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The Wild Burlington Newsletter

The Wild Burlington Newsletter2021-12-06T12:22:18-05:00

Welcome to the Wild Burlington Newsletter

The (mostly) weekly newsletter covers a wide range of natural history topics. You’ll discover the wild world around you with the help of professional naturalist, Teage O’Connor. So if you’re interested in tracking the changing seasons, connecting to your local landscape, and learning more than you ever wanted to know about twigs, then this is the newsletter for you!

Plus, you’ll also get nature quizzes, notes on upcoming events (like the Wild Burlington Lecture series), contests, and awareness activities that will engage you with the wild world. And it’s all delivered right to your inbox.

The newsletter is the perfect learning tool for naturalists of all abilities!

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Be sure to check the archives for back issues.

And shoot me an email if you have an idea for a future blog post, newsletter issue, or podcast episode!

The Wild Burlington Archives

You can also check out the blog for more natural history and the natural history section for field guides, essays, and other explorations of Vermont’s natural history.

311, 2022

UVM’s Rifle Range

By |November 3, 2022|Humans, Natural History|

A good mystery is a fine companion to carry with you through the years. It nags like a pair wet socks, a constant reminder of an itch that needs scratching, to not to let go of your curiosity. I've had just such an itch for about 15 years now. Recently, and sort of haphazardly I stumbled upon a satisfactory answer! It feels good, but also a bit like I've lost an old friend.

2107, 2022

Abortion in the Natural World: Humans

By |July 21, 2022|Abortion, Humans|

This is the third and last post in this series on abortion in the natural world. Humans are wild animals, special only in that we typically don't consider ourselves wild animals. As animals, it's no surprise that we share many life history characteristics, adaptations, and reproductive strategies with other animals. Here we conclude our discussion of abortion in the natural world with an ethnobotanical look at how females in indigenous cultures in North America have made choices about pregnancy for millennia.

2601, 2022

Myths: Behind the name serviceberry

By |January 26, 2022|Myths, Taxonomy, Trees + Shrubs|

I'd heard the origin of the name serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) well before I even knew what the tree looked like. It goes something like this: when Europeans were first colonizing New England, the strange land was a fierce, unrelenting, and unforgiving environment, so troublingly reflected in the mortality rates (about 1 of every 5 babies born died in their first year, over 1/3 died before adulthood). In the all-too-common case that someone died during the long cold winter months, their body was stored anywhere it would be exposed to cold temperatures but protected from snow and rain: barns, sheds, caves. In more populous, established villages, the town and/or churches had a dead house (or mort or sometimes charnel houses) for temporary storage of bodies/bones before burial. It was only when the weather warmed and the ground softened that the dead could be buried.

1801, 2022

Origins And Meanings Of Tree Names

By |January 18, 2022|Taxonomy, Trees + Shrubs|

Over the past 3 years I've been slowly plodding towards a completed book about the trees of Vermont. The book started as a short, quick reference to help with tree ID, but in its current state is a 600 page tome on all things trees. Somewhere along the way I seem to have sacrificed readability and accessibility for thoroughness. I'll definitely pare down the final product to a more manageable and useful size. As part of my research, I looked into the origins and meanings of the names of trees. I've long been interested in the history of names and as I'd already translated all the Vermont vertebrates (Etymology of Vermont Vertebrates), I thought I'd put together a booklet on the names of Vermont's trees.

1911, 2021

Easy Peasy Plant ID-Zee

By |November 19, 2021|Autumn, Identification, Plants, Trees + Shrubs|

I never liked the colloquial Vermont term for late fall. Stick Season just seems so pejorative, like after a beautiful fall we're just waiting in purgatory before we can throw on those more useful sticks and ski down fluffy white mountains. Maybe I get so ruffled because in my book there's nothing better than a stick! They're endlessly fascinating - lenticels, prickles, and pith, oh my! - each feature a clue into the clever adaptations trees have for fending off predators, desiccating winds, and deadly cold. Twigs are also useful - as spiles (sumac), whistles (boxelder), snares, baskets (willows), teeth whitening (dogwood) - and they're even tasty! A few plants out there are reluctant to give up on fall and hold their leaves much longer.

311, 2021

How To Change Colors

By |November 3, 2021|Autumn, Growth Patterns, Identification, Leaves, Trees + Shrubs|

Oh, but isn't the fall bittersweet. I can feel the warm glow of summer fading as the sun keeps setting earlier and earlier and the first frost curl back the dying Norway maple leaves. The plants are expressing their preparations for the impending end to the growing season and the pale yellows of striped maple and purplish reds of staghorn sumac are now the dominant colors. With each passing year I feel like I get a little more cued into the timing of fall foliage, the color palette of each species, and the pattern of how trees change colors.

1509, 2021

How trees cope with parasites

By |September 15, 2021|Taxonomy, Trees + Shrubs|

I try to keep the newsletter in tune with the changing seasons, but with my focus on Lymantria dispar moths I felt like I couldn't quite keep up, like they had come and gone so quickly that by the time I was starting to see their patterns and how they fit into the larger picture, all the doom and gloom of a leafless July canopy already seemed like a distant memory. To the keen-eyed naturalist, evidence of their early summer binge fest still peppers the land, from clusters of egg masses on the underside of branches to the rotting corpses of mated adults littered at the base of trees (see image below). So how did we get here, from bearing witness to the apocalyptic demise of our oaks to a seeming return to baseline? Read on!

209, 2021

Burlington Free Press Archives

By |September 2, 2021|General, Invasives, Invertebrates|

I went back to St Marks in Burlington last week to rephotograph the once defoliated, now green trees and get a couple detailed photos of the egg masses with the fuzz removed - interestingly someone had already scraped away most of the fuzz on the egg masses. As I was taking the photos an older fellow came up to me and told me about growing up in Burlington in the 50s when there was another Lymantria dispar outbreak. His father had encouraged him to gather up the caterpillars, douse them in gasoline and light them on fire. He also told me that there was about an outbreak back in the 50s and the city of Burlington paid to spray trees to control the moths. I was curious for details on past outbreaks so I did a search through the Burlington Free Press Archives and found some fascinating details.

2608, 2021

Adult Lymantria dispar moths

By |August 26, 2021|Invasives, Invertebrates|

I often return to Martin Prechtel's idea of each species having its own eloquence that manifests at some peak moment during the year. It's a pretty anthropocentric way of viewing the life histories of other organisms, but it captures quite nicely those incredible moments during the year when the staghorn sumacs turn a brilliant purple, the barred owls singing in the dark winter skies, sap staff flowing, amphibians migrate to their breeding grounds and so on. Well, for Lymantria, the time is August when the caterpillars pupate and the adults emerge in a torrent of fluttery reproductive frenzy. Here we look at adult Lymantria dispar moths.

2008, 2021

Thoughts on Invasive Species

By |August 20, 2021|Animals, Invasives, Invertebrates, Symbiosis|

During the height of the Lymantria dispar outbreak this summer, I was out at our Hobbit-themed summer camp playing games, singing songs, eating blackberries, and looking at the parasitic plant, pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) with happy kiddos. The "fuzzy nibbler" moths are particularly abundant at our base camp, which is shaded by a canopy composed mostly of mature red oaks (with a few big-toothed and quaking aspens sprinkled in along the edges). For those kids unfamiliar with the moths at the start of camp, by day 2 they had already forged strong opinions. And it broke my heart to hear the way many of them were talking about the "heartbreaker" moths, such strident malice directed towards the fluttering males, stoic females, and bristly caterpillars coming from 8 and 9 year-olds.

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