation of the flower/seed heads and other factors, the key led me to ragweed. Under closer inspection, however, I realized that this plant couldn’t be ragweed, as the shape of the seeds was vastly different. The book stated the “bumby” or “knobby” shape of ragweed seeds to be quite distinctive. However, my seeds were smooth and round, in a flattened disk shape that didn’t resemble ragweed in the least. I went back to the key, but couldn’t manage to find a suitable identification. I eventually went to the index and found lamb’s quarter, which was a very good match for the weed I had. I’m still not sure what I did wrong in the key, but it did prompt me to take careful detail of the plant as I tried to identify it. I noted the pentagonal cross sectional shape of the stalk, the tiny, five petals/sepals that surrounded the seeds, and the slightly sweet smell from the flower heads and stalk (resulting in quite a few seeds going up my nose).

The next weed I identified occurred in the same area, but was growing under the limbs of an eastern hemlock on the lawn. Underneath the tree, there was little to no grass, and it didn’t look like it was ever mowed or controlled. These medium/small weeds grew upright from about 4-6 inches to almost a foot and a half, with a mostly unbranching, fuzzy stalk. The leaves were rather variable. Near the base of the plant, they were ovular with rounded teeth, looking almost like something from the violet family. The smaller of these leaves, and the base of the stalk, were a deep maroon-purple. Higher up, the leaves grew broad and heart-shaped, with distinct teeth. Near the top of the plant, the leaves got smaller, smoother and more elongate. The flower heads were fuzzy, and under further inspection, seemed to be composite and made up of achene seeds. Because of this feature especially, I think it may be some type of goldenrod. The book only had two species, neither of which matched my specimen. I think I’d have to delve deeper in order to determine the exact species. Several of the plants had some beautiful skeletonizer tunnels running through them.

The last plant I identified also occurred under the hemlock. It seemed to be an interesting mix of viney and self-supporting stalks, with broad, distinctly veined leaves. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place the name. Under the tree, however, I couldn’t find any fruiting plants, which caused identification to be quite difficult. I eventually gave up on that specimen and moved on. As I was walking toward campus, however, I saw the same vine growing beneath the bridge over Upper Stream with bright red and orange berries, and whipped out the weeds book. Quite quickly, I identified it, using the key, as bittersweet. I feel like I learned that this is an invasive species, but I couldn’t really find indications of that anywhere.

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Project Site: In order to pool together all our experiences and understandings about our site, Erica, Colin, Alex and I got together over the weekend. We studied the compiled species data we have collected over the semester, and applied our knowledge from the class to it. We examined historical, topographical and geological maps of our project site, and attempted to piece together the story of what happened there, both on a geologic timescale, and one more suited to humans. So far, we hypothesize that the sandy soil seen throughout most of our site was deposited by Lake Hitchcock, which explains the absence of any visible glacial till. The drier ridge where the fox den is located hosts such dry-tolerant species as pitch pines and oaks, while the wetter, more clay-filled soil of the vernal pool area contains species like yellow birch, beech, red maple and tupelo. We’re unsure how the ridge was formed, but we postulate that it was possibly the result Lake Hitchcock depositing sand as it drained out of the ruptured terminal moraine. The subtle pillowing of the ridge, along with the presence of barbed wire engulfed by a tree, indicates that the area may have been used as an animal pasture. This seems consistent with the history of human use in the area. We know that the forest must have been clear cut at one point, due to the lack of old-growth trees and the presence of many successional species such as pitch and white pine, which we aged at about 50-60 years old. It’s possible that some of the white pines were planted, but we’re uncertain if that’s true. We met again on Wednesday night in order to organize and plan out our final steps of writing the paper.

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The Mystery of the Bird Bombing

I trekked throughout campus on the prowl for signs of animals this week. I started with the low hanging fruit, the remains of a white oak acorn devoured by our local hero the eastern gray squirrel. The crudely bisected shells surround the trees and litter the sidewalks.

I was unsure of where to look next. The blanket of leaves covering the ground conceal any easily found tracks or signs. I determined the greenwich forest garden may have the right conditions. Upon entering, I walked into a crime scene. Feathers strewn along the path and in the shrubs. What happened? It appeared as though a bird exploded. I searched for more clues, maybe some flesh to identify the bird or any wounds it may have received. Nothing was to be found.  I imagine the kill was from a coyote, but I could not be certain. Photos of the crime scene are shown at the bottom.

 

The culmination of the project site is filled with a sense of accomplishment. Our final pieces are fitting together into a cohesive puzzle! Our last minute research and efforts were geared toward the ridges of red sand coupled with the gray colored soil in the lower wetland depressions. Why are the soil colors so dramatically different? We have a few plausible theories and they will be in the final paper.  Check it out! The process of writing a single HUGE paper between 4 people has taught me a lot. I’ve never collaborated in this sense before and its an intense situation. I am coming out with an appreciation for the power of 4.

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Project Updates:

We’re getting really close to putting together a story for our site. There are definitely missing pieces, and questions we have unanswered, but we have a couple theories that make sense. Among them include separate historical land uses, animal farming, and Lake Hitchcock! I won’t reveal too much because that would give it away, and I hope by Friday we have a more cohesive story to write about.

Field Guide:

This week I had the Sibley Guide to Birds. This guide is pretty complex to use, especially since I have no experience identifying birds, and it’s really difficult to get a close look at them before they fly away. I need tracking skills or ninja skills before I can prowl on birds without disturbing them. There’s some pretty interesting terms about bird anatomy that’s new to me, such as the nape, mantle, scapulars, tertials, primaries, coverts, flanks, auriculars, supercilium (my favorite), lores, and crown. There’s cool diagrams from pages 15-21 that show these terms on diagrams of different kinds of birds like shorebirds and ducks. It’s entitled “Bird Topography,” quite an odd name for to describe parts of a bird.

I saw what first looked like blue jays in the Hampshire woods, all chillin’ out on a big rotting tree covered in moss. There must have been 10 of them. I’m not sure if blue jays like to hang out in gangs, but all of them together looked quite peaceful. They did look different from blue jays that i’ve seen however. They didn’t seem to have the pointed crest  on their heads that most blue jays have, and the markings on their subscapulars weren’t black and white stripes from what I could tell. It might have been the lighting, but they didn’t look very blue, in fact they looked uniformly grey colored, and they all looked a bit smaller than blue jays I’ve seen. What made them look like blue jays, however, was the underside of their tails. There were feathers of white, black and blue on the underside, which I recall was the most distinct feature of this bird when it would fly away. Based on my fuzzy memory of them, I would say they looked simiar to a gray jay on page 356. Their coat looked pretty similar to that, their wings had similar patterns, but I wish the pictures would show the undersides of their tails.

I see some kind of hawk, vulture, or predatory bird circling above the soccer field / greenwich area all the time. It’s dark brown, and its wingspan is probably about 1-2 feet. I wish I could get a close looks at it so I could identify it. I really like seeing it circling above my head, I consider it a blessing. I’m pretty sure I saw it swoop down one time in the pines near Cole and bite a squirrel’s freaking head off. On second thought though, that might have been some kind of owl, as that bird was much larger.

That’s about it as far as bird sightings this week. I enjoyed a few other things about this book, though. For one, I got to see pictures of the wondrous birds we got to hear in the van. I must say, the pictures of the tufted titmouse are quite “High Society”. I could see them going to a classy party schmoozing over what bugs they ate last evening. Seriously though, the tufted titmouse image is engrained in my brain and I think I’ll remeber it if I see one! I was also astounded by the beautiful, vivid colors of some of the birds. I was especially awed by the variations between males and females of the same species. In some cases, like the Black-Throated Graw Warbler, the male and the females look almost identical anatomically. The only difference are small variations in the patterning, like the adult female has a black band on its neck, while the male has a full black throat area. You’d need a really good pair of binoculars and a lot of patience to tell the difference. On the other hand, with birds like the American Redstart, they look completely different in shape and color. Looking at differences between sexes in the pileated woodpecker was also fun. I know I’ve seen this animal before, and we’ve noted its marking on trees in class. Males of this species are a bit bigger,and have a red stripe all the way from their crown to the top of the head, where as the females have a thinner white stripe on the supercilium (LOL), and  their red stripe on the head stops way before the beak, followed by white feathers with black dots on the crown. Now I see why there are so many bird watchers and bird fanatics out there!! F-A-S-C-I-N-A-T-I-N-G stuff, lads.

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The Finish Line!

I was so pleased to be assigned Wessels’ Forest Forensics as my field guide of the week! After having identified some missing pieces for our final project outline many of us were still unclear of the previous land use, so I took the field guide out to our site. We identified the ground as being drastically pillowed and cradled (suggesting no previous agricultural use), but did find a few coppiced trees and white pine stumps (suggesting logging). There were also many deadfall snaps, which alternately suggests that the forest was undisturbed. From all of this, we formed a history of partial logging–potentially by nearby farmers. This hypothesis is also supported by the piles of old farm junk dumped in the site, which we would likely find in a farmer’s old woodlot.

So… to the final paper!! Although the work is still in progress, we’ve come so far this week. Through final mappings, meeting with faculty members and the other group, and miscellaneous internet research, we’ve been able to fill in most of the missing pieces. Now that we’re pulling the final paper together, I couldn’t be happier. It is a long and difficult process to edit through such a long piece with my group members, but it is a process that is causing us to justify all of our descriptions and phrases and to articulate the history of our site in the clearest way possible. Having been someone who’s always struggled with group projects, I appreciate this as an exercise in listening and communicating with others. Although we still have some final pieces to wrap up, I’m so proud of everything that we’ve done!!

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Jake on Moss

Sit Spot

With most of the leaves on the ground, I became distinctly aware of the forest canopy. I became obvious that oaks were the dominant canopy tree with red maples filling in the gaps between them and hemlock below everything else. The hemlock was interesting because it seemed to grow regardless of light availability whereas the red maples were clearly growing in the gaps between the oak canopy. There were a few places where white pine took the place of the oaks in the canopy. It was interesting how the pines branching structure is entirely different than that of oaks. The branches of pine grow straight out of the trunk, longest on the bottom and shortest at the top forming a sort of cone shape while on an oak, the trunk seems to divide again and again forming this fractal like hemisphere.

As I was watching the canopy I began to notice the breeze coming in from the northwest. It was interesting how it came in waves and passed over different areas at different times. I realized that I could even feel the breeze in the trunk of the tree that I was leaning against. It bent and swayed as the wind passed through its branches. The wind in the canopy came in gusts while the wind on the forest floor was constant.

As I was just about to leave my sit spot I was surprised by a really loud call. It sounded like someone rubbing two wet pieces of rubber together, they would do quick strokes then a few longer strokes. It was a little similar to a frog noise but shorter. I finally realized that the sound was coming from a squirrel in a near by tree. It started making the call on a low branch then worked its way down the tree and finally stopped when it reached the ground. Then it scampered off into the woods.

 

Site Report

I made an important discovery today at our site: most of the substrate is sand! Somehow I convinced myself that our site was in a part of lake hitchcock that accumulated stratified clay but that was completely wrong. We are quite near the border of lake hitchcock and certainly in a part where sand was deposited. But our site does not look like the Montague sand plain. Our sight is not dominated by scrub oak or pitch pine, and there is only lowbush blueberry in a few patches. I doubt that our sight is the result of a river delta because it isn’t flat or dry enough. I also doubt that it is the ancient remains of an oxbow but i am less sure about this conclusion. I think that it is likely that our site is located on the coastline of Lake Hitchcock because it’s so near the holyoke range, the border of a portion of the lake. There are also some weird topographic features happening around our site. First of all, there is a large hill composed of sand. This is very contradictory to my initial understanding of sand, that it developed in a flat plane that coincides with water level. The sand area then drops off into a red maple swamp that has a substrate of hydric silt. There is also a patch of hydric silt in the center of the sandy area that is completely separated from the swamp below. I’m having trouble fitting all of these features into one easy explanation of the ancient geography. To be honest, I am entirely confused.

Luckily I am noticing some cool association between the sandy areas and the silty areas. White oak, beech, hemlock, american chestnut, and others appear to like the sandy soil while yellow birch, pin oak, tupelo, winterberry, highbush blueberry, and witch hazel appear to like the silty soil. I also believe that most of the mushrooms were concentrated in the silty soil.

There is evidence of tillage in the sandy soil.

Soon we will take diameter measurements of the trees in the area to figure out the age of the forest and past cuttings.

 

Field Guide

Mosses are difficult to identify because they are so tiny. It is hard to see the teeth on a leaf that is 2mm long. But i was still able to make some confident identifications despite having only my two eyes. First, I identified slender starburst moss which was growing on a stump in some moist woods. This moss is an acrocarp (grows straight upwards in tufts) with lance like leaves that have a main rib. These qualities were identifiable by sight and narrowed my search down substantially. From there I compared my samples to the pictures in the book until i found one that matched. Second, I found pheonix feather moss which is a pleurocarp (grows along the ground in a branching structure). You can identify it by its reddish stem, and the way the branches diverge from the stem at a 90 degree angle. I was excited to find a sample that had capsules, the spore bearing part of the moss. Those of the phoenix feather moss are drooping and curved. The most exciting moss that I found was algal haircap moss, which lacks any branches or leaves and looks like a green powder over the soil surface. It has capsules that are covered in a distinct hairy hood.

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Reading

Capter 8 of Wessels was moving and disturbing. I didn’t realize that trees were affected by air pollution. It seemed like the research in this area was incomplete and could use more attention but it makes sense that air pollution would weaken trees’ immune systems. I wonder how much modern agricultural chemicals like glyphosate effect trees. I know it is supposed to be less toxic than past chemicals. I also never conceptualized global warming’s effect on the planet. I imagined that entire ecosystems would migrate north as the planet warmed but I didn’t realize that we were warming the earth at a rate that outstripped species’ ability to migrate. The idea of a world with steadily decreasing diversity frightens me. What if all of the woods were red maple, red oak, and hemlock!? That would be said.

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October 30th – Alex

Due to our environmental impact and general ecological destruction nationwide, it’s understandable to not realize that New England’s woods today are vaster than they were one-hundred or two-hundred years ago. However, as Wessels points out, central New England woods are shrinking due to development for the first time in a hundred years. But in the stands that are protected, they should grow strong despite surrounding development. Forest health used to only take into account “sustained yield” in terms of how valuable the timber was and if a forest could continue to produce marketable timber. Today the definition is more complex and takes the broader ecosystem into account. And by this new definition, forest health is declining. Sugar Maples crowns are dying due to road salt and acid rain. The rapid pace of climate change will make it very difficult for many trees to adjust their habitat.

At our project site this week, Colin showed us another fox den, or den of some sort, that was in more disrepair than the main one. It was on the downward side of the slope, 6 – 8 inches wide, and slightly caved in. We found squirrel teeth marks on fungus on  Red Oak branches nearby. I remember us seeing something similar in Vernal Pools, were these typically red squirrels?

I had Lichens of the North Woods this week and had a hard time distinguishing exactly what this specific lichen I found was. Despite looking like it, it could not have been an American Starburst because they apparently only grow on Jack Pine. Eastern Candlewax also seemed like a good bet but they only grow on conifers. The one I found was growing on a decayed hardwood branch and was teal-green. I think it could have been a Common Greenshield since there were not any other close contenders but I left still unsure.

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coldness and constellations

Our field site this week was super kind to us. We encountered sign after sign of animal activity in the part of the site we only more recently began to focus on.  First we returned to the site of the den that Elizabeth found last week. We took a soil core in this spot and got an almost entirely homogenous core with the top 3 inches a darker sand with a little bit of organic content, and the rest of the core entirely a reddish brown sand with no striations. Next to the den, we noted a muscle wood tree alongside the pitch pine we noted earlier. The den itself is 6.5 by 7.5 inches which is perhaps a bit small for a red fox, although the guide book we referenced did say the holes ranged from 6-12 inches in diameter, but a nice size for a grey fox or another burrowing creature. On the bark of a downed branch above the den, we found two clusters of 4 scratch or bite marks. These were not parallel to the marks next to them, so I might hypothesize that it was the work of individual bite marks, rather than scratch marks. If it was scratch marks, I might think porcupine as they were too big for squirrels. Now that  I think about it, I probably should have checked about what type of tree the marks appeared on, because that could indicate what animals likes to eat it, such as a hemlock for a porcupine. I’ll go back and check on that soon.  In a hemlock nearby, we found extensive signs of pileated woodpecker and squirrel activity: large holes into the core of the tree which looked to be extended outward by chewing and scratching by the squirrels. There was a large quantity of wood dust under the tree, which could indicate more recent activity. On the ground next to the hemlock, there was a downed red oak tree (by the looks of the leaves, although the bark seemed to come off in sheets and be super smooth which confused me) with that black fungus that looks like charred wood (I’ve forgotten the name).  In the fungus, there were tiny teeth marks about the size of a squirrel. Alex thought he remembered that red squirrels really enjoy eating this particular fungus. It turns out that Colin had found a different den a little further up the trail from the one Elizabeth found. It’s collapsed and also not in use, but it definitely seems as though it was utilized by something in the past. There is a red maple with barbed wire growing through it near the trail which finally gives us a better glimpse about the land use in the more recent history. We hypothesized that in the distant history, this area was some sort of sand dune or sand bar in lake Hitchcock. The presence of sandy soil in the hill creates a dry and well drained environment for creatures that make their home there. Further down towards the wetland area, there is still sand in the soil core, but half the core contains black, wet, and squishy organic matter. There are some smaller elm trees in this area.

This week I had Sibley’s Guide to Birds which is a book that is super familiar to me since my dad had it laying around the house when I was at home. A couple mornings in a row last week, I saw a group of large-ish white birds flying over the soccer fields at Amherst College. I couldn’t quite make out details of their appearance, but white birds seem like they are pretty unique in the assortment of birds we see around here. I’m pretty positive they aren’t gulls. And it’s during the day and in a flock so they aren’t owls. My tentative guess would be that they are some sort of tern. There are several species of terns in the guidebook, and almost all of them occur at least on the coast of Massachusetts. An equally as odd guess would be the white-faced tropicbird. I’m also not sure with it being migration season whether the birds are endemic to this area or not. Also while at Ameherst College, I heard what sounded like an eagle call. It was pretty faint and it only called once, but it had that nice trill at the end that reminded me of a bald eagle chittering but not exactly. A bird that I DID identify was in the woods at Hampshire. I heard what I think was a downy woodpecker drumming on a tree to mark its territory. I listened to the respective recordings of a pileated woodpecker and a downy woodpecker drumming on the Cornel Lab of Ornithology website, and I think it was just a little too fast to be a Pileated. This was while I was standing under the hemlock mentioned above that had evidence of Pileated Woodpecker feeding in it.

My sit spot this week can be summed up in one word: Cold. I went out after dark, and I wasn’t too well prepared. I decided to site in the field on the edge of the woods near the red barn this week for a change of scenery. I star gazed a little and found some familiar constellations like Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters, Taurus, Hercules, and of course the two dippers. It was surprisingly quiet with the exception of the faint sound of the wind through the grass and trees. I honestly cannot recall hearing insects or birds, and I certainly did not see anything. I guess everything else was sensible and bundled themselves up to sleep, or else have already migrated away from the impending doom that is the winter in the northeast.

In the Wessel’s reading this week, there was a little section about sugar maples and their susceptibility to pollutants and climate change. I’m currently starting a project on a site in the woods where a lot of maples are dying, so reading this definitely piqued my interest. The entire chapter was a bit dooms-day-like, and it was a little bit depressing to read, but certainly very informative and useful for studies about human impact on the environment. The Leahy readings excited me for what we are going to encounter tomorrow! The environments he described were certainly a large amount different from what we have encountered thus far, and should prove to be very interesting, I think.

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Fall Ferns and Foxes

Field Guide: This week I had the Peterson Field Guide to Ferns. Since the daylight hours are getting limited, and my time for roaming the woods is as well, I ended up taking a short walk and collecting a few fronds to identify back in my room. The first specimen I examined was what I believed to be a Christmas fern. Someone had shown me an example at a field site, and I remembered the distinctive, projecting lobe on the forward edge of the pinnaes. Since I was fairly sure of the species, I picked this one to identify first in order to practice using the field guide’s key. The key was set up similarly to Wessels’ Forest Forensics, with a list of several options to choose from that lead you to more options, and so on. The Christmas fern was terrestrial, with leafy blades and free veins. There were no sori present, so I couldn’t use them for identification. Even without their presence, though, I was able to key out the features that did, indeed, lead me to the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).

The next specimen I attempted to ID was also another I was familiar with—the sensitive fern. This one proved to be easily identified through its distinctive blade structure and netted vein. I collected both a living and a dead frond without realizing it. The living frond did look pale and unhealthy, with the most distal pinnae browned. The field guide said that they’re called sensitive fern due to how they die off at the first frost. Since the weather has been getting colder, this was my assumption for the condition of the living frond and the presence of the dead fronds. The dead frond proved to be somewhat difficult to identify until I examined the fertile frond I collected with it. The fertile fronds have brown, bead-like structures that are formed from the pinnaes, and protect the sori.

The most difficult fern to identify was the last specimen. The blades were bipinnate with deeply lobed, toothed pinnules. The veins were free, and the sori formed small circular conglomerates on either side of vein (or midrib?) of the pinnae. Despite these easily distinguished characteristics, it seemed like none of the sections of the key led to me to a satisfactory identification. After several failed attempts using the key, I resorted to the tried and true method of simply flipping through the guide. The closest match I stumbled across was the Northern Lady Fern (Athyrium filix femina), though I’m not 100% certain that’s the correct identification. The blade, pinnae and pinnule structure seemed similar, but it also seemed similar to several other species I saw. The sori formation and structure was the feature that sold it the most—the plate in the guide was very close to what I saw on my specimen. I may revisit this though, and see if there aren’t any other, closer matches that I may have missed.

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Field Site: This week, Alex, Erica, Colin and I all got together to try and gather the last pieces from our project site. First off, we took several soil cores near the fox den we found last week, as well as a few down the hill where we hadn’t fully sampled yet. The cores from the hill (near the fox den) proved to be uniformly sandy, have a darker, wetter layer at the top with some mixed in organic material. The core from further down the slope, close to the vernal pool area, proved to be similarly made up of sand, but was wetter and had a darker, moister organic layer the covered the entire core when we pulled it up. You had to rub it off gently in order to see the lower soil. Our hypothesis for the presence of all this sand is that it was deposited by Lake Hitchcock, which is possibly supported by the location of Hampshire College in the Connecticut River valley. The trees in the area of the hill and the fox den reflect this sandy, well-drained soil, especially the presence of pitch pines. We also found a possible second fox den that Colin had discovered earlier. We believe that these were occupied and/or created by red foxes, due to the topography and location. The mammal tracking guide indicates that red foxes prefer to live near a water supply (such as the vernal pools would provide at least some of the year) and often open agricultural land, such as the cornfield. Grey foxes, apparently, live deeper in the woods and farther away from human disturbances. Some other interesting things we stumbled across but still need to analyze the significance of include asymmetrical claw/tooth marks on the fallen log under which the den is built, the marks of pileated wood peckers and squirrels in a dead white pine, squirrel tooth marks in some black, charcoal looking fungus, what looked like a frost crack scar in a red oak, a medium sized maple that was bent to the ground and cracked, and the remnants of barbed wire grown into a tree near the edge of the cornfield.

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Sit Spot: The poison ivy has died down, the mosquitos have fled, and the leaves lie peaceful on the forest floor. Most of the deciduous trees have sacrificed their leaves to weave the bright carpet below, with only some grey birches and maples clinging on. The only pure green shines from the dark needles of the red pines. The persistent thrum of insects that accompanied my earlier visits is silenced, replaced with the calls of blue jays and woodpeckers. In the direction away from campus, I heard some sort of low, throaty (but melodius) call, interspersed with occasional higher notes. It could have been a bird or insect, but it seemed to have a more amphibian tone to me. Perhaps a fall-breeding frog? Some day when I have more time, I want to wander in that direction and see if some body of water waits amidst the trees.

I took a closer look at the dead snags and fallen trees around my sit spot. Many, as I have mentioned before, are birches. I believe that they may be grey birches, or at least some species in the white birch group. Several dead snags are still standing, with logs and branches fallen about them. Most are small, young trees. What I began to wonder is whether they died from some sort of blight and disease, and the branches and taller portions fell afterward, or if they were cracked or snapped through a weather event and died due to loss of the crown. I tried to examine the tops of the dead snags, but I couldn’t find anything definitive. I feel like I don’t know what I should be looking for, and what signs would indicate which situation. I’d like to delve into the subject more, and then go back to my sit spot and try to puzzle it out.

 

Reading Response: The Leahy et al chapters revealed a world that I’m not terribly familiar with. Growing up in landlocked Kentucky, I’ve had few experiences with coastal habitats, and those mainly involved tamed, tourist-filled beaches. Though I’ve heard of the vast diversity and tumultuous ecosystems hosted by dunes and beaches, I had little knowledge of how they’re organized and what are the main factors that affect them. It was intriguing to read about the many different habitats (more than I realized there were), and how/why each developed where they did. Even just learning about how dunes form proved to be interesting, as it’s something I’ve never given much thought too. I’m excited to get out and explore these beautifully described habitats. The vast number of birds, fish, invertebrates and plants that fill them sound exhilarating to witness.

The Wessels chapter proved difficult to read, mainly because I was clenching my fists the entire time. Even though there is mention of several aspects with a promising outlook, such as efforts to make large, connected swaths of protected forests, and the advances we’ve made in protecting the environment, the chapter mainly just reminded me of how short-sighted, apathetic and uninformed people can be. Wessels published this book in 1997, and espoused his hopes that both our knowledge and our wisdom would continue to grow and lead us to a larger awareness of the impact we have on the world. Well, here it is in 2013, 16 years later, and I see little to no progress going on around me. Forests and farmland continue to be covered in housing developments and strip malls, cars still burn through fossil fuels at alarming rates, and the general population seems just as apathetic and uncaring as ever. Perhaps I’m pessimistic and biased, in fact, I’m sure I am. I’ve grown up watching the fields and woods around my home slowly turn into unnecessary housing developments. I’ve seen how carelessly road crews and telephone companies destroy swaths of forest, and how mining companies devastate mountaintops. Beyond my own experience, introduced blights and diseases still run rampant, invasive species continue to push out native inhabitants, and people still pollute and litter and brush off global warming as non-existent. There have been efforts made and victories won for environmental protection and conservation, but they seem few and far between to me. The politicians and companies that could use their influence to better environmental policies tend to ignore quite often blatant data, choosing instead to pursue the “profitable” option. It seems to me that humans have not advanced as far as Wessels might have hoped when he published this book. I can only hope that we can wake up and follow his example before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.

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Changing seasons, perspectives, climates

Wessels:
Although I’ve done my fair share of climate-change research, this week’s Wessels reading struck me more than many other pieces I’ve read or seen. Aside from feeling absolutely hopeless about climate change, I did find many interesting questions in this section. Many of Wessels’ points regarding deforestation have come up in another of my classes, the Contested American Countryside. The irony that we’ve discussed–and that is echoed by Wessels–is that the romanticization of the rural, pastoral landscape will destroy it as more and more people move to the countryside. This destruction is in the name of some type of modernist attempt to return to a nostalgic time in light of our meaningless, consumption-driven lives. But, given all of the terrible effect of our contemporary lifestyles, perhaps a more realistic look at the countryside, modernization, and consumption is in order.
In this last chapter, Wessels also sheds light on many examples of our sectioning off of nature. The discourse is always conservation vs. fragmentation, and the tendency of science to isolate the pieces of nature into discrete sections is a bit unrealistic. In this essentialization of nature, I’m wondering how we can reevaluate our relationship with forests so that we may somehow coexist in a different way. I may be more radical, but I believe that the things that Wessels finds hope in at the end of the chapter (knowledge, technology, and resources) are not enough to change our current course. But I do still particularly love Wessels’ closing remark:

Now when I wander through the forests and fields that surround my home, I am not just a tourist passing through, but a part of the landscape–a partner in its dialogue.

In this way, I do agree with Wessels–that our only hope is to create new relationships with our forests and our environments if we are to stop this terrible path that we’re on.

Leahy:
In this week’s Leahy readings, I was reminded of my last trip to the coast–a place that I visit far less than I should considering its proximity to my hometown.My last visit was to Bluff Point in Noank, CT, and I have very fond memories of the strikingly white and fuchsia roses along the rocks and fragrant honeysuckles inside the canopy along the walking paths. I’m very interested to see how these communities have changed with the seasons and what different species I may notice this time. In each section of the Leahy reading, I was surprised by the long species list. I particularly love Leahy’s comment: “The peaceful grandeur of a large estuarine salt marsh masks the orgy of biological activity taking place in and around it.” I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this orgy of biological activity tomorrow!

Sit spot:
Today at my sit spot, there were many changes in the soundscape. This has been one of the most dynamic aspects of my sit spot. I noted the weather as I left just after 3 PM. It had been raining and cold in the morning, but the sun had just come out, and its warmth was intense. As I got through the Greenwich parking lot and into the tall grasses surrounding the farm, I noticed that I didn’t hear the loud chorus of bugs that I’ve gotten so used to.
But, ohhh, the birds were still out! From the distance I saw three crows flying above the field, and as I walked along the path through a line of bare bushes, I startled a group of chattering birds–I think some type of sparrows and tufted titmouse. With the bare birches and maples all around I could see many of these birds and their rambunctious, noisy activity inside the small patches of forest. Although I couldn’t see inside the oak behind me, I did hear some blue jays inside. These birds were all a joy to see today after such a cold, gray morning. I hope that they stick around much longer!

Insect tracking!
I was a bit intimidated by the insect tracking book that I received this week because I really didn’t know the first thing about insect tracking. I started by reading the introduction as usual, but then decided to flip through page by page to familiarize myself with what I’d even be looking for. I recognized many insect tracks and signs that I’ve seen before: spittlebugs spittle, Chironomidae larvae channels in water shield leaves, assassin bug cases! I also recalled talking to a local (CT) park ranger about these purple boxes up in the trees that they’re using to track Emerald Ash Borers.
When I set out for some tracking, I very luckily stumbled upon a rather obvious wooly bear track! I would never have been able to identify it if it wasn’t for the little caterpillar leading the way through. I also identified a goldenrod ball gall, some nonlinear surface scratches on a downed limb, and some deeper galleries under the bark of an old farm post likely made by bark beetles.

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Project site:
This week things seriously came together at our project site while doing some soil cores with Jake and Ryan. In looking at the larger area surrounding our rather small site, we found a slightly elevated sand mass and a slightly depressed swamp!! Our vernal pool site seems to be the transition between these, but many questions remain.. Our site is bounded on three sides by rather linear ridges and we’re unsure how these were formed. Although Jake suggested ancient river action, I’m no so sure of this and wonder if it may be human activity related to agriculture or filling in of the wetland. My next tasks are to do more research on the processes of filling in wetlands and the exact geology of the Mount Holyoke range leading to our site so that we can narrow down our options. But I will say that we feel very close to putting the picture together!

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