Experiencing Adkins’ Habitats in Silence

“Experiencing Adkins’ Habitats in Silence” is a project conducted by a team of participants in the Maryland Master Naturalist program currently underway at the Arboretum. The team observes each of these ecosystems monthly and records their experiences. This post comprises their observations for March.

Lowland Forest (the Stream)
by Tony Pascal
The stream meanders through the woodlands, a small replica of many streams I have known. It looks a little like the Battenkill of southern Vermont, or the Hoosic in southwestern Massachusetts. The small riffles, after passing over a fallen oak, the long stretches of quiet pools, sandy bottom, undercut banks, mosses, and the moving grass. Beautiful in miniature.
I see my first fish in the stream. It appears to be a couple of fathead minnows. I know they are not thinking about breeding, because the water temperature has to be at least 55 degrees, and after that, they can breed as much as five times in a season. They don’t grow much over 2-3 inches. They eat mosquito larvae, which is a good thing, and they in turn become food for a variety of larger fish in the Tuckahoe, just 100 yards downstream.

The water temp now is still in the low 40s. Some water striders are cruising, short bursts of movement across the surface. Their long legs are proportioned over their bodies to allow them to ride the surface of the water. I see two of them together, one on top of the other. It’s warm enough for them to think about making baby striders. She takes him for a romantic ride on the glassy surface. There are a few challengers approaching him, but this male spider is not going anywhere. This is not a quick courtship. He will not leave her for the entire reproductive season. The raccoon has been here, probably last night, washing himself and having a cool drink.

I decide to name the stream, presumptuous perhaps, but it needs a name. .To me, it will be the Little Sally. I don’t know any particular Sallys, so this is something else. I have five wonderful women in my life: a wife, three daughters, and a granddaughter. I have often used the name “Sally” as a term of endearment, first with my wife, during almost a half-century of love and friendship, and even with my four-year-old granddaughter. “How are you doing today, Sally?”

Until next time, Little Sally, flow clean, and bestow upon your visitors your characteristic quiet beauty, and energy for your living creatures.

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by Anna Harding
Stratocumulus clouds create a gray scrim over the skeletal tree crowns. The day is mild at 45 degrees, and it is windy. Small patches of blue and a hazy disk of sun filtering through give the day some windows of brightness.

American crows caw their presence and compete with the whining roar of the wind that tosses the tall tulip trees into circular frenzy. Occasional brittle beech leaves are torn from their branches and signal the time of new buds soon to come. The edge of the vernal pool that is in my observation area is littered with the detritus and decay of leaves that have been caught in this watery lowland. Bare tree branches are reflected in the riffled standing water, and a singular water strider, perhaps only ¼” long, skates erratically on the surface of the pond.

The skunk cabbage I photographed last month is beginning to wither; and yet nearby, a whole new stand of skunk cabbage, bright green and vigorous, is emerging from the shallow water. Tiny buds are filling out, American hollies wave their skimpy branches, saplings bend and curve, and the club moss is vibrant, green, and lush. Husks from tulip tree flowers are blown down from on high as the tree prepares to replace them with this year’s flowers. Leaves, dry and desiccated, are stirred by the wind and blown across the land into the pools.

The air smells like spring, the colors are tuning up, and the land feels ready to express the upcoming season.

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by Cindy Beemiller
The winter sky above the meadow has eased. The chilly wind isn’t as cold, making everything seem so much warmer than it was a month ago. Last month the grasses were crisp and swayed with a harsh crunch. Today they sway gently, making a soft brush across each stalk. The path is greener. I kneel on my mat to look at the grass and around the still brown clumps of grass. Ah! Flowers, bright white tiny buds protected by the clumps of grass. I would have missed the petite buds if I had not gotten down to meet the warmth of the earth. I look for a long time, afraid if I look away they will be gone.

I straighten up to take a look around. The surrounding trees are still bare. The sky is blue, not that brilliant winter blue, but rather a warmer, playful light blue. Spring is coming. Honk! No, the geese are coming. I look north only to realize the noise is bouncing off the trees. I look south to see a huge boomerang of birds high in the sky. They are forming a large V with several offshoots of smaller Vs. They try and try. Once across the meadow, the calamity suddenly gets louder. The birds turn left as if someone sneezed and blown them west. I chuckle and look back to the brilliant flowers below. The meadow has opened up to show the big and the small.

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Upland Forest
by Wendy Jacobs
It is 9 a.m. and 38 degrees, partly sunny. The steady March winds sway only the tall treetops here, but the rusty-colored beech leaves rustle incessantly. What a difference in a month! There are a number of animal tracks on the nearby trail, regular bird calls, and the hollow, workmanlike knocking of a red-bellied woodpecker downhill and across the stream. Mossy banks along the trailside have freshened up with new spring-green color.

On a small, fallen branch, a rotting knothole of about half a square inch glows green. My jeweler’s loupe at 40X reveals a cushy salon inside. No, it’s more like a tiny forest, with each strand of moss an evergreen, droplets of sticky dew stretched across the tiny trees, a pillow of soft brown rot, and a feathery gray ground beneath. No visible inhabitants, but it looks warm and inviting for something tiny to overwinter and feed.

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