Winter Walk

Well, sort of winter. Forty degrees. The ground under foot was mushy under the melting snow. The creek that was probably frozen a couple of days ago was clear of ice today.


American Beech


Eastern Hemlock


Oak (and other leaves if you look closely)


Black Cherry


Yellow Birch


Hawthorn


White Pine

Nice walk with wonderful company.

Stress Relieving Walk

I’ve been putting all my brain power into a big fundraiser for the Nature Center where I work. On Thursday afternoon, just an hour before we had to drive down to set everything up, I took a much needed nature break. Here’s some of what I saw.

Staghorn Sumac:
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I love Staghorn Sumac. Much of it is more brilliantly colored than this one at this time of year, but I didn’t find any fiery ones on my walk. This deciduous shrub produces fuzzy red berries on the female plants which persist all winter and provide food for birds, and can be used to make tea. It spreads like crazy from the root system, so you often see big patches of the stuff that are tall in the middle and shorter as you move out from the center. Click here for lots more info from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Red Maple against a background of Red Pine:
IMG_6989 Maple and Pine
After checking the forest service website (which you can visit by clicking here), I’ve decided Red Maple is the Superlative Tree. Consider these quotes:

  • one of the most abundant and widespread trees in eastern North America
  • the greatest continuous range along the Atlantic Coast of any tree

I’m fond of Red Maple in all seasons. The spring “flowers” are very interesting.

The Red Pines in the background are not native to our area. They were planted when the Jamestown Audubon Society first got the property – a vast goldenrod field – in order to provide wildlife shelter. If you pay close attention to our Red Pines, you will notice they are always growing in straight lines! If that’s not a clue that they were planted by humans, I don’t know what is. Read more about Red Pines by clicking here.

White-tailed Doe:
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This little lady was nibbling away in one of our bird banding net lanes. I took several shots through the brush and while she noticed me, she did not seem concerned with my presence. So, in order to get a better shot, I sneaked down the “steps” and into the net lane with her. She let me snap the above shot, then turned up her tail:

IMG_7009 White Tail
White-tailed deer are very common in our region. And this is the season of the rut. The males’ antlers are quite impressive at this time of year. After mating they will shed them and I will search for the shed antlers and probably not find any, if past experience is any indicator… (sad face) Read more about White-tailed deer by clicking here.

Swamp Rose:
IMG_7011 Swamp Rose
I wish we could eliminate some of the non-native Multiflora Rose that grows like crazy at the Nature Center and replace it with native Swamp Rose. It’s a much prettier, if less prolific plant. Its blooms in spring are showy and pink, and in fall the hips are big and the leaves so colorful. You can learn more at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website by clicking here.

Some Leaves on the Surface of the Pond:
IMG_7015 Pond Surface
Those little round ones are Frogbit, an non-native that we discovered in our waterways at the Nature Center back in 2006. It has since spread to all the ponds. It makes really pretty little flowers, which is why it was brought here from Europe – to decorate backyard ponds. But it sure makes thick mats, which isn’t good for native wildlife… It doesn’t look bad in this photo, but boy can it grow fast! Read more about it by clicking here.

Even more Swamp Rose because it’s so pretty at this time of year:
IMG_7019 Swamp Rose

And the Big Sugar Maple; I just can’t resist a photo every time I pass it:
IMG_7028 Sugar Maple
This great, old sugar maple was on the property when Jamestown Audubon Society acquired it. It is a massive tree and I have a hard time walking past it without snapping a few photos. I worry about our sugar maples in this era of global climate change. You can read about sugar maples in general by clicking here. And you can read about the effects of climate change on sugar maples by clicking here.


The auction was a great success. Many thanks to all the volunteers, donors, guests, and to the venue staff for making it so much fun.

And many thanks to Mother Nature for the stress relieving break she gave me while in preparation for it all!

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Trees

I wrote this article for Jamestown Audubon’s weekly column:

Trees
by Jennifer Schlick

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Eastern Hemlock

The temperature has risen 30 degrees to a balmy 23F, perfect for outdoor recreation.  The snow in the woods behind a friend’s house is thigh deep, so I strap on snow shoes and head out with the dogs.  The little one makes me laugh sometimes disappearing up to her ears as she bounds through the sparkling white stuff.  The first fifteen to twenty minutes is fast-paced to get the blood pumping.  After that, I’m warm and toasty for the rest of the walk and even feel the need to stop and cool down – frequently.

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American Beech

To speed the cooling I remove my gloves and unzip my jacket.  While I catch my breath I marvel at the trees, reflecting on the time I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, where the only native trees seemed to be Saguaro cacti and the imported palms looked out of place.  How can people live without trees?  I only made it for a couple of years in the desert and had to return to the forested landscapes of my upbringing.  I never feel more at home than when I’m in the woods.  I just love trees.  The beech still clinging to dry shriveled leaves, the big old maples and oaks gnarly and majestic, and the hemlocks – by far my favorite tree.

Old Maple

Old Maple

Not a fan of sun, the deep shade provided by hemlocks draws me in no matter the season.  I trudge a little ways off the trail to sit beneath the boughs for a few minutes.  I can just barely hear a little trickle of water in the creek under the thick ice.  Chickadees, nuthatches, and kinglets jump from branch to branch above me chattering their social calls, foraging for winter insects.  I scan the landscape and notice that this woods is relatively new.  The trees are young and dense.  Down here by the creek, the species of trees are all native.  Up on the hill, there are stands of White Spruce, Scot’s Pine, European Larch and others that were planted by the landowners many years ago.  None of the trees are really old, though.

There are places nearby where I can commune with really old trees.  I’d love to know the age of the big Sugar Maple on the hill next to the Nature Center building at Audubon.  And do you know the massive oaks on the far side of Spatterdock Pond?  How about the really nice stand of old growth in Allegany State Park off the East Meadow trail, or the forest at Heart’s Content?  There is a feeling you get in the presence of these old trees that you don’t get anywhere else.  You begin to wonder how many people have walked by this spot and what stories the tree could tell if it could talk.  You begin to question the significance of your relatively short life.

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Oak

We’d like to give you a chance to meet a few old geezers in Chautauqua County in March.

Jamestown Audubon’s 2014 “Bucket List” calendar features twelve must-do, must-see nature phenomena to experience before you “kick the bucket.”  The March 15 event focuses on old trees.  Restaurant proprietor Chris Merchant is passionate about old growth forests.  He and Audubon program director Jennifer Schlick will lead a chat about trees over lunch at Mariner’s Pier Express in downtown Jamestown, New York, before heading out to see some of Chautauqua County’s oldest trees.  The regular price of $43, or Friends of the Nature Center price of $34, includes lunch and transportation.  Prepaid reservations are required by March 10 and can be made by calling the Audubon Center at (716) 569-2345 or by visiting http://jamestownaudubon.weebly.com. The trip begins at 11:00am and we expect to be back in Jamestown by 4:00pm.

Another opportunity to learn about trees will be offered on Saturday, March 8, from 1:00pm until 3:00pm.  After a classroom program to learn about the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that threatens Eastern and Carolina Hemlock trees, we will take a walk to Audubon’s hemlock grove to search for signs – and hopefully find none!  The fee for this program is $16, or $12 for Friends of the Nature Center and can be paid at the door.  Registration is requested by Friday, March 7, and can be done by phone, or at our website.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania.  Learn more about the activities at the Center by visiting http://jamestownaudubon.org or calling (716) 569-2345.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Jamestown Audubon.

Uncle Rick’s Maple Sugar Shack

Starting Saturday afternoon and lasting through Tuesday evening, I took a bit of time all for me.  I planned to do only things that would make me happy and to worry about no one else.  Stop number one on my itinerary was to visit “Uncle Rick’s” sugar shack.  I’ve known for some time that Rick boils sap every year, but I had never been able to fit it into my schedule to visit his operation.  Saturday would be the last day he planned to boil – and the first day of my vacation!  Perfect timing.

Rick collects sap from trees on his property and on properties within a mile of his house.  Katie and I rode along and helped empty the buckets.  The sap was flowing fast.

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Lots of critters enjoy the sap, including moths and beetles.  We rescued a couple.

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Rick also stopped the truck to rescue a wooly bear.

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Back at the shack, Rick filters the sap to remove insects and chunks of bark and who knows what that may have fallen into the buckets despite the lids.

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The bit that looks like a metal bucket tapers in and has a paper filter in the bottom.

The wood stove provides heat under two giant rectangular tubs.

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As he pours sap into the larger of the two, he moves rubber bands along a series of nails to help him remember how many gallons he started with.

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(The “Anderson” sign comes from Gordon Anderson from whom Rick acquired most of his equipment.)

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Before moving the sap from the large tub to the smaller for the final boil, he filters it again.

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The resulting syrup is liquid gold.  Katie and I enjoyed testing it.

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Thanks, Rick, for an educational and fun afternoon!

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Wooly Beech Aphid

I learned about Wooly Alder Aphids a long time ago and wrote about them here.  I learned this week that Alder is not the only tree that has its very own aphid.  Beech trees can play host, too, to another species of wooly aphid.

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Like all aphids, this variety has a piercing mouth part which it uses to get beneath the surface of the plant in order to suck juices.

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Like other woolies, this variety carries waxy threads on its body.

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According to one source, it is rare that an infestation is severe enough to do any real damage to the tree. I question that as it concerns our beech, already under attack by Beech Bark Disease (caused by a fungus introduced by a scale insect).

I’ve walked this woods frequently for a lot of years and never noticed this aphid before.  I will be curious to see what happens.

Learn more:

Osage Orange

Imagine tennis balls – the bright neon-green kind – but a little larger and all wrinkly. Two of these showed up on my porch the other day (mysteriously) and I brought them in and put them in my fruit bowl.

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They have an unusual odor – not “pretty” – but not unpleasant either, sort of a clean chemical aroma, if that makes sense. I did a little googling and discovered they are called osage oranges (Maclura pomifera) and they grow on trees whose northern most range is the southern most part of my county, just barely.

osage orange distribution MapIt is reported indigenous people made war clubs from its very hard wood and that Europeans found it useful as a living livestock hedge, and later, after barbed wire became popular, the rot-resistant wood made good fence posts. The seeds are edible, if you can get to them through the pulp and slimy husk, a task readily engaged in by squirrels.  There are unsubstantiated claims that the fruits repel bugs and spiders in your home.

I don’t know who put these on my porch, but if you are reading this, I am very interested in seeing the tree from which they came! Contact me?

Read accounts about Osage Orange at:

Disturbing

While there is something endearing about lovers’ initials carved into the bark of a tree, there is something disturbing about the amount of carving on the poor beech trees along the Bear Caves Trail at Allegany State Park. These are just SOME of the carvings from just ONE tree:

American Beech-3a

American Beech-3b

American Beech-3c

American Beech-3d

American Beech-3e

American Beech-3f

Confession time: have you ever carved something into the bark of a tree?

An Escape…

Fire Tower Trail

Fire Tower Trail, Allegany State Park

Sometimes when the world is weighing down heavily on your shoulders, the only thing that helps is a little escape… a chance to walk, explore, breathe crisp Autumn air.  A chance to surround yourself with the familiar, yet be open to the novel.

The Art Roscoe Ski area at Allegany State Park is a wonderful place for cross-country skiing in winter.  Turns out, it is also a wonderful place for hiking when there is no snow.

Fire Tower

Fire Tower at the Art Roscoe Ski Area, Allegany State Park

A side trail runs parallel to the main trail and takes you to a Fire Tower.  I pushed my fear deep down into my boots and climbed the stairs, hoping for a glorious vista from the top.  There were hand rails and the stairs were sturdy.  Still, my heart pounded hard and my breath came in short, shallow fits.

It was indeed worth it!  The view from the top was spectacular and very much justified the climb.

The Allegany “Mountains” are really a big old ocean bed that was carved out over time by melting glacier water and various other forms of erosion.  When you climb up for a view from the top, you can see that all the “peaks” are the same height.

View from the Top

View from the Top

It was helpful to have my hiking buddy in front of me on the descent… much easier looking at his backpack than at the steep stairs that went on and on.  Back on the ground, it took a while before the adrenaline left my muscles and I could relax again… and turn my attention from big sweeping views to the forest’s minutiae.

Moth

A tiny moth kept trying to hide from me under the leaves...

Most of the Sweetwater trail is wide and in winter two trails for skiing are groomed making for fast, easy skiing. Along the way we found a narrower trail that crossed Sweetwater. Always favoring the road less travelled, we took a right hand turn.

Peeling Bark

Loose and peeling bark is back-lit by the Autumn rays.

It was late afternoon and the long, slanting rays of the sun were golden, creating vibrant, colorful mini-landscapes.

Icicle Fungus - Teeth you can Eat

The log we chose to rest on was decorated with a familiar "Icicle Fungus"

A bit further down the trail, there was an opening and the combination of “plant” life was simply delightful… Some I recognized and knew the names of… Others I recognized, but have no names for…  And one brand new!  (I put the word plant in quotes… because back when I studied biology the first time, there were only two kingdoms:  Plants and Animals.  And under that scheme… all these things would have been classified as plants…)

Lichens and Mosses

Lichens and Mosses

The first thing I noticed was a thick carpet of lichens – some 6 or 8 inches tall, punctuated with mosses competing for space.  Tucked in here and there were mushrooms… so bitty it would have been easy to miss them altogether…

Mushroom

A tiny mushroom manages to pop up through the thick mat of moss and lichen.

A little trail nibble was provided by a patch of Wintergreen that was sharing the soil with the others.

Wintergreen

Wintergreen... not the juiciest of berries... but a very pleasant flavor.

Very near the bushy-shrubby type lichens were stalks that resembled small cups on stems, decorated with a bit of red.  I’m not sure if they are a structure of the the shrubby type, or a whole separate species…

Cup Lichen

This seems to match other photos I have found labeled "Lesser Sulpher Cup Lichen."

And then there were the Lycopodium…

Ground Pine

These little "club mosses" or "ground pines" are considered "exploitatively vulnerable" in New York State. They have been over-harvested for wreath-making.

If I have seen the next one before, it was never in such abundance and so easy to investigate… It warrants several pictures…

Running Club Moss

Running Club Moss

Oh dear… this post is getting very long and there is still so much more to tell… I guess I’ll click “publish” and tell you more later…

Arbor Vitae

I trudge down the old road between the red pine plantation on my right and the horse pasture on my left. The deep snow doesn’t slow the dog as much as it slows me. At the bottom of the hill we cross the creek and start up the road on the other side. Every time I walk this property, I marvel at the resourcefulness of the farmers who have owned it for generations. I could write volumes from the observations here…

Before I reach the top of the rise, my path is blocked by the skeletal remains of a once majestic tree.  I look for clues to what species it is. The branching pattern is unfamiliar to me.

Eastern White Cedar-1

Most of the “leaves” are gone. A few brown ones remain… needles that aren’t needles – more like reptilian scales surrounding the twigs… just enough to give me the informatin I need.

Eastern White Cedar-2

Ironic that this dead tree is called Arbor Vitae – Tree of Life.

When I get home, I open my tree books and search the ‘net. The first three sources list three different ways of presenting the common name:  Arbor Vitae, arborvitae, or Arbor-vitae.  It also goes by Cedar, White Cedar, Northern White Cedar, and Eastern White Cedar.  The Latin name is Thuja occidentalis.

The USDA range map is a little misleading for it shades an entire state when the tree is found anywhere in the state. 

USDA Map

The Forest Service map attempts to be a little more precise… But since the tree is now cultivated for ornamental uses, you can find it in places outside the native range maps.

Forest Service Map

Since I do not live in the tree’s official native range, I assume that the fallen tree was planted here, like so many of the trees on this property, and I wonder what the motivation was for selecting this species.

It is doubtful the landowners wanted the tree for its vitamin C, though the foliage is rich in it and the tree therefore rich in the legend of a cure that saved a French expedition. The story is well told by retired horticulturist Gerald Klingaman at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension site:

In 1536, the French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491 – 1557) was sailing up the St. Lawrence River with a crew of 110 seamen and a pair of native youths he had picked up on his first voyage to modern day Canada two years earlier. He was looking for the famed Northwest Passage to China and made it as far upriver as possible.

After the sea crossing and the trip inland, the crew was suffering from scurvy, the vitamin C deficiency, which causes bleeding gums and tooth loss, bleeding under the skin, extreme fatigue and often death. On his way upriver, he left the two natives in their home village, expecting neither to survive the serious scurvy attack, which had beset them during the Atlantic crossing.

In his journal, Cartier described the condition of Domagaia, the younger of the two boys as “very sicke and his knees swollen as bigge as a cild of two years old, and all his sinews shrunken together, his teeth spoyled.”

After ten days absence he returned to the Huron village of Stadacona – today the site of Quebec – and found the two boys alive and well and fully recovered. On seeing their speedy recovery, he appealed to the boy to show him how the cure was achieved.

Shortly Cartier was presented with several branches of the evergreen tree and told how to chop and boil the leaves to extract the elixir that would cure the crew. [source]

Because of this miracle, Cartier is reported to have transported Arbor Vitae to France after this expedition, making it the first North American tree to be introduced into Europe.

I read on, looking for a more plausible motivation for planting this species. Since the landowners of the property I walk have been practical farmers for generations, I would guess they were thinking of future fence posts when they planted. The wood of the Arbor Vitae is soft and lightweight, yet resists decay for decades.

Eastern White Cedar

Sources:

Branches

Trees delight me… no matter the season.
Bursting forth in spring…
Verdant in summer…
Vibrant in autumn…
Bare and skeletal in winter…
Each species with its own pattern,
each individual with its own character.

American Beech
American Beech
ravaged by weather, disease, and time… still living… continually putting out new branches with leaves that will not leave…


Yellow Birch
Yellow Birch
curly, distinctive bark-skin… unmistakable – even when I forget the branching pattern and the shape of the buds…


European Larch
European Larch
bumpy, warty stems promise poofs of soft needles come spring…


Roadside Maple
Maple
this youngster stands proud and hopeful by the side of the road, unaware of the strange shape it will take when branches interfere with wires…