02 de febrero de 2021

Auburn Forestry M.S. First few weeks

In just the past month that I've lived here, Auburn Alabama has already shown me so much of what the SE has to offer. Tall pines that stand proudly on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range remind me of the mixed coniferous forests of the PNW that I grew up in. American Beech trees, with their dead leaves still attached bring so much character to what would be an otherwise grey and empty understory. They look as though they are clinging to autumn for as long as possible. Stratified branches like spiraling staircases pique my imagination; I wonder if some creature uses them like the steps to some grand elvish cathedral of Nature herself. They may be one of my favorite trees. My tree identification skills are still extremely amateur at best, so aside from a few species of oaks, I cannot really go into further detail about what trees I have seen- but I look forward to spring when I can begin to ID trees in the most elementary way.
And while there isn't a lot of cultural character out here like there was back in Denton, where I did my undergrad, there is character in all of the animals that live in these forests. Already I have added a fair amount of new species to my life lists, including the Southern Two-Lined Salamander, who when lifted out from under his stream rock, sits calmly on my hand showing off his beautiful yellow form, with brown leopard like patches and of course two long lines trailing down his body. Whether he is tense or relaxed, I do not know, but I would prefer to suspect the latter, and imagine that he waits patiently for me to finish admiring his sparkling sunlit body. Somewhere nearby sits his cousin, a Marbled Salamander, under a piece of bark on a felled tree. I haven't seen one of these yet, but they are on my "to find" list.
Perhaps I miss the salamander because I am so focused on the mushroom that sits next to him. All of the fungal diversity out here... From Oyster Mushrooms to club fungi and everything between and beyond, it truly is an alien world after a soft rain. My favorites are, as cliche as it may be, the tiny bonnets who house tiny insects burrowing and feasting into their flesh. Again, my imagination is piqued and I wonder if there are fairies among me when I observe these mini agarics.
It wouldn't be too far fetched to say that there really are fairies out here though- with all of the tree diversity Auburn manages to support a lot of bird diversity throughout the winter. Winter Warblers are plentiful here, and like fairies, most of the birds give one a very tricky time trying to even get eyes on them! In one instance, a Pine Warbler landed on a branch not but a few feet from me, and as I finally got my camera focused on it, it took off leaving me with a blurry picture and an eager motivation to see another. In another instance I went walking near Chewacla State Park Saturday when I heard two Pileated Woodpeckers calling. Eventually one of them flew out from the trees and swept low into the canopy of another stand nearby all before I could get my camera on it. I stayed and waited patiently for the bird to reveal itself to me again, but I never did get another glimpse.
Finally, the mammals. The deer, squirrels and chipmunks do an excellent job of blending in, but spooking as soon as they see me. I'm sure that I get more of a fright from them suddenly springing out before me than they do just from seeing me. It is always a pleasure to see them though, because besides just being cute, they also start an exercise in my mind dealing with both animal behavior and the human condition. First, when the squirrel sees me, it spooks, then I spook. Next, I laugh at how absurd it is for me to spook, but also how absurd it seems that the squirrel would spook. As I hike on I realize, the squirrel is spooked because it has evolved to fear being preyed upon, right? I continue hiking, remembering the secluded birds high in the cascade range that would land on my hand and eat from it, fearing nothing. Or do they? Are these secluded birds fearful of us and just hungry enough to take a risk? Or have they seen so little predators that they do not fear being preyed upon? Or could it be something else? The squirrel could eventually be conditioned to eat from my hand, if it saw me every day and became comfortable around me, this I know from my childhood of feeding birds and squirrels in our own backyard. Nevertheless, I still find myself asking, is the fear evolved, or learned in such a short lifespan? I can't imagine it would be learned, seeing as I hardly ever see predators like coyotes, foxes, and hawks. But perhaps because I am not living the life of a squirrel, I couldn't possibly know the number of times it comes into contact with a predator (PhD work???). I would very much like to see more predators though, as foxes are one of my favorite animals. Knowing there are a few observations of them out here, motivates me to seek them out and photograph them, unlike my timid friend, the squirrel, who would probably never like to see them, and probably doesn't care for photography.

Ingresado el 02 de febrero de 2021 por schylerbrown schylerbrown | 26 observaciones | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

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