This is a log of what’s going on across the street from my house in the woods. When I started this I was not aware that the land is part of Prince William National Forest Park. I have since made sure to make a donation to help keep the park running. The area below is the general location of my wanderings.
Rough Coordinates: 38°37’58” N 77°26’9″ W
February 21st, 2017 @ 1410 EST
- Weather: Sunny with a high of 57*, light breeze and low humidity. (Source)
My initial visit to the spot was on the first solidly warm day of February. Even with the warmer temperatures there was very little vegetation and very little buffer from the road noise. (The intersection I live at might as well be an Indy car starting line.) I sat for about 15 minutes and there was no visible wildlife, or audible signals of wildlife. The panorama above is the view from the dead tree stump I was sitting on. I got up and walked around quite a bit, the first thing I noticed was the garbage in the area:
These are just the most interesting pieces. By the time I was done I had a huge trash bag (that I also found) full of garbage. Based on the number of glass jars I picked up, I surmise this spot of land once had a home on it and I found their dumps. Glass doesn’t bio-degrade. It simply gets broken into smaller pieces and will eventually be washed to the ocean or consumed by the land. The jar in the middle was home to a decent moss chunk, kept alive in the winter freeze thanks to its pollution greenhouse. The species of this moss is unknown to me, I tried researching it and ended up more confused than I was before.
The watershed for this area is the Quantico Creek, which then flows to Potomac. Back in colonial days this creek was much deeper and has since silted in. Originally the creek met the Potomac in what is now the Town of Dumfries, which was once the Port of Dumfries. The creek itself flows mostly through Prince William National Forest Park and Quantico Marine Corps Base.
Possum Point Power Plant sits at the base of the creek and uses water from the creek to keep itself cool. The creek’s condition has vastly improved since the mid-1800s when the area was mined for gold and pyrite. As a native to this area I am very familiar with its history, and as a Girl Scout we would hike back to the mine. You can verify this information and learn much more at Prince William National Forest Park’s website, just follow this link.
One plant I identified peaking up is the Spotted Wintergreen – it was the only plant that was large enough for me to easily identify. Its scientific name is Chimaphila maculata and it is native to the eastern United States. It gets a small white flower which will then turn into a deep red berry.
Additionally, I located some fungi growing on a rotting tree:
I did not see any wildlife until I put my foot through a rotting stump, at which point I found what I can only assume were termites. My favorite tree stump on this visit was:
March 19th, 2017 @ 1900 EST
- Weather was almost 50* and it was cloudy outside with a light breeze.
What you see above is the view from my house, my area of study is pictured in the dark, right portion. At one point this entire area was farmland. Per my step-father (who works for the county), the area I have been walking around was once property he wanted to buy, but the owners sold it to the park service. I walked around the woods for about 30 minutes after sitting for a bit. It was too cold for me to wander too far, and my phone died almost immediately after taking this picture. So, much to my chagrin, I have no photos from this wandering.
While out I spotted a bit of sedge growing around the lower lying areas. I did manage to catch a squirrel, most likely a Delmarva Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger cinereus, per The Chesapeake Bay program. He was high up in the trees and bolted the moment he saw me. The road noise was a bit less irritating this time, since I went out later in the evening. I was hoping to catch other wildlife but did not.
One local food chain I see more in the winter is the bug to hawk chain. In this area, we have Cooper Hawks which feed on smaller mammals and birds. These smaller birds eat various caterpillars and spiders endemic to the area (I personally enjoy it when they eat horn-worms.) Many caterpillars eat the foliage on trees.
April 8th, 2017 @ 1040 EST
- Weather: High 50*, sunny with a light breeze. (Source)
I have found I don’t sit still well in nature. After about five minutes I started to wander again. Today was much nicer than my previous visits. It also helps that I visited in the morning. Still not a whole lot of tree activity, but plenty of smaller growth going on. I wandered deeper into the woods this time, spotted another squirrel, and disturbed numerous termite nests. I probably walked through a dozen spiderwebs. I apologized to every last spider. I knit, so I know how much it stinks to have your hard work messed up.
Wild Viola, Sugar Maple, American Wintergreen berry, American Wintergreen, Quaker Ladies
The location I’ve been wandering is mostly safe from development, provided that the National Park Service continues to exist. However there is lingering evidence of human destruction present. Below is a circular picture of glass shards around a tree. The best I can guess is that the previous land owners enjoyed throwing bottles at this poor tree.
Additionally through out the forest there is evidence of road garbage that has blown in, more glass jars, and evidence of vehicles in the woods still remain.
While I witnessed no wildlife first hand on this walkabout, I did find evidence of woodpeckers on one of the older trees in the area. I know that we have Red-Headed Woodpeckers in the area, because they enjoyed my bird feeders over the winter.
I also found a new favorite tree that I have named “The Honey Pot” for it’s rotted out root base that holds water in it after a rain.I imagine the mosquitoes will love this once it warms up some.
Additionally there was a tree that appears to have fallen over and grew two additional crowns. This is somewhat odd, but shows mother nature will pretty much overcome whatever is thrown at her.
April 15th, 2017 @ 0959 EST
It was mostly-cloudy out there today, not a whole lot of sun to take nice pictures with. After sitting for a bit and getting harassed by mosquitoes, I started walking around. The trees are starting to flower and leave now, and my immune system is definitely on high-alert. There is a lot more insect activity on the ground with ants and in the air with gnats and mosquitoes. But still no major wildlife to be seen, I make it a point to stand in an area for a few minutes to see if anything rustles, but there is nothing.
The trees in this area are pretty thin as a product of being secondary growth, I brought my measuring tape and none of the hardwoods were more than a foot in diameter until I got about 700 yards from the road. Even then the increase in size wasn’t that much. Additionally, there is a lot of leaf litter on the ground. Hopefully there is never a forest fire here because if so these woods would go up quickly. Prince William National Forest Park does not engage in fire control through controlled burns.
It’s been raining off and on for the last few days so I’ve noticed a few wet spots. Specifically, near Honey Pot Tree. There are a few lower areas that water seems to collect or run through when it rains. In these areas is perhaps where I am seeing the most change. They have lots of Quaker Ladies growing as well as thicker moss, grasses and various other lichens. Unfortunately, my camera does not show depth changes very well so there aren’t any pictures, but the change in depth is no more than six inches in this area, but it is still enough to collect water and stay damp for a longer period. Mosses and lichens need this moisture to thrive.
Mr. Honey Pot has become my favorite tree. A rather impressively tall Black Gum tree, Nyssa sylvatica, the diameter of the tree is only 13″. It has remains of either a second trunk or another tree jetting from it’s base. The deceased trunk is full of woodpecker and termite damage. It is so tall I can’t see if it is starting to sprout leaves or not. If I had to guess the tree is well over fifty feet tall. You can click the picture below to see a larger version.
Numerous smaller trees are beginning to sprout their leaves. I also finally found a cedar seedling, something that up until today I had not seen. It’s entirely possible the thick forest floor keeps them from growing. There is also a tiny maple and hickory shooting off leaves.
My favorite find so far in the woods has to be this deer skull, upon which I also found my wildlife for this walkabout! Or at least evidence of wildlife, both of the White-Tailed Deer and Glass Snail shells!
April 27th, 2017 @ 1630 EST
It was pretty warm today and I decided to take another walkabout. The last three weeks have been nothing but rain it seems, so it was nice to finally have a break. I could finally see evidence of Spring, the tree cover was much thicker than it had been. Mr. Honey Pot Tree was still holding onto water.
In the wetter areas of the woods I finally spotted a few ferns, some fan clubmoss, and even some lichens!
I think the thing I like the most about my little slice of the Piedmont is the diversity. What grows in one 100 square feet may not in the next. I walked myself down to a creek, it had lovely flowing water and a small waterfall.
On my way back from the creek, I laid eyes upon this Eastern Rat Snake basking in the sun. Who looks like it is getting ready to shed. While harmless, I made sure no to disturb it’s slumber.
While headed back to the house I discovered some gorgeous terrariums crafted by mother nature herself.
It’s safe to say at this point I’ve probably hauled 20 pounds of glass out of the woods. Most of it has been broken and I have sent to recycling. Some I have kept for myself, there is something amusing about old glass bottles. Maybe one day I’ll build a wall out of them.