While February still seems like the depths of winter in some ways, signs of spring are there if you know where to look -- or listen. Chickadees have started singing their "hey sweetie" mating call. Sunshine warms tree trunks and melts wells around them in the snow. Moss and lichen can rehydrate and start photosynthesizing whenever there is liquid water. The best parts of winter are still visible, too: animal tracks! Soft, spring snow makes for great tracking. In any month this is a beautiful trail. Come see for your self and take a peek at the events on Nature's Calendar.




Created by: CNHM
Distance: 1.4 mi
Ascent: 38 ft
Date: 03/15/2016
Duration: 96 min
Descent: 774 ft
Tags: phenology, Forest Lodge Nature Trail
Difficulty: Beginner


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Points of Interest

trail intersection
The Forest Lodge Nature Trail is a "lollypop loop." You walk the "stick" both out and back. Here you can go either direction about the loop. The self-guided trail booklet, and this hike, go left -- clockwise. Which way will you go?
Who goes there? These are the tracks of a bounding weasel! All four feet landed in that same spot. The next track group is more than two feet away. Boy can they jump!
black knot
This parasitic fungi goes by many names: black knot cankor, dead man's finger, and arboreal fox scat. (Arboreal means tree-dwelling, and around here that means a gray fox) It will suck nutrients out of the cambium inner bark layer. Once the fungus encircles a twig or trunk, it girdles it and the twig or tree dies. It only grows on cherry trees (choke cherry, pin cherr and black cherry) so it can be useful in tree ID.
More lichens
This bushy lichen is very fun. The little round circles in among the branches are called apothecia. One friend likens them to "alien landing pads," but they are really just a reproductive structure.
grouse tracks
The four-toed tracks of a grouse disappear behind the tree. These tracks were made when the snow was warm and soft. Usually grouse don't sink in so far.
grouse tracks again
How many different ways can a grouse trail look?
grouse trail again
Can you learn to identify a grouse trail in all types of snow?
grouse scat
Sometimes grouse tracks even lead you to grouse scat! This dry, cylindrical scat is made of the tough woody parts of their diet. Grouse also have a more liquidy scat from the easily digested parts of their diet.
grouse toes
Grouse grow their own snowshoes each winter. A little fringe of keratin projections line each toe, helping the grouse stay on top of fluffy snow.
rabbit run
Can you see the fait, fresh cottontrail tracks leading into the fir thicket? By the worn path, you can tell that rabbits have traveled this all winter. Having well-packed and well-known trails can help rabbits and hares escape from predators more easily.
birch twigs
Winter winds often bring twigs down to where we can see them. The stubby side twigs tell me that this is from a birch.


Can you see the story of what happened here? Some animal -- probably a canid, and maybe even a pet dog -- walked over to the tree, marked his territory by peeing on the lower branches, and then walked back to the trail. Dogs do this to mark their territory. That poor tree was just used to get the scent a little higher up, so it could travel a bit further on the wind.
deer browse shrub
Deer often browse the same shrub over and over again, causing it to grow in a contorted pattern. With too much deer browse, no new trees and shrubs can get started!
Are you ready for a beautiful hike?
red oak leaf on twig
Oaks often hang onto their leaves a little longer in the fall, relying on wind and snow to break off the leaves instead of the usually abcission layer of cells that most trees use. This makes them easy to identify.
white pine snag
This old white pine snag falls down a little more every year, but you can bet there's still lots of life inside! Insects and fungi especially love old, dead trees.
rabbit nip
While deer must rip twigs off to eat them, rabbits and hares have two sets of very sharp front teeth and nip twigs off cleanly at an angle. This red maple twig sure looks tasty, don't you think?
open grown
This white pine, with its lower branches all the way down the trunk, can be described as "open grown." It got started with plenty of sunshine! In contrast, trees that grow up in a forest grow straight and quickly, and generally lack lower branches.
white pine needles
Pine needles come in clusters. White pine needles come in clusters of 5. W-H-I-T-E has five letters, so that makes it easy to remember!
snow wells
One sign of the lengthening days and strengthening sun is the snow wells that form around trees. The dark bark absorbs sunlight and radiates the energy as heat, melting the snow nearby.
bent tree
Small trees are limber on purpose, sometimes the safest place to spend the winter is under the snow! This one will likely spring back once the snow melts and things warm up.
tree rings
Count back the rings on this tree to the year you were born?
red oak leaf
Red oak leaves have pointed tips.
How many tree species can you identify by this leaf litter on the snow? big toothed aspen basswood white pint
grouse along trail
More grouse tracks! Can you seem them along the drifts on the right side of the trail?
hairy woodpecker
My best guess is that a hairy woodpecker made these holes. Too small for a pileated, too big for a downy. What do you think he found to eat? Woodpeckers don't need to migrate, because they can find food here all winter long.
balsam fir needles
Balsam fir needles have two white stripes on the underside. These are the racing stripes of a fir-rari!
balsam fir needles top
Balsam firs have flat and friendly needles, with no petiole or stem between the needle and the twig.
big toothed aspen
Big toothed aspen is also sometimes called sawtooth aspen, because the serrations on its leaves reminded loggers of their toothy tool -- the crosscut saw.
You can find all sorts of interesting things without even stepping off the trail.
Aspen trees have distictive white bark, except on their lower trunks where they've turned brown.
quaking aspen
Quaking aspen leaves are designed to tremble in the wind, but sometimes a whole twig falls! That gives us close look at leaves and buds, even when the rest of tree is very tall.
trail intersection bridge
Taking a left takes you around the Extended Nature Trail loop. Taking a right takes you across a small bridge and on to the bog!
spruce bark
Spruce and fir may have similar looking needles, but the flaky bark of spruce always gives it away.
Beaked hazelnut buds are still tightly closed. Come spring, a tiny red flower will emerge from the tip of the bud, and pollen from the catkin (the long think on the left) will fertilize the flower on a different plant.
spruce needles
Spruce needles are spinny, spiny, and square. If you shake it's hand, watch out! The needles will poke you! Balsam fir, on the other hand is flat and friendly.
A black cankor of some sore infects lots of fir trees in this area.
trail intersection 2
Taking a left gives you an extra hike around the Extended Nature Trail loop. Taking a right takes you on to the bog!
This polypore fungus has some beautiful designs.
This birch tree is slowing being killed by a chaga fungus. Chaga is reported to have many health benefits, which is why this one has been harvested multiple times. Good foragers use areas away from trails, and leave interesting things where other people can see them.
polypore underside
Polypore fungi get their name because their spores are released through a cluster of tiny tubes on the underside. It is kind of like a handful of drinking straws.
polypore up
Look up! You might see the underside of a polypore fungus. They last a lot longer than most summer mushrooms.
birch rust
Does anyone know what this orange rust on the birch bark is?
bird bench
The bird watching bench is covered with snow -- and lichens!
barke beetles
Bark beetles make such interesting patterns!
squirrel trail
Can you see where the squirrel hopped in from the right, and then dug under the snow to find his seed cache? It's fun to tell stories about the animal tracks we see recorded in the snow. Soon we'll be noticing little bits of red estrus on the snow -- a signal that it is squirrel mating time.
red oak
Red oaks can be identified by their bark, which splits into parallel flat-topped ridges and often shows a little reddish color in the grooves.
bark beetles
I'm not sure exactly what type of bark beetle made these designs, but I think they're fascinating!
Rusty brown white pine needles bedeck a balsam fir with festive beauty. Even though we call pines "evergreens" they still lose about one third of their needles each year.
bog platform
The bog boardwalk is still is still a nice place to visit, even though the bench is covered in snow.
two trees
In the bog, this stunted white pine (left) and baby black spruce (right) share a small hummock high spot.
black spruce
The tall spires of black spruce surround any bog worth its salt.
black spruce twig
Black spruce has shorter, pointier needles than either hemlock or fir. If you pick of a single needle, you can roll it between your fingers and feel that it is square in cross-section.
labrador tea
Labrador tea is a classic blog plant. The orange fuzz under each leave helps to protect the plant from drying winds. You can make tea from its leaves, too, and it contains a stimulant similar to caffeine.
white pine bog
White pine isn't supposed to be a wetland species, but some stunted, sickly looking trees still try to colonize the bog.
Tamarack is known for living in bogs. Is is our only deciduous conifer, and it needs lots of sunlight. Right now its new needles are tucked away in the lumpy buds along the twigs. In spring they'll emerge in a green haze.
hemlock needles
Hemlock needes are short, with a stripe down the center and a little petiole or stem attaching it to the twig.
hemlock cone
It's hard to imagine that a giant hemlock tree can come from a tiny seed held inside this tiny cone.
sapsucker hemlock
Have you ever seen these tiny holes in the bark of a hemlock tree? I believe they are made by a yellow-bellied sapsucker looking for sap!
hemlock grove
These beautiful old hemlock trees make a magical grove. One big branch fell across the trail, though, so step carefully!
sapsucker and lichen
Here's a close-up view of sapsucker holes in a hemlock tree. And some bright green lichen!
This weird shoulder on a big old hemlock tree catches a little extra water (or ice) and provides a nice, moist habitat for lichens and moss. Just a few degrees warmer, or with some sunshine, the ice will melt and the moss will start photosynthesizing again!
brown cubicle
This old snag may be dead, but it is still full of life. Woodpecker holes abound, and that's not all. The rectangular cracking of the trunk is evidence that it is being decomposed by a type of fungi known as brown cubicle butt rot. (Foresters call the base of a tree its butt)
old road
Balsam fir trees like to come in along old abandoned roads like this one.
red squirrel
Whose hopping trail ends a tree? Why a red squirrel's of course!
Who do you think might live here? Many species use tree cavities in a forest.
paper birch
Who doesn't love the elegant trunks of birch trees in any season?
These hopping tracks leading to a tree are definitely squirrel. They might even be big enough to be from a gray squirrel!
maple leaved viburnum
Last year this umbrella-shaped cluster held buds, flowers, and berries in turn. Now, the dried twigs of maple leaved viburnum are just awaiting another spring.
I would call this old white pine a Grandmother Tree, since it probably provided the seeds to start all the other white pines nearby. Foresters might call it a "wolf tree" though, because it is stealing sunlight from more economically valuable trees. In either case, the tip once broke, and two branches achieved domiance. That event probably saved this tree's life! Loggers didn't want it, but we sure do!
pink fungus
Wow! Look at this crazy pink funugs on the fir tree! Below it is a crustose lichen with black apothesia. Who ever said that winter isn't colorful?
dried flower
What did this look like last August? Perhaps it was a beautiful yellow cone flower.
This section of trail is planted with lots of beautiful prairie flowers. Their seed heads are interested year-round, but come back in August for the real show!
old rabbit tracks
Bunnies have been hopping around here all winter! Here is a softened and snowed-in trail from a cottontail. It was probably using the white pine thicket for shelter.
Here's a good look at cottontail rabbit tracks in a fresh dusting of snow. The bottom to tracks in the photo are from the front feet. The top two tracks are from the hind feet. The rabbit is going up/away from us. A snowshoe hare would have hind feet at least twice that size!
deer browse
Who browsed this twig? Deer don't have upper front teeth, so they use lower teeth to press a twig against their upper palate and tear. That produces a ragged tip like you see here.
While the black knot cankor may be bad for the cherry tree, the lack of cherry leaves means more sunlight for a diversity of lichens. The lichens don't hurt the tree, they don't even decompose it. Instead, the algae in the symbiosis produces enough sugars through photosynthesis to feed both itself and its fungal partner. Other minerals come from the rain and wind.
raccoon tracks
Who was sharing the trail with us? Who has such long-fingered, five-fingered feet? Why a raccoon, of course! Enticed out of his warm den by unseasonable temperatures.
bunny tracks
Right next to the trailhead, a cottontail rabbit has recently been traveling on the fresh dusting of snow. They hop by landing with their front feet, then swinging their hind feet around in front of them for another liftoff. Their direction of travel is toward the bigger feet in the track group.
trailhead sign and map
The Forest Lodge Nature Trail is well marked with maps at the intersections, so you don't get lost!
The Forest Lodge Nature Trail trailhead is plowed enough for 2-3 cars to park along Garmisch Road.