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 :)