Journal archives for October 2013

04 October, 2013

Our Newest Partner: Merck Forest and Farmland Center

We'd like to welcome Merck Forest and Farmland Center (MFFC) as the newest partner with the Vermont Atlas of Life. MFFC is an education non-profit, which strives to teach, demonstrate, and sustain a working landscape. MFFC's 3,100-acre property, in the Taconic Mountains of southwestern Vermont, is open to the public daily. With no admission fee, the public is invited to spend time on the 60-acre working farm and perhaps add some observations to VAL. You can also see animals on pasture, help out with farm chores (see schedule online), and pick berries (seasonal). Recreationists can enjoy 30 miles of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. Woodstove-heated backcountry cabins are available to rent year-round, and MFFC also offers dispersed tent camping for visitors. Place-based educational programs are scheduled for school groups. Visit the Visitor Center to purchase MFFC's pasture-raised pork and lamb. Merck Forest and Farmland Center is located at 3270 Route 315, Rupert, VT 05768. Check it out online at

Last May, expert naturalists teamed up with volunteers to catalog living species on site during Merck Forest and Farmland Center's inaugural one-day BioBlitz. Armed with weathered field guides and infinite curiosity, thirty participants, including twelve students from Burr and Burton Academy, broke into small groups and hiked through five different study plots at Merck forest and Farmland Center (MFFC). Depending on the expertise of the naturalist leading each group, participants were on the lookout for birds, trees and non-woody plants, mushrooms, and amphibians. After a few hours in the field, and a little (albeit at times heavy!) rain, the lists were in, and a few unknown species were keyed out.In collaboration with Dr. Kerry Woods of Bennington College, this event proved to be a fun and engaging way to study biodiversity at MFFC, and it served as a pilot for a larger, more substantial BioBlitz next summer contributing all of the information gathered in real-time on the Vermont Atlas of Life.

We have created a place for MFFC to track everything that is found on their amazing property at Stop by for a visit and log your observations in the atlas.

Posted on 04 October, 2013 14:34 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 1 comment | Leave a comment

13 October, 2013

Vote for the September Photo-observation of the Month!

With over 1,500 observations submitted to the Vermont Atlas of Life in September, it certainly wasn't easy for August winner, Andrée Sanborn, to select a few for us to admire. She thought there should be hundreds of winners! But only a few can be selected as finalists for all of you to decide on a winner. As always, if you are reading this and are a registered iNaturalist observer, you can vote (once) by replying to this post with the number of the photo-observation you like best. We ask the winner to make the selections for the next month's vote.

Posted on 13 October, 2013 23:14 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 17 comments | Leave a comment

21 October, 2013

September Photo-observation of the Month

Our September guest photo-editor, Andrée Sanborn, selected some amazing photos. The most popular photo-observation by vote was like a field guide plate to Whirligig Beetles (Family Gyrinidae), shot and composed by David Hoag. Check out this amazing species at Our runner-up this month was a beautiful look at a Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) by Jeremy McMullen ( Thank you to all of you for sharing your amazing observations. We can't wait to see what is found this month as the contest will focus on fall colors!

Posted on 21 October, 2013 14:20 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 0 comments | Leave a comment

25 October, 2013

New Mission: Mapping Red Oak Across the State

If you've driven interstate 91 through Vermont from the border of Massachusetts in the south to the international border in the north with an eye on the trees along the road, you likely noticed changes along the way. You might have noticed just how predominant Red Oak (Quercus rubra) is in the south and how it slowly disappears as you cruise northward until it is completely missing when you reach the border.

In 2001 ecologist Brett Engstrom wrote about Red Oak distribution in the Upper Winooski River watershed in northeastern Vermont for the newsletter of a local naturalists club. I was fascinated by his observations. Here was a tree that was considered to be common in much of Vermont and both economically and ecologically important in some areas, yet we really didn't have a good understanding of it's biogeography throughout the state. Engstrom made careful note of where he found oaks scattered in the forest over several decades in his region. Here at the edge of their range he found them on rocky, south facing slopes and as high as 2,110 feet in elevation in one place.

Charlie Cogbill, a forest ecologist living in the same region, has used survey witness trees from the time of first european settlement to understand what the forests of New England may have looked like. Red Oak was a very uncommon tree, it was found mostly in the lower portion of the Connecticut River valley, southernmost Vermont borderlands and the Champlain Valley.

As Engstrom noted, perhaps oaks expanded after European settlement as they can grow well in abandoned fields and are dispersed widely by Blue Jays carrying and storing acorns. Red Oak may be poised to move northward again. Climate change forecasts for tree distribution suggest Red Oak will move northward and increase in abundance in Vermont (see

Engstrom concluded his article with a plea for more observations to capture a more detailed picture of oak distribution in the region. With the Vermont Atlas of Life, we are poised to do just that. Already, naturalists like you have contributed over 215 observations of Red Oak in Vermont (see, but we'd like to gather thousands of observations across the state.

You're mission is to record as many observations of Red Oak throughout Vermont as possible. It is a relatively easy species to identify, and since oak retains its leaves much longer than most hardwoods, it is easy to identify from afar as autumn progresses. What is the highest elevation you can find it in your town? How many woodlots have oak in your neighborhood? Let's build a detailed red oak distribution map of Vermont together this fall!

Posted on 25 October, 2013 20:03 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 7 comments | Leave a comment

28 October, 2013

Mapping Paper Birch Species

With the leaves dropping fast, the intricate peeling bark of birch trees becomes more noticeable. Many people don't realize that we have two types of paper birch in Vermont, Paper or White Birch (Betula papyrifera) and Heart-leaved Paper Birch (B. cordifolia), once considered a variety of Paper Birch. As its name suggests, Heart-leaved Paper Birch has distinctive heart-shaped, many-veined leaves, a pinkish bark, and is restricted to higher elevations. We actually don't have good data on the range of these two species in Vermont. How low in elevation does heart-leaved go? How high does paper birch climb into the mountains? Do they overlap widely in some areas? What will happen with climate change? Observers adding records to iNaturalist Vermont, a project of the Vermont Atlas of Life, are helping map each species. We hope you will add your observation too!

Check out the Map of the Two Species side-by-side.

Posted on 28 October, 2013 18:15 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 2 comments | Leave a comment