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The mission of Great Mountain Forest is to be a leader in forest stewardship. We practice sustainable forest management, promote biodiversity and resilience to climate change, support education and research, and welcome all who love the woods.

Great Mountain Forest 

August 2022

In this issue:

Intern Recap

Gearing up for Migration!

The Mighty Fisher

Crossbill Sighting

Trading Places

Wildflower Watch

Intern Recap

Goodbyes are always the hardest. After several months of adventures and hard work, the interns are headed back to school armed with the knowledge and skills gained from a summer of hands-on forestry experience. Here is a summary of what a summer spent as a Great Mountain Forest intern entails. 

The program’s start in mid-May aligned perfectly with the work of entomologist Dr. Carol Cheah from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Cheah and the interns released colonies of lady beetles to fight the hemlock woolly adelgid; an insect that preys on a hardwood species which occupies 40% of the forest, the eastern hemlock. (See the June newsletter for more on this subject). Working directly with one of the most knowledgeable and passionate researchers in the field was certainly a great start to the summer. 

One of the regular intern duties is maintaining and collecting data from the nine trial cameras. Every other Friday, rain or shine, they would venture into the woods to change the SD cards inside the cameras, sometimes encountering bears and moose. But the data gathered was worth the risks, and produced fantastic footage of bobcats, coyotes, moose, and porcupines, to name a few. The data aids GMF in keeping tabs on the wildlife population and biodiversity in the forest. 

The summer interns at GMF are essential in accomplishing many of the tasks that keep the forest well managed and the infrastructure safe for the public. In addition to making sure the hiking trails were clear, the interns rebuilt the bridge at the entrance to the forest from the Norfolk side. Red oak was cut and milled, measured, positioned, and hammered into place guaranteeing safe passage into the forest. 

The interns formed professional connections by attending a Society of American Foresters convention and visiting the McLean Game Refuge. Like many previous interns at GMF, the team heard lectures on the forest’s land use history and embarked on numerous walks alongside Jody Bronson, who imparted wisdom gained from over 40 years of working in the field and the forest. The interns leave with a plethora of work and field experience, and a fluency in forest related topics. Best wishes to Ryan Clarke, Rebecca Giarnese and Caleb May in their future careers in forestry! 

Gearing Up for Migration!

May is typically the most thrilling time to be bird watching in the United States. It marks the peak of spring migration, when neotropical migrants leave their wintering grounds in Central and South American and make their way north to find breeding grounds and plenty of insects. Great Mountain Forest is situated in the middle of Atlantic flyway, which makes it a prime spot for these birds to stop for a layover. The birds arrive in their breeding plumage, which often means trees are filled with the glow of bright greens, oranges, and reds. The woods become a concert hall with their symphony of trills, whistles, and warbles echoing around the oaks and hemlocks. 

Many of these birds will continue farther north before finally resting in the boreal forests of the northern US and southern Canada. A smaller percentage will decide that GMF has all that they need to raise their young.

All of that has come and gone. The end of the summer is near, and the time has almost arrived for the birds to make the lengthy journey back to their winter homes. 

Here are some tips if you are interested in birding during this migration season. Keep in mind that there are different phases of fall migration, but the following will focus on songbird (mainly warbler) migration.

The fall has an entirely different rhythm than the spring. In spring, birds are constantly singing throughout the day as a way to attract mates, communicate, and mark territory. When the leaves turn, the birds are mostly quiet. As a birder  you will need to be more attuned to movement. Take the time to pause and look around and you will have more success.

The plumage of migrating birds changes by season. May birds sport gaudy colors as they travel. On the return journey, the colors will dull and fade.  Reds, oranges, and yellows will turn to browns and olive greens. Being able to identify birds by their plumage becomes more essential.

Weather plays an immense role in when and where fall birds migrate. The fall is known for its wet, foggy, and windy conditions, as well as the hurricane season that runs right through migration. Birders can use this to their advantage. When faced with bad weather, birds will more often than not choose to land in a phenomenon known as fallout. That means that large concentrations of migrating birds will land in a specific spot to wait out a storm. Check out GMF’s bodies of water during bad weather for a chance to see interesting water-oriented birds. 

Lastly, it is important to remember that various websites and tools make it much easier to learn about finding birds. Three recommendations:

1.    Birdcast- A radar tool that can show how many birds have crossed over your town or county during a specific night.

2.    eBird- A citizen science website that connects you to other birders and where you can log our sightings (Tip: Sign up for their rare bird alerts)

3.    Merlin- A bird ID app that can help with visual ID and audio.

(Pictures in order of appearance: Blackburnian Warbler; cred: eBird, Blackpoll Warbler; cred: Allaboutbirds, Scarlet Tanger; cred: Pinterest)

The Mighty Fisher

The porcupine is a true work of evolutionary art. Not a particularly fast or agile creature, the porcupine relies on its heavily spiked body in order to ward off most of the predators that roam the property of GMF and beyond. However, there is a big caveat to that “most”. Enter the fisher (Martes pennanti). This large weasel relative is quite the predator. Despite the name, it is not fish on their menu. They have honed their craft and become one of the only animals that dares to go after the mighty porcupine. 

The fisher has had a tumultuous history. Due to the rapid deforestation that took place all-over New England, the fisher was forced out or extirpated. Eventually, the regrowth of the forests allowed the fishers a safe place to live again. Through many years and some re-populating efforts, the fisher reached a healthy population and has stayed there ever since. 

As noted above, the fisher makes a point of going for porcupine. Everything in nature must be viewed as a risk and reward. Porcupines carry a huge risk with them but provide bountiful rewards to those daring enough to pursue. The fisher will circle and launch attacks at the soft bits of the porcupine which weakens and tires them out. Once the fisher has seen this opening, it will make a move and go in the for the kill. While other places have the epic battle between cobra and mongoose, Great Mountain Forest plays host to the battle of fisher and porcupine.

Fishers are an elusive animal. Odds are you will not see one in the woods during your visit but please remember to stay alert. Despite their cute appearance they can be dangerous.

To learn more about this GMF resident please visit: 

Massachusetts Audubon

Crossbill Sighting

A rare bird sighting is always a cause for celebration and GMF is no stranger to them. For example, for the past two years a Pine Grosbeak has paid a visit to the forest, which falls a few hundred miles south of its normal range. This summer the forest has had another exciting visitor from the same family Fringillidae*.

The Red Crossbill should go down as one of the coolest birds in New England. Instead of sporting a traditional beak or bill, as its name implies, the crossbill features a bill that crosses and makes an effective tool for extracting seeds from conifers.

On August 12, a visitor to the forest mentioned that they had spotted a crossbill in the parking lot in Norfolk. This piqued the interest of resident birding intern, Caleb May, who saw it about an hour later. 

This shows that GMF can replicate the food sources that normally exist in the northern forests where these winter finches tend to gather in numbers. 

Fingers crossed that the crossbill is still around when you come to visit, and you can check off an important box on your birding life list!

Members of the family Fringillidae include Redpolls, Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks, and Crossbills.

Picture credit: Coniferous Forest

Trading Places

This past month, GMF joined forces with another large forest in Connecticut. McLean Game Refuge. Located in Granby, it covers over 4,000 acres of Connecticut woodland. To help expand the perspective of each organization’s summer interns, GMF interns spent a day at McLean and McLean interns spent a day at GMF. 

McLean is a remarkable location and features vastly different forest composition and geography. The forest entrance road puts you on an esker, a glacial feature that is comparable to a reverse riverbed. The forest includes a black spruce swamp and one of the tallest white pines any of the GMF interns had ever seen. 

The GMF team was also introduced to McLean’s extensive trail camera collection that provides detailed insight into animal populations and behavior. Bobcats, opossums, and fishers have all been captured on camera and have made for some amazing shots. They still haven’t filmed any moose.

The next day the McLean team came to GMF and were shown our collection of trail cameras as well as various spots in the forest. Tobey Bog, red spruce swamps, and old growth hemlocks were all on the itinerary. Fun fact: There are only two plots of old growth hemlock in the state, and both are in GMF. The interns discussed the differences between the two forests and the similarities as well. 

Thank you to McLean Game Refuge for participating in this tradition once again and hope to see you next year!

Wildflower Watch

This flower is one of the most important that pops up in our forest. It goes by the name Goldenrod and there are over 100 species of it in the United States.

This plant was not always held in high regard, but in recent times its benefits have come to light. It is a vital pollinator species and a favorite of the endangered monarch butterfly (pictured above). 

Please consider making it a staple of your garden!

This is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), also known as spotted touch-me-not. The touch-me-not moniker comes from the seed pods that will explode if you pinch them.

Jewelweed typically grows next to poison ivy and its sap can be used topically to fight against the symptoms of its itchy neighbor.

Forest Notices

Welcome to the forest!

GMF is a place of peaceful co-existence for everyone

  • Keep your dog on a leash and if you pack it in--pack it out.

  • Sign in at kiosks at the East and West Gates.

  • Watch for inclement weather notices on social media and website.

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GMF is critical to the environmental and economic sustainability of the region as well as an important contributor to research and education about climate change and environmental health. Help us support the forest as a vital natural resource and a place for those who love the woods.

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