Forest Explorations

September in the Fells

It didn’t feel much like fall this Saturday on our Forest Exploration in the Fells, given the unseasonably warm weather. But all through the forest, we found evidence of the coming of autumn. The asters and goldenrods are blooming, acorns are falling, and leaves are beginning to change color.

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!

What’s in Flower?

My favorite find during this trip was beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana), a parasitic wildflower that attaches to the roots of beech trees. Beechdrops are one of those treasures that are easily overlooked and thus all the more special when found.

When you’re in an area with mature beech trees in the fall, look at the base of the trees for what looks like clusters of twigs. Up close, the tiny purple-and-white flowers are quite beautiful.

Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) with yellowjacket.

Fall in New England is rich with goldenrods: we have around 25 different species! Bluestem goldenrod has a characteristic smooth, purplish stem. (Don’t ask me why it’s not called purplestem goldenrod!)

White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata) is common in sunny patches on the forest floor.

Insects seem to love it – a patch we saw at a trail intersection was alive with bees.

Ghost pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are past their peak, but we still spotted a good number. Instead of photosynthesizing like most plants, they steal their energy from fungi in the soil. This allows them to live in the understory of dense woods where little sunlight reaches the forest floor.

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is another of the easier-to-identify goldenrods. Unlike all the other New England goldenrods, its flowers are mostly white instead of yellow.

Goldenrod is often mistakenly blamed for allergies this season. In fact, goldenrods have heavy, insect-borne pollen you’re unlikely to breathe unless you put your nose in it. It’s the light, air-born ragweed pollen that’s probably making you sneeze. 

What’s in Fruit?

Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) are sporting their beautiful, deep-blue berries and purpling leaves right now.

Deer, skunks, mice, rabbits, and chipmunks all eat the fruits.

Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is one of the most common plants in the Fells. The vibrant red berries in fall follow sweet-smelling white flowers in early spring.

Many people’s least-favorite plant, Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), is also in fruit right now. The small white berries, like the leaves, carry urushiol oil that causes an itchy, blistering rash if you touch it. At least they provide food for deer and birds! 

Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) is past bloom now and showing its odd-looking clusters of fruits.

Other Special Gems & Findings

We also encountered a number of insects, amphibians, and reptiles.

We encountered quite a few species of insects and spiders, among those was a very chilled Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata), that we spotted on our way in our exploration and was still in its spot on our way back an hour or so later…

I counted at least three American toads, three garter snakes, and two wood frogs. All of them were near a woodland pool or small pond along the trail. 

The American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) were pretty cool:

But the most interesting was definitely this: a Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) eating a wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)!

I’ve never seen anything like it. Even with an unhinged jaw, I’m not sure how that frog is going to fit in the snake’s mouth!

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 our next walk )!

Sept, 25th 2019 | by Laura Costello 

The photos in this article are visual observations that Laura and Claire have recorded during the Sept 21st, 2019 Forest Explorations event. They are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

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