Its been almost 7 months since the first “Right Here, Right Now” post. The tiny new buds and green shoots are a distant memory; replaced by tattered yellowing leaves, fat red berries, and deer browsed remains. Throughout this time I’ve had the privilege to be present for the minute day to day changes so carefully noted by the creatures that live here. I can’t really understand this tangled web of connections, but wade through it wide-eyed and grateful for what is revealed. This post is simply my observations from one week in late summer, on the brink of fall.
Taking pictures for this blog has made me slow down and look more. As urban techno-prisoners, it seems we’re losing the ability to read the natural world. To be present, to notice what we notice takes time. Otherwise a hike in the woods is a merely a blur of green, whizzing by as the backdrop to our thoughts.
One group of animals that’s easy to notice is our growing deer herd. This little one has almost lost all its spots and is browsing greenery along with the family. Several pairs of twins have been added to the population this year.
Siblings enjoying some mutual grooming. White tailed deer are very social creatures; they communicate and bond through touch and scent.
Big Mama’s family group, browsing their way across the forest floor. The lack of understory trees and shrubs in much of this forest is not a normal condition, but is the result of removing large stands of Bush Honeysuckle and Privet in the last six years. The abundance of “browsers” ensures that recovery of most endemic trees and shrubs will be weak to nill.
A poignant reminder of this – two small seedlings on the forest floor. One is Hickory, one is Red Oak. Many young tree seedlings have come up this year, but their chances of growing more than a few feet tall are slim.
A plant the deer would love to get to, but can’t for now, is Strawberry Bush, Euonymus americanus. This lovely little shrub with the dangling pink and orange fruits is part of the only population I’ve found at BCSNP. Also known informally as “deer candy”, the whole Euonymus genus is apparently very tasty. Needless to say the defenses around this one are kept very strong! It’s not often planted in urban landscapes, which is surprising for a shrub with such attractive and unique fruits.
In contrast, another fruit that’s ripe now is becoming more abundant every year. Since deer rarely browse Jack in the Pulpit, Arisaema triphllum, it’s profiting from the neglect and expanding it’s population. All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals, good evidence this species has survived selection pressure from herbivores. As the plant withers in late summer, the cluster of berries conveniently flops to the ground, allowing Box Turtles to reach them.
In the pic below, this turtle was spotted feasting on some maroon colored mushrooms (possibly Russula) another popular food.
Box Turtle sitings have been up lately; in the cooler weather of spring and fall they’re more likely to be active throughout the day.
But it’s not easy to spot a turtle, or anything else in this sea of White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima. This plant also profits by the deer’s avoidance of it; in fact it’s downright poisonous. The metabolic poison Tremetol found in the leaves was the cause of the dreaded “Milk Sick” that afflicted early pioneers.
Ever wonder why you don’t see more snakes in the woods? Maybe it’s because you’re not looking up. Another large Black Rat Snake, Pantheropsis obsoletus, happy in its aerial tangle of Asiatic Bittersweet until I came along.
Now it was trapped up there, looking for an escape route while I snapped pics from below.
Finally it made a break, balancing straight out along a smooth branch to get away.
Now that you’ve joined me on this virtual walk in the woods, take a break from your computer and phone and go for a real walk in the woods (don’t forget to look up). Better yet, come join the Stewards of the Forest at BCSNP, we could use your help!