Category Archives: Nature Study

Wild times in pine hill park – SUMMER ’22

By Tom Estill

By the official start of summer, damage from the Spongy moth (formerly called the Gypsy moth) seemed to be tapering off. Much of the park had been affected by the moth, though interesting enough, there were some areas of the park which saw little or no defoliation.

During the first week of summer, you would see American redstart, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, veery, hermit thrush, adult yellow-bellied sapsuckers feeding their noisy young, least flycatcher, kingfisher, mallards with young, pileated woodpecker and great blue herons. Green frogs and Gray treefrogs could be heard calling near Muddy Pond, schools of young brown bullheads could be seen swimming near the shores of Rocky Pond and a number of flowers were in bloom including, yellow loosestrife, wood sorrel, yellow hop clover, bedstraw, common fleabane, and thimbleweed.

At the end of June, spongy moths were starting to go into their pupae stage. On June 30th, I met two students from the University of Vermont testing frogs at Rocky Pond for the presence of RANAVIRUS. It was part of a statewide study on amphibian diseases in Vermont.

On a walk through the forest on June 30th, I saw a house wren (still nesting in their nest box on the boardwalk), American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, downy woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, Easter pewee, indigo bunting, Eastern towhee, catbird, and Great Blue Heron and Osprey at Muddy Pond.

A male Indigo Bunting where Pond Rd. crosses the powerline. Photo by David Jenne

During the first week of July, I saw the same birds as I did on July 30th, but also saw black-capped chickadees, scarlet tanager, hairy woodpecker, ovenbird, barred owl, hermit thrush, and a great-crested flycatcher. An osprey was observed successfully catching a fish at Muddy Pond, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers were no longer calling their parents for food. Flowers in bloom included Pointed-leaved tick trefoil, rough-fruited cinquefoil, heal-all, and yellow loosestrife. Red raspberries and honeysuckle were both in berries. Both bullfrogs and green frogs were croaking at Rocky Pond. Mourning cloak and great-spangled butterflies were flying about, adult spongy moths were beginning to emerge, and an absolutely gorgeous Widow dragonfly was seen flying at Rocky Pond. Many chipmunks and gray squirrels were scurrying about.

During an early morning walk on July 11th, I was amazed at how well the forest was recovering from the season’s terrible infestation of the spongy moth. Trees were regrowing leaves and the canopy didn’t look as bare as it had a few weeks earlier. I was also surprised at how few spongy moths were flying about, unlike last year when their numbers were astronomical. Queen Ann’s Lace had started to bloom, wood ducks were swimming about at Muddy Pond, and the mourning cloak, monarch, and pearl crescent butterflies were flying about.

In mid-July, 5 new American chestnuts were planted to replace 5 which had died. There are currently 50 planted American chestnut trees in the park and 2 WILD American chestnuts which were recently discovered. Both wild American chestnuts are producing burs, but the seeds inside are sterile due to the fact they were not fertilized by other American chestnut trees, which they have to be if fertile seeds are to be produced.

An Eastern Towee with its stunning red eyes. Photo by David Jenne

On July 15th, a magnificent doe was seen on the carriage trail, and a woodchuck and Eastern cottontail were both seen on the Crusher Rd. A broad-wing hawk was flying overhead and I’m sure had its eye on one of those small mammals. The Deptford Pink was once again seen flowering under the powerlines on the Carriage Trail. Next year, if you can remember, look for this beautiful pink flower, and look at it closely. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful flowers in the park. And while you’re looking for that flower under the powerlines, listen for the call of the Eastern Towhee which nests in that area, and is a bird of beautiful colors, especially the red eyes.

Deptford Pink grows under the powerlines on the Carriage Trail every summer. Pixabay image

During the 3rd week of July, new flowers blooming included white vervain, buttonbush (the flowers remind me of chandeliers), and steeplebush. Yellowthroats could be heard along Crusher Rd., and the beautiful Rosy Maple Moth was seen along the Carriage Trail. At Rocky Pond, you could see 3 different kinds of dragonflies, including the twelve-spotted skimmer, common whitetail, and the Elisa skimmer.

During the last week of July, I went on an evening walk the day after a major rainstorm. The trails were literally covered with red efts and young wood frogs.

On Aug. 1st, a walk through the forest proved to be very, very, quiet. The only new bird I saw was a ruby-throated hummingbird. Barred owls were still calling and a hooded merganser was seen at Rocky Pond.

During the first week of August, you could still find cardinals, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, eastern towhee, red-eyed vireo, yellow-bellied sapsucker, broad-winged hawk, pileated woodpecker, Eastern phoebe, Canada geese at Muddy Pond, indigo bunting, osprey at Muddy Pond, American redstart, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, black and white warbler, red-bellied woodpecker, Eastern wood pewee and American goldfinch. Many robins could also be seen starting to migrate south through the forest. Oh yes—active bald-faced hornet nests could easily be found here and there. Stay clear of such nests!

On August 9th, during a morning walk to Rocky Pond, I saw numerous Cedar Waxwings among the softwoods on the south side of the pond. I ask myself why it is that I always see Cedar Waxwings in this same area, this same time of the year, year-in and year-out?

In mid-August, acorns were starting to appear on oak trees, with gray squirrels having a good time feasting on the nuts. Indian tobacco was in flower.

On August 24th, I found the forest very quiet and saw only an Eastern towhee, broadwing hawk, yellow-throated vireo, and a ruby-crowned kinglet.

Pickerel and green frogs were seen at Rocky Pond. On September 3rd, I measured the height and DBH (diameter breast height) of a second wild American Chestnut discovered in the park by Shelley and Nate. The tree was 68 ft. tall and had a DBH of 13.3 inches. The seeds found in the burs were all infertile, unfortunately.

In mid-Sept., the forest had become very quiet. Many migrants were gone, and I was seeing more and more of our winter year-round resident birds including blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch, and black-capped chickadee. Yellow-throated vireo was seen, one of the first migrating birds to return in spring, and one of the last to leave. Goldenrod and flat-topped wood aster in flower.

On the last day of summer, I noticed very few acorns on the forest floor compared to other years and attributed that to the fact that the oak trees of pine hill park were decimated by the spongy moths this year. Looks like a poor MAST season for sure. A few flowers were still in flower, including New England aster, a few other species of asters, and goldenrod. 3 does were seen together, along with pileated woodpeckers, northern flicker, tufted titmouse, and white-breasted nuthatch. At Muddy Pond could be found about 50 Canada geese, and a few wood ducks and mallards.

It could be a rough winter for chipmunks and squirrels this year due to a poor mast crop this summer. Photo by David Jenne

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

Park is OPEN

Saturday, June 4th: Jigsaw is now open.

Sunday, May 21st: Park is open today with Jigsaw being closed and roped off. There are still some tender places in the park so be gentle riding please. Thank you.

6PM UPDATE: Friday, May 20th. Park will remained closed for Saturday. We will reassess later Saturday afternoon to see if trails have dried up to open for Sunday. We still have standing water on a lot of trails. Please stay off the trails it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Volunteers will be checking the trails late Friday (5/20) afternoon to see if they have dried up. We had another .2″ of rain on Thursday evening. We are hoping the trees leafing out and a little bit of wind this afternoon things will dry out for the weekend. Stay tuned. Thank you.

We have had to temporarily close the park due to the amount of rain last Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. We have standing water on a lot of our trails. The water needs to drain out before we reopen for all users.

Thank you for respecting our temporary trail closures.

Water on Strong Angel, Jigsaw and Sore Elbow, Tuesday, May 17th.

Fall wild times in pine hill park

By Tom Estill

During the first week of fall, you could find trees turning their beautiful fall foliage colors and many birds, including robins, red-eyed vireos, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, Eastern towhee, yellow-throated vireo, white-throated sparrow, wood ducks, Canada geese, great blue heron and myrtle warbler migrating south through the forest. On Sept. 25th, these migrating birds, along with year round residents such as tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadees, blue jay, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, and Cooper’s hawk were all seen on that same day. Asters were still flowering and American chestnut burs, from the lone known wild American chestnut known in the park, and acorns were falling onto the forest floor. Because American chestnut trees need two different trees to

produce viable seeds, those seeds found in the burs were small infertile seeds. Chipmunks and gray squirrels were scurrying about. While walking along middle Giorgetti trail, I heard a massive pine tree crash to the ground on lower Giorgetti trail, shaking the ground beneath my feet. On closer inspection, I could see the core of the tree was rotten. This late into Sept. you could still see a common sulfur butterfly flying about.

By the second week of October, fallen leaves were covering most of the trails of the park, and acorns covered the ground in huge numbers. It was going to be a good MAST year indeed. In my opinion, shared by many, fall foliage season was a bust this year. Colors just were not as colorful and vibrant as years past. Squirrels and gray squirrels were busy collecting the fallen acorns.

During a walk on Oct. 9th, crows were seen in large numbers, as is common this time of year, but the only other place I saw birds was around Muddy Pond.The birds I saw there were Canada geese, wood ducks, hairy and pileated woodpecker, blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch and golden-crowned kinglet.

During a walk on Oct. 19th, I noticed the forest floor covered with a thick layer of leaves, and just a very few acorns still falling. I did not hear or see a single bird, which is a rarity for me. That disappointment was offset by having a magnificent doe slowly walk across the Carriage Trail right in front of me. I was sitting on a log tying my boots at the time and it just didn’t see me. Gray squirrels and chipmunks still gathering acorns.

On Oct. 23rd, I went on an early morning birdwalk and once again saw not a single bird, except crows flying overhead. Leaves were still falling with many trees still having lots of attached leaves. Through my binoculars I could see that the oak trees were pretty much finished dropping their acorns. Still no good, hard frost in the area.

On the first day of Nov. on an evening walk, once again the only birds seen were crows flying overhead and a few hundred geese resting at Muddy Pond. Most of the leaves were gone from the tops of most trees with the exception of oak and beech trees. Chipmunks and gray squirrels

still out collecting acorns. And at the end of my walk, as I’m checking myself for ticks, sure enough, there’s two ticks crawling on my pant legs. Temps. were forecast to be in the 20s later in the week, bringing an end to the ticks until next spring.

A few days later I’m out on an early evening walk and saw white-breasted nuthatches,

black-capped chickadees, northern flicker, a large flock of robins migrating through the forest, crows, downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker, Canada geese at Muddy Pond, and many chipmunks and gray squirrels.

On Nov. 7th, I was lucky enough to see bluebirds near the trailhead, along with blue jays, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse, and white-breasted nuthatches.

On Nov. 11th, I noticed something I had never seen before at Rocky Pond. The water was

tinted green with algae. Even in the middle of summer, when pond temperatures are high, I had never seen the ponds turn as green in color as I saw on this day. But the big news I received on this day from Shelley Lutz was that the beaver dam on Muddy Pond had collapsed the day before! As I’m headed towards the dam on the Carriage Trail, I could hear the roar of water

from a couple hundred yards away. Sure enough, about 15 ft. of the dam center had collapsed. Water in the pond was already very low. It looked like it had drained about 5 ft. There were a few deep spots on the pond still covered with water being used as a resting place for a few hundred migrating Canadian geese.

On a late afternoon hike on Nov. 22nd, the only bird I saw was a white-breasted nuthatch. No chipmunks were seen, but a few gray squirrels were busy collecting acorns. Rocky pond still had a green tint to it. No migrating birds were seen at either pond.

During the first week of December, both ponds had finally frozen over with the exception of a few areas on the perimeters, only a few gray squirrels were seen, and though temperatures were cold, there was little snow and ice on the forest floor.

On a mid-Dec. day, during a late afternoon walk, no birds or mammals were seen, recent rains and warming had melted all recent snow and ice on the forest floor, a few areas of open water could be seen at both ponds, and the peripheral ice at Rocky Pond was thin, breaking very easily.

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

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.

Wild times in the park

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

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park Fall, 2020 Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.