Thursday, December 9, 2010
Nature Friends Brave the Cold
The temperature was somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees this morning when I met the Thursday Naturalists at Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa. This is a group of professional and amateur nature lovers who meet weekly to explore various natural areas of the region, and just this fall they have invited me to join them on their excursions, to my great delight. True, my delight was tempered by shivers when I first stepped out of my car and stood stamping the ground while waiting for the rest of the members to arrive. But then that delight was promptly revived as we set out past fields turned into enchanted landscapes by glittering diamond-dust frost.
Our group was led by noted botanist Ruth Schottman, who had planned to use this opportunity to practice some "forest forensics," looking for signs in the land and the vegetation that would offer clues to the social as well as natural history of the area. However, since such careful observation and analysis would likely involve a good deal of standing and looking around, Ruth thought it better that we just keep moving at a pace brisk enough to keep us from freezing. So off we went, through a wooded section of the preserve I had never explored before.
But of course we did stop. And frequently. No matter what the season or how cold, there is always something to puzzle over or be amazed by in the woods.
One of our fascinating finds was this spiraling outbreak of aberrant growths called "witch's brooms" on a birch tree. None of us had ever seen such a thing on birch before.
Here was another form of witch's broom we found, this one on a willow shrub. Its vivid red color stood out against the grey-brown of the surrounding vegetation.
Is this a sapcicle? It was oozing out of a scar in the bark of a White Pine, and neither Ruth (on the left) nor Win was quite sure what it was. Win poked at it with his knife and determined it was frozen solid all the way through. I tasted a bit and found it lacking in any distinguishing taste, although it had a distinctive smell that reminded me a bit of honey.
Walking past the pond that lies in the center of the preserve, we found it frozen solid, with the ice several inches thick already. I couldn't resist stopping to photograph these bubbles captured in the ice. Are they trapped air or methane gas released by rotting underwater vegetation?
Throughout the Woods Hollow preserve, nature interpretive signs are nailed to trees or mounted on posts, a wonderfully informative addition to any trail walk. I found it a little mystifying, however, that this very informative paragraph about our native White Pine was nailed to another native conifer that is prolific throughout the preserve, a Pitch Pine.
As Ruth pointed out while we moved through the woods, there are many, many signs to be read in the trees and the landscape themselves that will provide us with lots of information about what lies around us. She recommended a book by Tom Wessels called Reading the Forested Landscape, and she lent me a generously illustrated field guide, Forest Forensics, that relates to Wessels's book. I shall have to study up on this, an area of study that can be pursued in any season. Could make for an interesting blog post or two, as well.