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Walk the Land

The second of two bird walks, led by Dr. Alan Peterson of the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club, sets off at Vlei Marsh Preserve.

Dirty Gaia creator Sue Sie had an idea for exploring a single piece of land, through the eyes of different specialists, over the course of a year. So we paired up with Winnakee Land Trust, who protect and maintain a number of rich biodiverse parcels in the Hudson Valley, to create the Walk the Land Series, a program of four walks at Vlei Marsh Preserve in Rhinebeck. The Preserve’s 165-acres include a complex ecosystem and terrain comprising old and new-growth forest, a lake (kept in place by an active beaver population), wetlands, and all manner of furred and feathered residents.

The first walk of the series was led by Winnakee’s executive director Bob Davis in May. He demonstrated that our woodlands are rife with evidence of their past, if you know how and where to look. Designated as a core forest within a forest linkage zone, Vlei has evolved from forest to farm to forest again over the decades. Look closely and this tumultuous past reveals itself to the trained eye. By way of example Bob explained that the bark’s graphics (are the markings vertical or horizontal?) can determine the age of trees. Further deciphering indicates whether they’re standing on the site of century-old pastures or more recent crop fields or woodlots, when a catastrophic storm did damage and what type of storm it was, where a fire ripped through. In essence, Bob taught us how to read a forest’s language.  

In June, Dr. Alan Peterson of the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club led two bird walks under the broad and active canopy that shades much of Vlei’s trails. Nearly 20 different species were heard and observed, from Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, whistling Cedar Waxwings and trilling Virginia Rails to red-shielded Gallinules, stunning Wood Ducks and majestic Great Blue Herons. The late-morning group saw a pair of Ospreys soaring along the horizon. Dr. Peterson’s powerful binoculars, set on a tripod at various stops, made even distant birds seem like they were just steps away. 

Dina Falconi, the remarkable forager and herbalist, will lead our fall walk in October. Where others see weeds and mushrooms, Dina sees food and plant medicine. Join us to learn how to identify, appreciate, and prepare wild vegetation.

For the winter observance of Vlei, we’re planning a tracking walk. Our guide will show us how to interpret the paw, claw and hoof prints in the snow and tell us just who’s wintering on the land.

One tract of land, four distinct ways to view and learn from it.

The group size is limited for these excursions, so please register for upcoming walks if you’re interested. We’d love to have you!

—Margot Dougherty

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