Wildlife Watch: Exploring a natural winter wonderland

Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 6:57 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Many plants and trees might be dormant during the winter, but Vermont Fish and Wildlife says there is more to experience outside right now than you might think.

Just off North Avenue in Burlington, a sign points to the Arthur Park Sea Caves, where a short walk leads you to an outdoor site that transforms in the winter.

“This site is really well-known. It’s kind of a winter wonderland where people come to skate in the winter but you can see this in the summer, it’s an open water wetland long pond,” said Everett Marshall, a conservation biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

The site is inaccessible in the summer but in the winter it brings ice skaters and adventurers looking to check out the caves.

Marshall says it’s also a way to check out wildlife, specifically plants and trees.

“Right now we are standing in open water that’s frozen over, so you can get down and walk through a cattail marsh that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do easily during the summer. It’s a fun time to get out,” he said. “In the winter, a lot of plants are dormant. So a lot of our deciduous trees-- those are the trees that lose their leaves-- are just there with the branches but you can identify a lot of trees and shrubs by their bark, by their buds and by their branching. And also there’s a lot of other plants there’s remnants of fruits.”

Getting an even closer look, Marshall is able to show some of the wildlife that we can see while on the ice.

“In Vermont, most of our trees are deciduous. That means they lose their leaves. We also have some evergreen trees and one of our special trees that we have in Vermont and that you find along Lake Champlain and also in cedar swamps is our northern white cedar. And you can see the leaves form kind of a spray. A lot of our conifers, which this is one, has needles and this has kind of flattened needles or a spray. And if you point the camera up here, you will see the base of the cedar tree up there is just snaking way down. And it’s interesting that cedar trees can be 200-300 years old growing on these cliffs. This could be quite an old tree even though it’s not that big in its girth,” Marshall explained.

With no leaves in the winter, you can also see something spooky.

“This is a boxelder tree, which is actually a maple, it has opposite branches. And it has some witches’ broom, which is this dense growth and it’s caused by a bacteria,” Marshall said. “It’s something where the bacteria actually caused that growth of branches to happen.”

Some wildlife is familiar but just looks different at this time of year.

“The ostrich fern, this is the fertile frond of the fern, the big leaf that you find in the summer. It’s actually a rosette of leaves that has died back,” Marshall said. “This is what remains in the winter.”

There are dozens of other plants and trees that can be pointed out. Marshall encourages you to safely get out and learn a little more about nature.

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