Category Archives: Observations

Summer nature report

By Tom Estill

On a bird walk during the first week of summer I was able to see American redstarts, red-eyed vireos, yellow-throated vireos, pileated woodpecker, Eastern peewee, hermit thrush, ovenbird, veery, great crested flycatcher, and scarlet tanagers singing on Crusher Rd. near the old quarry, where I hear them every summer at that same spot. Wood thrushes were also heard near the trailhead. Though I can hear hermit thrushes throughout the park for most of the summer, wood thrushes tend to be heard sparsely, and mostly near the trailhead area.

On July 1st, I planted milkweed seedlings, as I do every year, in the area where the old beach used to be during the early 1950s at Rocky Pond. The area has been designated a Monarch butterfly Waystation and provides migrating Monarch butterflies with food, and a place to lay their eggs as they migrate southward.

On that same day, I planted some two dozen Buttonbush seedlings along the shores of Rocky Pond as part of a project to attract more waterfowl to that pond. Buttonbush is an impressive-looking flower that produces a prodigious amount of seeds that waterfowl feed upon.

Also on this day, I noticed that an extraordinary number of young Eastern chipmunks were scurrying about the forest floor. I’m guessing that it was the second litter I was seeing.

During a July 4th walk, I was able to see crows, hermit thrushes, red-eyed vireos, veery, Eastern peewee, American goldfinch, broadwing hawks, ovenbird, blue jay, hairy woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, osprey sitting on their nest at Muddy Pond, and Eastern phoebe. The infestation of gypsy moths had tapered off, red efts and mushrooms were seen in big numbers due to recent rains, and many plants were in flower including forget-me-not, common mullein, ox-eye daisy, common fleabane, cow vetch, yarrow, common St. John’s-wort, hop clover, common milkweed, red clover, tick trefoil, heal-all, poke milkweed, whorled loosestrife, black-eyed Susan, rough-fruited cinquefoil, and ladies tresses. White admiral and Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies were also seen.

During a mid-July walk, I observed an Eastern chipmunk being chased off a tree by an Eastern kingbird. Though I did not see a kingbird nest, I have no doubt there was one nearby. Purple loosestrife was in bloom at Rocky Pond, and the American chestnut tree on Svelte Tiger had male catkins in flower. Female gypsy moths were found on many trees laying eggs, with many males flying about looking for females to mate with. I was happy to see Eastern phoebes and Eastern kingbirds catching male gypsy moths “on the fly” then devouring them.

Using my bird call “app”, I was able to call in a scarlet tanager and have it land on a branch just a few feet away from me. What a magical moment. Along the south shore of Rocky Pond, I was able to see a cedar waxwing and ruby-throated hummingbird fly in and out of their nests. It’s amazing how small the hummingbird nest is in size. Also saw a hummingbird clearwing moth feeding on the nectar of milkweed flowers. Its size and flying behavior cause it to sometimes be mistaken for a hummingbird.

On July 16th, I was treated to the sight of two young barred owls perching on the limbs of a  white pine tree, near trail marker #16. One of the birds allowed me to approach within just a few feet. I kept looking for the mother nearby, but she was nowhere in sight. Another magical moment.

On the way back to the trailhead, I came across a most beautiful white-tailed deer doe. White sweet clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, cow-wheat and common agrimony all in flower. The Common Wood nymph and northern crescent butterflies were flying about.

A week later, I came across young barred owls once again in the same area. But this time, there were 3 young owls! For years, I’ve been hearing barred owls “hooting” in that area, but have never found their nest. Maybe next year?

During the last week of July, I took a hike up to Muddy Pond to take a closer look at the Osprey nest. One adult was on the nest, at least one young was in the nest, and another osprey adult perched in a nearby tree. It would be the first and last time I saw any signs of the young osprey, though I heard reports from others that 3 ospreys could occasionally be seen at Muddy Pond in late summer. On the walk back, I saw an Eastern garter snake and young pickerel frog near Rocky Pond.

On an evening hike during the first week of August, I noticed a couple of interesting things. First of all, the forest was relatively quiet, and secondly, I didn’t see a single male gypsy moth flying about. Our local birds were having a feast there for a few weeks. The ruby-throated hummingbird was no longer sitting on its nest, and both bullfrogs and green frogs could be heard “croaking” at Rocky Pond.

By mid-August, chipmunks and squirrels were busy collecting acorns, blackberry shrubs were in fruit, and Eastern towhees were singing in the same area they are always found underneath the power lines on the Carriage Trail as you head up to Rocky Pond.

On Aug. 21st, I, and members of the Rutland Co. Audubon Society, had the privilege of going on a fern walk with Emeritus Professor of Biology at St. Michael’s College, Peter Hope. We saw lady fern, ostrich fern, sensitive fern, intermediate wood fern, cinnamon fern, Christmas fern, hay-scented fern, New York fern, maidenhair fern, marginal wood fern, bracken fern, and interrupted fern. VT has a little over 60 fern species, and many can be found at Pine Hill Park.

During the last week of August, I saw white lettuce, whorled wood aster and the beautiful dark-blue colored bottle gentian, all in flower.

The forest during the first week of September was very quiet. Just a few birds were seen on an evening walk, including the white-breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, and a great blue heron at Muddy Pond.

On a Sept. 6th walk, I was treated to the sight of a majestic Bald Eagle flying over Muddy Pond, a few wood ducks, one osprey, and a great blue heron. Cones were maturing on Eastern Hemlocks, acorns were falling(one fell on my head!), Jack-in-the-pulpit had mature bright red fruits, and silverrod, New England aster, and goldenrod were all in flower.

On Sept. 11th, the forest was once again very quiet. Acorns were still falling, chestnut-sided and black-and-white warblers were migrating through the forest, hooded mergansers were seen at Rocky Pond, and a great blue heron, a few Canada geese, and wood ducks, and three active beaver dens were seen at Muddy Pond. A few trees were starting to show fall colors.

On Sept. 16th, many robins were seen migrating through the forest, chipmunks and squirrels were busy collecting acorns, and a Northern flicker was seen.

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

Spring nature report

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park
Spring, 2021 Summary

By Tom Estill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild times winter 2020-21

Thank you to Tom Estill for a great winter report.

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park Winter, 2020 Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Trail build out

We are reaching our limits of trails in Pine Hill Park. We currently have 17 miles. With Milk Run, Bone Spur and Maximum Capacity all adding about another mile and a half we will have reached our limit for density of trails inside Pine Hill Park.

This is a rough map of where Milk Run is completed in 2018, 2019. 2020 we hope to break open the rest of Milk Run with a VT Youth Conservation Corp crew in July. They are a paid crew so we are trying to raise money to cover this expense.

Bone Spur will be a pretty bony section off Milk Run.

Maximum Capacity will branch off Milk Run and head towards Intersection 20. This will be a fun trail utilizing trail contours.

If you are able to donate money to help defray the cost of a VYCC crew it would be greatly appreciated. We are applying for multiple grants-we have been turned by a couple and are patiently waiting to hear on other applications. https://pinehillpark.org/donate-2/

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.