The clayplain forest nature walk took place in a toasty warm classroom while it stormed outside.  We talked about how the Valley Clayplain Forest is a natural community:  “A natural community is an interacting asemblage of organisms, their physical environment, and the natural processes that affect them,” from Thompson and Sorenson (2000), Wetland, Woodland, and Wildland, A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont.  We imagined walking across the field toward the clayplain forest patch, with the rampart of the Adirondacks to our west and the gentler Green Mountains to the east, both of which bounded Lake Vermont and the Vermont Sea.  During periods of glacial retreat, Lake Vermont and the Vermont Sea would have been a quiet of body of water in which tiny, tiny clay particles would have remained suspended and then settled to bottom.  These are the clay soils of the Champlain Valley where the Valley Clayplain Forest can be found in Vermont.

We imagined walking through the forest, observing the canopy trees, the younger trees growing up, the woody shrub layer, and then the ground layer.  Participants contributed interesting observations about the flora and fauna of the ground layer.  We imagined the decomposing dead trees, the tip ups which create pits and mounds, and shallow rooting of trees of the clayplain forest due to stressful conditions of “making a living” in the dense clay soils.

It was fun learning together about how to identify trees and shrubs by leaf, bud, and bark characteristics.  We combined our knowledge and everyone learned a new bit.

Hopefully folks who came to the workshop will be able to take a walk soon at the Dead Creek Wildlife Refuge soon to observe these and more characteristics that make the Clayplain Forest a very special natural community.  Wetland, Woodland, and Wildland, the book by Thompson and Sorenson, is a great resource to have on hand when visiting forests and wetlands throughout Vermont.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for good weather next year so we can go out and explore the clayplain forest patch near the headquarters.

– Barbara Otsuka