Category Archives: Observations

Wild times in pine hill park

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park by Tom Estill

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.

Opportunities to volunteer

Anyone is welcome to join us on these days. We will be working on the new trail that was started last year. Plus some maintenance work on other trails in the park.

YES Plan from Rutland High School will be in on these dates:

June 5th, meet at front entrance at 9:15

June 7th, meet at front entrance at 9:15

June 10th, meet at front entrance at 9:15

June 11th, meet at front entrance at 9:15

June 12th, meet at front entrance at 9:15

June 17th and 18th starts Youth Works. Meet at the front entrance at 9:15.

June 24th and 25th is Youth Works meet at front entrance at 9:15.

July 1st and 2nd is Youth Works meet at front entrance at 9:15

July 15th and 16th is Youth Works meet at the front entrance at 9:15

July 22 and 23rd is Youth Works meet at the front entrance at 9:15.


Community Work Day

UPDATE: April 26th, We are pushing start time back to 10AM in hopes the hard rain will have stopped. We still have projects that can be done in the damp. We need YOUR help. Thank you.

9AM at the front entrance of Pine Hill Park. We will be working to clean up the front entrance and do repair work to Exit Strategy. We have tools and gloves. Bring water and sunscreen.

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.