Category Archives: Observations

Nature Of the Park – Fall 2015

Thank you to Tom Estill who is doing the live reporting from Pine Hill Park and surrounding trails. 

Pine Hill Park Fall, 2015 •  Natural History Summary

The first official day of fall, 2015 saw a cold front move through the area bringing with it the first noticeably cool weather since spring and beautiful dark blue skies.  During an evening walk on 9/21, crickets could be heard, and many birds were seen including blue jays, robins, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, slate-colored juncos, and pileated and hairy woodpeckers.  Warblers were migrating through the forest, the most impressive to me being the black-throated blue warbler.  Small flocks of migrating waterfowl could be seen at Muddy Pond including mallards and Canada geese.

At the end of Sept. I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker flying from its perch catching insects passing by, a behavior I hadn’t seen before in sapsuckers.  Though grey squirrels and chipmunks are commonly seen in the park, I was surprised to see a red squirrel near Muddy Pond.  They’re not near as common as the grey squirrel.

It was this time of year that I also saw my first loose association of birds.  Birds of different species associate with one another during the harsh winter season for protection and help in obtaining food.   An association of brown creepers, tufted titmouse, hairy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, pine warbler, and black-capped chickadees was seen slowly flying through the forest together.  In other parts of the forest were seen blue jays, white-throated sparrows, catbirds, many flying insects and butterflies, including mating half-banded tapers.

Only a few flowers remained including New England Aster, Queen Anne’s Lace, goldenrod, and blue wood aster.  All of which were being pollinated by bumble bees, yellow jackets, and bald-faced hornets.

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By the end of Sept., Muddy Pond now had a few hundred Canada Geese resting there, along with a few wood ducks, mallards, and a great blue heron.  Also at Muddy Pond could be seen painted turtles, hermit thrushes, American goldfinches, and a belted kingfisher.  The well known Wooly Bear caterpillar was also seen for the first time.

The first week of October found the forest very quiet.  Asters were about the only flowers left to be found and milkweed seed pods were getting ready to open to release their hundreds of seeds.  Birds typically found in winter were now the most common birds seen including blue jays, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, crows, and hairy woodpeckders.  Hermit thrushes and American redstarts were almost gone, but the population of Canada Geese at Muddy Pond has increased to around 300.  A winter wren and yellow-rumped warbler were also seen.

Oct. 10th brought cool temperatures and a gorgeous fall day.  Fall foliage was at, or near, its maximum. Warblers continued to migrate through the area, with pine warblers, yellow-rumped warblers and golden-crowned kinglets being the most commonly seen migrants.  For the first time, I saw a solitary OTTER feeding on a fish at Muddy Pond.  Haven’t seen it again since then.  Lots of grey squirrels and chipmunks continue to be seen.

On Oct. 12th, I experienced a most enchanting phenomenon.  Fall foliage was at its maximum.  As the sun was setting, its light was filtering through the colored leaves, and  bathed the woods in a most pleasant light.  A truly beautiful, magical, and serene experience.  A pileated woodpecker was the only bird I saw in the forest that day, along with one grey squirrel, but lots of chipmunks.  So many chipmunks were seen this year, that I was wondering if maybe they were at the apex of their population growth cycle, and maybe we’ll see a decline in their numbers in the next few years, along with a corresponding increase in the number of predators.  Also on this day, I observed an interesting behavior of the Canada Geese at Muddy Pond.  As I was watching the geese, a period of relative quietness would be interrupted by a dramatic increase in “chatter” among the geese, followed by a flock of geese flying off in a southerly direction.  This happened over and over again.  Don’t want to get anthropomorphic here, but I had the feeling that the geese were saying goodbye to some of their fellow geese before they took off to continue their trip south.

The first light precipitation of freezing rain occurred on Oct. 17th.  The only plant in flower was witch hazel, giving the forest areas of easily visible yellow.  With the relatively dry August and Sept., I was sure the fall foliage season would suffer, but that was not the case.  We had an absolutely beautiful fall foliage season this year.

Fluffy, the elusive albino porcupine living in the park. Photo by Jen Hogan.
Fluffy, the elusive albino porcupine living in the park. Photo by Jen Hogan.

On the third week of Oct., I received an email from our Parks and Rec. Director Cindi Wight.  She forwarded an email she had received from Jen Hogan.  Jen had come across an ALBINO porcupine on one of the trails and sent a picture of the rare animal to Cindi.  I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to see that picture.  But as hard as I’ve tried to find that porcupine, I haven’t been able to find it for the last 2 months.  As soon as we get some appreciable snowfall I’m hoping to find some tracks of the porcupine and follow it to its den.

Snowliage - West Rutland Vermont-56
Snowliage, October 18. Photo by David Jenne

On Oct. 20th, I was surprised to see flocks of migrating yellow-rumped warblers flying through the forest, and a very plump, healthy looking garter snake.  Swarms of unidentified small brown insects found along a number of trails, also.(No, they weren’t ants).  Had two different pairs of pileated woodpeckers fly within a few feet of me after calling them in with my bird caller.  Tiny white-colored insects, called wooly aphids were seen in large numbers today.

During the last week of Oct., I was surprised to see a yellow throat bird, and the shoreline of Muddy Pond covered in Goose feathers and down, so much so that it looked like the shorline was covered in snow.  Loose bird associations are a common sight, and so are flocks of migrating robins.  Turkeys heard under the powerlines on the Carriage Trail.  The only ferns with green leaves left in the park are Christmas ferns, spinulosa and marginal wood ferns and rock polypody.  Most leaves are off the trees with the exception of oak and beech trees.  Ruffed grouse seen at Rocky Pond.  Hermit thrushes seen migrating through the forest to my surprise.

The first week of November had Jen Hogan showing me where she saw the albino porcupine, but again, we had no luck in seeing the animal.  Temperatures that week reached 65 degrees F.  The second week of Nov., I received a second report of a sighting of an albino porcupine.  Some hikers seen in SHORTS!!  This was the week most of the oaks trees finally dropped their leaves, leaving the forest floor covered with a thick layer of oak leaves.

By Nov. 15th, temperatures were finally low enough for ice to cover my birdbath, but Rocky and Muddy Ponds were still ice free.  The ponds were completely frozen over for the first time on Nov. 16th of last year.  A migrating red-tailed hawk was seen this week, along with a few loose bird associations, so common this time of year.  I was also surprised to find a Tamarack tree on droopy muffin trail between trail markers #22 and #22A.  They’re usually found in more moist environments.  I haven’t seen any tamaracks around rocky or muddy ponds.  The tamarack was easy to see in the forest with its bright yellow leaves.  Muddy Pond was covered with so many Canada geese, I couldn’t count them.

The last week of Nov. found Rocky Pond with a few shoreline areas iced over, with Muddy Pond almost completely iced over.  The number of Canada geese at Muddy Pond had dramatically decreased.  For the first time, I also noticed a marked increase in the number of trees being chewed on by beavers at Rocky Pond.  I believe beaver are beginning to build a den on the East side of the pond.  As strange as it seems, Nov. 27th saw hikers in shorts once again, but by Nov. 29th, cold temperatures had returned.  Temperatures had climbed so high, that both ponds were once again open water.

The first week of Dec. found Muddy Pond covered with hundreds of Canada geese as I watch flock after flock, after flock fly into the pond one afternoon.  Most of the pond was frozen over, and Rocky Pond was completely frozen over with a thin sheet of ice.

By Dec. 12th, hikers were once again in their shorts, and both ponds were free of any ice.

On Dec. 19th, I took my last hike of the season.   Though there was a dusting of snow on the ground, both ponds were still free of ice, there were about 100 Canada geese at Muddy Pond, and the forest was very quiet with me seeing only crows, and white-breasted nuthatches.  Two deer seen near the ledges.

 

See Related:

Summer 2015

It’s Deer Season

Deer season is here. Youth weekend is Saturday and Sunday, November 7th and 8th.

Rifle Season starts Saturday, November 14th and runs through Sunday, November 29th.

Muzzle loading season starts Saturday, December 5th and runs through Sunday, December 13th.

There is NO HUNTING allowed in Pine Hill Park.

Hunting is allowed on the Redfield trails and the Carriage Trail. Please wear blaze orange if you are going to ride these trails.

Nature of the Park Summer 2015

Pine Hill Park Summer, 2015 •  Natural History Summary

By Tom Estill

The first day of summer, 2015 saw the park filled with the sounds of birds establishing and maintaining their territories, mating calls, and baby chicks chirping for food.  Birds COMMONLY seen or heard in the park this time of year included:  veery, American redstart, hermit thrush, ovenbird, Eastern wood peewee, great crested flycatcher, catbird, song sparrow, yellow-bellied sapsucker, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, wood thrush, rufous-sided towhee, downy woodpecker, northern flicker, red-eyed vireo, robin, myrtle warbler, and mourning doves.  Near Rocky and Muddy Ponds you’ll typically find red-winged blackbirds and great blue herons, and hear the croaking of the American Bullfrog and Greenfrog.  On June 25th, I was delighted to hear and see the Scarlet Tanager near Trail Marker 24,  the same place I have heard and seen them for the last three years.  This year, I also saw them near Rocky Pond and the first Giorgetti Trail.  So glad to see their population at the park doing well.

By this time of the year, all the 27 American chestnut trees planted at the beginning of June had leaves, except one.  They’ve done very well this summer.  During the “dry/hot spell” of late July and August, I actually carried water up to the plants and gave them extra waterings.  At this point, I’m hoping that at least 26 of them will make it through the winter.  I’ll continue to keep an eye on them throughout the year.

Chipmunks seemed to be in high numbers this summer,  certainly more than last summer, while the population of grey squirrels appears to be steady.

Baby painted turtles were seen at Rocky Pond, along with huge numbers of young bullhead catfish and Eastern Newts.  Also during this time of year, red efts are a common site along the trails, especially after a rainy day.

Butterflies are also a common sight in June, including mourning cloaks, white tails, 12-spotted skimmers, cabbage whites, and sulfurs.

The end of June saw more and more wildflowers making  their appearance including: hop clover, partridge berry, Canada lily, laurel, and Devil’s Paintbrush.  Fern spores were maturing,  and wild strawberries were ripe for picking along with red raspberries.

Green frog tadpoles born in the spring were seen with developing hind legs at Rocky Pond.

The first week of July saw new wildflowers appearing, including: shinleaf pyrola, sheep laurel, pale corydalis, black-eyed Susan, evening primrose, St. Johnswort, purple flowering raspberries, and white sweet clover.  A northern water snake was seen in Rocky Pond, and garter snakes were a common sight all throughout the park, especially near the ponds.  Small American toads and Cedar Waxwings were seen the first time near Rocky Pond.  The baby yellow-bellied sapsuckers fledged at this time, also.

Mid-July found a Yellowthroat under the powerlines on Crusher Road, the same place I’ve seen Yellowthroats there in the last 3 years.    More species of butterflies are appearing, including the great sprangled fritillary, silver-spotted skipper, Tiger Swallowtail, clouded sulfur and northern pearly-eye.  And, of course, new wildflowers included: pointed-leaved tick-trefoil, Queen Ann’s Lace, Golden Alexander, purple loosestrife, and goldenrod. Woodchuck seen feeding on clover, and, upon seeing me, ran into its hillside den on Crusher Road.

Followed up on a report of a Great Blue Heron nesting at Muddy Pond.  Found the nest, and an adult heron standing on the nest, but no young.  I kept a close eye on the nest all summer, but saw no sign of a successful nesting.  And I never saw more than one heron at a time at the nest, or in the pond.

Saw a male and female indigo bunting under the powerlines on Carriage Trail, the same place I saw them last year.  Hopefully, they’ll return next spring.  They’re a beautiful bird.  I played a tape of the bird’s call over my phone, and the male bunting alighted on a branch a few feet from me.  A truly magical moment.

Forest beginning to noticeably quiet down in the afternoon this time of year.  Most birds are finished raising their young, and the birds are no longer establishing territories.

Towards the end of July, I had a broad-winged hawk follow me along the Carriage Trail from Trail Marker 24 to the powerlines.  It would do that for about a month.  I can only guess that my walking was frightening birds and small mammals in front of me, and making them more easily visible to the hawk.

Sow and her cub seen eating berries under the powerlines on Crusher Road.  I was hidden by a small hill, and could see the sow, but was not aware of the cub nearby until it started making some noises, at which point I started back tracking as fast as I could.

The last day of July, I entered a very, very, quiet forest.  Lots of robins gathering in loose associations, in preparation for their upcoming southern migration.  Numerous immature wood frogs found throughout the park.  The common wood nymph butterfly is now a common sight.

The first week of August I saw my first maple starting to change colors.  Noticeably cooler, especially in the evening.  Lots of butterflies with the emergence of the fall asters.  Some flowers still appearing, including:  agrimony, common nightshade, eastern-tailed blue, asters, jewelweed, lobelia, hawkweed, willow-herb, blue vervain and butter-and-eggs.  The forest is now so quiet compared to a month ago.

Mid-August saw the first migrating waterfowl at Muddy Pond, mostly mallards.  Thistle, whorled wood aster, Joe-pye-weed, and rattlesnake root. starting to flower.  Having a “hot spell”.  Hot and humid days.  But, cardinals are still singing near the trailhead.  And a grey treefrog was heard calling.  Migrating warblers are becoming a more and more common sight, including pine warblers and black-throated blue warblers.

Towards the end of August, a barred owl was heard “hooting” at rocky pond, and American goldfinch were becoming more and more a common sight.  New flowers include: white vervain, wood betony, hog-peanut, bottle gentian, turtlehead, and northern bugleweed.  Black chokeberry and winterberries are now ripe, and can be found on the shores of Rocky Pond.

At the end of August, my walks were very quiet, with only a few birds seen or heard, including the pileated woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, cardinal, wood thrush, and a few robins. A New England cottontail was seen feeding under the powerlines on Crusher Road.   For the first time this season, bald-faced hornets seen in large numbers flying close to the ground in search of prey.  I try to keep my distance from them.

The beginning of Sept. found a very quiet forest.  On one walk up to Rocky Pond on Sept.1st, all I saw or heard were a cardinal, Eastern wood peewee, a couple blue jays, and a ruffed grouse which explosively flew off right in front of me, giving me quite the “start”.  Forest is very dry some a long dry spell.  Had to give the chestnut trees extra water.  I was actually worried about the fire danger.  Luckily, no fires were started at this time.

The middle of the month saw a cold front move through bringing rain and dropping temperatures.  What a relief for everyone.  Hawks migrating through the area.  Got a nice view of a red-tailed hawk.  More and more waterfowl seen at Muddy Pond, especially Canada geese and mallards.  Leaves are changing color.  Migrating yellowthroat seen and many crickets heard all throughout the park.  You can sense a change in the forest, as the plants and animals prepare for the long, cold winter ahead.

On Sept. 20th, I took my last walk of the season.  Many crickets could be heard throughout the forest, my hands were actually cold from recent cold fronts moving into the area, robins, along with various warblers, were migrating, the ponds were showing increasing numbers of waterfowl, and the birds of the forest were becoming more and more those species typical or fall and winter, such as the black-capped chickadee, hairy wooodpecker, pileated woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jays, and crows.

Fall Foliage Family Nature Hike

Saturday October 3, 10 am-12 p.m

Join Naturalist Tom Estill as we explore the natural history of Pine Hill Park at the height of the fall foliage season. This easy-moderate hike is designed for hikers of all ages. There will be lots of opportunities to take photos of our spectacular fall foliage and an opportunity to see Muddy Pond covered with hundreds of migrating waterfowl. Bring binoculars, something to drink, and a small snack. FREE

Plant of the day…

…or maybe plant of the month is a better title.

If you visit the park in the next few days or weeks there is one plant you will not miss, even if you try! And that plant is the Canada-mayflower, also called false lily-of-the-valley.

I shot these on a run up Sisyphus this afternoon and thought I’d pass ’em along. They’re not in bloom yet, but just the sight of all that green finally covering the forest floor will make you smile.

They will bloom in couple weeks with a cluster of white feathery flowers that will eventually turn into red berries, which are a very important source of food for birds in the park.

Yep, they’re common as heck—but their timing is impeccable in my opinion 🙂

More info:

Warblers are Here !

Spring in the park is so awesome.

Just at the time we are all back biking and running and hiking, back come all the birds and other furry critters to say “hi” for the new season.

This is a few days old, but I recorded this on my Sunday a.m. (5/3) run on Stegosaurus. For those of you curious about some of the sounds from the trees you are hearing when you’re in the park, I thought  this might be interesting. (Unedited 30 second clip recorded with my phone:)

Back for 2015 are:

  • Black-throated blue warbler (2 sec mark)
  • Black & White Warbler, aka “the squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease bird (8 sec. mark)
  • Ovenbird singing its unmistakable “teacher, teacher,teacher!” (15 sec mark) You’ll be hearing that one ALL summer long!
  • Black-throated blue warbler again (17sec mark)
  • Black & White Warbler again (20 sec mark)
  • Black-throated blue warbler again (29 sec mark)

In the background for most of the clip are very faint Chickadee “fee-bee” songs…  and my heavy breathing from just coming up the hill… sorry !

Here are some links to the birds mentioned above:

Black-throated Blue Warbler (photo above)

Black-and-white Warbler     blww

Ovenbird     Ovenbird_RWD

Black-capped Chickadee

Want to learn more? Come to the park this Saturday at 7:00am for a bird walk with naturalist Tom Estill.

Spring on the Carriage Trail

Conditions on the Carriage Trail as of April 17th are still pretty wet in spots. Good for frogs — but for bikes, not so much. Good news though, is that it looks to me like the work VYCC did last year in the wet areas is really helping to drain the trail faster.

View of low spot on the Power Line that crosses the Carriage Trail.
Low spot on the Power Line that crosses the Carriage Trail.