Monday, March 19, 2018

Are we there yet?

By Beth Sullivan
Why is it that the journey to spring seems so very long this year? The old groundhog was right: we got six more weeks of winter and got slammed.
I like the photographic opportunities that winter provides. The lighting, contrast and subject matter is totally unique. But it gets a bit harder to tolerate the cold when I want to get out and get those photos.

Ah, Springtime

We are all looking forward to getting out and doing stewardship, but good spring stewardship, not constant winter clean up. The number of trees down after these last three storms is depressing. The greatest toll was on the big Oaks twisting in the wind. Many snapped up near the tops creating widow-makers: big branches that didn’t come all the way down (yet) and continue to pose a danger. Many Oaks just uprooted because their shallow root systems were not able to hold on in the saturated soils.
The biggest trees in CT forests are white pines. They can often be seen clearly standing head and shoulder above the other forest trees, especially at this time of year. Their needle-covered branches held the snow and caught the wind, leaving large breaks and raw scars. This kind of devastation will take decades to heal. The deadwood down on the ground is ugly, but it will provide cover for many creatures and its rotting wood will invite insects to feast, and the birds will follow. The standing trunks will be the snags that woodpeckers will excavate for nests one year, and those will be used by numerous other birds and even some mammals, over the next years.
As the woody debris decays, it re-nourishes the soil for seedlings that will sprout in the places where the sun can now reach the ground. Over time, the new opening in the forests will be filled with new trees and shrubs and will create the variety of habitats that makes the forest healthy.
The bench at Simmons Preserve will be waiting and warming.

The osprey will return to this nest on Paffard Marsh even if there is snow on the ground.

The Pine grove at Hoffman Woods took a beating and the habitat will change. In a few weeks there will be salamanders under these logs. Photograph by Keith Tomlinson.

Tough clean up

That all sounds good, but it doesn't help make the clean up any easier.
After this last storm with significant snow cover, the poor robins which had only just arrived here had no access to open ground. No worms to be found. Small flocks of them swarmed the Hollies that still had berries left and staked out their territories on Viburnum shrubs that also had dried fruits still attached to the stems. The bluebirds came out of the woods and returned to suet treats.
In the small vernal pools, where only a couple of weeks ago wood frogs “quacked” and larval salamanders swam, there is now ice and in many cases, inches of snow. These creatures adapt without complaint. They get down into the mud and leaves at the bottom of the pool and patiently wait for the next warm spell to invite them to the surface.
Maybe we should take our hint from some of these creatures. When Mother Nature tosses us more winter, we adapt, change some plans, hunker down and wait for the warmth.
But it is hard.
Spring arrives on Tuesday, so take some time to look for those small signs of hope: Pussy Willows in full bloom, egg masses visible in thawing vernal pools, skunk cabbages breaking through the snow and robins being grateful for every bare patch of ground they can find.
Pussywillows are in full bloom despite the storms.

Skunk Cabbage flowers through the ice.

Robins had to resort to dried berries when snow covered the ground.

When Mother Nature insists on giving us snow, kids know how to make the best of it.!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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