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Upstate NY WinterSpring

Waghkonk Notes + WINTERSPRING

Inside+Out catches up with “Ranger” Dave Holden as he shares his insight on Upstate New York’s transition from Winter to Spring, with a bit of Woodstock history to boot. Behold the beauty of this emerging season!

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Dave Holden: Now that winter winds are no longer whipping down our mountain slopes and the icy snow is melting–the green carpet of life can start threading its way inexorably, steadily upward into every nook and cranny, every gully hidden quarry of our southeast Catskills. Shoots of wild chives that somehow survive – even thrive – under the snow gladly reach for the sky. Alongside these tiny shoots of chive, you’ll find broad leaves of Ajuga (itself always one of the earliest plant-harbingers of Spring). Bright red Partridgeberries poke upward from their long runners. A red haze of hardwood tree buds is visible now among the otherwise-bare branches. This reminds us of the rising sap safe from winter storage deep in roots– “tree magicians” working their magic as they “return” from their incredible migration-in-place. These are just a few of the very first of this year’s verdant parades – the fun’s just starting, kids!

And while it’s true that the vernal season is upon us, it behooves us all to not get too excited just yet (notice the title of this piece). Remember, the beginning of April is just as volatile, unpredictable, and crazy as March. We may take three steps forward into Spring but then get knocked two steps back into winter. I’m reminding myself of this, as well. Even though I’ve experienced many winter-to-spring transitions, I can fool myself (just as anyone else) into elatedly thinking “Spring is here!” only to get depressingly knocked backward into the snow and freezing rain. Hang in there, everyone.

WHY WAGHKONK?
And how Waghkonk became Woodstock…
WinterSpring Upstate NY

Every now and then, I like to explain the origins of the title of these notes of mine. I wrote the Comeau Newsletter for many years, which initially started out as seasonal nature notes of the Town of Woodstock-owned Comeau Property. That was a good thing. I learned a lot and really enjoyed it (fortunately, many of you also liked it), exploring Woodstock and expanding my nature-writing horizon. Studying 17th and 18th-century maps of the area, I noticed that early maps referred to the eastern Woodstock Valley as “Waghkonk” or sometimes “Awaghkonk.” While there is no definitive interpretation of this term, Algonquin language expert professor of Native American studies Evan Pritchard believes it means something like “Land of Waterfalls below the Sacred Mountain,” which sounds right to me.

Waghkonk – Land of Waterfalls below the Sacred Moutain

My good friend Alf Evers, Woodstock’s retired long-time Town Historian and author of note, told me how Waghkonk became Woodstock. In 1764, Judge Robert R. Livingston wrote to his father, Chancellor Livingston, while he was wintering in Wachkunk (another variation on Waghkonk). His father owned most of what would become Woodstock and half of the surrounding region. In sending this letter, Judge Livingston scratched out the name Wachkunk and instead wrote in “Woodstock.” (See “Woodstock – History of an American Town,” Alf Evers, pp. 33, 34). Supposedly, this was the first actual use of Woodstock to refer to Waghkonk. Hence, these Waghkonk Notes. Hope you like them. How close did we come to a “Waghkonk Festival”?

 

HALTINGLY SPRING

WinterSpring Upstate NYIndeed, as Spring tries to advance from the south, northwest winds push back, their howling sound proving that winter’s cold grip has not loosened. Yes, the vernal season will eventually win, the cold retreating northward for the season, but watching this battle is frustrating. Each warm day becomes a tease, letting me see what wonder is so close – and yet still so far away:

  • The warmth of the sun.
  • One desultory Honey Bee scouting around.
  • My first Compton’s Tortoiseshell butterfly (usually one of the first to show because they overwinter as adults, already to unfold when warmed).
  • My first snake (a young Eastern Garter).
  • A few migrating birds.
  • Sudden amphibious action with Spotted Salamanders, Spring Peepers and Wood frogs.

WinterSpring Upstate NYWhile I have to give kudos to any creature that can survive an outdoors Catskills winter, the Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) has a unique approach. These little frogs spend the coldest time of year hiding in plain sight, under leaf litter, and amazingly – virtually frozen solid. Their blood contains a glycol-like chemical that allows them to freeze without damaging their delicate cells. They come back to life when the weather slightly warms and the sun’s angle is at a certain height. It is a phenomenal adaptation that also allows them to cavort and mate very raucously in newly-thawed Vernal Ponds and Woodland Pools. Indeed, to watch them do their thing in literally ice-cold water, even among the retreating miniature ice-shelf of a pond, is a wonder to behold.

Our local, non-migrating, intrepid small birds: the Bluebirds, the raucous Bluejays, the Cardinals, Chickadees, assorted Sparrows, Wrens and the like, will all be found in their little fluffy down jackets, racing from bush to ground, turning up lost seeds from last year. The Pileated and other woodpeckers never really stop in their endless quest under the bark of dead and dying trees. I also see them working on otherwise healthy trees as a kind of avian acupuncturist, taking out the bad stuff. The local “clean up crew” – Crows and Ravens – have been rejoined now by their larger assistants – Black- and Turkey Vultures. They are all doing fine on the remains of Grey- and Red Squirrels on our roads.

And perhaps, if you stand still long enough, you may see a Deer Mouse, Meadow Vole or Short-tail Shrew stir under the dried leaves, trying hard to feed their incredibly high little metabolisms. Like our local Bald Eagles with longer gestation periods, large birds are already nesting on eggs. Both female and male birds assiduously keep the egg(s) warm and give the other a chance to clean themselves, defecate, and hunt. Our most-common hawks (Red-tails) and owls (Barreds) are mating and nesting now, as are the small birds and more of the returning migratory birds, so bird-nesting real estate will be going through the roof.

WinterSpring Upstate NYBlack Bears have their cubs while sleeping. The incredible little bundles of furry cuteness do not follow their mothers out of the den until it is warmer. White-tail does get larger now, with little Bambis arriving in early May. Eastern Cottontail rabbits are active all winter and will have young shortly. Raccoons and Striped Skunks are nappers, coming out now on warmer (relatively speaking) nights. The Eastern Woodchuck is a true hibernator, not joining us ‘til Spring. The local Box-, Painted-, and Snapping-turtles should stay buried in the mud for a bit still.

BIRDS-EGGS & FAWNS

WinterSpring Update NY

Two seemingly contradictory things occur here. First, White-tail Deer fawns are (incredibly) born with NO SCENT. This allows their mom to leave them alone in high grass for a short period while she desperately feeds nearby, trying to regain some strength lost during delivery. I have seen Bear, known for having an incredible sense of smell and who loves fawns, walk right past them, tucked safely away.

Therefore, the fawn should never be touched by people because you might inadvertently imbue Little Cuteness with your scent and thereby cause the doe to reject it, leading it to starve or to easily become prey. In contrast, if you find that a birds-egg fell out of its nest, I would encourage you to return the egg to the nest since birds have NO SENSE OF SMELL and the parents will not smell your scent. In other words, please LEAVE A FAWN BE, but RETURN AN EGG TO ITS NEST.

WinterSpring Update NY
THE EXCITEMENT OF SPRING

WinterSpring Update NY

We respond to the same activators or “triggers” as other animals and plants do, but in different ways (sort of). Right about now, hiking boots and clothing, tents, packs and miscellaneous gear are being hauled out of closets, garages and sheds. It’s time to examine for repair or replacement as we start exploring new (now mostly snowless) trails. Also, as the ice leaves pond, rivers and streams–canoes, kayaks and small boats are uncovered and apprised of seaworthiness, soon to slip into Spring’s clear, cold waters.

Turkey hunters, fishermen (and -women) begin the age-old rituals of preparing for the advent of their time on the waters and in the woods. There is so much to do in our beautiful, dynamic and multi-faceted region– now is the time to prepare for what looks to be a rich season ahead. As we all get ready to venture forth into our new season, let’s keep in mind these essential elements: First – and foremost – is SAFETY. There is still ice on some mountaintop trails, so keep traction devices handy. Along the same lines, don’t put away hats, gloves and extra layers just yet for the same reason. On the water, make sure to double-check life jackets and such and watch out for new hazards in the water.

Considering that May 1- May 31 is Spring Turkey Hunting Season, please wear bright colors if around hunters. Please carry out of the woods whatever you carry in – including dog waste (LEAVE NO TRACE). Be kind and considerate to others – animal, human or plant. If this means leashing your dog to avoid conflict, please do so.

EACH OF US A DANCER

Hiking Upstate NY WinterSpring Indeed, our patience will pay off soon as the inexorable tide of new life wraps us in its soon-to-come green embrace. One way to look at this is to see the entire panoply of nature as an incredible ballet– each of us a dancer. Speaking of dancing, as we tip-toe along our Spring trails, please remember that they will be muddy. This is the most crucial time for us to wear proper waterproof footwear, and please STAY ON THE TRAIL. Walk straight down the middle, for if we stray and walk around the trail, we enlarge the path, making the trail-maintenance job much more difficult by increasing destructive erosion. And, just as importantly, we increase the likelihood of destroying sensitive, endangered or threatened Spring ephemeral wildflowers just off the trail that is on the verge of unfolding.

 

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Article Written by “Ranger” Dave Holden

"ranger" dave holden Inside+Out

Dave Holden is a New York State DEC Licensed Hiking Guide with many years of experience on Woodstock trails, old and new. We are thrilled to share Dave’s local expertise as he showcases the beautiful places in the area that regular trail hikers miss. He is also available for hire to lead guided nature hikes.

Contact Info:
Email: [email protected]
Facebook @WoodstockTrails |  Instagram @rangerdaveholden

 

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