Outdoor pleasures and curiosities

Courtesy photo

While birdsong no longer wakes us in the early hours, there’s still plenty happening in the great outdoors. A great horned owl recently filled the night with its haunting call; critters are preparing for the long winter ahead; and early foliage has turned the local canvas from green to red and yellow.

Farm walks
The website DigInVermont lists a number of farms across the state that welcome visitors for walks. Trillium Farm in Hinesburg is on the list as well as Shelburne Farms (see below) and Champlain Valley Hops in Starksboro. See where your food (and beer) come from!

Vermont’s Herp Atlas records baby turtles emerging from eggs starting in late August into early October. (Herpetology is the study of amphibians, including frogs, toads, salamanders and newts, and reptiles, among them snakes, lizards and turtles.) From their nests the babies instinctively find their way to nearby bodies of water. The snapping turtle nest in our neighborhood is empty, although there’s no certainty that the eggs hatched rather than being eaten. Many Northern Map and Painted turtles overwinter without leaving their nests, emerging the following spring.

Vernal pool summary
The season was short this year at the vernal pool at Raven Ridge. Ice-out was several weeks earlier than last year, and, with little snow pack, run-off was minimal. Right on schedule in late March, wood frogs sang; soon fertilized egg masses floated just below the surface. A few weeks later, after significant predation, tadpoles emerged and swam in the dark waters. Salamanders do not herald their courtship by vocalizing but produce fertilized eggs nonetheless. By early May miniscule salamander embryos could be seen within floating egg masses. The lack of spring rains took a toll with the pool shrinking and becoming shallow. More than a month before the water evaporated on July 6, 2019, our pool vanished, taking with it tadpoles that would never become frogs and salamanders that would never emerge from their eggs.

How do we know all of this? Early each spring we suspend an acoustic recorder from a tree at the water’s edge. It records, for several hours each day, the courtships songs of wood frogs. A thermometer rests at the bottom of the pool, attached to a measuring pole; together they measure depth and temperature. When the water evaporates, the temperature spikes as the thermometer records warmer air temperatures.

Vermont Center for Ecostudies has mapped nearly 5,000 potential vernal pools across the state. Monitoring data provides a baseline that can be used to measure changes to these unique wetlands.

Snake news
Some snakes in Vermont, including garter snakes, give birth to live young. This is an advantage in a cooler climate as the mother snake can keep her body in the sun and thus keep developing embryos warm. For the same reason, egg-laying snakes in Vermont retain eggs in their bodies longer than southern species. Only one snake in Vermont stays with its young until they shed their skin for the first time, about two weeks. Snakes overwinter below ground, usually uphill from where they spend the summer months. Look (carefully) for snakes crossing sun-warmed roads at this time of year as they migrate to their winter homes.

Invasive iris removal
Pandemic or not, invasives continue to intrude on our landscape. This Saturday, Oct. 3 (backup/rain date October 4), Lewis Creek Association is organizing a COVID-compliant project to remove yellow iris in Ferrisburgh at the Little Otter Wildlife Management Area. These non-native iris threaten local blue flag iris. Along with a bit of hard work, this is a great chance to explore the natural area with Kate Kelly, a knowledgeable naturalist. Email Kate if you would like to volunteer or call her at (802) 488-5203.

Formal gardens at Shelburne Farms
If you have not walked at Shelburne Farms during the pandemic, now is the time. The property is as beautiful as ever even if it’s a bit quiet without tractors drawing wagons full of tourists and families visiting the Children’s Farmyard. Crops and gardens continue to grow, animals are born, grow, and are harvested, and Brown Swiss Cows produce milk that becomes Shelburne Farms’ famous cheddar cheese.

If you walk at the farm, detour to the Formal Gardens in front of the Inn. These historic gardens have been restored in a multi-million-dollar project that began in 2007. The results are beautiful, and the gardens are exploding with colorful shrubs and flowers. Historic pots, pergola, sundial, a pair of sculpted lions, and the lakeside balustrade have been repaired or replaced with historic replicas. Flora is lush and will remain so until frosts reach the lakeshore.

If you appreciate Shelburne Farms and its mission of education for a sustainable future, consider a donation to help this nonprofit through difficult times. If the farm can raise $500,000 in new and increased gifts before year end, The Robert W. Wilson Trustees will give $250,000 to Shelburne Farms.

Get outdoors!