Elks Preserve is located on Crusher Rd in Hopewell.
Link to the trail map.
I rarely see the sky so brilliant blue as I do in the winter season. It was 25 degrees F when my friend and I met at the Elks Preserve in Hopewell, but the wind was still and the sun was strong, so it did not feel nearly as cold as it actually was. Even though it was freezing, the birds in the forest were raucous and exuberant in their singing. I don’t know why they had ants in their pants, but they were making such a fuss that it had us both excited to head out into the woods.
The contrast between the dormant forest floor and vibrant blue sky was enticing. It was as if the forest was whispering to us to come in and explore.
When I saw this plant covering one section of the forest floor, I was completely stumped! It seemed similar to an Eastern Red Cedar or an Arborvitae, but not quite so. I spent a lot of time reading online and searching through my plant ID books before I narrowed it down to a species in the Diphasiastrum/Lycopodium genus.
I am fortunate to know people with expertise in identifying the local flora. I reached out to a local expert, Gemma Milly of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. She informed me that it was Club Fanmoss/Running cedar, Lycopodium digitatum.
Gemma also said that “In the old days, they used to collect them to use the spores to fire photographic flashes– it’s highly volatile!”. When I touched the strobili (the candelabra like structures above the leaves) and the sporangia (the yellow candle part of the candelabra) a cloud of spores came floating out. I was in a trance kneeling on the side of the path, watching the clouds of spores drift around in the morning light.
Can we all just take a moment to “oooh” and “aww” at this gorgeous plant?
The clustered, red drupes on the left are a type of Viburnum, Viburnum spp… The berries on the right are of Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, single drupes that are often paired along the stem.
Evidence of a cambium eating insect. Since I don’t know what species of tree this is (there was no bark left to help me identify), then my ability to find clues as to what type of insect or larvae made these marks is limited. I love fallen logs, there are always goodies hiding on, in or under them!
We spotted a frog frozen under the water. At first, I had thought it was a wood frog, but I was confused since I know that wood frogs could freeze during the winter but they usually did so on the land.
I reached out to two local herpetologists, Jeff Hogland of the Watershed Institute and Mark Manning of Hopewell Valley High School for their input. They both informed me that this was a Pickerel Frog, Lithobates palustris, not a Wood frog, Lithobates sylvaticus, and that unfortunately, my amphibian friend was most likely dead – not hibernating.
Jeff told me that “Several species of frogs can actually freeze, and survive – the spring peeper, wood frog, and gray tree frog included – but pickerel frogs are NOT among them”.
Mark said that “pickerel frogs in mountainous habitats like the Sourlands tend to move towards spring seeps and seepage areas during the winter, where the temps stay around 55 degrees F, the oxygen is high and the insect larvae provide food. If the main body of the stream remains moving during cold periods, it might duck under rocks but I’ve never seen one frozen on the top like that. The recent warm temps probably brought this frog into a mid-winter activity period, and it might not have moved fast enough to escape the cold blast today”.
I love that there are so many people in this area that are so knowledgeable and are willing to share information with others!
My friend took this picture and said: “FOR SCIENCE!”. Sometimes you have to get dirty to get the picture you need 🙂
I love Pin Oak, Quercus palustris, acorns. They are really small but have such beautiful stripes!
My friend observed the deer tracks at this little pool. She was able to see that the deer had stepped into the slushy pool to take a sip (you can see the hoof print where her hand is). The deer put its face into the pond to take a deeper drink and then continued walking (see in the picture below).
In this picture, you can see the “dribble” line from the water dripping off the deer and the hoof prints on both sides in the slush. If my friend hadn’t pointed it out, I honestly don’t think I would have noticed this at all! One of the most fun things about hiking with others is that even though you both may be in the same place at the same time, you will each experience it differently.
I have never seen anything like this before! I don’t know why the heartwood is creating these rays on the sapwood, but I wished that I could cut this log up into “cookies” and bring them home to make something with. What an absolutely beautiful treat in the forest!
If you look at this cross-section of a tree, you will see multiple layers. On the outside is the outer bark, which provides protection for the tree. It helps keep moisture in and the cold (and hopefully – but not always) insects out.
The next layer is the inner bark or phloem. The phloem moves sugars produced through photosynthesis in the leaves downwards to the rest of the tree. The phloem is short-lived and over time, dries up and becomes cork which works as a protective layer along with the outer bark. Sometimes the phloem layer is referred to as “inner bark”.
Next to the phloem is a powerhouse – the cambium layer. This is a thin layer of cells that will differentiate to create new phloem, xylem (the next layer) or new cambium cells. The cambium is the growing layer, causing the trunk, branches and stems to grow in diameter every year.
Xylem, the next layer, moves water up from the roots to the leaves of the trees. Sometimes the xylem layer is called “sapwood”.
The strongest layer of the tree is the heartwood. The heartwood is comprised of “dead” xylem and it forms the structural component of the tree. The heartwood of a tree is often a different color than the rest of the tree because it contains extractives that can have antifungal properties, decrease desiccation and promote stability.
At the very center of the trunk is the pith, which is made up of spongy cells called parenchyma. Different types of trees can have different types of pith. Some piths are star-shaped (stellate) such as in Oaks. Alders have a triangular pith and Ash trees, Elms and most other trees have round (terete) piths. Piths can also be solid or chambered, hollow, spongy and come in a multitude of colors such as pink, yellow, brown, green, black or white.
A bluebird, Sialia sialis! I am not very proficient at bird IDs, but there is no mistaking this bird! It has such a vibrant blue back and a big, round rust-colored chest and belly. Until now, I had only seen this bird in meadows and I was so excited to see it here in the woods.
What a nice piece! So sorry to see the probably-dead pickerel frog – on our property a few gather in the fall in a grassy seep that never freezes… or at least one that has never frozen so far in 35 years. I never knew we had pickerel frogs until a few years ago when I was doing a mini bio-blitz in a damp part of the yard in late fall and found a couple of them (along with at least 100 other species of plants, insects, lichen, moss, etc. in a 100 sq ft area). Overwintering bluebirds typically turn up in the woods in late January and February, on the hunt for high-fat berries, such as those on American holly and Winterberry, which become digestible after a couple of freezes and thaws. We never see those birds in our mostly-wooded yard the spring and summer, only in the winter… We used to have a nice patch of lycopodium in our back woods but I haven’t seen it for a few years …maybe now that we have extirpated a large number of invasives that were choking out the natives, we may see a resurgence .. fingers crossed! See you in a few weeks for the salamander rain!
Thank you, Juanita! There was American Holly out in the woods and I took a picture of it and I meant to write about it and completely forgot until you mentioned American Holly. Thank you so much for the wealth of information! I love learning all this fascinating information that local experts, like you, know! Thank you for sharing! I cannot wait for Salamander rain!