I almost forgot to explain why spiders are so important, "spiders eat the equivalent (insect weight) of all the humans on earth annually."*
Poison ivy is a valuable food source for pollinators, and a fall food source for birds and mammals, just don't come near me with it.
I rejoiced at seeing my first Baltimore Oriole of the season while sipping my morning coffee here in Vernon. The Oriole's striking beauty and song as it perched in our crabapple tree filled with blossoms was a moment to behold! We also saw a Turkey vulture feasting on gray squirrel road kill while on our way to the transfer station. I thought to thank the vulture for its good work as we passed by.
Martin explains to his small gathering of Vernon residents that we are about to enter a Dry Oak Forest. The trees of interest are Red, Black, White, Chestnut and Scarlet Oak. I take note of his mention of Scarlet oak because I recently learned that a survey of the oak will take place this spring at the Rec. Scarlet oak's expansion northward of its range is thought to be a measure of Climate change. The USDA Forest Service Northern Station Research Center's Current Forest Inventory and Analysis map can be viewed by selecting this link.
Martin himself discovered a small stand of wild Dogwood of which he alerted the state. Martin says that the state visits the stand when in this section of the Roaring Brook Wildlife Management Area. There is also Sassafras, a more abundant tree to the south and a tree that I have never personally identified. We are in Martin's backyard on Fox Hill in Vernon about to explore a parcel belonging to the Roaring Brook Wildlife Management Area.
Martin's discussion turns to the historic management of this parcel. He tells us that the indigenous people used fire to clear land for crops below the hill across from Newton Road. However he says, there is no evidence that this RBWMA parcel has ever been farmed.
This idea resonates with me, as not far from Fox Hill, Wayne and I located Pitch pine which is a fire dependent tree. Later, while looking into Dry Oak forests, I discover that they occur on south facing slopes and glacial sand plains. Fire adapted natural community's make up Dry Oak forests. These communities declined as fires were increasingly suppressed. ** All of this, I learned after I walked the woods wondering why its understory lacked the rich, diverse plants that we were accustomed to seeing in Vernon.
"Why are Dry Oak forests important?" I ask myself. I had agreed to this hike mostly because Martin is so darn excited about a vernal pool within the area and know nothing of the surrounding forest.
Just steps behind the Fox Hill housing development, the area has largely been left untouched by logging and other forest management tools for decades. On this April day, the understory growth seems limited and the forest floor is littered with crunchy leaves and open space.
Nearby Wayne points out Lowbush blueberry.