Category Archives: Nature Study

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.

wild times in Pine hill park

At Pine Hill Park Fall 2019/Winter 2020

As late as the first week of Oct., a few summer resident birds could still be found in the park, including yellow-bellied sapsuckers, Eastern phoebe, and wood ducks. Day temperatures could be considered generally cold. And an occasional garter snake could be seen slithering among the leaf litter. The forest seemed alive with chipmunks scurrying about searching for, and storing, their winter food supply of acorns and other available nuts and seeds.

By mid-October, the forest floor was covered in a thick layer of colorful leaves, a layer which would persist throughout the fall and winter months

By mid-October, the forest floor was covered in a thick layer of colorful leaves, a layer which would persist throughout the fall and winter months. Eastern newts could still be seen swimming in Rocky and Muddy ponds.

By the first week of November, the seasonal birds had left, the hundreds of migrating waterfowl had left both ponds, the forest had become very quiet, trees were bare of leaves for the most part, and both Rocky and Muddy ponds were still open water, with newts seen swimming along the shoreline.

At the end of the first week of November, a thin layer of ice had formed over a few small areas on the edges of the ponds. On a Nov. 9th walk, I saw only one crow, but plenty of gray squirrels and chipmunks scurrying about. On a Nov. 17th hike, I had noticed that most of the oak trees had finally dropped their last leaves, an inch of snow was on the ground, gray squirrels and chipmunks were continuing their collecting of food, both ponds were covered with about 2 inches of ice, and not a single bird was heard or seen.

Two days before Christmas, temperatures in the low 50s were recorded, causing a major snow melt, but both ponds were now covered with thick ice. On Dec. 28th, Dave and Shelley participated in the annual Audubon Christmas bird count, observing tufted titmouse, mallard, crow, red-tailed hawk, raven, black-caped chickadee, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, American goldfinch, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, and Eastern bluebird.

On Jan. 12th, bluebirds were seen at a birdhouse near the park trailhead. Hopefully, they’ll be nesting in one of those houses in the spring. But because of the proximity to people, that very well may not happen. On this day I saw common resident bird species including downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadees and dark-eyed juncos. Both ponds were covered in a few inches of water caused by recent heavy rains, and temperatures in the 60s! Snow was almost completely gone from the forest floor.

The third week of Jan. found the forest floor covered in about 4 inches of snow, with temperatures near single digits. Many places could be seen where white-tailed deer had been digging up the snow in search of acorns and other nuts.

The first week of Feb. found the lower trails forest floor still bare, but the higher trails all had about an inch of snow covering the ground. The forest was still relatively quiet, but I did observe gray squirrels mating. A RED squirrel, an only occasional sight, was seen in the hemlock forest near Muddy Pond, and tufted titmouse birds were singing, signs that spring was not far away.

By mid-Feb., about 6” of snow was on the ground, many animal tracks were seen throughout the forest including white-tailed deer, coyote, fox, squirrels and chipmunks, many squirrels were scurrying about, snow fleas were observed for the first time, and cardinals were singing.

On Feb. 23rd, while sitting on the edge of Rocky Pond, I could hear rumbles, moans, and groans coming from the pond as ice was moving and cracking underneath the snow covered surface. All streams and ponds frozen over.

March 8th was a gorgeous day. Squirrels and chipmunks could be seen active throughout the park, snow was gone on the lower trails with snow found only in protected, isolated areas throughout the upper trails, Rocky Pond had a few spots of open water, spiders were seen crawling about, and streams were starting to run.

By mid-March, snow was gone from most of the park with just a few patches of snow found only in small protected areas. Both Rocky and Muddy Ponds had some small open patches of water along the perimeter with Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks and hooded mergansers found there. Eastern newts were seen in large numbers along the shores in these open areas. Hairy woodpeckers were heard all throughout the park drumming.

All 50 American chestnut trees survived the winter, but 2 of the trees have small spots on their bark which show outer bark degradation. Whether this is the dreaded blight or not is too early to tell at this time according to a VT State Forester who looked at a picture of the spots I had taken for him to examine.
Shelley observed bluebirds leaving and entering one of the bird houses near the trailhead. We can only hope they decide to nest in one of the houses this spring.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails and enjoy your walks through the beautiful trails of Pine Hill Park.



Wild times in pine hill park

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park by Tom Estill

Summer, 2019 Summary

Wild Times At Pine Hill Park
Summer, 2019 Summary

The first day of summer turned out to be a gorgeous day this year. Many birds could be found in the park including, American redstart, hairy woodpecker, black and white warbler, red-eyed vireo, hermit thrush, robin, ovenbird, immature yellow-bellied sapsucker, and great-crested flycatcher. Gray squirrels and Eastern chipmunks were a common sight.

A week later, on June 27th, I spent the day at the park clearing weeds from around the base of the 50 American chestnut trees, cutting down encroaching saplings, and spraying the leaves of the chestnuts with deer repellent. All the 50 trees are doing well, with one of them now over 10 feet tall! The big question now is, will one or more of them FLOWER next spring? Birds seen on this day included robins, scarlet tanager, hermit thrush, veery, ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler, and black and white warbler. A few years ago, I would hear only one scarlet tanager singing in one place in the park, but this year, scarlet tanagers were singing on Crusher Rd., lower, middle, and upper Giorgetti trails, Carriage trail, and near Rocky Pond.

On July 2nd, the chestnut trees were watered as they always are after a dry spell. A red admiral butterfly, a not uncommon butterfly, was seen flying about. Many species of butterflies inhabit Pine Hill Park. I was particularly happy to hear from many park visitors that they had been observing more monarch butterflies in the park this season than they had in the past. Each year, local school students plant more and more milkweed in the forest in an attempt to increase the dwindling numbers of Monarch butterflies. Milkweed seeds are collected in the fall, refrigerated until spring, grown in the classroom, and then planted near Rocky Pond. The Rocky Pond milkweed population is an official Monarch Waystation. Also on this day, a young yellow-bellied sapsucker could be heard calling from its nest near Intersection 12. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers have successfully nested in that same tree, but different holes, for the last 4 years. Birds seen that day included cardinal, tufted titmouse, wood thrush, hermit thrush, scarlet tanager, great blue heron, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, American redstart, and myrtle warbler.

On July 8th, an adult osprey was seen sitting on its nest at Muddy Pond, and an Eastern Peewee could be heard nearby. We all wondered if the adult was brooding eggs.

On July 21, an Eastern garter snake and tiny American toad toadlet were both seen on Crusher Road near the old quarry. And on July 23rd, I noticed that the forest was suddenly getting much quieter than it had been in the recent past. Also on this day I saw monarch, painted lady and great spangled fritillary butterflies flying about.

By the last week of July, the blueberries had ripened, and there were areas where the ground was covered in blueberries. Fawns could be seen walking about with their mothers, and other adults could be seen walking about by themselves looking for those blackberries and blueberries to feed upon, no doubt.

On the last day of July I took a walk through the VERY QUIET forest and saw American goldfinch, robins, red-eyed vireos, hermit thrush, crows, and great blue heron and one osprey at Muddy Pond.

The first week of August found a very quiet forest, a kingfisher at Rocky Pond, cedar waxwings nesting in pitch pine trees at the south side of Rocky Pond, and button bushes flowering along the shore of that pond. Button bush seeds are collected each fall by local school children, refrigerated during the winter, then planted in the spring along the shores of Rocky Pond in an attempt to attract more waterfowl to that pond. The seeds are eaten by waterfowl. This time of year you can still see red-eyed vireos, Eastern pewees, American goldfinch, great crested flycatcher, tufted titmouse, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

On August 6th, 2 young ospreys were seen in the nest, while 2 adults were flying overhead, with one of the adults holding a fish in its talons. That’s two years in a row now those ospreys have successfully raised young in their nest. On this same day, I saw my first Lichen Moth, one of the most beautiful moths I have ever seen. The contrast between the yellow and black colors of its wings was quite striking.

During a walk in late August, I heard barred owls calling near Rocky Pond and saw a double-crested cormorant flying overhead. Small wood frogs and toadlets were a common sight along the rain soaked trails.

On Sept. 8th, I took a late afternoon walk to Rocky Pond, and during that slightly over two hour walk, I didn’t see or hear a single bird. That’s the first time that has ever happened to me at Pine Hill Park.

Ospreys were seen at Muddy Pond until around the middle of Sept. when they abandoned the nest for the season. Will they return to the same nest next year? My guess is that they probably will.

The week before the fall equinox gray squirrels and chipmunks could be seen scurrying about collecting acorns and other seeds in preparation for the approaching cold weather. Though the forest was very quiet, you could still find flying about, birds such as yellowthroat, broad-winged hawk, black-capped chickadee, blue jay, song sparrow, belted kingfisher, great blue heron and wood ducks. It was nice to end the summer season with the sight of a beautiful, healthy looking red fox up near the quarries.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails and enjoy your time at the park.

Spring, 2019 Summary

At the beginning of spring, lower Giorgetti trails were all bare ground; while throughout all the upper trails one could still find patches of snow and ice, especially on the north facing slopes.

The last day of March found both Rocky and Muddy ponds covered in ice with a few puddles of water dispersed throughout the ice cover.  A few Canada geese were seen at Muddy pond and pair of mallards were seen at Rocky Pond swimming in a few small patches of open water on the perimeter of the ponds.  The only birds I saw that day were a pileated woodpecker, crow, and the waterfowl mentioned above.

By April 7th, the snow was almost completely gone from the park, but both ponds were still covered in ice with the exception of a narrow band of open water around the perimeters of both ponds.  I was terribly disappointed to see the old osprey nest tree blown down by a recent storm.  Osprey had successfully nested there the last two years.  Eastern newts were seen for the first time this season, along with a few northern migrating birds including yellow-bellied sapsucker, hermit thrush, wood ducks and osprey.

In mid-April, all signs of ground snow and ice were gone, and ice was completely gone from both ponds.  Streams were running high, red oaks were budding, trout lily leaves were emerging from the ground cover and coltsfoot was flowering.  Water level at Rocky Pond was so high; it was flowing over the top of all 3 beaver dams.  More and more northern migrating birds were seen each day.  In mid-April you could see Turkey Vultures flying overhead, and common mergansers at Muddy pond.  Wood frogs, in large numbers, were calling from a wet wooded area just south of Rocky Pond.

In April, Lauren White made contact with representatives of VELCO in an attempt to get them to install an osprey platform on a power pole they were installing at the north end of Muddy Pond.  Her efforts were successful and in the third week of April, 2 osprey were seen building a nest on the platform, after starting one on the top of an adjacent power pole, then leaving it.

On April 22nd, spring wildlife was out in full force.  Birds seen that day included tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, yellow-bellied sapsucker, hairy woodpecker, crow, black and white warbler, turkey vulture, mallards, Canada geese, osprey and white-breasted nuthatches.  Spring peepers were calling, and painted turtles were sunning themselves.  Many insects were flying about including the Mourning Cloak, the first butterfly to always appear in the park.  2 deer ticks were found crawling up my pant legs.  I always do a thorough job of checking for ticks after each of my walks.

By the first week of May, many flowers were blooming including trout lily, wood anenome, white violets, trailing arbutus, wild oats and partridge berry.  A few days later, the forest floor could be seen covered with fiddleheads, barren strawberries, white and purple violets, jack-in-the-pulpit, coltsfoot, and trout lilies, with Solomon’s seal starting to emerge.

In mid-May, polygala and toothwort were flowering, and the great crested flycatcher, catbirds, and rufous-sided towhees could be heard singing in the park.  Gray treefrogs were calling and red efts could be seen on the trails, especially after a rain.  All 50 American chestnuts survived the winter except one.  That dead tree was replaced by an American chestnut obtained from the State of Washington.

By the end of May, foamflower, starflower, and pink Lady’s slipper were all flowering.  Indigo buntings were once again nesting in trees under the powerlines on the Carriage trail, and a two-lined salamander was found under a rock.

At the beginning of June you would find false Solomon’s Seal, Canada mayflower, smooth Solomon’s seal and pink Lady’s slippers all flowering.  New birds seen included the yellowthroat, broad-winged hawk, Eastern peewee, and least flycatcher.

Mid-June found yellow swallowtails flying about, Eastern chipmunks and gray squirrels scurrying about, and Osprey sitting quietly on the nest, probably keeping 2 or 3 eggs warm.

That’s it for this issue.  Enjoy your time at Pine Hill Park, and please, remember to stay on the trails.

winter report of wild times in Pine hill park

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park Winter 2018/2019 Summary

One week after the official start of winter in 2018, three of us participated in the annual National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count. We saw dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, brown creepers, crows, ravens, and a red-bellied woodpecker. Those were animals we were expecting to see. What we didn’t expect to see was a Green Frog swimming along the shore of Rocky Pond, in a very small area where the pond had not frozen over.

The frog looked emaciated and was swimming weakly. My guess was that it was hibernating in the mud at the bottom edge of the pond, but a recent warm up in weather had thawed the area and freed the frog from its frozen cell. Squirrels could still be seen scurrying about the forest on Dec. 29th. Small streams were flowing throughout the park.

By the final day of December, the forest had become very quiet and the only birds I saw on my 3 hr. hike that day were a hairy woodpecker and a black-capped chickadee.

Jan. 2nd found the forest floor bare and temperatures in the low 20’s. Both ponds were completely frozen over. At both ponds, cracks, booms, bangs, and sloshing could be heard as the water underneath the ice was moving here and there.

By Jan. 5th, a light dusting of snow could finally be found covering the forest ground. Temperatures were in the low 30s and small park streams were gently flowing. Thick ice covered both ponds. Birds seen included Hairy and Pileated woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, and white-breasted nuthatch.

On Jan. 19th, a few inches of snow now covered the lower trails, while upper trails had 6 inches or more. Very quiet in the forest, with a major snow storm to reach the park the next day.


Single digit temperatures on this day, also. Saw only hairy and pileated woodpeckers and crows. Lots of deer, squirrel, and predator(fox and coyote, mostly) tracks seen in the snow. Many spots could be seen where deer were digging through the snow to get to their ground food.

One week later, temperatures were in the teens, and snow was averaging about a foot in depth. Birds seen included crow, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, and white-breasted nuthatch. I was very surprised to hear mourning doves “cooing” near Rocky Pond, so early in the season. Snow fleas could be seen for the first time at the base of some trees. Many gray squirrels were seen, along with their dug-up food caches. Many deer and fox tracks also seen.

The first week of Feb., sound snow depth averaging about 1 ft. A new HUGE pileated woodpecker hole could be seen high up in an oak tree half way up the Upper Giorgetti Trail.Just looking for the carpenter ants they so relish. Saw crows and a hairy woodpecker, and watched a barred owl perched high in an oak tree, then was amazed to see it “spit up” a pellet. I collected the pellet, took it home and dissected it, finding the bones of 4 small mice in the pellet. Made me wonder, how a barred owl can hear mice scurrying about under at least 1 ft. of snow. Their hearing truly is as amazing as ornithologists say it is.

Feb. 16th found many of the trails covered in ice. Had to use my boot ice straps to safely get about. Sunny day, but temps. in the low 30s. Hairy and pileated woodpeckers, crows, and white-breasted nuthatches seen. Beavers very active at the 3 dams at the Rocky Pond outlet. Both ponds frozen over, but Rocky Pond outlet stream was flowing surprisingly high. Lots of deer and squirrel tracks.

The first week of March found temperatures in the low 30s, and snow depth averaging 6 inches. Black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, crow, and hairy woodpecker all seen. Barred owl seen near the top of Upper Giorgetti trail. Gray squirrels seen throughout park, and Rocky Pond completely frozen over and covered in snow.

March 9th was a beautiful day, with the park covered in a few inches of snow, with the exception of a few south facing slopes which showed bare ground. Many gray squirrels seen throughout park and both ponds completely covered in ice and snow. Tufted titmouse singing, and crows, white-breasted nuthatch and black-capped chickadees flying about. Lots of deer, predator, rodent and squirrel tracks seen. Bobcat tracks on Ridge Runner trail. Park streams frozen over. And a Wooly Bear was photographed by Lauren White sitting on the snow at Rocky Pond.

By March 17th, temperatures had been reaching into the low 60s, and most of the snow on the lower Giorgetti trails had disappeared, with only a few patches of snow. Upper regions of the park were covered in a few inches of snow, with patches of bare ground found here and there. Crow, hairy woodpecker and tufted titmouse were the only birds seen.

That’s it for this issue. Enjoy your time at Pine Hill Park, and please remember to stay on the trails.



wild times in pine hill park

Fall 2018 Summary by Tom Estill

The first official day of fall found a cold wind coming down from the North, helping migrating birds continue their flights southward.

Scurrying about the forest could be found black-throated blue warblers, black-throated green warblers, yellow warblers, blue jays, crows, white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, and a solitary vireo. At the ponds you could find a belted kingfisher, a single osprey perched near its nest, a double-crested cormorant, spotted sandpiper, and wood ducks. A pair of black water snakes was also seen sunning themselves on the shore of Rocky Pond. Very happy to see all 50 American Chestnut trees were doing very well.

Last reported sighting of an osprey at Muddy Pond was on Sept. 24th. It is with great anticipation that we look forward to the return of nesting osprey next spring to Muddy Pond. Will they once again successfully nest and produce healthy fledglings as they did this year?

Birch bark pattern. Photo by David Jenne, © 2018

A walk through the forest on Oct. 6th found numerous gray squirrels and chipmunks busy collecting and storing acorns and other seeds, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, a vireo, blue jay, small flock of tufted titmouse, and hermit thrush At Muddy Pond you could see wood ducks, a double-crested cormorant, and at least 1000 Canada geese resting during their migration south. A peregrine falcon was seen perched in a tree at Muddy Pond, a first for me! What a magnificent looking bird. Black water snakes were still seen on the shores of Rocky Pond. The fall foliage was a disappointment this year. Our area just didn’t have the rains, and frosty nights early in the fall so needed for a good fall foliage. Warm temperatures seemed to hold on for the longest time this fall.

The first significant frost didn’t occur until Oct. 14th. On that day I saw hermit thrush, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch and hairy woodpeckers. I also came across 2 barred owls at Rocky Pond. And at Muddy Pond, you could still see wood ducks and over a thousand Canada geese.

On Nov. 11th, one would find the forest floor covered in leaves, and the forest very quiet. I observed but a few gray squirrels, black-capped chickadees, and white-breasted nuthatches. I started my walk at 4PM, and by the time I returned to the parking lot a little after 5PM, it was already getting quite dark.

Moss, Lichens and Stone pattern. Pine Hill Park. Photo by David Jenne, @2018.

On Nov. 17th, the park floor was covered with a few inches of snow, and where there was no snow, you would find a thick layer of oak(mostly red oak) leaves. Only a few birds were observed including a red-tailed hawk, black-capped chickadee, crows, tufted titmouse, and white-breasted nuthatch. Once again, the forest was very quiet. Very typical for this time of year. Beaver activity at Rocky Pond has been increasing the last few years. Trees felled by beaver, can now be found at least 100 meters from the water’s edge. Muddy Pond was completely frozen over, and most of Rocky Pond, with the exception of a small area of open water around the Eastern side beaver den, and the outlet into Muddy Pond. I was surprised to see a Red Squirrel near the rocky ledges under the powerlines on Carriage trail. They are not anywhere near as common as the gray squirrel in the park. Also, on this day I observed an amazing number of snow flies(midges) flying throughout the park. Never had I seen so many, so late in the season.

The first week of Dec., once again found the forest very quiet with only a few birds observed including, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, a flock of tufted titmouse and crows flying overhead. There was about an inch of snow on the ground, and lots of deer tracks everywhere in the forest. Rocky Pond was solidly frozen over with only a small patch of open water near the east side den and a narrow path in the outlet.

By Dec. 8th, most of the snow was gone, with only small patches left here and there. It was a beautiful sunny day, but cold. On my walk through the forest I saw only 2 gray squirrels and one hairy woodpecker. A few days later, I sprayed the American chestnut trees with deer repellent to protect them from deer browsing in the months ahead, and was not surprised to see that Rocky Pond was covered by a thin layer of water formed by the recent warm days. Both Hairy and Red-bellied woodpeckers were seen along with a barred owl near Trail Marker #24. Very quiet in the forest.

If you would like me to include any interesting or unusual wildlife sightings you have made at Pine Hill Park, please email such sightings to me, at: ​testill@cksrutland.org​ I’ll be sure to include them in my seasonal summaries along with your name.

That’s all for this issue. Please stay on the trails, and enjoy your special time at Pine Hill Park.

Here’s a link to Tom’s PDF file for offline reading if you prefer.

Pine Hill Trails and Geology

Pine Hill Park has a unique rocky landscape. You might not notice because our volunteers have done a good job at smoothing out the trails. And maybe the leaf litter obscures what is underneath. Or maybe you are one of our long-time users that have noticed some of your favorite trails becoming rockier with time. Also, as you travel on to the adjacent Redfield Trails and Carriage Trails, you may have noticed that rocky character of Pine Hill Park quickly disappears. All of this is largely because of the underlying bedrock.

Cliffside on Ledges Lane of the Redfield Trails.

 

The Cheshire Quartzite

Pine Hill Park rests upon bedrock that is called the Cheshire Quartzite, which is named for Cheshire, Massachusetts where it was originally discovered and mapped by geologists. It extends north and south near the boundary between the Green Mountains/Berkshires and Taconics. The Cheshire also has laterally equivalent layers of quartzite that extend into Canada and southern Appalachia, however these layers can have slightly different characteristics due to their history.

The Cheshire Formation got its start in life as a near-pure quartz sand that has since been buried, heated, and then squeezed by three subsequent collisions with other continents. All that heating and squeezing helped to make the beautifully smooth texture that compels you to lower your center of gravity (or land on your backside) on a wet day. It also causes the natural partings and breaks (faults and fractures) that can be seen in the quarry at the end of Crusher Road.

This bedrock formation is an approximately 1,200 foot thick layer of quartzite, which is entirely composed of smooth-grained quartz. The sand was deposited just off the coast of an ancient ocean. We know this because marine animal fossils have been found in other Vermont locations where the Cheshire is exposed at the surface. These fossils suggest an age of around 530,000,000 years or what is known as the early (lower) Cambrian Period. The fossils of this age are notable because they mark the beginning of life as we know it.

Poor Soil Production

Quartzite is one of the most resilient rocks at Earth’s surface. It is relatively immune to things like the acidity of groundwater and freeze-thaw cycles that obliterate other rocks. This is because of the very strong bond between the silicate molecules (SiO2) that make up its basic structure. Most rocks will break apart relatively easily (over long periods of time) along the bonds between their basic building block molecules. However, quartzite molecular bonds are so strong that breaks in the rock only occur through the basic quartz molecule, not along the edges where it bonds to others. This is still a difficult thing to do and is why quartzite breaks in glass-like shards (conchoidal fracturing) and sparks fly when struck with a hammer or another piece of quartzite.

The resiliency of quartzite means that it is not particularly good at producing soil. In fact, the very thin soil that you encounter on the Pine Park Park trail tread is glacial till material left over from when the last glaciation behaved like a gigantic bulldozer running across Vermont. The till varies from a sandy to silty texture with an orange color that is due to oxidation, much like rust. Inside this soil is jumbled (poorly sorted) Cheshire Quartzite boulders and pebbles with an assortment of rounded cobbles from other parts of Vermont. This helps explain why there seems to be no rhyme or reason to where and how soil deposits occur on Pine Hill. It is also interesting to note that virtually no additional soil accumulation took place on top of the Cheshire Quartzite in the past 10,000 years.

The above photo is from near the main entrance and shows a cut into glacial moraine material, which is much thicker than the till that sporadically covers most of the park. The sediment pile creates a sort of bluff overlooking the park and contains a variety of unsorted rocks of various sizes.

Similar Trail Systems

The way that quartzite breaks apart also means that it is not very good at providing the friction that keeps you upright. For comparison’s sake, the nearest trail system (and perhaps only) that is built upon similar quartzite is found on South Mountain in Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania and extending into the South and Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. Similar poorly developed soil profiles are present, but the quartzite has course crystals that provide a little more friction and no glacial sediments are present.

Although it is coarse to the touch, the wet quartzite of South Mountain makes many of their trails impassable for bikes when the rocks are wet. This is because those trails are not built like ours in Pine Hill where mineral soil is brought onto the trail tread and large rocks are moved aside. It also means that the trails of South Mountain are expert-only because the trail tread is almost entirely rocks and boulders.

In Pine Hill the smooth crystal structure of the Cheshire Quartzite places even more limitations on friction between mountain bike tires and hiking boots. Every local mountain biker I know has taken a tumble on Lonely Rock. And I have seen several volunteers unsuccessfully test my warning about walking across wet rocks. Many times it only needs to be a humid day for you to break your arm.

A Rocky Lesson in Trail Building

The trails of Pine Hill Park have been built for the entire community with the goal of increasing access. This means that many rocks and boulders have been moved, trails are routed to avoid locations with no till, and that rigorous and unique trail building practices had to be adopted. In many places of the world more rocks on the trail is a good thing. In Pine Hill Park more rocks means building the world’s largest Slip and Slide or Wet Banana.

Without realizing it, the trail builders of Pine Hill were receiving a lesson in geology. With a little observing it is possible to see how this learning progressed from older rock-bordered trails that channelize water into ever-deepening ditches to newer out-sloped trails with rolling dips that disperse the water from large rain events. You can also take note that many of the trails are routed in such a way that seems to avoid rocks, which is the opposite of what builders in other trails systems tend to do.

The above photo is between intersections 30 and 30A. It shows an older style of trail building where rock walls were constructed (right side of trail) to hold in the trail tread against the slope (left side). This had the opposite of the intended effect where storm water would follow the same path and create even greater erosion. There are several trails in the park that have this old feature. Please consider volunteering if you would like to learn about modern trail building practices while mending these relics.

 

The Cheshire Quartzite trail tread profile disappears as it passes from Muddy and Rocky Ponds toward Proctor on the Carriage Trail. It also shows a drastic change moving toward the Redfield Trails. In fact, it is a striking coincidence that the boundary between the city-owned land of Pine Hill Park almost aligns perfectly with the bedrock boundary between the Cheshire Quartzite and the Dalton Formation. Perhaps it is not a coincidence. Maybe our ancestors noticed the difference in soil quality and divided the land as such?

Moving toward Proctor on the Redfield Trails and for a short distance past Muddy and Rocky Ponds you will find yourself on top of the Dalton Formation. The double- and single-track trail portions are relatively smooth while outcrops of rock similar to Cheshire Quartzite are visible. The Dalton Formation is a quartzite and parts of it look a lot like the Cheshire Quartzite closer to Rutland, but the rock is much older and it contains an important mineral called feldspar. This is the primary source for clay in soils around the world.

Where the Redfield Trails dip away to lower elevations of the Otter Creek Valley can also be explained by the the Ira Formation. This formation is composed of limestone and is much less resistant to weathering. For the full length of the Appalachian Mountains, limestone rocks underlie the valleys and quartz-rich rocks form the ridges and peaks. This is a persistent geologic pattern that largely controls the location of everything in our immediate surroundings.

Looking directly out from the overlook above Rocky Pond at the intersections of Shimmer, Overlook, and Stegosaurus Trails is Blueberry Hill, which is also capped by outcrops of Cheshire quartzite. In fact, several hills within the Valley of Vermont, such as nearby Cox Mountain and Bald Peak in Pittsford and Green Hill in Wallingford are also “held up” by the Cheshire Formation.

Moving toward Proctor as the Carriage Trail makes its descent off of the Dalton quartzite of Library Pass and across a short bit of the Ira limestone, is the Winooski Formation, which is a dolostone. This rock is a magnesium enriched limestone, which is easily weathered and provides a developed soil profile. In fact this can be seen in the very smooth final switchbacks of the singletrack that bring you down into town.

These lower elevations on the flanks of Pine Hill are also covered by a thicker layer of sediments from a river (aluvial), old lakes (lacustrine), and glacial moraines. The exception is where Cheshire outcrops occur along Grove Street. Some geologists hypothesize that there was an ice dam near the location of Evergreen Cemetery during the last glaciation, which is invoked to explain the extensive lake-derived clays found in the valleys.

The general point of this story is that geology explains much of what you see in terms of where trails have been located or sited, what maintenance practices are employed, and generally why we are such sticklers for details.

Please consider donating if you enjoyed this story and would like for us to continue stewarding this unique recreation resource.

References

Brace, W. F. (1953). The geology of the Rutland area, Vermont. Vermont Development Commission.

Ratcliffe, N. M., Stanley, R. S., Gale, M. H., Thompson, P. J., Walsh, G. J., Rankin, D. W., … & McHone, J. G. (2011). Bedrock geologic map of Vermont (No. 3184). US Geological Survey.

Van Hoesen, J.G., (2009). Final Report Summarizing the Surficial Geology and Hydrogeology of Rutland, Vermont, Green Mountain College.

 

Winter 2018 Wild Times in Pine Hill Park

We hope you enjoy Tom Estill’s exploration of the park in the winter time as much as we do.

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park
Winter, 2018

The official start of Winter in December of 2017 started off with bitterly cold temperatures and a forest covered in a few inches of snow.  Both Rocky and Muddy Ponds were completely covered in ice and snow. Birch seeds lying in the snow were a common site, especially at the base of adult birch trees. Many deer, rodent and carnivore tracks could be found throughout the forest, and many spots could be seen where deer and squirrels had dug through the snow to reach acorns and other food hidden beneath the snow. On a Jan. 2nd hike, the only birds I saw or heard were a hairy woodpecker, crow, and white-breasted nuthatches. I was happy to see porcupine tracks near the power lines on the Carriage Trail leading up to the rocky cliffs. The same cliffs which were the site of active porcupine dens in previous years. While sitting quietly next to the beaver den on the East side of Rocky Pond, I was treated to the sounds of groans of grunts of active beavers inside the den.

One day, during the second week of January, a warm front moved through the area bringing with it showers and temperatures high enough to melt most of the snow. During the night, the rain ended relatively abruptly followed by sub-zero temperatures which froze the water on the ground forming a layer of ice on the ground and a layer of shallow snow on top of the ice. The whole forest was covered in this ice/snow layer. Still, many gray squirrel food caches could be seen dug up in the snow/ice where squirrels were retrieving some of their food stores. On Jan. 14th, the only birds seen on my walk were a small flock of black-capped chickadees. Many rabbit, fox, deer and gray squirrel tracks could be seen.

Jan. 20th was a beautiful day with clear skies and temperatures in the low 40s. Typical winter birds seen included hairy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, and white-breasted nuthatch. It was also the first time this season I had seen SNOW FLEAS at the base of many trees. Always a sign to me that the worst of winter was behind us. I came across coyote and deer tracks next to each other and decided to follow them. The tracks led me to a deer carcass. The deer was only partially eaten, so I knew the coyote and other scavengers would be back to finish eating at a later time.


The first week of Feb. found 4” of snow on the ground. White-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, pileated woodpecker, and golden-crowned kinglets were the only birds seen. Both the kinglet and red squirrels were seen at Muddy Pond, which is one of the few places in the park where both those species can be occasionally found. Rodent, deer, coyote and fox tracks a common sight.

On Feb. 11th, 15”of snow was on the ground. Lots of deer and squirrel tracks, and uncovered food caches could be seen throughout park, and the only birds seen were white-breasted nuthatch, crow, and a small flock of common redpoll near the trailhead parking lot. Many signs of active pileated woodpeckers around lower trails.

The third week of Feb. found the area undergoing a warming trend with temperatures reaching 70 degrees F on Feb. 21st. Consequently, many bare ground areas could be found throughout the park. Many streams had flowing water, and Rocky and Muddy Ponds, though completely covered in ice, both had a thin layer of water covering the ice. Even saw a few small midges flying about. Saw a gray squirrel sticking its head out of an old abandoned pileated woodpecker hole, a most endearing sight.

On Feb. 24th, temperatures were back in the low 40s. More and more bare ground was appearing throughout the forest, with only north-facing slopes containing any appreciable amount of snow. Cardinal and tufted-titmouse could both be heard singing. Many gray squirrels seen running throughout the forest. And small areas of open water could be seen along the edges of both beaver dens on Rocky Pond.

The first week of March found a few inches of snow on the ground dropped by a nor’easter which came through the area. Bare spots of ground could be found where that ground was exposed to lots of sunlight. Dark-eyed junco, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, and crow were seen. Both ponds were showing open water in spots around their perimeters.

On March 4th, an otter was seen at Muddy Pond.

3 nor’easters came through the area in March. By mid-March, cold temperatures had returned, both ponds were once again completely frozen over, and there was an average of 8” of snow on the ground. On March 18th, a few days before the official start of spring, birds seen included crow, black-capped chickadee, golden-crowned kinglet, brown creeper and white-breasted nuthatch.

Bobcat were once again photographed in the park. The exact time and location is being kept secret in order to insure their privacy and protection.

That’s it for this season summary. Please stay on the trails and enjoy your wildlife viewing and experiences at Pine Hill Park.

For more of Tom’s reports, check out this page