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
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…

White Pine

White PineI was going to write about the White Pine… But I don’t have to.  Please click –>here to read Marcia Bonta’s wonderful piece about this historically important and beautiful tree!

UPDATE (1/16/2010):  Trying to catch up on blog reading, I ran across another post about White Pine, this one by Seabrooke Lecki.  Click –> here!

Annual New Year’s Day Tromp

Brrr...I love waking up late on New Year’s Day with thoughts of where I should take the dog for a romp. Usually Emily joins me, but she was off at a friend’s and so I headed out into a snowy, blowing day without her.

I’m not sure she was very happy with me.  Sorry, Em.

As is often the case with a winter walk, the low temperature combined with wind made me feel very cold in the beginning, but as I walked, it didn’t take long for me to warm up.  I headed down into a protected ravine at the bottom of which runs a creek.  There are hemlocks and yellow birch all along the way… beautiful.

Stonefly Nymph (or exuvia?)On the bark of one of the yellow birch trees, I found gypsy moth eggs… and also a gorgeous Stonefly nymph.  I couldn’t really tell if it was a dead nymph, or if the back had cracked open to allow the adult to fly free… Here’s another picture I took a while back of a living stonefly nymph we found in the creek at Allegany State Park:

Stonefly Larva

I played around a bit with slow shutterspeeds to try to capture the essence of the wind. The orange-brown leaves on the Ironwood tree were dancing up a storm…

Ironwood in the Wind

Even though I have billions of pictures of Witch Hazel, I can never resist another.

Witch Hazel

Emily finally arrived home shortly after I did. We may go out later this afternoon or evening and see how our cross country skis are working after a long summer in the garage…

Happy New Year, everyone!

Pitch Pine

Every year I think, “I should do some posts about the conifers. It would be fitting for the season…” And then I get caught up in the chaos of the season and suddenly it’s spring and… well… you can see the dilemma. I can’t promise to write about all 12 species that can be found on the Audubon property this season… but let’s start with one: The Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida).

Pitch Pine

There’s only one on the property that I’m aware of, and that is in the Arboretum – just to the right – inside the main entrance off the parking lot. All the trees in the Aboretum are native to New York or Pennsylvania, though not necessarily to our part of New York… The U.S. Forest Service range map below shows a couple of spots nearby where it might be found growing wild, but most native stands are south or east of us.

Native Range of Pitch Pine

The Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs describes the Pitch Pine as “usually low, irregular, scraggly.” Needles can be 1.5 – 5 inches long and are arranged in clusters of three. It’s the only pine tree on our property with needles in clusters of three. Cones are 1 – 3 inches long, stout and the scales have sharp thorns.

It is unlikely you would use a Pitch Pine as a Christmas tree. The tree does have its uses, however. According the US Forest Service account, “Pitch Pine was an important tree during the days of wooden ships and iron men. Its coarse-grained wood is only moderately strong but contains a comparatively large amount of resin. Consequently, the wood resists decay, which makes it particularly useful for ship building.” (source)

In surfing the internet for more interesting tidbits, I came across this little anecdote at the Wood Magazine site:

The Pine Barrens did not represent valuable land back then. Just the opposite — the soil was boggy and sandy, as it remains to this day. But the land did support a thick forest of pine trees. And in the damp, soggy ground one could find iron ore.

To early Americans, that combination of pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and iron ore was heaven sent. That’s because iron ore was transformed into iron by melting it to remove impurities, a process called smelting, and the fuel of choice was wood charcoal rather than the mined coal of later times. The resinous pitch pine — its sappy, hard-to-work wood seldom desired — proved perfect as a source of charcoal. (source)

That was so interesting, I wanted to know more, so I began searching for “pitch pine and iron ore”… which led me to a book I never knew about:  The Natural History of North American Trees by Donald Culross Peattie.  I immediately ordered a copy of the 2007 release – an abridged version of the original 2-volume set that came out in the 1950s… which I would also like to find!  Since ordering it, I have found that you can also buy a Western Trees version and a Central and Eastern Trees version…  Can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

It was just supposed to be a simple little post saying that needles are in bundles of three and the cones are stout with sharp thorns…  And look what happened…  Oh the dangers of the internet…

Learn More:

France Brook Road

Beech LeavesFrance Brook Road is a one-lane dirt road through Allegany State Park. It is beautiful in any season… but especially today after an early October snow storm.

There are several beaver colonies along this road. I stopped by one of the Beaver Ponds that I have visited before during spring and summer. There were a couple of goldenrod plants near it that looked so cool covered with snow:


The snow kept coming down… from the clouds, but also it would fall off the branches in big loud plops.


I walked further up the road…

France Brook Road

I came upon a beaver colony that I didn’t know was there… Guess I never walked this far, and I never noticed it when I drove this road, either…

Beaver Lodge

I kept thinking I saw a beaver swimming out near the lodge, but I decided it was more likely snow plopping off branches…

Edge of the Beaver Pond 3

I took 283 photos… oh my…

Audubon Walk – Part III

Click–>  Part I  *  Part II

White BirchNative vs. Non-native Plantings.  Bruce described the early days of Audubon by saying that they took turns “playing god,”   that is deciding what to plant, what to cut, and what to allow to grow.  Wildlife management strategies change over time as we learn the effects of our choices.  In the early 1970s, folks weren’t as concerned with planting natives as we seem to be today.  Sometimes non-natives do just fine if the habitat is right.  Our Red Pine stands and Norway Spruces are all doing just fine.  The same can’t be said of the White Birches that were planted along the Maple West trail.  White Birch prefers deep, sandy soil like you might find in the Adirondacks… so while White Birch is native to New York State – it is not native to our region.  The consequence of planting it in unsuitable habitat is unhealthy trees.  All of our specimens are in pretty bad shape.  The tree above has been infested with Bronze Birch Borer; you can see and feel the bumps caused by the larvae which are under the bark.

Just to the east of the failed White Birch attempts are native trees that would naturally appear in this type of habitat:  Quaking Aspen.

Quaking Aspens

When plants are matched to their habitat the are healthier.  Duh.

Plantings for Wildlife.  The Red Pines were planted to provide shelter for wildlife – birds in particular.  Now that they are producing cones, they also provide food for Red Squirrels and other animals that dine on pine seeds.  In the early days, other attempts were made to provide food for wildlife.  “Volunteer” apple trees that were found growing in the goldenrod field were encouraged to grow and eventually provide fruit for turkey, deer, and others.  The Red Oaks were planted with the idea that eventually they would produce acorns.  American Chestnuts near the Red Oaks also provide some wildlife food, too.

Robin in the Sumac - by Sarah HatfieldWhen selecting plants for wildlife food, there are 2 kinds to think about:  those that provide a quick meal when the fruit is ripe – such as Serviceberry, also known as Juneberry and Shadbush.  Serviceberries tend to be picked over pretty quickly by birds as soon as they are ripe.  Thought should also be given to plants that will hold on to their fruits through the winter and provide food for early returning migrants.  An excellent example is Staghorn Sumac.  The fuzzy berries that remain through until spring provide valuable nutrition for returning thrushes, such as the American Robin, and plenty of other wildlife as well.

There may be more posts about this walk…  But I’m going to have to start writing about all the stuff we found in the Vernal Pools next…

Audubon Walk – Part II

For previous, click–>  Audubon Walk Part I

A Farm Across the Goldenrod Field.  If you are familiar with Audubon, imagine standing near Bob’s Garden (the Herb and Butterfly Garden) and being able to look across a vast goldenrod field to see the farmhouse near the picnic pavilion.  Bruce tells us that’s how it was in the early 1970s when Audubon first acquired the property.

A few things were done to break up this huge Old Field and provide different kinds of wildlife habitat.

Red Pine StandRed Pines.  First, three small stands of Red Pine were planted to provide a little height and attract something other than Red-winged Blackbirds.  Red Pine (Pinus resinosa), while native to some parts of New York State, is not native to our regions.  When you find Red Pines in our area, they are usually planted too close together and in straight rows.

Red Pine StandThe first stand of Red Pines is just past the Herb and Butterfly Garden on the left (south) side of the Univeral Trail.  There are benches and chunks of an old tree trunk.  The kids love to play in here and turn over the “stumps” to find earthworms and sowbugs.  To find the second, don’t continue on the Universal Trail when it turns right… instead go straight onto Maple West Trail and look to the right (north) of the trail.  The third one is a bit further on – take a right at the Maple to the connector trail.  The stand will be on your left – the west side of the trail.

The Big Red Pine Forest over near Spatterdock Pond was already there when Audubon acquired the property.  (Another source told us that planting was a 4-H project years ago.)

A Lone Douglas Fir:  Back between the first and second Red Pine stand there is a single Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) standing at the edge of the mowed area where we keep a couple of Bluebird boxes.  Bruce told us that it is the lone survivor of a planting of 15 or 16 Douglas Firs – planted at about the same time as the Red Pines and for the same reasons.  The rest of the trees in this planting became deer food.  This one somehow managed to survive despite deer browsing, but is not a stellar example of a Douglas Fir.  Instead of standing as a single tall trunk, this one has multiple trunks – and a very distinct browse line!

Douglas Fir  Douglas Fir

Douglas Firs have very distinctive cones, and the needles smell pleasantly citrusy when you break them.  Douglas Firs are native to North America, but to our region.  In fact, in most of the sources I checked, Douglas Fir is shown as strictly a western tree.  Only the USDA Plant Database shows supposedly native populations east of the Rockies.

Norway Spruce:  If you could fly above the sanctuary near Riverside Road, you would see a long S-shaped stand of Norway Spruce (Picea abies).  Bruce remembers planting that row under the direction of Ted Grisez who wanted it for two reasons:  (1) to screen the view of the farmhouse, and (2) to provide a backdrop for the Arboretum.  Norway Spruce, native to Europe, have naturalized in north central U.S. and adjacent Canada.  In other areas where you find them, they are probably planted.  Look for dramatically drooping branches (all the better to shed snow, my dear) and long cones with stiff scales.

Norway Spruce Line

Learn More:

Click for next –>  Audubon Walk Part III

Audubon Walk – Part I

Bruce Robinson remembers a time when a group standing in this spot could look across a goldenrod field and see the farmhouse on Riverside Road.  Goldenrod Field?He remembers planting a Sugar Maple and a couple of Red Oaks at the curve of this path on what would become the “lawn”.  He remembers digging long straight trenches to divert water away from paths and a long S-shaped trench in which to plant Norway Spruces – a backdrop for the future Arboretum.  He remembers differences of opinion about what should and shouldn’t be planted.

Bruce led a walk on April 14th for a group of Audubon Trail Guides and other friends and told so many fascinating stories…  I’ll try to share some of them in this and a couple of subsequent posts:

Big Sugar Maple at AudubonThe Sugar Maples (and Red Oaks… and a Couple of Cherries).  There is a Sugar Maple that sits on the hill on the southwest side of the Nature Center building.  It is enormous.  It is old.  It is regal.

When Audubon acquired this property in the 1970s and began developing it as a wildlife sanctuary, there were many discussions about that tree.  How can we showcase it?  How long will it last?  What plans should be made for its eventual demise?

If you look under the Big Maple today you will see that it is “kind of a mess,” to use Bruce’s words.  He assured us that the messiness was intentional from the very start.  The 30-40 species of plants that grow under the Maple do two things:  (1) They provide shelter for wildlife.  Indeed, we often see chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits run for cover when we approach with a group of children.  (2) They serve to discourage people from getting too close to the tree  by providing a little buffer zone.

Kind of a Mess under the Big Maple

Back in the 1970s, it was evident that Big Maple had been “in decline” for many years.  Bruce assured Audubon founding members that it was sure to be there for another fifty years.  He assured us the same thing today.  Tree time is so much different than people time…  Still, knowing that no tree can live forever, a new Sugar Maple was planted to take the place of Big Maple – some day… generations later.  Two Red Oaks were planted the same day.

Three Trees
You can’t tell from this picture, but the Sugar Maple in the foreground (with orange and yellow signs) has a trunk only 1/2 or 2/3 the size of the Red Oaks in the background, although they were all planted on the same day.

CompetitionNatural succession provided a couple of trees that are undesirable from Bruce’s perspective – one on the north side of the trail between the two Sugar Maples, and one on the south side of the trail near the Red Pine Stand.  The Black Cherries grew faster than the new Sugar Maple and are now taller, stealing sunlight.  Both sport a feature often found in new forests – forked trunks.  In a new forest where there is plenty of sun, trees often produce forked trunks giving them larger canopies – more leaves for doing the work of photosynthesis.  As the forest grows around the fast-growing Cherries, competition for sunlight increases.  One of the trunks falls away so that the tree can spend its energy getting taller – getting its leaves up to the sun.

Bruce predicted that left alone, each of these Cherries will lose a trunk sometime in the next 4-5 years.  He also expressed his opinion that the Cherries should be taken down to encourage the Sugar Maple.

More next post about this walk and Audubon’s natural and man-made history…  Click–>  Part II  **  Part III

Gorge-ous Day!

I step out of the truck and the sound of the water rushing in the creek below washes worries and stresses from my mind.  My body relaxes.  I promise myself to be fully present.  Here.  Now.  Nothing else exists.

Mo watches... Terry fishes...As we hike the gently descending path to the water, a pair of birds teaches me that one of the songs I’ve been assigning to Chipping Sparrow may actually belong to Dark-eyed Junco.  Most of the snow is gone, but there are still some spots where the sun doesn’t shine quite long enough…

When we reach creekside, Terry fishes and I experiment with my new camera.

Chautauqua Creek

Willow   Pine Cone Willow Gall

Hemlock Needles - Back

It even does video…

We meander down the creek clinging precariously to the edges of the banks, stepping carefully to be sure that our feet are finding the rocks that aren’t slippery.  We decide to take the high road back and I discover a tributary I never noticed before, with lovely falling water…

I’ve hiked this path before… How could I have missed that?

From the top of the razorback I spy hundreds of Hepatica (finally!)…  I climb down the near 90-degree slope (doubting my own sanity) to capture a few photos.

Hepatica Hillside - Can you tell how steep it is from this photo?   Hepatica

Hiking the razorback is always a little scary to me…  The world falls away very steeply on both sides.  One missed step and… let’s not think about it.

Hiking a Razorback

We reach the top – the plateau where the big Black Cherry grows.  I think the view is spectacular already, but I have to wonder what it would be like from the top of this ancient tree whose lowest branch we can’t even see.

Enormous Old Cherry

Enormous Old Cherry

There are places on this planet that make me slow down.  I breathe more deeply.  I think less.  I experience more.  The gorge is one of those places.