Forest Explorations

February in the Fells

It’s easy to think of February as a time when there is little to see outdoors. It’s cold and grey and muddy, if not snowy. But if it seems so, perhaps you need only look more closely…

Once a month, Laura and Claire lead a biodiversity walk in the Fells. It’s a free form activity of ours which only purpose is to explore what Nature wonders are in season: what is flowering, fruiting, passing by, living here? Here are highlights of what we enjoyed this time!

Fifteen of us braved the cold and gathered together to enjoy a fun and sunny biodiversity walk in the woods. It had been fairly warm the previous days and the sudden cold temperatures made for an unusual encounter: a beautiful form of ice called “needle ice” (this post banner picture). It is formed of groundwater when the ground is above freezing and the air is below freezing.

Fungi & Lichens in Winter

We found quite a lot of American Amber Jelly Fungus (Exidia sp.) They were dry and hard today, but their gummy texture is fun to poke when warm and moist.

We also examined a number of lichen species and talked about their valuable and underappreciated role in the environment. These generally unobtrusive organisms live on trees, rocks, in the soil, and many other places. They provide food, shelter, or nesting material for animals including deer, mice, hummingbirds, squirrels, and many others. 

Common toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa)

Lichens are sensitive to changes in air quality, pollution, and climate, so they act as valuable early indicators of changes in the environment.

Concentric Boulder Lichen (Porpidia crustulata)
Could it be a Sunken disk lichen?

They also play an important role in moderating their local environments. Lichen on trees absorb large amounts of water from rain, dew, and fog and release it slowly, offsetting the detrimental effects of periods of intense dryness and heat.

The Little Things in Winter

We talked about interesting creatures called snow fleas. These tiny arthropods are capable of propelling themselves hundreds of times their own body length via special appendage under their abdomen. This gives them their other common name, springtails. They are present throughout the year, but due to their tiny size, people usually only notice them on the snow where their black color and springing activity stand out.

The Unexpected…

As we were leaving, we found the remains of a turtle. It doesn’t look like any of our native turtle species and might be a pet released by a misguided owner.

The former owners perhaps thought they were doing something good, but former pets are seldom well adapted to living in the wild. They may lack the necessary skills to obtain food and protect themselves, or not be able to survive in the local climate.

In winter when there are fewer distractions from wildflowers, birds, and animals, there are still whole worlds of details to notice and appreciate! Once again, I learned something new today, as I do on each of our walks.

Thank you to everyone who joined us. Check out all our other sightings that day at the Fells here.

📅 Join an EwA walk next month to explore the natural joys to be found in March. We will be especially on the lookout for our earliest native wildflower, the skunk cabbage, which is one of our early bloomers.

Feb, 13th 2019 | by Laura Costello

The photos in this article are visual observations that Laura, Joe, Bill and Claire have recorded during the Feb 8th, 2020 Forest Explorations event. Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

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