HIGH PONDS FARM   Hazen's Notch, Montgomery, Vermont > Natural Resources


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Natural Resources

Overview

A confluence of natural and cultural histories has shaped these lands over many years. The geological events that formed the northern Green Mountains have given the landscape its basic underlying shape over millions of years. Glacial history of several thousand years ago further refined this underlying bedrock and added streams, ponds and wetlands; and hills, valleys and steep mountain slopes to the diversity of the landscape. In the past few hundred years, human activities on these lands have added more features to the landscape as its inhabitants gleaned a subsistence life here from the existing natural resources.

By hiking on the trails at the High Ponds Farm, many natural elements from these historical events may be seen and enjoyed. Much can be learned by the careful observer about the lives of the plants and animals that presently live here. The diversity of habitat types at the High Ponds Farm is great and can be organized under one or more of three broad groups.

 

Forest/Mountain

The dominant habitat in this part of Vermont is the northern-hardwood forest formation. Several types of forest that occur within this formation are here and include the following tree species: sugar maple, red maple, yellow birch, American beech, white ash and Eastern hemlock. As one goes up in elevation, conifers including red spruce and balsam fir become more evident culminating in a compact area of montane spruce/fir forest at the top of Burnt Mountain. The forest matrix is very long-lasting and produces a stable environment.

Many Spring wildflowers bloom well before the forest canopy has grown. Spring beauty, Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn, red trillium and trout lily carpet the forest floor with bright green leaves and exquisite flowers. As the shade of expanding tree leaves increases, summer woodland wildflowers grow at a slower pace and benefit from the cool, shady conditions. Goldthread, Canada mayflower, partridgeberry and wood sorrel form large clonal masses.

The birds and animals that live in these forests fill every available micro-habitat. Many bird species live at the ground level - Ruffed Grouse, Ovenbird, and Hermit Thrush. Others make use of trees for nesting, perching and feeding - Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and several warblers, including Black-throated Blue Warbler and Redstart. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch excavate cavities in trees for nesting.

The forests at the High Ponds Farm provide food and cover for large and small mammals alike. The density of trees conceals the presence of some of Vermont's largest animals - moose, white-tailed deer, and black bear. Every surface is habitat for small mammals from red squirrels in the canopy to woodland jumping mice in a rotting log.

 

Meadow/Orchard

Within the context of a forested landscape, meadows represent an important and very different habitat. Abundant sunshine and warmer air temperatures contrast with the surrounding forests. The dominant plant types are shrubs, wildflowers, ferns and grasses/sedges. An orchard is a modification to the landscape maintained by human activities and may include many of the same plant types as a meadow. A well-tended planting of apple trees provides a season full of visual and essential delights from pink-white flowers visited by bees to delicious fruit enjoyed by people and wildlife.

The herbaceous perennials that make up a meadow die down to the ground each Fall. Unlike the forest, which keeps its structure after the leaves drop in the form of standing trunks with their branches and twigs, the meadow has full sunshine near the ground level for several weeks every Spring. The first flowers to bloom are understandably short in stature - wild strawberry, violet, and dandelion. Early ferns include interrupted and cinnamon ferns and New York fern. Grasses are dominant here and hold their delicate, colorful flower heads well above their lush growth of leaves. As Summer progresses, taller wildflowers add their color - orange paintbrush or hawkweed, ox-eye daisy, fireweed and St. Johnswort.

Many species of birds make their nests in a meadow habitat. Song Sparrows build nests of grass directly on the ground protected from view by taller grasses and small shrubs. Chestnut-sided Warbler and Common Yellowthroat sing all summer long while they tend to their nests that are well disguised in taller vegetation. Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows use natural cavities in dead snags or nest boxes placed out by people. At the edge between the meadow and the forest Least Flycatcher can be heard patrolling its territory; and Indigo Bunting calls loudly to lure any visitor or animal away from its nest location.

Insects are very numerous in a meadow. Butterflies top the list for colorful creatures as they feed from nectar flowers and lay eggs on a wide variety of plant species that will eventually feed the growing caterpillars of the next generation. Small mammals, such as meadow vole, find plenty of cover in the thick grasses which also provide an abundance of seed and stems for them to eat all year round. Wherever rock piles sit in sunshine, garter snakes find shelter, a food supply and extra warmth that allow them to live out their lives without the need to travel very far.

 

Wetlands/Streams

The substantial amount of rainfall that occurs in the mountains is carried downhill through a myriad of streams which begin as tiny rivulets in the higher elevations and gain in size until they reach and fill the great rivers in the lower valleys. Wetlands have a lot in common with meadows and the two share many of the same plants. Streams flow through forestland and retain a high water quality due to the shaded conditions and cooler temperatures there.

Many of the wetlands at the High Ponds Farm exist as a result of the work of beavers. They may be surrounded by forest or by meadow. Trees that have died because of the high water table weather to a light gray color and provide homes for cavity nesting birds, such as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and perches with a good view in all directions for flycatchers, such as Alder Flycatcher, and raptors, such as Broad-winged Hawk.

Large drifts of tall Joe-pye weed plants with large rose flower clusters and several species of goldenrod bloom in late Summer. Sedges and rushes crowd the edges of open water. Thick hummocks of interrupted, cinnamon and royal ferns give witness to the age of some of the wetlands.

In the muddy margins of the ponds, moose tracks and bear tracks are evidence of the presence of these beautiful animals as they come to the water's edge to drink. In the ponds themselves, several species of frogs and salamanders lay their eggs. Many dragonfly and damselfly species are present as they cruise the grassy edge of the water looking for mates, fending off challengers, feeding and occasionally perching on a warm stone.

The wetlands are fed continuously by the streams that flow through forest off the slopes of Burnt Mountain and Sugar and Rossier Hills. The water is cool and clear. Many creatures prefer the cool conditions. Brook trout fry feed on black fly larvae as northern dusky salamander lays its eggs under wet moss. Where hemlocks grow in ravines cut by hundreds of years of stream erosion, Winter Wren sings its long bubbly song.

As you hike the trails at the High Ponds Farm, you will traverse a wide diversity of habitat types that sometimes blend imperceptibly from one to the next. Enjoy the day knowing that many creatures are going about the seasonal cycles of life. With luck you may catch a glimpse of a moment in the life of a mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile or insect. The ferns, flowers, shrubs and trees are constant companions as they too undergo their life cycles. And the geology that supports the whole landscape may be seen in the tiniest grain of sand or the panoramic views from the top of a hill or mountain.

 - Deborah Benjamin

 

Copyright 2001-2015 High Ponds Farm LLC  All Rights Reserved. Last updated September 28, 2015.

  High Ponds Farm LLC  l  P.O. Box 479  l  Montgomery Center VT 05471  l    l  802.326.4799