By Cherie Mosher, AmeriCorps 2012
I am the Volunteer Coordinator and Field Assistant AmeriCorps member for the West Haven branch of The Nature Conservancy. It is time for me to come out with a little secret. I love hidden object games. I cannot get enough of them. Little did I know, my secret enjoyment would help me as an AmeriCorps member. How so, you may ask. And the answer is, spotting timber rattlesnakes. You see, The Nature Conservancy, The Orianne Society, and Vermont Fish and Wildlife are collaborating to study eastern timber rattlesnakes in Vermont.
Now, I know what you are thinking. It’s not that hard to see a rattlesnake. It’s a rattlesnake. It rattles. True, but often they are trying just as hard to hide as I am to find them. They don’t want to draw my attention; they just want me to go away. For example, I was standing in one spot for five minutes the other day and did not realize until minute 5 that there was a black timber rattlesnake right in front of me (they come in black and yellow). Just hanging out, warming himself.
Doug Blodgett, from Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, and I were talking about how amazing the patterning is on the rattlesnakes. If you see it out of context, against a background that is not their natural one, it seems ridiculous. How is that patterning natural? All it takes is seeing them, or not seeing them, in their natural environment to begin to understand that it is truly effective. If they were solid black or solid yellow they would be much more obvious. They fade into the rock and leaf litter background with their ‘W’-shaped cross bands.
I appreciate the patterning because, like I said earlier, I am an avid hidden object game player. I like the challenge. There is something thrilling about looking at a broad landscape and seeing it as that, a landscape. But then, honing in on the details to discover a new landscape. Wildflowers overlooked, garter snakes, a chipmunk or two, several red efts, maybe a rat snake, and, if I’m lucky, a rattler.
Raven Ridge Natural Area
By Mollie Klepack, AmeriCorps Stewardship Assistant, Vermont Chapter 2012
When we set out to remove invasive garlic mustard at Raven Ridge Natural Area, we expected to need two full days and at least four or five volunteers to get all the work done.
So with six volunteers and my colleague, Donia Prince, AmeriCorps Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, we started to work on a large patch of the noxious weed. Donia steered us to the site where the control work occurred last year and we threw ourselves into the fray. But after a mere 15 minutes the patch was gone. How could that be?
The Nature Conservancy has been removing garlic mustard at Raven Ridge for the past three years, carefully extirpating the entire plant and removing it from the natural area in thick garbage bags. What was before a thick infestation that took days to remove has now become a few scrawny plants that can be dug up in minutes. And now in its place is a thick carpet of wildflowers, ferns and tree seedlings.
Great news! Now, what to do with six volunteers for the remainder of the workday? Well, Donia and I had heard rumors of garlic mustard in the northern and eastern parts of Raven Ridge, so we decided to go on an adventure and scout for new garlic mustard populations. Off through the preserve we explored, following old woods roads, and discovering a carpet of spring ephemerals wherever we went. Trillium, dutchman’s britches, blood root, and so many more created a fairytale landscape before us. See the slideshow.
And not a garlic mustard plant did we see. Although we tromped all over the natural area, following our noses and rumors, we found nary a stem. So our workday to kill plants became a wildflower identification stroll as we reveled in the wonder of spring. With Newcomb's Wildflower Guide in hand we found new species and reacquainted ourselves with old ones, like greeting good friends whom we haven’t seen all year.
It’s not often that you feel triumphant while doing invasive species removal work, but that day I felt just that. The Nature Conservancy has controlled the spread of garlic mustard in this spectacular natural area. We will need to do yearly scouting to make sure that the garlic mustard does not reestablish itself here, but this is a definite success story for controlling a destructive invasive species.
From the Archives
By Joe Forsyth, AmeriCorps 2011
I must admit that I am one of those who is frightened of rattlesnakes, most likely from too many run-ins with a much more widespread and not-so-docile rattlesnake—the western diamondback. But throughout the course of the Natural History Series talk on timber rattlesnakes, I was won over by the explanations and the enthusiasm of the presenters. It was clear that each of them cared deeply about the conservation and continued study of these snakes and wanted to get the message across that these animals should be cherished for what they are: a unique and far-flung population that is part of everything else in nature.
Many of us learned for the first time through this presentation just how special this small population of timber rattlesnakes living in eastern New York and southern Vermont are compared to the rest of their species...