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.

PHP AWARDED Loyal to our soil grant

We are proud recipients of the Loyal to Our Soil Grant sponsored by Ranch Camp, MTBVT, and Specialized Bikes. Last summer Ranch Camp held two raffles for Loyal to Our Soil Grant. Specialized donated two bikes for the raffle, tickets were $100 each. Also, Ranch Camp donated, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every bike sold in 2020 toward the grant.

We are one of 5 groups to receive this grant. This will help us pay for a VT Youth Conservation Corp group to build Maximum Capacity, our next trail construction project.

A big thank you to Ranch Camp, Specialized Bikes, and MTBVT! #ranchcampvt #specializedbikes #mtbvt

Winter grooming under way

UPDATE 1/19/21: Nate N did some grooming today. It’s still a little soft but we have a good track set. What is groomed: Escalator, Svelte, Sisyphus, Watkins, Shimmer, Overlook, Jigsaw Milk Run, Salamander, part of Droopy, Pond Rd. Plus a width swath on the ballfield.

UPDATE 1/16/21: It’s a soft and slushy weekend. We would appreciate folks to stay off the single track trails so they don’t form slushy ruts that freeze. Thank you.

UPDATE 1/13/2021: Park is riding super currently. We are asking 4″ or wider tires please. Please leave a donation in Tinman that will go toward our cool trail system. Thank you.

UPDATE 12/25/20: Christmas morning it is 55 degrees and raining out. We are very much hoping not to lose all our snow today. Once things freeze back up again and we get some snow Nate will continue to groom.

Nate N has started to groom in the park. We had so much snow last week that it was really hard for Snowdog to get through it. Waiting now for snow to compact and get some moisture in it so it will pack down. The plan is to try and get the trails highlighted in red groomed before the rain shows up on Christmas Eve. We’re hoping to get a solid base down and that it won’t all melt!

Snowshoers and skiers you could help us out by following these highlighted trails. It will make it easier for Snowdog .

Thank you.

Why we leave leaves

Why we do not remove leaves there are several reasons. One we move all hard earned dirt by hand in 5 gallon buckets and leaf blowers blow all that dirt off the trail tread. Second the ground up leaves will actually help hold our dirt on the trails and protects the trail tread. Plus freeze/thaw cycles the leaves help hold our trail tread in place and not get sucked up on boots or tires.

We are not blessed like other local trail systems that have an abundance of dirt. Pine Hill Park is not one of those areas.

We know leaves are slippery especially when wet but with the traffic the park is seeing currently the leaves will get ground up quickly.

Thank you for understanding.

Here is a great video on why we leave leaves.

Milk run is open!

As of late Monday September 7th, our newest trail, Milk Run, is fully open!!

Our newest trail, Milk Run (pink line), is now open!

We started building this trail with YES plan from Rutland High School and Youth Works volunteers in 2018. That first year we completed about 1300′ of trail with 400 volunteers and 1600 volunteer hours. In 2019 we completed about 1000 feet of trail with 1225 volunteer hours, 286 volunteers. 2020 the year of corona and no major volunteer groups like YES plan or Youth Works we accomplished quite a bit.

The trail is just under 3900 feet (.74 mile) long. FYI, the longest trail in the park is Stegosaurus at 4100 feet.

The Vermont Youth Conservation Corp (VYCC) came in with 4 crew members for 2 weeks and we completed just under 1500′ of trail. With VYCC removing organic material and our three Pine Hill Partnership volunteers doing finish work behind them it was a perfect combination utilizing the work force. We completed just under 1500′ trail in a little over 500 hours. We did have an extra hand two days that really helped with getting a couple of small banked corners built along with finish work. Having a trained work crew was instrumental on getting this trail done.

VYCC is a paid trail crew. We are still soliciting donations and contributions to help defray the cost.

A time lapse of work on Milk Run during a hot, humid August day makes it look way easier than IRL!.

The trail still will need a touch of refinement next year (hopefully our big volunteer groups are back). We expect to build two banked corners on the new section.

5 pry bars to move ‘Deborah’. VYCC was naming the rocks.

Keith came down and helped for two days.
Follow the yellow brick road
It poured for about 30 minutes one day.

WE’RE DIGGING IN !

Update October 28, 2020: We received a check from IMBA/Shimano for $2300. to help pay for the VYCC crew we had in the park the end of July. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this fund.

We have been selected as one of 10 recipients of the IMBA Dig In Grant program. With the support of Shimano, IMBA is doing a grant to pay for trail building at Pine Hill Park. Read the announcement from IMBA here.

This program will help us raise money needed for the VT Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) to come in at the end of July and help finish off a couple of trails in the park that volunteers have been working on. (map below)

Thanks to COVID-19, large volunteer groups are not happening in 2020. VYCC will be a big help, but we will have to pay for their services.

Our newest trail, Milk Run, was started in 2018 with the help of volunteers. At the end of July we are having VYCC come in and hope to use their time to get all the organic material off so that we can open the trail up to the top of Upper Halfpipe. This is about 1500′ of organic top layer to be removed.

Why remove organic in Pine Hill Park? We have found for long term sustainability, our trails hold up better by removing it early. Early on in our learning process of building trails we would do a ‘rake and ride’. Those trails now have been rebuilt at least once if not twice.

If you’d like to help us with this effort, please consider making a donation here. As always, thank you for your support!

2020 spring wild times

Thanks to Tom Estill we have these great nature reports.

Driving up to the pine hill park parking lot on the first day of spring, I was pleasantly surprised to see my first robins of the season scurrying about the ground looking for worms and other food to eat. Otherwise, the only other birds I saw that day were downy and hairy woodpeckers, crow, Canada geese at Muddy Pond, and tufted titmouse. At Rocky Pond, I observed a pair of turkey vultures circling above the rocky overlook, then land among the rocks. Thinking they might be considering nesting there, I walked up the trail and took a closer look but found no birds, nor nest. Rocky Pond was mostly open water, with a thin layer of ice covering the south and east shores. Numerous Eastern newts could be seen swimming near the shores where there was open water. Two days later, all ice was gone from Rocky Pond. Muddy Pond, on the other hand, still had a small amount of ice on its west side shore. At Muddy Pond, you could see Mallards, wood ducks and Canadian geese, along with 2 osprey flying overhead.

March 26th found Eastern bluebirds sitting on the trailhead area bird houses, occasionally flying in and out of the boxes. Very exciting to see, but tempered with the knowledge that they probably would not nest so close to all the park visitors going into, and coming out of, the park. And after watching the boxes closely for a few weeks, that’s exactly what happened. On this day, all ice was gone from both ponds, and numerous wood ducks could be heard calling in the wetland area just south of Rocky Pond. The first butterflies of the season, the mourning cloak and the Eastern Comma were seen, as well as the first wildflower of the season(as usual), the Coltsfoot. The last thing of interest on this day was the sighting of an Eastern garter snake near the quarry cliffs.

The last day of March found the oak trees starting to bud, common mergansers at Muddy Pond, and barred owls “hooting” near Trail sign #14.

The first week of April found both hooded and common mergansers on Muddy Pond, white breasted nuthatches building nests in tree cavities, osprey nesting for the 4th year in a row at Muddy Pond, and spring peepers starting to make their presence known with their piercing calls. While walking along Crusher Rd., I heard numerous gray squirrels and Eastern chipmunks sounding their alarm calls, then watched a beautiful red fox run across the road. During an evening walk, I noticed how quiet the forest was but knew that soon it would be filled with the sound of numerous birds as they established their territories, and began their mating rituals.

On April 19th, bluebirds were still flying in and out of the birdhouses, which surprised me very much. Were they actually going to nest in those exposed boxes, I wondered. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers had returned, and you could not walk anywhere within the park without hearing the drumming of those birds. It seemed the park was filled with them. I had never heard so many.

A broad-winged hawk was seen flying through the forest with a chipmunk hanging from its talons. Hermit thrushes had returned, along with the first warbler of the season, the American Redstart. And at Muddy Pond, Canada geese had begun nesting atop beaver dens.

By April 23rd, the forest was alive with numerous southern migratory birds having arrived, wood frogs calling during the day, Canada geese and Osprey nesting, trailing arbutus flowering, and turkey vultures continuing to fly over the Rocky Pond lookout. I had the feeling that they were probably interested in nesting there, but the presence of hikers would keep that from happening. The evening was still very quiet.

By the last week of April, spring peepers were being heard all over the Rutland Area, trout lily was flowering, tiny wood frog tadpoles were emerging from their eggs, painted turtles were sunning themselves, and the forest was filling with birds. On one birdwalk April 28th, I saw a cardinal, tufted titmouse, yellow-bellied sapsucker, rufous-sided towhee, yellow-rumped warblers, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, robin, crow, Eastern phoebe, ring-necked ducks, Canada geese, red-shouldered hawks, osprey, and yellow-throated vireos.

The first week of May found a pair of broad-winged hawks checking out a nest near Trail Marker 12. But its proximity to hikers would keep them from nesting there, unfortunately. And on May 2nd I saw something I had never seen before. A yellow-bellied sapsucker and hairy woodpecker were fighting up and down this tree for the longest time until they both flew off into the forest. Fiddleheads were emerging, wood anemone, barren strawberry, painted trillium and purple violets were flowering, and on May 2nd, dozens of painted turtles could be seen sunning themselves on Muddy Pond. Black-throated blue warblers, black and white warblers and black-throated green warblers were seen for the first time.

On May 7th, adult Canada geese were seen swimming with their 4 goslings at Rocky Pond, and gay wings and dwarf ginseng were in flower.

On May 14th, night temperatures reached near 32 degrees F, which turned out to be the last near freezing temp. of the season. During that day, I saw my first blue-headed vireo.

Two days later, the American chestnuts began “leafing out”. All 50 chestnuts had survived the winter except for one. One of the trees is now 11 ft. tall!

By the start of the third week of May, summer resident birds had all pretty much returned with the exception of only a few birds. Residents now included the beautiful scarlet tanager and indigo buntings, Eastern towhee, ovenbird, and various flycatchers.

On May 19th, while walking along Crusher Rd., I once again heard numerous chipmunks giving warning calls to one another, and sure enough, a moment later, a barred owl came flying across the road right in front of me. Gray treefrogs could be heard throughout the whole forest with their distinctive call.

On May 21, Shelley Lutz and I went on an interesting bird walk. While I used my Bird Calling App. to attract birds, she had her camera ready to take close ups of the birds as they came near to investigate. You can see some of her amazing photos on the Pine Hill Park Partnership website. I’ll tell you, she got some amazing photos. See for yourself!

On May 23rd, while walking on the Carriage Trail, suddenly out of the woods right in front of me jumped a mother ruffed grouse with “fluffed” up wings, coming at me aggressively, and making a high pitched squeaking noise. Hiding in the shrubbery nearby were her chicks. I just casually moved away not wanting to bother her anymore than I had to.

During the last week of May I saw the ruby throated hummingbird feeding on honeysuckle flowers, a small toadlet crossing the carriage trail, 2 broad-winged hawks fighting near the quarry, a beautiful tiger beetle, and a chipmunk feeding on red oak leaves. By the way, leave the tiger beetles alone, they have a nasty bite.

On May 28th I found a chestnut-sided warbler nest being built just a few feet away from Trail Marker #11. A few days later, the nest had 2 eggs in it. Then a few days after that, the eggs were gone and the nest abandoned. I have no idea what happened. The nest hadn’t been damaged. That same day, I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak in the forest. In fact, Shelley identified its call, before I even saw it.

By the end of May the common buttercup, forget-me-not, pink azalea and starflower were all in bloom.

Mid June found 2 families of geese on Rocky Pond, yellow wood sorrel, dwarf cinquefoil, thyme-leaved speedwell, common fleabane, king devil, and dame’s rocket all in flower, adult veery were feeding their young, schools of baby brown bullheads could be found in Rocky Pond, and fireflies were seen the first time on June 17th.

On the last day of spring, I saw a gorgeous white-tailed deer crossing Crusher Rd. Since then, I see THEM almost everytime I hike in that area on my early morning hikes.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails, and enjoy your walks, hikes, and times at Pine Hill Park.

2020 Races are on

Rutland Rec will be holding the Summer Sunset 5K race and Droopy Pedal Mountain bike race.

Summer Sunset series are happening!

  • Tuesday: 7/7 (Register by 7/5)
  • Tuesday: 8/11(Register by 8/9)
  • Registration 6PM | Race 6:30PM
  • Ages 0-17 FREE | Ages 18+: $5

Droopy Pedal Races: All skill levels are invited to participate. With 3 mile and 6 mile options, there is something for everyone to enjoy!

  • Enrollment minimum of 5 participants must be met by the Friday before @4PM to run this program.
  • Tuesday, July 14th register by 7/10 @4PM
  • Tuesday, August 18th register by 8/14 @ 4PM
  • Ages 0-17 FREE | Ages 18+: $5

Rutland Rec statement: COVID-19 GO PLAY RACE POLICIES UPDATED 6/17/2020

NEW THIS YEAR: With the safety and health of our community in mind, and in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, we will be requiring PREREGISTRATION for ALL GO PLAY RACES. Please refer to each individual event to see when preregistration will end. We will be limiting the number of participants to 25 MAXIMUM. All Go Play Races are done at your own risk, we are not requiring participants to wear masks during the race, but each participant is more than welcome to do so if they please. We do ask that ALL PARTICIPANTS wear masks when they are checking in at the registration table to receive their bibs, please take bibs and safety pins home with you after the race.