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.