The Amphibians of Autumn

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Autumn is not the time most outdoor enthusiasts dwell on the creatures of the reptile and amphibian families. Snakes are headed to their winter den sites, frogs are contemplating burial at the bottom of a pond and box turtles are seeking out the perfect log in which to hibernate. One amphibian maintains a relatively active lifecycle in the fall, the salamander. This issue of the Nine Minute Naturalist will feature a few of the salamanders you can still find cruising the landscape long into the fall.

Cooler temperatures are upon us and the signs of preparation for the winter season are all around, but the salamander is still in his comfort zone. Salamanders tend to prefer cooler, damper conditions than most reptiles and amphibians. In the spring, at the first hints of warmer days, salamanders can be seen racing towards their reproduction grounds, moving well before you would think of seeing cold-blooded creatures. Their love for this weather is just as verifiable in the fall as they are moving towards their winter abodes and feeding in preparation for the long winter rest. Some salamanders, such as the marbled salamander, breed and lay eggs in fall. Wintergreen is laden with great locations to find salamanders. The Shamokin Springs Nature Preserve, Fortunes Ridge Trail, and large portions of the Old Appalachian Trail have the perfect combination of moisture and terrain to host a wide variety of species.

 

Red-backed salamander

 

One of the more common salamanders found at Wintergreen is the eastern red-backed salamander. This salamander is common throughout most of Virginia and prefers to live in the leaf litter of an eastern hardwood forest. They can commonly be found in rock crevices and in rotting logs. They are a top end predator of invertebrates in the detritus food chain such as earthworms, ants, beetles, centipedes and millipedes. Despite the name “red-backed”, this salamander can be found in all black form or with a yellowish stripe down the back instead of the usual red stripe.

 

Red-spotted newt

 

Another salamander routinely seen at Wintergreen is the red-spotted newt. This salamander has a very unique life cycle. They have an egg, larval, adult, and terrestrial eft life stage. The eggs hatch in the water and the larvae stay in the water for 2-3 months. They then metamorphize into the red eft, which is the most commonly seen stage. The terrestrial red eft lives in the woodland environment moving about searching for prey on rainy or humid days and nights. They stay in the eft stage approximately 4 years after which time they change into the adult stage and return to the aquatic life in the water. This stage is the genesis of their name due to their green bodies and red spots.

 

White-spotted slimy salamander

 

A few more easily found species at Wintergreen are the northern dusky, the southern two-lined, and the white-spotted slimy salamander. The northern dusky is commonly found within a few feet of a stream. Its coloration is brown with muddled black spots along the back. The southern two-lined salamander is known by the two black lines going down the length of the back. This species is semi-aquatic and can be found in numerous environments near water. The white-spotted slimy is one of the biggest salamanders at Wintergreen reaching up to 7 inches in length and are black with white spots all over the body. They are found in the moist leaf layers of the upland oak-hickory forests.

When going through your mental checklists of cool autumnal happenings in the forest of Wintergreen, don’t forget about the movements of our slimy friends. As you walk along the trails on a wet fall day keep your eyes peeled for the fall-loving salamanders of Wintergreen.

Fall Foliage

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


As summer draws to an end, nature is barraging us with signs of the changing season. Goldenrods in full bloom, wooly bear caterpillars marching, and swallows flocking in mass are a few of the tell-tale signs that fall is upon us. The more obvious but equally exciting signs of autumn are the crisp cool mornings and seeing the first colorful leaves on the forest floor. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will break down the Wintergreen fall foliage.

The primary trigger for the signs of autumn we see around us is photoperiod, which is the duration of an organism’s daily exposure to light. This along with fluctuation in local weather patterns will determine when chlorophyll production ceases in plants. When chlorophyll begins to break down, the green color disappears giving rise to our beloved red, yellow, and orange colors we see in our fall foliage. The Wintergreen forest offers some of the most striking color spectrums in the mid-Atlantic region due to our great diversity of trees.

 

 

My favorite color to appear in our forest is the deep reds common amongst the black gum, sassafras and red maple. These brilliant foliage producers tend to change early in the season to make for stark contrast amongst the still green oaks and hickories. The reds and purples produced by these species and others, such as dogwood, are a result of a pigment called anthocyanin. They are most vivid after weather periods with warm, sunny days and below 45-degree nights. Unlike chlorophyll, anthocyanins are not always present in a leaf but are produced in late summer when other environmental changes begin occurring.

 

 

The yellow, orange and brown colors come from pigments called carotenoids. This color is most common among our hickories, birch, and maples. The oak trees stay green the longest and turn mostly brown late into the season. When carotenoids combine with anthocyanin, they produce a fiery red, orange or bronze color seen among sumacs and sugar maples. All the colors seen across our landscape are due to the mixing of pigments with varying amounts of chlorophyll still present in the leaf.

Weather greatly affects the intensity of color each autumn. Low temperatures above freeze produce brilliant reds while early freezing temperatures reduce the red color. Rainy weather tends to increase fall color. Stress factors such as drought, disease or insects may cause fall color to come on early but with less coloration. An abrupt hard freeze can cause leaves to drop prematurely as well.

This is the best time of the year to be traversing the wilds of Wintergreen. For a short period of time we get to enjoy perfect hiking weather amongst our changing leaves. Get out onto a trail today to enjoy the uniqueness our mountain has to offer.

 

Wily Coyote

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Wintergreen offers spectacular animal sighting opportunities ranging from hordes of chipmunks to the sometimes-lovable black bear meandering through the woods. One rare sighting that has become a bit more common recently is the coyote. While not a native resident, this close relative to the domestic dog shows up on trail cameras with great frequency and can be heard yipping and howling around dusk and into the evening throughout the Wintergreen terrain. This episode of the Nine Minute Naturalist will focus on the wily coyote.

 

 

Native west of the Mississippi, coyotes arrived in Virginia two ways: natural migration and releases by fox hunters. The first report of free ranging coyotes in Virginia was in 1952 in the Burkes Garden area of Tazewell County. There are numerous reports of coyotes being imported into the state during the 1950s and 60s. In some cases, coyote pups were inadvertently mixed in with fox pups that were imported for fox hunting purposes. During this period, coyotes were expanding their natural range eastward and now populate every county including the Delmarva Peninsula and one of the Barrier Islands.

Coyotes are true omnivores, consuming everything from small mammals to fruit, berries and vegetables (they show a fondness for gourd vegetables) to carrion (dead animal matter). This predator is especially lethal to rabbits, groundhogs, chipmunks, mice and squirrels. Coyotes are also known to be predators of deer. In some cases, this is a good thing since deer have few natural predators beside humans. In other cases, many hunters see the coyote as a decimator of deer population. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources stance on the coyote/deer relationship is that they have little affect on the overall population as a whole but can be a problem in some specific areas with more closed forest environments such as the western portion of Virginia with large tracts of National Forest.

 

 

At the request of farmers, ranchers, and hunters, several counties in Virginia have instituted a futile bounty system to control population numbers. Bounties have proven ineffective primarily due to their density dependent reproduction. If the numbers decline, they have the ability to ramp up their reproduction. To understand their ability to adapt, an understanding of their life history is essential. Coyote females, which can breed after their first year, can produce between 2-12 pups per litter. This depends on food availability, overall health and population numbers. This means that if the population numbers are low, the females will have more pups and if the numbers are high, they will produce fewer young. This amazing ability to control their reproductive rates explains why coyotes have proved impossible to eradicate once they have arrived in an area.

One of the best ways to be aware of the presence of coyote is to listen carefully especially close to dusk. The coyote is one of the most vocal of our woodland mammals. They are loud and have a great diversity of language. Their howl, unlike the drawn-out wolf howl, consists of a series of high pitch barks and yips. A few coyotes can sound like quite a pack by combining wavering howls with rapid change of pitch that bounce off trees and rocks to make a pack of three dogs sound like ten.

Despite being a newcomer to the state, the wily coyote is here to stay. Embrace our newest neighbor by keeping a watchful eye and tuning in to hear the language of this especially vocal mammal as you spend time in the Wintergreen wilderness.

 

Be Careful What You Ask For

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Across the nation, parks, trails, camp grounds and other outdoor recreation destinations are under unprecedented pressure. Restrictions to normal everyday activities has pushed people to use the resources we have always wanted them to utilize. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will veer towards the philosophical as we discuss the problems associated with getting what we have always desired…for people to truly value and appreciate everything the great outdoors has to offer.

As an organization built upon conservation and education, The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen seeks to get people out into nature and build a mass that understands and appreciates the uniqueness of Wintergreen and the Blue Ridge Mountains. We lead weekly hikes, education programs in schools, and conduct research throughout the year in order to bring knowledge and awareness of the natural world. Yet in a time of shutdowns and restrictions, masses have come to see outdoor recreation as a key new component to their daily lives. The trails at Wintergreen have absolutely proven to be one of the most valuable resources available to guests and property owners. This newfound interest in our resources is what we have been trying to sell from the beginning…that Wintergreen’s greatest asset is the environment. That brings us to the question of how to manage the resources properly now that we have received all we could have asked for and more.

The positive news is that we have a great resource of past trail studies to be able to identify problem areas and where to allocate time and resources. In 2016-17, TNFW summer interns studied trail use across Wintergreen to figure out how and when our trails were used. This study has been used to compare that year-long period to numbers we are seeing now. Although much less time has been spent on trail counts this summer, the numbers indicate a 2x to 10x increase in usage along our trail system. For instance, the Shamokin Springs Nature Preserve averaged 60 users per week in 2016-17. More than 60 users were recorded in one weekend day this year. At Paul’s Creek Trail, it has become commonplace to count 6-10 cars in the cul-de-sac any day from 10am-4pm. Another study was done this summer to get a baseline for trail depreciation that can be replicated any given time to measure the impact of human use on the trails. The findings were predictable but enlightening at the same time. Our trails of greatest depreciation are the trails of greatest use – Paul’s Creek, Upper Shamokin Falls, and Highlands Leisure Trail. This study will offer a baseline for how to interpret impacts on the Wintergreen trails for years to come.

I don’t pretend to have an answer for the questions brought about by the surge in use on the resources at Wintergreen. I do know that I love the fact people desire to get into the environment and have come to appreciate our many resources. I also know that TNFW is ready to conserve and protect the resources to the best of our ability.