What to see and do on a walk in the woods

 Yesterday, I had suggested taking a walk in the woods as a fun and inexpensive type of activity that you could enjoy with friends or family.

Before I talk about what you are likely to see in the woods, I need to remind you how to dress for safety. I recommend wearing long sleeves, long pants, a hat, and a sturdy pair of shoes. I also suggested tucking your pants into your socks. When I read the comments from yesterday’s blog post, I noticed a question about tucking your pants into your socks. Why do we need to do it?  The answer is ticks. They often will jump out of trees, so they might land on your head. Hence a hat. Or they could crawl up from the ground. If your pant legs are tucked into your socks, the ticks don’t have a clear path to your legs. Because ticks carry such diseases as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, you’re going to want to protect yourself from these very small arachnids. So I hope that helps clarify things. In addition, please remember to bring a refillable water bottle. Also, when you leave the woods, make sure to check each other for ticks. 

When you walk, it is best and safest to stay on marked trails. Don’t grab hold of trees because you could end up by having a too-close encounter with poison ivy, a vine that likes to wrap itself around tree trunk. Also, there are cavity nesting and ground nesting bees, such as honeybees and bumblebees. By going off the trail or by touching tree trunks, you could accidentally disturb a nest, which would cause the bees to go into home defense mode. Fleeing from a swarm of angry, territorial bees is not really the best way or most fun way to work on your running skills.

So, everyone is dressed for the occasion, and off to the woods you go. What do you hope to see in the woods? Well, it really depends on the season. It is now almost winter (although here in Western New York, it feels very wintry already).

You’re going to see bare trees and yellowed and old looking tall grasses. You’re going to see evergreens. In the winter, you won’t see quite as many birds as you do in the summer, but they are still around. Some birds only spend the summer here, and they fly away when the weather turns colder and the days become shorter. Birds that you might spot in Western New York woods include woodpeckers, hawks, eagles, geese, ducks, wild turkeys, least bittern, great blue heron, black crowned night heron, and many more. 

The forest canopy might be closed (lots of shade) or open (more sunlight).  You will see different types of plants, based on how much sunlight they are getting. Some plants love shade. They include ferns, small shrubs, young canopy trees, and various types of wildflowers.

Trees that you’re most likely to see include oak, maple, beech, tuliptree, hickory, and hemlock. In the past, you would have seen ash trees, but most of them have fallen victim to the emerald ash borer.

In addition to birds, you’re likely to encounter different types of animals, which include mammals and insects. Many of these are pollinators that are needed to keep the forest alive. They include bees, wasps, flies, moths, butterflies, bats, songbirds, beetles, and ants. Native bee species include bumblebees and mason bees. Mason bees get their name because they build their nests out of mud.

Common butterflies in the northeast include giant swallowtail, monarch, and viceroy.

Farther south, you might see gulf fritillary. Mammals and reptiles in the woods that you’re likely to spot would include garden snakes, squirrels, chipmunks, turtles, red foxes, snails, coyotes, and deer. There are animals that are too shy and, when they hear humans, they take off at top speed. 

If you hike in the forest in early spring, you are likely to see vernal pools. These are pools of water that are considered to be ephemeral. That is to say, they are small, shallow wetlands that don’t have a permanent water source. They will dry up later in the spring and remain dry through the summer. Vernal pools are great things to see because it is there that many amphibian species and reptile species can be observed. For example, certain types of frogs salamanders, such as the blue spotted salamander and the Jefferson salamander, are called vernal pool obligates. That means that they must reproduce and raise their young in a vernal pool. The best time to see them is in late winter or early spring, on the first rainy day after the air temperature has reached 45 degrees F (7.22 C).

That’s all for today! Feel free to ask questions in the chat! I hope that you enjoy walking in the woods year round!

(Alice Gerard is a master naturalist trainee in the program offered by Cornell University.)

4 thoughts on “What to see and do on a walk in the woods”

  1. Kebba Buckley Button

    Wow, Alice! That's a lot of creatures we might disturb! Even on such a cold day?! You ask why we want to walk in the woods, or what we want to see. I want to see striking vignettes I can photograph and turn into notecards and greeting cards later. Birds on bare branches would be nice. Or interesting patterns of branches against the sky. Aside from photographing, I just really enjoy the sensations of walking. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Oh my goodness, Alice, no thank you! I was done as soon as you started talking about ticks dropping onto your head!! However, I am so allergic, I wouldn't be doing it anyway. And on the other hand, those were good tips you suggested. In a future post, I'd love to know more about your master naturalist training.

  3. What excellent tips about the ticks! So many don't realize you have to dress to keep them away as much as possible. As you described the birds, butterflies and animals I felt like I was hiking along with you. So very detailed, love it!

  4. So much in one post! The things you see and enoounter vary so much by season…I don't think you have to worry about ticks much right now, with the frozen ground… but of course you do in the summer.

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