Spring nature report

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park
Spring, 2021 Summary

By Tom Estill

I always make a point of going on hikes throughout the forest during the first day of each season. On the first day of this spring I saw my first robin. They always seem to arrive at Pine Hill Park on, or very close to, the first day of spring. What I’m wondering is if this will be the case years from now. Also on this first day of spring, mourning doves were “cooing”, turkey vultures were flying overhead, and crows, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, hairy woodpeckers and cardinals were all flying about.

The lower Giorgetti trails were mostly bare ground with icy and snowy patches in protected spots, while the upper trails had much more snow covering the ground.

Both Rocky and Muddy ponds were mostly still frozen over, with a few small perimeter areas starting to show open water. The haunting sound of under ice rumblings could be heard at both ponds, as the ice was beginning to break up.

Gray squirrels and Eastern chipmunks were scurrying around, looking for acorns left over from the previous fall. Wintergreen was covering bare ground areas.

The next day(March 21st) I went back to the park and saw a few Canada geese at Muddy Pond in a small area of open water, along with northern juncos, and a pileated woodpecker. The first butterfly of the season, a Compton tortoiseshell, was also seen.

On March 27th, both ponds were now almost completely open, with only a few small areas on the west sides of both ponds showing the presence of ice. Wood frogs could be heard calling for the first time in areas where they’ve always been heard at the beginning of the season, and that is the Rocky Pond outlet area, and a wetland area in the woods at the south side of Rocky Pond. Also, a mourning cloak butterfly was seen on Trail 16A, near one of the American Chestnut planting plots, just where I see them at this same time every year.

On April 5th, the first wildflower, Coltsfoot, made its appearance. It’s always the first plant to flower. This was also the day I saw my first yellow-bellied sapsucker and Eastern Newt at Rocky Pond.

A few days later, trout lily leaves were starting to emerge from the forest floor, and oak trees were beginning to flower. One osprey was seen sitting on last years’ nest. Spring peepers were also heard for the first time. And I noticed many small insects flying about. Painted turtles were sunning themselves at Muddy Pond. For the most part, the forest was still very quiet.

During the middle of April, temperatures were cold on a very quiet evening walk through the forest. Wild lily-of-the-Valley leaves were emerging from the forest floor and a hermit thrush was singing its beautiful evening flute-like song. Beavers were active on the west side of Muddy Pond, and a single osprey was on its nest.

On May 1st, I went for a quiet evening walk and saw black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, robins, hermit thrush, yellow-throated vireo, and belted kingfishers and 3 osprey at Muddy Pond. In the pond were seen a large snapping turtle, painted turtles, and a river otter. Trout lily and wood anemone were in flower.

On May 9th while on an early morning bird walk, not only did I see the usual contingent of early spring birds, but also saw the relatively uncommon red-breasted nuthatch, the first time I had ever seen that bird at Pine Hill Park. A house wren could be heard singing near the trailhead.

On May 22nd, I saw my first firefly of the season, MUCH earlier than usual. A large black northern water snake was seen at Rocky Pond, and Moccasin flower, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and foam flower were all flowering. Many birds were seen, including South American migrants.

Birds seen included Hairy woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, Eastern pewee, least flycatcher, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, hermit thrush, veery, ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, black and white warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, American redstart, indigo bunting, and rufous-sided towhee.

On May 31st, the Wild American Chestnut tree was finally located on Svelte Tiger trail. Tree leaves had finally emerged, and the specific tree was easily identified.

During a walk the first week of June, I noticed large numbers of partially eaten tree leaves covering just about every trail in the park, and soon realized that the park is undergoing an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars. By June 10th, the infestation was so bad that if you stood quietly on a secluded trail, you could hear the droppings of the caterpillars falling on the ground and upon other leaves. It sounded like a gentle rain. I’ve been hiking Pine Hill Park since 2013, and never saw as bad an infestation as this year.

I measured the height of the Wild American Chestnut tree on June 10th, and found the tree to be 66’ tall. Unfortunately, though healthy looking, it did show signs of the blight infection. On my hike back to the trailhead, I came across a recently born fawn. It calmly walked right in front of me and off into the forest.

On a walk in mid-June, I was surprised to see a Cedar Waxwing in the forest. I usually don’t see them until the end of summer, and always up around Rocky Pond. An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was seen feeding on red clover, bullfrogs were croaking at Rocky Pond, and American redstart warblers and tufted titmouse birds were seen feeding on gypsy moth caterpillars. Hopefully, these, and other, predatory birds will keep the gypsy moth caterpillar numbers in check.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails, and enjoy the Wild Times of Pine Hill Park.

RTP GRant Awarded

We are proud recipients of a Recreation Trail Program grant (RTP) through the VT Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation who administers the grant. Out of 23 applicants we were one of nine chosen to receive an $18,000 grant. This will pay for a 3 week VT Youth Conservation Corp crew in 2022. This crew will work on Maximum Capacity and Bone Spur which are both located near or off Milk Run.

We would like to thank Kim Peters and Nikki Adams at Rutland Rec for helping the write the grant. Joel Blumenthal and Nicole Kesselring were instrumental in helping with the maps and Act 250 questions that we had to answer. Without everyone’s help our grant would not have been a success.

With some luck, YES plan from Rutland High School will return in the spring of 2022 to help with our fantastic trail system.

Community Work Day

Thank you every one who came Saturday to the community work day. It was a huge success in moving some rocks, cleaning drainage’s and moving bark mulch for the Master Gardner’s.

Saturday, April 24th, 9AM to noon. We will do a little bit of work in the front entrance to help Master Gardner’s out. Our primary goal will be to stage rocks on Milk Run for a French Drain and banked corner for a future volunteer group. Rock collecting will be all size rocks using buckets for softball size and smaller. Rock slings with pry bars for larger rocks. We will also being working on cleaning drainage’s out. Meet at Giorgetti parking lot. We have tools, bring water, bug dope, sunscreen and gloves. Thanks and hope to see you there.

Wild times winter 2020-21

Thank you to Tom Estill for a great winter report.

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park Winter, 2020 Summary

Around the time of the official start of winter saw a major Nor’easter come through the area, dropping over two feet of snow on the ground. That was followed by a major rain storm the day before Christmas bringing a deluge and temperatures in the fifties. Most of the snow had melted. Rocky and Muddy Ponds were both frozen over, and only a few birds were seen on a walk, including black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse and white-breasted nuthatch.

On the first day of the new year, I counted 5 white-breasted nuthatches, 4 crows, 3 blue jays, 1 starling, 8 black-capped chickadees, 2 tufted titmouse, and 2 pileated woodpeckers.

The next day, Jan. 2nd, was the OFFICIAL Audubon Bird Count day. On that day, 33 crows, 4 blue jays, 1 cardinal, 13 tufted titmouse, 24 black-capped chickadees, 2 red-bellied woodpeckers, 9 white-breasted nuthatches, 4 brown creepers, and 1 hairy woodpecker were observed. Many gray squirrels were scurrying about, and an adult deer was seen at the quarry.

By Jan. 10th, a few inches of snow could be found on the ground, and on Jan. 24th, 6 inches of snow was on the ground. The day was a beautiful sunny day, but very cold. The forest was very quiet, only a few birds were seen, and many areas were seen where deer had dug through the snow to reach acorns and other foods.

On Feb. 14th, 8 inches of snow now covered the ground, many deer tracks were seen throughout the forest, and Hairy Woodpeckers were seen and heard “drumming”. Both Rocky and Muddy Ponds were covered in snow, and the forest was very quiet. Porcupine tracks were seen near the power lines on the Carriage Trail leading up to the den in a rocky cliff, just where they have been seen in years past.

On Feb. 21st, a foot of snow covered the ground, and it was a sunny, but cold day. A pair of black-capped chickadees could be seen flying in and out of the first bird house as you crossed the boardwalk. Many deer, fox, squirrel and rodent tracks could be seen.

On March 1st, an opossum was seen walking across the boardwalk by Shelley. Temperatures were in the mid forties, and spring was felt to be just around the corner. Hairy woodpeckers were drumming, cardinals and tufted titmouse were singing, mourning doves were “cooing” and midges were flying about. Many places were seen where squirrels had dug up their caches of acorns, and many places were seen where deer had done the same. Spots of bare ground were starting to appear throughout the park.

On March 7th, as I was sitting alone at the edge of Rocky Pond, I was amazed at the loud and eerie sounds of water moving underneath the ice. It was a constant rumbling, moaning, and groaning.

On March 13th, Chris Cartier led me to a spot where he believed a wild American Chestnut was growing. To my surprise and great delight, there it was. Found on Svelte Tiger trail, not far from Trail Marker #22, the surrounding ground covered in huge burs. Can’t wait for the leaves to come out so the exact tree can be identified. GPS coordinates of the site and pictures were immediately sent to scientists of the American Chestnut Foundation. Later on, I observed numerous chipmunks scurrying about the park, with many of them appearing to be immature chipmunks due to their small size.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails, and watch for returning osprey at Muddy Pond, bobcats on the Redfield trails, and listen for the chorus of mating frogs.

Update on trails

UPDATE April 8th: Trails are riding great. With the wind we have been having trees are falling down so reports are appreciated. pinehillpartnership@gmail.com. Trails that are still closed Exit Strategy, steep hill on Droopy, Lichen Rock. Voldemort should be open later today April 8th.

UPDATE April 5th: Opening up trails this afternoon except for our normal winter closures. Hopefully our 15 degree nights are done. Thank you for being patient.

UPDATE April 3rd: Trails are still going through freeze/thaw cycles with the cold weather that is back. We have frost poking up on the trail tread. Please NO BIKES.

UPDATE March 29th: Trails are slowly drying out. With all the rain on Sunday(28th) things got pretty soggy again but it did drive the frost out of the ground. Snow is in the forecast for later in the week so we have to wait until after that event to melt. We will be monitoring trails regularly to see when we can open for bikes. We need a bunch of windy days to dry the park out. PLEASE BE PATIENT!

We are in the middle of freeze/thaw cycles when the trails are super fragile. We would appreciate folks staying off the trails at this time. Hikers if you would stay on the Pond Rd that would be greatly appreciated too. Thank you.

VIRTUAL annual meeting—march 29

We are hoping you can attend a virtual Pine Hill Partnership annual meeting on Monday, March 29th at 7pm via Go to Meeting.

We will have a short discussion to show our accomplishments for 2020 and plans for 2021. We will also be reviewing our 2020 and 2021 budgets and will elect a slate of officers and board members.

Only folks with current memberships will be eligible to vote, but anyone is welcome to attend the meeting. If you are unsure of your membership status, please contact Shelley at shelley.lutz@gmail.com or 775-4867 before 8pm.

Please RSVP by Friday, March 26th if you can attend. We will email you login instructions on the afternoon of the 29th.

Your Name:*
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We hope to see you there and send a big thank you for your support this year in our continued efforts to make these area trails so special.

Sincerely,
Andrew Shinn, Joel Blumental, Dave Jenne, Claus Bartenstein, Peggy Shinn, Nate Netsch, Lindsey Johnston and Shelley Lutz—Board of Directors

Wild times in the park

Tom Estill’s excellent report of fall happenings in the park. Have fun reading!

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park Fall, 2020 Summary

The first day of fall found a very quiet forest, with most migrating birds gone but butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, still flying about and Rocky and Muddy Ponds seeing a buildup in numbers of migrating Canada geese. Great blue herons could still be found at both lakes, and the only other birds I saw this day were black-capped chickadees, blue jays and an ovenbird.

Gray squirrels and Eastern chipmunks continued to be busy collecting acorns for the long winter ahead.

The last week of Sept. found the forest very dry due to lack of rain. Fall foliage season was in its early start, and the number of Canada geese was increasing at Muddy Pond. Along with Canada geese, you could also find double crested cormorants and wood ducks at Muddy Pond. Hermit thrush and many migrating passerines could be seen flying through the forest. Mourning dove, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, downy and hairy woodpeckers were seen. Two young deer were seen near Trail Marker 16, a common sight in this area a good part of summer. The Pearl Crescent and Clouded Sulfur butterflies were also seen.  Acorns dropping in large numbers.

On Oct. 4th, I was greatly disappointed to discover that one of the American Chestnut trees showed signs of being infected with the chestnut blight. But I wasn’t too surprised. American chestnut seedlings grow for about 5 years, then infection sets in. The trees were planted in 2015, so it was time, I guess. I was hoping this one particular tree would do better because it is the only American/Chinese hybrid chestnut tree in the forest. Chinese chestnut trees are immune to the blight and I was hoping some of that immunity would have protected the tree better.

The first week of October found a forest covered in leaves and acorns falling in great numbers. Resident and migrating birds seen included sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks,

yellow-bellied sapsuckers sucking sap from holes they made in birch trees, least flycatcher, yellow-bellied flycatcher, crow, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse,

white-breasted nuthatch, winter wren, red-eyed vireo, solitary vireo, black-throated blue warbler, myrtle warbler, blackburnian warbler and white-throated sparrow. About 50 geese were seen at Rocky Pond, and near 200 seen at Muddy Pond.

On Oct. 11th, Canada geese were still numerous at both ponds, leaves were still falling, the ground was covered with acorns, and a myrtle warbler and yellow-throated vireo were seen flying about.

Oct. 17th was a glorious fall day. Leaves were still falling, with most leaves gone from their limbs. Robins were migrating through the forest in large numbers, and others migrants including, solitary vireo, northern flicker, white-throated sparrow and hermit thrush could also be seen. Squirrels and chipmunks were out in large numbers collecting acorns, and Muddy Pond now had hundreds of migrating Canada geese resting there.

By the last week of October, most of the leaves were off the trees at this point, with the exception of beech and oaks. Flocks of robins were still migrating through the forest, and just a few other migrants were seen including, solitary vireo, yellow-throated vireo and yellow-bellied sapsucker. Hundreds of geese still resting at Muddy Pond.

On the last day of October, I saw only a few blue jays and winter wrens, but hundreds of geese still at Muddy Pond. I did come upon a pair of ruffed grouse, and using my bird call AP was able to call them close to my location until a dog, off its leash, came running up to me, scaring off the birds. LEASH YOUR DOGS!!!!!!!

November 8th found a daytime temperature of near 70 degrees F. Most leaves were gone from oak trees, and the forest seemed so barren. Hundreds of geese still seen at Muddy Pond, and only year-round resident birds including, blue jay, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, were seen. Chipmunks and gray squirrels seen in large numbers.

By mid-November, the forest had become very quiet. On Nov. 15th, I saw only white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadees, and crows flying overhead. The geese at Muddy and Rocky Ponds were all gone.

On Nov. 11th, ice was starting to appear around the perimeter of Muddy Pond, while Rocky Pond was free of ice. It wasn’t until Nov. 22 that a thin sheet of ice was starting to cover parts of Rocky Pond.  Squirrels and Gray Squirrels were still out and about.  Loose associations of winter birds were starting to appear. One such association included hairy and downy woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and tufted titmouse.

Dec. 5th brought to the area its first Nor’easter of the season. Ice had disappeared from both ponds, no birds were seen on my walk that day, and there was a light rain.

Dec. 7th found both Rocky and Muddy Ponds completely frozen over.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails and enjoy the wildlife of Pine Hill Park.