Forest Explorations

November in the Fells

It sure felt like winter today, with temperatures in the 30s and a brisk wind that chased us away from the pond edge into the shelter of the trees. It’s easy to dismiss this time of the year as the off-season for naturalists, but there is still so much to learn and see!

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!

Trees and Shrubs in Winter

We found a few Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) flowers still hanging on. Witch hazel is the last native plant to flower in New England. Last year they kept blooming past Christmas, but it doesn’t look like that will be true this year.

We talked about the two groupings of oak species in New England and how their leaves differ. White oak leaves have rounded lobes. Their acorns are more appealing to wildlife because they have fewer tannins than red oaks, and they are more drought and rot-resistant. Red oaks generally have pointier lobes with tiny bristles on the tips.

Can you guess which are the red oaks and which are the white? Here’s one answer [ » ]… 

We also compared the cones of two pine species. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) which are large and oblong.

And Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) which are smaller and rounder as seen below.

Wildflowers in Winter

I am especially fond of a number of evergreen wildflowers that can be found all year round, even in the bitter cold and under snow. These three species are all in the Heath (Ericaceae) Family. And we saw them all!

Here’s the American Wintergreen (Pyrola americana).

Here’s the Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata).

And the closely related Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata).

Looking at the large, dense patch we found, one of our attendees theorized that they probably reproduce clonally, and she was right. Pipsissewa reproduces both sexually via the pollination of flowers to produce seeds and asexually when a part of the creeping stem takes root and forms a separate but genetically identical plant.  

I love when someone’s question causes me to do some research and learn something new!

Wildlife in Winter

The birders in our group spotted a number of species including Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) and White-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).

If you step out in the forest, also check for flocks of tufted titmice and black-capped chickadees. These 2 little birds can often be seen together in the Winter.

It can be so tempting to just stay inside on cold winter days like this, but I’m never ever sorry when I make the effort to get out into the woods and really appreciate the season. There’s so much to see out there.!

What a great morning walk. Thank you to everyone who joined us! Check all our other sightings that day at the Fells here. See you next month ( 📅 Join any of our monthly walks )!

Nov, 21th 2019 | by Laura Costello

The photos in this article are visual observations that Laura, Joe and Bill have recorded during the Nov 16th, 2019 Forest Explorations event. They are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

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