This Ramble Report was written by Don Hunter with a few additions by Dale Hoyt. The photos are by Don and Hugh Nourse.
On Wednesday, February 5, 2014, fourteen Ramblers gathered at the Sandy Creek Nature Center to walk the trails, just as the overnight rains were moving out of the area. The emphasis for the ramble was winter tree identification, with a dash of Marbled Salamander. We left the Education and Visitor Center and walked north to the Kestrel Trail, right onto the Screech Owl Trial, briefly on Cook’s Trail, then right on to the Hooded Warbler Trail, then right on to the Pine Ridge Trail back to the Visitor Center.
As we made our way down the Kestrel Trail, we began turning over logs and limbs, looking for the Marbled Salamander. Before long, Don found a nice example of the gray and black Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum) in the leaf litter beneath a four or five inch diameter broken limb on the ground in the woods off to the right of the trail. Dale placed the salamander in a viewing container, which was passed around so everyone could see and enjoy it.
|Hairy Parchment mushroom|
Immediately after turning left on to Cook’s Trail, a fallen tree was spotted with a large display of Hairy Parchment mushrooms (Stereum hirsutum), looking very much like Turkey Tail/False Turkey Tail mushrooms, also very common mushrooms seen on dead and rotting wood.
|Southern Grape Fern|
Also seen nearby were several examples of the Southern Grape Fern (Botrychium biternatum).
Further down the trail, another fern, the Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), was seen, with its distinctive black central stem.
|Black Jelly Oyster mushroom|
Someone also produced a slender twig with many beautiful and small Black Jelly Oyster mushrooms (Resupinatus applicatus) on it.
We then turned right on to the Hooded Warbler Trail, and skirted a large shallow temporary pool. In the spring and summer, many Marbled Salamanders can be seen in this area, under limbs and logs. The breeding habits of these salamanders are unusual. In the autumn they mate and lay their egg masses under fallen limbs and logs. Winter rains fill the depressions with water and the eggs hatch, giving the Marbled salamander larvae a head start over the spring breeding salamanders.
In this area, we saw many large American Sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) and Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua). The fruits of these two species are sometimes confused because of their similar shape. The fruit of the American Sycamore is spherical and soft and composed of thousands of seeds, radiating from the center of the sphere. The fruit disintegrates, sometimes on the limb or after falling to the ground in the spring, dispersing the seeds.
|Sweet Gum fruit|
The fruit of the Sweetgum is a hard and spiny multi-capsular spherical head which hangs on the branches during the winter and can be found on the ground beneath the trees. Each capsule in the fruit contains one to two winged seeds. Goldfinches, purple finches, squirrels, and chipmunks eat the seeds of this tree.
From the song “Colors of the Wind” from the Disney movie Pocahontas:
How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon.
For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains.
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind.
You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind.
|A sluggish slug|
Dale found and collected a very sluggish slug and discussed the purpose of the slime associated with slugs and snails. It is secreted as a surface on which the animal can travel.
We also saw the near bursting red buds on the twigs of the Red Maple (Acer rubrum), which will soon be flowering.
Several large Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) burrows were seen. Tim related stories of 30 to 40 pound armadillos that roamed during the Pleistocene epoch.
Many of the smooth barked trees seen in the bottoms were fairly covered with lichens and thick patches of fan moss.
|Virginia Creeper "footed" tendrils|
On our way back we stopped to examine vines to see if we could tell the difference between Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper in the absence of leaves. The Poison Ivy vine is very hairy, attached to the tree it is climbing with numerous dark hairs. Virginia Creeper likewise has many hairy rootlets but not has many as Poison Ivy and they are lighter in color. In addition, Virginia Creeper has, at longer intervals, coarse tendrils with sucker-like pads.
|Corky wings on Winged Elm branch|
Other trees that we found difficult to distinguish were Winged Elm and Sweet Gum. Both have the corky flanges, called "wings", that are mostly found on young branches. Adding to the difficulty is that the branches with the wings are often high above our heads and very difficult to see. Leaves would be helpful, but we'll have to wait for a month or so before they emerge. (Photo by Hugh Nourse.)
After we completed the ramble, we retired to one of the class rooms at the Visitor Center, where we were treated with Emily’s homemade cranberry bread and banana nut bread, coffee and tea.
Species observed today:
Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)
Hairy Parchment mushroom (Stereum hirsutum)
Southern Grape Fern (Botrychium biternatum)
Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron)
Black Jelly Oyster mushrooms (Resupinatus applicatus)
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)
Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) (not seen, saw burrow)
Carolina Mantleslug (Philomycus carolina)
Carolina Mantleslug (Philomycus carolina)