Category Archives: Observations

24 Winter Wild Times

by Tom Estill

We are so fortunate to have Tom checking on our wildlife through out the seasons and write up a great report for us.

During the week of the Winter Solstice of 2023, the forest was relatively quiet with Rocky Pond finally completely freezing over, though with thin ice, on Dec. 23rd. So quiet, that on that day of Dec.23rd, I didn’t hear or see a single bird on my walk to and from Rocky Pond, a very rare occurrence for me.

A few days later on a walk to Muddy Pond, I saw 4 flocks of about 12 Canada geese flying low towards Muddy Pond, white-breasted nuthatch, and black-capped chickadees.Both ponds were completely frozen over with thin ice, with the exception of a few small areas near the shores of both ponds Water was freely flowing into and out of Rocky Pond.

On Dec. 30th, David Jenne and Shelley Lutz participated in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The birds they saw and their numbers were:

Black-capped chickadees-23 White-breasted nuthatch-15 Tufted titmouse-8

Downy woodpecker-6 Canada geese-16 Dark-eyed junco-4 Raven-3

Crow-16

Hairy woodpecker-2 American goldfinch-2 Unidentified raptor-1 Pileated woodpecker-1 House sparrow-10 Cardinal-1

On Jan. 2, 2024, I saw a white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker and had the luck to be at the right place at the right time as I sat on the shore of Rocky Pond listening to 2 different flocks of wild turkeys calling back and forth to one another on opposite sides of the pond.

During those first few weeks of January, snow was starting to fall in appreciable amounts with a good dumping on the 20th, and bright sunny days, though rare, were so welcome. A small herd of deer could be regularly seen between trail markers 16 and 24, hairy woodpeckers were starting to be heard drumming back and forth to one another, tufted titmouse birds had changed their call to short, double “here, here” calls, and Carolina wrens were calling one another. On Jan. 22nd, I had the pleasure of hearing 2 pairs of Carolina wrens calling back and forth to one another over quite some distance. The Carolina wren seems to be a bird I am seeing more and more of as the years go by.

Feb. 5 was a gorgeous sunny day. Snow was mostly gone from the 3 lower Giorgetti trails, but still about 3” deep in the upper trails. The small stream feeding Rocky Pond was frozen over and the pond itself was covered in thick ice. Birds seen that day included cardinal,

white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers. For the next week I saw pretty much the same birds along with pileated woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees.

On Feb. 11th, I was very surprised and delighted to see a Red Squirrel near the trailhead of the park. I see gray squirrels all the time, but rarely do I see a red squirrel. Since then, I’ve been seeing it on a regular basis in that same area, so I know it has a nest somewhere nearby.

By mid-February, gray squirrels were beginning to be seen along with yellow-crowned kinglets. There was one or two inches of snow on the ground. I collected a sample of debris from the bottom of one of the park streams, curious to see what might be alive in such icy cold streams. Through my microscope, I was able to observe a few ciliates, rotifers, a small annelid and a tiny Stonefly nymph.

The last week of February saw me regularly observing downy, hairy, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, crow, brown creeper, and black-capped chickadees. The only open water observed was a small area surrounding the large beaver lodge on the east side of Muddy Pond, a few small spots of open water along the shores of Rocky pond, and the streams flowing into both ponds. Snow fleas(a sign for me that the worst part of winter is over) were seen on Feb. 21st, nuthatches and chickadees were chasing one another through the trees, hairy woodpeckers were drumming, and the lower trails were mostly bare ground.

On Feb. 25th, I observed a Cooper’s hawk flying near a Cooper’s hawk nest from last year, a barred owl near trail marker 16, where I see them every year, a rarely seen male red crossbill feeding on red pine seeds at Rocky Pond, and a black-capped chickadee feeding on both red and white pine seeds. While standing on the shore of Muddy Pond, I noticed a small area of open water in the distance, near where the main stream feeds into Muddy Pond. This seemed odd to me, in that the pond was pretty much completely covered in thick ice. As I approached the open area I could see the water churning.  I assumed it was fish coming up to gulp air due to the decreasing amount of oxygen in the ice covered pond this time of year. To my surprise, it wasn’t fish gulping air, it was dozens of Eastern newts just coming out of hibernation, coming up for air.

On Feb. 26th, I was surprised to see a large flock of robins flying northward through the forest. Never seen, this time of year, such a huge, compact flock of robins like that before. Both Rocky and Muddy have numerous puddles on their surface, and at both ponds you could hear what sounded like distant thunder, moans and groans as the water was moving about beneath the

ice.

On March 3rd, I saw a very impressive huge flock of hundreds of grackles flying through the park. A day later, Canada geese, mallards and hooded mergansers were seen at Rocky Pond. By this time, Rocky was now mostly open water, with only the far east side covered in ice. At Muddy Pond, the only birds seen were one female and three male common mergansers.

March 6th was the first time I saw turkey vultures flying overhead near Rocky Pond, the first of the season.  A few days later, both ponds were free of ice, Canada geese were seen on both ponds, many water insects could be seen in the shallows of Rocky Pond, along with many Eastern newts swimming about.

On March 11, 4 inches of snow covered the ground, but by the next day it was mostly gone.

By mid-March, oak tree buds were starting to open, and I couldn’t believe that I heard a few wood frogs calling at Muddy Pond. This time of year, the forest had also become surprisingly quiet. I thought southern migrants may have started to appear, but no such luck.

On March 17th, I spread hundreds of pitcher plant seeds along the shores of the Rocky Pond outlet in areas I felt would make ideal habitat for such plants. I was looking for areas similar to those found on the small islands on the west side of Muddy Pond which contain numerous pitcher plants.

On the last day of winter, I saw white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, carolina wren, cardinal, black-capped chickadee, hairy and red-bellied woodpecker, crow, and a few deer between trail markers 16 and 24.

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

Wild Times

Autumn, 2023 Summary

By Tom Estill

The first day of fall found numerous birds flying throughout the forest including, cardinals, robins, broad-winged hawk, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, tufted titmouse, yellow-throated vireo, black-capped chickadee, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, yellow rumped warbler, and a few wood ducks and Canada geese at Muddy Pond. A dead short-tailed shrew was seen on the Carriage trail near Muddy Pond. First time I’ve seen that small mammal in the park. No obvious injuries, so was very curious about what might have happened to bring about its death. Sticktight, New England aster, flat-topped white aster and snakeroot were all in flower. Many chipmunks out and about.

On Sept. 25th, more species of birds were seen including red-eyed vireo, turkey vulture, blue jays, ravens, black-throated green warbler and Eastern Phoebe. Green frogs were a common sight at Rocky Pond, and a doe and 2 fawns were seen on Crusher Rd.

A few days later, many robins were seen migrating through the forest, which they always do this time of year.

This fall I was not surprised at the lack of acorns on the forest floor. We had a MAST two years ago, so we should have much more acorns next fall.

On the last day of Sept., I noticed numerous small chipmunks about the park. No doubt they were offspring of a second brood, something not unusual for chipmunks this time of year. Also saw both a chipmunk and solitary vireo feeding on red-osier dogwood berries near the trailhead.

Had a beautiful fall evening walk during the first week of October, seeing a white-throated sparrow and 2 young deer near trail marker 16A, an area of the park where I commonly see deer for reasons unknown to me.

By Oct. 8th, the forest was now very quiet with most migrants having passed through the area  by now on their way south. Temperatures were noticeably cooler. The only bird I saw on my way to Muddy Pond was a white-breasted nuthatch. About 100 Canada geese were seen at Muddy Pond, along with 2 small flocks of Mallards and Wood ducks.                                                                                             

Park was at the height of fall foliage, but this year’s foliage season paled in comparison with most other years. Couldn’t help but wonder if this year’s spring hard frost and higher than normal precipitation had something to do with the lackluster foliage season.

During the third week of October, increasing numbers of robins were seen migrating through the forest and hundreds of Canada geese were seen resting at Muddy Pond.

Oct. 28th was a day of unusually warm temperatures, so I wasn’t too surprised when I saw a garter snake slithering among the leaves on the Carriage Trail. At the trailhead, robins could be

seen feeding on red-osier dogwood berries. Hadn’t realized so many different animals enjoyed eating those berries.

The first week of November found Muddy Pond covered with hundreds of migrating Canada geese and a lone Bald Eagle perched in a tree near the empty Osprey nest. I was able to collect hundreds of Button Bush seeds for planting along the shores of Rocky Pond next spring. Button Bush seeds are readily eaten by many waterfowl species. It’s hoped that by growing more Button Bush along the shores of Rocky Pond, more waterfowl may be enticed to spend more time at that pond.

On Nov. 11th, I had an interesting encounter with a small flock of black-capped chickadees. I was playing a recording of a barred owl when after a minute or two, a small flock of

black-capped chickadees that was flying about 20 ft. away, slowly made its way within just a few feet of where I was sitting. On Muddy Pond about 20 Canada geese, a pair of hooded mergansers, one common merganser, and a few mallards were observed. And at Trail Marker 16, another doe was seen.

A week later, a beautiful, healthy looking coyote was seen along the shore of Rocky Pond, and about 500 Canada geese were seen at Muddy Pond. A winter wren, dark-eyed juncos, and yellow-crowned kinglet were also seen.

During the third week of November, deer were again seen around Trail Marker 16, flocks of Canada geese were flying south overhead and Rocky Pond was finally completely frozen over. Most of Muddy Pond was also covered in ice, with the exception of a small area of open water around the large eastside beaver den. I was also surprised to see a few moths flying about.

During the first week of December, loose associations of birds could be seen, typically composed of black-capped chickadees, hairy woodpeckers, brown creepers, tufted titmouse, and white-breasted nuthatches. During a 3 hr. Walk, I observed such an association, one lone hairy woodpecker, and heard one crow, and that was all!

During the second week of December, it was still warm enough for water to be flowing into and out of Rocky Pond. Muddy Pond was frozen over except a small area in its center where you could see about 50 geese resting. On Rocky Pond, I found a pile of goose feathers spread about a small area. Some type of predator had captured and carried away a Canada goose.

In mid-December, I saw a barred owl, and a small herd of 6 deer near Trail Marker 16.

Both ponds were completely frozen over, a Cooper’s hawk was seen near the trailhead, and numerous does and a large 6 point buck were caught on my Trail Camera set up near Trail Marker 16.

On Dec.17th, a major storm was approaching the area and I saw only one animal, a crow, on my 2 hr. Hike.

On Dec. 19th, that same small herd of 6 deer was once again seen near Trail Marker 16. Near the trailhead I heard a gray squirrel making its continuous alarm call, and when I looked up, I saw a Cooper’s hawk perched in a nearby tree.

On the last day of fall, one-third of Rocky Pond was open water, and the rest of the pond was covered in a layer of ice thin enough to easily break through with my boot. The only animal I saw on my hike to Rocky Pond was a single white-breasted nuthatch.

That’s it for this report. Enjoy your time observing the natural wonders at Pine Hill Park, and please remember to stay on the trail and keep your pets leashed.

Winter time closed trails

We have closed Exit Strategy, Droopy Muffin steep hill-between Intersection 30 and 30A and Lichen Rock. We have problems with freeze thaw cycles on these particular trails throughout the winter into early spring. Please respect closed trails. Thank you your hard working volunteers.

Wild Times Nature Report

Tom Estill summer report is here! What a fantastic read too.

By the first official day of summer numerous birds are already successfully nesting in the park. For years now, the house wren continues to nest near the trailhead, either in one of the small birdhouses you see as you start your walk up to the trailhead, or in the birdhouse at the far end of the wooden walkway a short ways past the trailhead kiosk. I was sad to see an old dead beech tree, which for years had been used as a place for yellow-bellied sapsuckers to make their nests, had been blown over. For 7 years, the sapsuckers would drill a hole in a different spot on that dead tree. I always wondered if it was the offspring that was returning each year.

On this first day of summer, I saw the stunning scarlet tanager, always singing on Crusher Rd. near the old quarry, the American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler, ovenbird, red-eyed vireo and white-breasted nuthatch.

So, on June 24th, while walking in the forest, I thought it would be fun to compare life in the forest near the first day of summer, with life in the forest near the first day of winter. So, on June 24th, it was very hot and humid. Birds seen included house wren, red-eyed vireo,

white-breasted nuthatch, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler, common yellowthroat, song sparrow, ovenbird, Eastern pewee, veery, great crested flycatcher, blue jay, least flycatcher, hairy woodpecker, robin, Eastern towhee, hermit thrush, and Osprey on its Muddy Pond nest. Flowers blooming included white and red clover, ox-eye daisy, common buttercup, cow vetch, sheep laurel, blue flag, bedstraw, common fleabane, thimbleweed, yellow wood sorrel, multi-flora rose, yellow pond lily, fragrant water lily,

rough-fruited cinquefoil, and partridgeberry. And many chipmunks out and about. Now, on the first day of winter 2022, I saw black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch and crows, the ground was covered in a few inches of snow, both ponds were frozen over solid, and the temperature was near freezing. Wow!, quite a difference all around.

On June 25th, I came upon an adult doe on Middle Giorgetti trail which started walking towards me for some reason. I slowly backed away to leave it alone. Yellow bellied spasuckers were feeding their noisy young all throughout the forest, and I was disappointed to find out that the Cooper’s Hawk nest high in a white pine on Lower Giorgetti had been abandoned.

On June 29th, a garter snake was seen at Rocky Pond, a doe and fawn were seen at the same spot on Middle Giorgetti where I saw the doe on June 25th, bullfrogs, green frogs and schools of young bullheads were seen at Rocky Pond, and new flowers blooming included whorled loosestrife, bulrush, foxtail, bluegrass, button sedge, and St. Johnswort

On June 30th, I saw a few birds I don’t see often at Pine Hill Park, including the blue-headed warbler, a red-throated hummingbird feeding on milkweed nectar, and bluebirds at Rocky Pond. An Osprey was sitting on its Muddy Pond nest. Dragonflies were mating and laying eggs, and a

red fox was observed, all at Muddy Pond. Butterflies seen that day included the white cabbage and great spangled fritillary.

On July 3rd, a pair of barred owls were seen on Droopy Muffin, sapsucker chicks were chirping like crazy on a Svelte Tiger trail, and a doe kept following me near the old rock quarry on Crusher Rd., leading me to believe someone had been feeding that deer.

A week later, I saw a belted kingfisher, great blue heron and osprey on Muddy Pond. Bullfrogs could be heard, and many large bullfrog tadpoles were swimming near the shoreline. Indian Pipe was starting to flower and blueberries were starting to ripen. A milk snake was seen on the Carriage Trail. But the best news is that the spongy moth infestation had finally ended after 2 summers of deforestation by that insect. Hopefully, we won’t see that moth for another 10 years or so. The American Chestnut tree on Svelte Tiger did not recover from last years defoliation, but side shoots were observed growing from the side of the tree in a few spots.

On July 17th, I saw an unusually high number of robins flying through the forest. That behavior isn’t usually observed until the fall. Don’t know what that was all about.

By the last week of July, the forest had become so relatively quiet. For the most part, nesting season was over, and some birds had already started migrating south. One thing that I, and everybody else noticed about the forest this season was the unusual number of mosquitoes. The increased rain this year provided ample opportunities for mosquitoes to breed. In my 11

years hiking

Pine Hill Park , I have never seen so many mosquitoes. On one occasion, I

actually had a large swarm follow me on my walk. It was not a pleasant experience. And yes, I used bug spray

The last day of July, I was able to see one of my favorite flowers in the park-the small Pink flower. Usually overlooked by visitors and not very common, it can be seen on Crusher Rd., its color and petal markings are just striking.

The first week of August found the forest very quiet, with does accompanying fawns, blackberries ripe, lots of Chicken-of-the-Woods mushrooms, evening primrose in flower, a

ruby-throated hummingbird attracted to the red marker flag I was carrying, and a migrating Cape May Warbler flying through the forest. They’re one of the early spring migrants to arrive in the park, and one of the first to be seen leaving.

The first “feel” of approaching Fall occurred on Aug. 24th. The only bird I saw that day was the Eastern Pewee, and the only mammal I saw was a doe on the Carriage Trail. Forest once again very quiet. Flowers in bloom included the hog peanut, silver-rod, arrow-leaved tearthumb and knotweed. I planted a couple more wild American Chestnut seedlings on the edge of the Carriage Trail at Rocky Pond. Very soon a blight resistant tree will be released in the wild to pollinate wild American chestnuts, producing a Wild American Chestnut resistant to the blight, and the beginning of the comeback to our Eastern forests of that magnificent tree.

A spike horn buck following a doe was seen on Svelte Tiger trail on August 26th. Many chipmunks were scurrying about, Sulfur and Pearl Crescent butterflies were seen, and Calico aster, panicled hawkweed, closed bottle gentian, and toothed white-topped aster were all in bloom.

On Sept. 5th, a Belted Kingfisher was seen fishing at Rocky Pond, many green frogs and newts were seen in the pond, a tiny American Toad was seen on Crusher Rd., many young pickerel frogs were seen throughout the whole forest, and a Cottontail rabbit was seen near the trailhead. A cardinal, dark-eyed junco, and white-breasted nuthatch were the only birds seen.

On Sept. 19th, I was very surprised to see a woodchuck run into a hole under a rock at Rocky Pond. I’ve never seen a woodchuck so far away from the only other place I’ve regularly seen them in the park, and that’s on Crusher Rd. The only plants flowering were goldenrod, snakeroot, and a variety of asters. Great blue heron and small flock of wood ducks seen at Muddy Pond.

Had a beautiful hike through the forest on the last day of summer. Short-sleeve shirt temperatures, and mosquitoes not a bother. Many birds seen including, cardinal, robin, broad-winged hawk, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, tufted titmouse, yellow-throated vireo,

black-capped chickadee, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, yellow rumped warbler, and a few wood ducks and Canadian geese at Muddy Pond. Found a short-tailed shrew dead on the trail near Muddy Pond. It looked it perfect condition. Could not determine what may have caused its death. Sticktight, New England aster, flat-topped white aster, and snakeroot all in flower. Many chipmunks out and about.

That’s it for this edition. Please stay on the trails and enjoy your walks in the forest.

Mid-Summer Park Projects

We had a 3 week crew from VT Youth Conservation Corp. One week was a ‘pro crew’ a little bit of experience and just out of college. Then a two week Community Crew which are high school kids that go home at the end of the day. The ‘pro crew’ camped over at Lake St. Catherine this year. Too many mosquitoes for camping at the Rutland Rec Community Center.

We built rolling grade dips on a few trails along with pulling rocks and some resurfacing. The rolling grade dips help improve drainage so when the heavy rains come the rain is not running straight down the trail tread for miles. We’re catching the water with the rolling grade dip.

We pulled some rocks that were growing thanks to erosion and trail use. People were widening the trail in a few places by riding around the rocks. Snowdog doesn’t like hitting rocks jutting too far up either.

Some concerns over making some trails to easy. Remember the park is for everyone and it is a city park.

Trail Work

KSA Built has been in the park since the end of May. Rosey finished up Exit Strategy so we could get that open.

From Exit Strategy KSA Built moved to Casey’s Cross to put a culvert in to fix our perpetual mud area.

Broken Handlebar North was next up for a major tune up. The table top has been improved with an ‘A’ and ‘B’ line for an exit. The ‘B’ line jump at the bottom that flows really well. Further down the rock face there is now a ‘jump line’. Please look at this feature before attempting to hit it. There is no roll over it is a ‘jump’. The rest of Broken Handlebar North received a tune up as well with some hip jumps, log jump.

Table top above

Jump Line! This does not have a roll off feature!

Jump line which does not have a roll off feature!

REMEMBER: Pre-ride, free-ride, re-ride!!! Broken Handlebar is not an easy access for first responders.

Rosey’s Rollover landing area received a little TLC. Next year the rest of this trail will be improved to make it more fun to ride.

Upper Halfpipe has gotten a significant upgrade. Many of the features that had been built in 2008 all needed some TLC. Lower Halfpipe is getting tuned up as well.

Upper Halfpipe getting a small reroute for better flow

Lower part of Furlough will have some drainage issues resolved. The water current runs straight down the trail tread which is not good for the trail.

Aaron’s Air will also receive some TLC before KSA Built leaves for the season.

All this repair work has been through an ERSA grant through the state. Pine Hill Partnership is paying out of pocket $11,000 as the quote and bid came in at different prices due to diesel being more expensive. Please consider becoming a member or making a contribution to help cover these costs. https://pinehillpartnership.org/membership/

Spring Nature Report

Tom had another great adventure in the park this spring:

The first day of spring found Rocky and Muddy ponds both still covered in ice. A crow, Northern Cardinal and Tufted Titmouse were the only birds seen on my walk that day. But I had the most fun setting up my trail cam in a rocky cliff face along the Carriage trail in an attempt to capture video of what I believed was a porcupine denning in the rocks. Porcupine tracks leading to the area, porcupine scat, and distinctive porcupine chew marks on nearby trees all led me to believe a porcupine was denning in the area.

A few days later on March 23rd, I went on an evening walk and, while standing along the shore of Rocky Pond, observed a dozen turkey vultures soaring high above the Ledges there, and  then start to slowly descend one by one onto and amongst the rocks. This is something I have observed many times over the years, always around the Spring Equinox. It makes me wonder if that area was closed to the public(something I am NOT proposing) would turkey vultures nest there? This day was also the first time I observed robins in the park. And, of course, gray squirrels were busy scurrying around.

The next day, I noticed that most snow was now gone from the lower trails, but increases as you go up in elevation. Bird courtship behavior was becoming more evident, with two hairy woodpeckers observed fighting each other over a nearby female hairy woodpecker. It was the first day I felt that spring had finally arrived. Red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, robin, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, and white-breasted nuthatch were all observed. Both ponds were still completely frozen over with the exception of a small band of open water along Rocky Pond, and near the beaver dam on Muddy Pond. Eastern newts were seen in the open waters. Two pairs of Canada geese were seen in the open waters of Muddy Pond.

By March 26th, recent mild temperatures helped to melt snow, and there was much water flowing into Rocky Pond from the stream flowing under the walk bridge. The following morning walk was absolutely beautiful with my first seasonal sighting of chipmunks and Eastern bluebirds checking out the bird houses near the trail head. Song sparrows near the trailhead, red-shouldered hawks and broadwing hawks flying overhead, mallards and Canada geese at Muddy Pond, and a small pearl crescent butterfly flying about, all suggested that the great northern migration was underway.

On April 1st, I observed my first wild flower in the park, the Coltsfoot flower. Always the first flower to appear. Also observed my first mourning cloak butterfly, one of the first butterflies to appear in the park each early spring. Wood ducks, mallards, and Canada geese were seed at Rocky Pond and the Rocky Pond outlet area, a place I am sure wood ducks nest each year, though I’ve never seen an active nest there.

On April 3rd, Rocky Pond was finally ice free, and the forest was very quiet with only hairy woodpeckers and tufted titmouse being observed.

April 4th found nesting Canada geese, a dozen common mergansers, and a sleeping beaver all at Muddy Pond. A beautiful deer was seen near the 16A trail sign, and my trail cam showed a porcupine at that site on the Carriage Trail I had mentioned earlier.

A few days later, Eastern phoebes and a golden-crowned kinglet were seen for the first time in the park, and a pair of Osprey were seen at their nest platform at Muddy Pond. Eastern newts were mating at Rocky Pond.

As the days went by, more and more signs of spring were seen. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers had returned, a Cooper’s hawk was nesting in a tree along the 2nd Giorgetti trail, painted turtles were basking in the sun at Muddy Pond, and wood frogs were calling in the wetland area on the south side of Rocky Pond..

During the second week of April, trout lily started to appear on the forest floor, trailing arbutus and oak trees were now flowering, spring peepers and leopard frogs were calling, and hermit thrush were singing. Ring-necked ducks were seen at Muddy Pond. On April 15th I had the wits scared out of me when a ruffed grouse suddenly exploded into flight from a spot very close to where I was walking. So perfectly camouflaged are those birds.

During the third week of April, wood anemone, sedges, and barren strawberry were in flower.

A week later, I planted an American Chestnut tree seedling near Rocky Pond. The seedling came from a seed harvested by Mount St. Joseph Academy advanced biology students in the fall of 2022, and refrigerated until March of 2023. The students have been taking care of an orchard of 20 American chestnut trees since 2019 in the back of their school. In 2022, they harvested their first 27 viable American chestnut seeds, a first for a Vermont school.

During the first week of May you could find two-leaved toothwort, white violets, gay wings, bellwort, and wild strawberries all flowering. New birds seen included ovenbird and

yellow-throated vireo.

In Mid-May red eyed-vireos, house wrens, great blue heron, great crested flycatcher, and veery could be seen and heard, and flowers blooming included Solomon’s seal, false Solomon’s seal, wood betony, foam flower, and starflower.

During the last week of May I saw the beautiful northern oriole at Rocky Pond, the stunning indigo bunting at its usual nesting place underneath the power lines on Carriage Road near Rocky pond, and the breathtaking scarlet tanager in numerous places in the park.

Chestnut-sided warblers and American redstarts were back in good numbers. New flowers in bloom included common buttercup, early azalea, garlic mustard, and common cinquefoil.

During the first week of June I planted a new American chestnut seedling up at Rocky Pond to replace one that died over winter, and saw my first Viceroy and Eastern Swallowtail butterflies. The Viceroy is easily confused with the Monarch butterfly, but is smaller and has a black line across the lower part of its main wings.

During the second week of June you would likely see the following birds in the park: Song sparrow, Canada geese, great blue herons, wood ducks, common mergansers, tufted titmouse, American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, Eastern towhee, ruby-throated hummingbird, catbird, yellow-bellied sapsucker, Eastern pewee, barred owls, hermit thrush, veery, and ovenbird. New flowers in bloom would include: common fleabane, ox-eye daisy, ragwort, sarsaparilla and moccasin flower.

On June 19th, I discovered a great blue heron nesting in the wetland area just behind the major inlet to Muddy Pond at the west end of the pond. I also saw my first White Admiral butterfly of the season..

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

Winter Wild Times Report

By Tom Estill

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park Winter 2022-23 Summary

The beginning of winter found both Rocky and Muddy Ponds frozen over, and the forest birds were being regularly seen together in their loose association of black-capped chickadees, crows, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, and downy woodpeckers.

During the last week of December, I was pleasantly surprised to see a Cooper’s hawk flying near the trailhead, and a small flock of southerly migrating Canada geese. Chipmunks were still scurrying about, busy collecting and storing acorns and other food items in preparation for the cold weather ahead. A few inches of snow covered the ground, while ice covered many of the trails.

The last day of December found temperatures in the high 40s(F), and low 50s(F). Deer were seen crossing the Carriage Trail, and a barred owl was seen under the powerlines on the Carriage Trail on the way to Rocky Pond.

Jan. 1st weekend was the Christmas Bird Count for Pine Hill Park. Participants included myself, Shelley Lutz, and Dave Jenne. Birds seen and their numbers included: Crow(15), Black-capped chickadee(23), downy woodpecker(8), white-breasted nuthatch(17), tufted titmouse(20), mourning dove(7), cardinal(6), house sparrow(4), dark-eyed junco(3), Eastern bluebird(2), blue jay(1), red-bellied woodpecker(3), house finch(1) and brown creeper(4).

Jan. 2nd found me exploring rock outcrops near Rocky Pond and finding porcupine and deer tracks, with porcupine tracks and scat leading to an active den among the rocks.

That first week of Jan. also found a few small areas around the perimeter of Rocky Pond with open water and an otter coming in and out of a small hole in the ice at Rocky Pond with a small fish occasionally seen in its mouth. That was exciting enough, but what I saw on the way back to the trailhead had a profound effect on my view of nature. I have seen hundreds of deer at Pine Hill Park over the years, always a pleasure to see. But what I saw on Jan. 8th was different. While walking along the lower ledges trail, near trail marker 24, I was surprised, when not more than 50 ft. from me, three deer seemed to appear out of nowhere right in front of me.

I didn’t see or hear them until they moved, and then they just slowly disappeared into the forest.

I stood there and thought to myself how supremely adapted deer are to their environment. Their camouflage was perfect. Their gray bodies blending in with the large gray boulders, their legs with the tree trunks, and just enough white to help break up the gray. It took thousands of years of evolution for those beautiful animals to reach that point of perfect adaptation to their environment. That encounter changed forever my opinion about deer. Amazing animals

indeed.

By the next day, both ponds were once again completely frozen over. The only birds seen on my walk were white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadees and a hairy woodpecker.

By mid-January most snow was gone on the ground, and on a windy, cold Jan. 6th day, I saw only one bird, a white-breasted nuthatch. Rocky Pond was completely frozen over with long streams of featherly like snow drifting over its surface, which from a distance looked like wind blown waves on the surface of the ocean. It seemed odd to me that a small area of open water would be found near the eastside beaver den on Muddy Pond on such a very cold winter day.

The last week of Jan. found the forest floor once again covered in snow, both ponds frozen over, and numerous deer tracks found throughout the whole forest.

By the first week of Feb., the silence of winter had set it upon Pine Hill Park. Very few birds seen, bitterly cold days, and ponds frozen solid. One Feb. 2nd, I had a close encounter with a pair of black-capped chickadees who flew within just a few feet of me. They seemed very inquisitive and almost tame.

On Feb. 6th, I saw a Cooper’s hawk along the lower Giorgetti and a barred owl near trail marker

16. Also was lucky to find an abandoned broad-winged hawk nest, high in the white pine tree directly behind the Station #5 Sign on the Lower Giorgetti Trail. For years, I’ve observed a broad-winged hawk in that area and just knew it had a nest somewhere nearby.

On Feb. 13th, I had that feeling that the worst of winter was behind us and that signs of spring would soon start to appear. I started looking for snow fleas(springtails), a sure sign for me that we were over the “hump” of winter. Though Rocky Pond was completely frozen over, Muddy Pond had a few small areas of open water on the East side(it receives the most sun) near the large beaver den. A large deer was seen near trail marker #24, and birds seen included hairy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, and white-breasted nuthatch.

Two days later, with recent warm temperatures, the lower trails were mostly devoid of snow and ice, while upper trails still were covered with snow. Rocky Pond had large areas of standing water, especially along the shores, covering ice beneath.

The first week of March I observed my first snow fleas. I set up a trail camera near Trail Marker 16 and when I checked it the next day, I got a picture of a fox, and an inquisitive deer with its nose up close to my camera lens.

The next day, I set up my camera near Trail Marker L, and saw that I got a picture of another deer. On the way back to the trailhead I saw my first turkey vulture of the season soaring overhead.

On Feb. 9th, snow was melting, some oak trees were showing buds, and 2 large areas of open water were observed on Muddy Pond. Birds seen included black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, crows overhead, downy woodpecker and red-bellied woodpecker. The next day, snow continued to melt due to relatively warm temperatures.

On March 13th, the ground was once again covered in snow due to recent big storms, and temperatures were noticeably colder. By March 18th, snow was about 6” deep. Lots of deer tracks were observed, Canada geese seen flying north overhead, and cardinals and mourning doves were singing(well, cardinals were singing, doves were “cooing”).

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

Fall Nature Report

Tom Estill’s Wild Times at Pine Hill Park is hot off the press! You never know what Tom will find in the woods.

Sorry to say, unlike other years, no burs were produced by the Svelte Tiger America Chestnut tree this year due to the Spongy Moth infestation. During my park walk on the last day of Sept., I saw my first loose association of white-breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, tufted titmouse  and black-capped chickadee. Migrating yellow-rumped warblers, blue jay, northern flicker and a red-bellied woodpecker were also seen. Very surprised to see a Mourning Cloak butterfly flying about. Those butterflies will spend the winter under loose bark or other places providing protection from predators and the elements, then emerge in early spring as one of the earliest animals to do so.

Autumn Chickadee | photo by David Jenne

Oct. 8th found the forest to be very quiet. The forest was at, or very near, to the height of the fall foliage season. At Muddy Pond could be found hundreds of migrating Canada geese along with a hooded merganser. The only birds I saw on my walk to and from Muddy Pond were a hairy woodpecker and migrating pine warbler. The pine warbler seems to be one of the earliest birds to arrive from the south in the spring, and one of the last to leave in the fall. A few plants were still flowering including the blue aster, wild chamomile, and white aster.

In Mid-October I was very lucky to be at the right place at the right time. While sitting at Rocky Pond I saw two merlins chasing one another. I had never seen a merlin at Rocky Pond before. The last time I saw one was over a decade ago, perched on a tree along the shore of the Patuxent River in Maryland. Otherwise the forest was very quiet. Numerous Canada geese were still resting at Muddy Pond, but mallards and green-winged teals were also seen. In the forest could be found a broadwinged hawk, white-breasted nuthatch, a small flock of dark-eyed juncos, red-tailed hawk, hairy woodpecker, and turkey vultures flying overhead.

The first week of November found temperatures in the low 70s, with about 50 Canada geese seen at Muddy Pond, and only a single white-breasted nuthatch.

One Nov. 11th, Muddy Pond was starting to ice over around its perimeter in a few places along the shore. Rocky Pond showed no signs of ice. Birds seen included a pileated woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, and crows.

By the first week of December, both ponds were free of any ice, and there was no snow on the ground. Hundreds of Canadian geese and a pair of Common Mergansers were seen at Muddy Pond. Gray squirrels were running about in high numbers. 3 does were seen near Trail Marker #24, and flying about the trees was a loose association of black-capped chickadees, hairy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, crows overhead.

By December 10th, both ponds were showing signs of ice along a few places of their shorelines. Still no snow on the ground. In the trees you could find a red-bellied woodpecker, black-capped chickadees, hairy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch and tufted titmouse.

Pond Ice | photo by David Jenne

By mid-December, both ponds were finally frozen over. Loose associations of forest birds were now seen almost on a regular basis. The loose association of birds provide extra protection for the birds, and improves their chances of seeing predatory birds nearby.

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

Park Updates

KSA Built is starting Thursday, October 27th in the park. Rosey will be working as late into late fall that weather permits. Some trails may be closed off as they are being upgraded. Please do not ride, walk, or run if you see a trail closed sign on that trail.

Broken Handlebar North and all of Halfpipe will see major improvements. Other smaller sections of trails will have drainage’s improved so water stops running straight down the trail tread. These improvements are part of the ERSA Grant Rutland Recreation received. Pine Hill Partnership is helping defray the higher cost of diesel some of our trails can see the upgrade they need. If you would like to make a donation directly to our trail fund please do so here https://pinehillpartnership.org/membership/ All contributions go back directly into Pine Hill Park trail system.

VYCC (VT Youth Conservation Corp) will be in the summer of 2023 to do more trail remediation work.

Our trails are being used heavily and need much needed TLC so please bear with this while the work is being performed.