The red maple (Acer rubrum) is one of the first native trees to burst with color in February. You may recognize their seeds (samaras) as the little “helicopters” that spin to the ground when mature. The fall foliage is a brilliant red or orange.
These trees are sexually unique. The species is polygamo-dioecious, meaning some trees are entirely male, producing no seeds; some are entirely female; and some are monoecious, bearing both male and female flowers.
The red maple makes a great landscape shade tree. It is tough and grows on a variety of sites. One of its biggest contributions in the forested landscape is protecting water quality. The trees grow quickly, shading the stream channels and stabilizing the banks.
In 2014 the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) celebrated its 100th anniversary. At the time, I was less than a year into my job as an Area Forester serving the NOVA work area. Through college I had always admired the VDOF and was excited to be a part of the agency. I was impressed by the diversity of management and conservation-related duties it is responsible for and implements. It wasn’t until last year that I realized how valued VDOF’s technical advice has been over the years to the landowners of the Commonwealth.
I have worked with Betsy and Rodger Hille of Rappahannock County since 2015, helping them manage the forest on their 59-acre property. While completing their Stewardship Plan last year I realized that I was the fourth-generation forester from the agency to work on this tract of land. This 66-year legacy included the work of four foresters: W.C. Vernam in 1952, Buck Cline in 1988, Martin Agee in 2002 and continues with me today. While I had come across those foresters in the landowner files in my office, I never encountered this many foresters associated with one tract. Initially, I did not make the connection, but when I was completing the final touches of the plan the significance of this management legacy hit home.
At least four different landowners have overseen this property and sought VDOF assistance since 1952. The landowners’ relationships with VDOF have resulted in timber harvests, tree plantings for pasture conversion, Tree Farm Designation, management plans, native warm season grass maintenance and invasive species control. None of these landowners had to go through VDOF, but over the generations they have come to us. I can see the positive effect our recommendations have had on the forest over time. While I’m happy the recommendations have been helpful and implemented, the best thing to come of this from my perspective has been the knowledge that VDOF has been and continues to be a reliable source of forest management information.
“When I was a young man I worked for the Forest Service in California on a fire crew and a TSI crew, so it seemed natural that when my wife and I needed assistance with our management plan that we would turn to the VDOF for guidance. We found Forester Kyle Dingus to be extremely knowledgeable about our property and its flora and fauna. His recommendations have been tailored to both our needs and resources. We would recommend him and the VDOF to any property owners concerned about stewardship of their land.” — Roger Hille, landowner
Can you identify these tracks found on a muddy stream bank?
If you guessed a raccoon (Procyon lotor lotor), you know your tracks! Raccoons are very active this time of year, with February being the middle of their breeding season (January – March). For more information on this common, but mischievous, mammal please visit: https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/information/raccoon/
There are many good branches on the loblolly pine directly overhead for an owl to perch and digest a meal.
I took a second look at the pellet after the rain, and the fur and bones could be from a squirrel. The longest bones are 2 1/2 inches long.
Flocks of cedar waxwings have also been passing through. When a whole flock feeds on the berries of an eastern redcedar or holly, it looks like the tree is waving all of its branches at you at once.
We found more berries while working with the Hampton Clean City Commission to plan a new “Central Park” in the City of Hampton. The hackberry below was still holding fruit. We did not study it closely enough to determine if it was a sugarberry, hackberry or dwarf hackberry.
And, this greenbrier was heavily loaded with fruit.
We also noticed a slash pine with ripening male catkins that will produce pollen in the near future.
This great blue heron, like many of us, seems to be contemplating warmer weather.
The daffodils in the eastern part of the state are getting ready to bloom.
The squirrels are carrying mouthfuls of leaves from the forest floor and adding them to their nests in the trees. I tried to catch a photo of that, but squirrels move so fast.
The spring peepers were calling in Mathews County after the 70-degree rainy weather on January 23. The Virginia Herpetelogical Society provides this Frog Calling Schedule to help identify the frogs you might be hearing. Be sure to narrow the list down by checking the range maps of each species to see which species live in your area.
I encountered these ripe puffball mushrooms in mid-December. The only thing I can say about them for certain is that this is a lot of puffballs on one log. They could be Lycoperdon pyriforme.
The spores inside are released through holes in the top of each ball when raindrops fall on them, when hit by wind gusts, or when something steps on them … like ME! When I was very young, my friends and I jumped on every puffball we could find. We called them smoke bombs, and finding them was like finding treasure. Jumping on puffballs ranked second only to splashing in puddles.