Friday, November 9, 2012

One Trail Twelve Times - Belated October

Upper meadow on the Beech Springs Trail
Five walkers accompanied me for the October installment of my One Trail Twelve Times series of trail explorations on Sunday afternoon, October 21.  October is the second-busiest month around the preserve with many public activities scheduled, so I'm only now getting around to preparing a post.  Good thing, since the November walk is only 1-1/2 weeks away!

As we have been doing for most of the walks, we began our hike in a small stand of mature oak-beech forest.  I expected to find spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) laden with bright red drupes, but migrating birds had already harvested all of the fruits, and the leaves were turning a golden color.

Colorful foliage at the meadow's edge
A pair of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) successfully fledged chicks this year in the larger woods along the trail.  We've seen - or heard - one or both parents during almost every one of our monthly excursions.

A young tuliptree in gold regalia
As we were walking the trail through the meadow, bright fuschia-colored berries alongside the path attracted our attention.  The plant completely confounded our collective identification skills in the field, but one of my staff members, trained as a horticulturist, identified the plant the next day as the aptly named coralberry or Indian-currant (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), a native shrub.  The plant is not common in the preserve - I run across it only once every few years, and usually when it doesn't bear fruits - so I can never recall its identity.

A newly-formed goldenrod gall, winter home of a peacock fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis)
As we neared the low, wet end of the meadow, we heard a racket of bird calls emanating from a tree alongside a stream.  There, we found a large flock of American robins (Turdus migratorius) gorging themselves on tiny crabapples (Malus spp.).

Crabapples yellow...
...and red
Fragrant dried flower heads of mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum spp.)
New England Aster (Aster novea-angliae) still in full bloom late in the season
We left the meadow, crossed the handsome wooden footbridge built by Eagle Scouts last summer,  and entered the larger stand of forest along the trail.

October's explorers on the Boy Scout Bridge
The spring runs held no water - at least not above ground
A Skunk Cabbage sprout (Symplocarpus foetidus) in the bed of one of the spring runs
Sphagnum moss in a "nest" of fallen leaves
Silvery-green crustose lichens on a fallen limb
The mid-October forest
American beech (Fagus grandifolia)
The deer rut had already begun. We only saw one buck-rubbed cherry along the Beech Springs Trail, but elsewhere in the preserve the deer have been severely damaging appropriate-sized saplings.  They definitely seek out sumacs (Rhus spp.), which aren't common in the first place, and rub them so thoroughly that they girdle the stems.  Fortunately, sumacs root-sprout readily and the copses grow larger each year.

Buck-rubbed cherry stem
Out of the forest and back into the meadows
The common milkweed plants (Asclepias syriaca) in the field had all lost their leaves, and their seed pods were bursting open, but I noticed that nearly every one of the pods bore a bright orange milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) nymph.  The adults of milkweed bugs can overwinter and renew the population when spring arrives, but I doubt that the soft-bodied nymphs will make it through the cold.

Milkweed bug nymph
Black Knapweed (or Hardhead) flower (Centaurea nigra)
A late season aster (Aster spp.)
The last segment of the trail travels between a twin allee of mature white pine trees (Pinus strobus) planted in the 1920s.  We're gradually losing these trees during storms - mostly when their tops snap off or the wind shears off a major limb, allowing fungi to enter the tree and begin a slow death spiral.  We lost two of the pines during Hurricane Sandy; they snapped off and their huge crowns brought down the fiber optic and telephone lines strung along the street.  While the allee is impressive, we won't replant these trees as they disappear; they are brittle, dangerous trees at the southern edge of their range.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) gracing a white pine trunk
A last look over the the autumn meadows
As I looked out over the fields and woods along the Beech Springs Trail today, it was hard to believe that the area was so colorful and vibrant just three weeks ago.  With the passage of Hurricane Sandy, we abruptly entered winter.  Most of the leaves are gone, and those that remain are brown.  In a fortnight, the natural world transformed from glorious high autumn to nearly desolate winter.


packrat said...

Excellent post, Scott--informative and entertaining. And these images are beautiful.

Scott said...

Thanks, Packrat. As I said in the post, preparing these images to be included in the post was a bit disconcerting; everything has changed so much in the interim!

Gail said...

HI SCOTT - oh my, this has been a most wonderful adventure, "thank you". I can only imagine such a hike so taking this nature-hike with you and seeing what you saw means a lot to me given my physical limits. I enjoyed every step vicariously through you.
Love Gail

Jain said...

What a nice walk! I love the golden tulip against the deep blue sky, the beech leaf shadows, the brilliant colors of poison ivy.

Is black knapweed very aggressive? I’m only familiar with spotted.

Scott said...

Gail: What a nice compliment; I really appreciate it, and I'm glad you could join us digitally! Two more walks in the offing (i.e., November and December), but neither will be as colorful as October, I suspect.

Has your snow disappeared? It's supposed to be 65 degrees here in the eastern Mid-Atlantic today!

Scott said...

Jain: Thanks you for the feedback on the images. You (and I)have Kali to thank for the images of the American beech and the poison ivy leaves--she's the one who alerted me to their photographic potential.

Peterson's wildflower field guide lists about five non-native knapweeds in the eastern United States. I'd always been told/assumed that the most common ones in our fields were spotted, but a closer examination during September's walk revealed that I was wrong--ours are black knapweed. They are not very aggressive; they appear sporadically throughout the fields, adding bits of pink/purple to the meadow. I think that some of the knapweeds are serious pests in the West, but they're not here.

robin andrea said...

A lovely walk, Scott. Beautiful images and so informative. Good to know the red-tails are there. Their presence is a wonderful thing.

Scott said...

Thanks, Robin Andrea. It WAS a lovely walk!