Night Lights Monday, Jun 24 2013 

This has already been an odd summer, we had our last frost on the last weekend in May and the temperature yo-yo has continued.
However, it is definitely summer now. I saw, without really looking for them, a whole group of lightning bugs last night. Warm, still nights seem to be a requirement, so this constant wind has probably been a trial. As always, they prefer the west lawn and the meadow. I think they like being able to drift down out of the tulip and magnolia trees into the tall meadow grass. One of my hopes with keeping a section of the northwest lawn uncut is that it will help them. There are also a couple big clumps of goldrenrod in those areas. It certainly has become a favoured spot for the Phoebe, so there must be bugs!
They are lovely to watch, little points of light throughout the dark.

Gravity! Thursday, May 23 2013 

The large, but muffled, crash last night has finally been identified: an outwardly healthy, Large, limb from the big sugar maple east of the house. This maple is probably closing in on two hundred years old and is about eighty feet tall. It is fairly happy, as elderly maples go, but it does sometimes drop things. In this case when I say large, I mean pushing eight inches in diameter and about thirty feet in length, falling from somewhere over fifty feet up. Interestingly, it must have caught briefly on the way down,the butt end is swung ninety degrees away from the tree. Outwardly healthy, but inwardly quite rotten: rain plus a full flush of new growth equals gravity winning. I was once told that the most dangerous time to be out in the woods is late spring/early summer after a rainstorm. Windy days can be a bit scary, but it is the calm day when everything is saturated with water that you have to watch out for, limbs drop with no warning and no sound…till they hit. In any event, no damage this time around.

Garlic Mustard Friday, May 17 2013 

Pull away! We went for years without this pest here, and then it exploded. I personally lay the fault partially at the feet of the town: it can be traced to some fill for the road, and then several catastrophic washouts which deposited the road all over the Royal Oak area.* That being said, it would have gotten here anyway. And had I been paying attention, I might have caught it the year before the road washed. Some of you will recall, it was the fast thaw following the winter of all the snow that did it. The hurricanes finished the job.
At any rate, it is here. Victory, however, is possible. I went down to the Calf Pasture and wood road entrance the other day, with the gloomy assumption that I would be spending the day on that section. Amazingly, I found that the last two years have substantially reduced the infestation. The wood road had almost none (five plants); the Calf pasture had perhaps one-sixth the amount that it had last year. Now, I’ll have to get it again later in the summer and next year (a lot of first year seedlings were visible) but that is a far cry from the near 100% cover of the last two years. This gave me the time and the impetus to start in on Royal Oak proper. Maybe in a few years we’ll get it under control. It will never be eradicated, but it might fall under seasonal management as opposed to Oh My God.
As to why…well the Calf Pasture has golden-rod, Wake-Robin, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Canadian Lily-of-the-Valley, Baneberry, Cranesbill, Hay fern, Cinnamon Fern, Christmas Fern, various bunch grasses, grape, honeysuckle, dogwood, and various others.* All of which are going to do much better if they aren’t being choked by Garlic Mustard, which will eventually kill off most other understory plants. (it is actually capable of stressing mature trees thanks to the chemicals in its roots)
In my opinion, one has a certain responsibility to the land, if not to future generations. That said responsibility carries the dubious joy of seven ticks, wading in poison-ivy, and pulling Garlic Mustard till one’s respiratory system rebels; well, that is a very small price.
*the Royal Oak, Calf Pasture, and wood road entrance are about 6 acres of former pasture, evenly divided between flat and steep with rocks. They are now mostly open, second-growth forest. Several intermittent streams cut through the area, the dirt road is perched above it.
*I wasn’t doing plant ID, just passing observations while pulling.

Critters! Saturday, Oct 20 2012 

I am not totally sure that I like tadpoles with bodies nearly as big as golf balls….  The pond was absolutely swarming with them, in the shallow sunny section near the dam.  I’d estimate one to the inch quite confidently, over a 20 foot by 3 foot section. They ranged in size from the expected tadpole size to the aforementioned golf ball size.  Why we have fall tadpoles, I am not sure.  It says good things about the water quality, even better things can be said about the sighting of a Yellow-spotted black salamander happily swimming in a shallow section.

skittish critters though, I think something must be hunting them; they would react to the slightest shadow or vibration.

New tree! Friday, Oct 12 2012 

Well, not really.  At the south end of the Yellow Mountain swamp, really a bog, I have often watched various birds.  The bog is caught at the top of the watershed and perched on the top of the hill, it actually drains to the north, in between two steep ridges.   While cold, the ridges protect the area from the wind, and most of the surface water is collected, unable to penetrate the bedrock of the ridges.  This protected habitat shelters birds, while the bog prevents tree cover leading to an impenetrable tangle of blueberry, dogwood, and ilex.

In any case, I haven’t paid much attention to the trees I was under.  About twenty feet tall, with the overall appearance that many understory tree/shrubs take on: incredibly slow growing trunks only a few inches in diameter but decades old, arching and bending to reach the light.  But I noticed them this time.  Instead of the ubiquitous yellow of witch-hazel (the dominant, next to laurel, understory tree), these were a fluorescent orange shading to red. 

So I look a bit closer, poke at the bark a bit, ponder this….grab a leaf for further identification.  I thought I knew, but I wasn’t sure… continue on my way.  Note several more trees of this type, some a bit larger, all in the protection of the ridge but at the sunny edge of the bog.

My initial, ‘but it can’t be’, identification turned out to be right: Nyssa Sylvatica, also known as Black Gum, Tupelo, or Pepperidge.  A bit farther south this is a spectacular and immense tree, rivaling oaks in stature.  It has beautiful fall colour, birds and bees Love it, and it is as tough as the proverbial nail*; but while I have two nursery grown babies that are beginning to take hold…now that I have moved them out of the wind…I thought that Fairfield County was its northern natural extent, with maybe a few in the major river valleys farther to the north.  But on further research, it turns out that ‘cold mountain swamps’ are another of its natural habitats, extending its range to Ontario, if there is enough water and enough wind protection.  I feel a bit stupid, but very happy!

*Naturally, it has been completely ignored by the nursery trade in favour of invasive and/or far less elegant species

Sky Holes Friday, Oct 5 2012 

Usually a tree dies gradually, or falls over abruptly taking surrounding branches with it.  Rarely, therefore, is its space in the canopy easily viewed.  In the picture below, however, we have just such an instance.  This was an extremely healthy sugar maple until late last summer.  At that time it got struck by a major lightning bolt.  This blew bark off exposed roots, wilted the ground vegetation surrounding the tree, and left a foot to two foot wide spiral burn all the way down the trunk.  The burn was immediately obvious with patches of charred bark and exposed inner bark layers.  Because it was late in the summer, the tree’s early leaf drop was not immediately indicative of total death (in particular because Hurricane Irene had stripped many other trees).  It was, however, suggestive, as the leaves that dropped had a wilted appearance.

Taken about a week later, this shows the burn mark, some of the wilted ground vegetation, the creamy white object on the lower right in the bank is a root with the bark completely blown off.  The red is inner bark, the dark patches are actually charred sections.  Note the ash in the background has a healed lightning strike scar:

This picture, taken this summer, shows that the tree was immediately killed.  Buds are apparent on the highest branches, formed last summer, but never leafed out.  What is interesting is that many of the twigs are still there, by next year decay will have set in and the tree will have a ‘deader’ aspect, as opposed to the weird ‘winter tree in a summer scene’ appearance.   The dying branches beyond it belong to a large ash, which was already in decline.  It too has been affected by the strike and is far weaker this year.  The dead tips of the maple on the top right corner of the photo may have been caused by the strike, but may be due to the old age of the tree in question.

A close up:


Bats in the belfry Monday, Jun 25 2012 

Unless you have been living under a rock, if you are at all interested in environmental news from eastern North America, you know that bats are in serious trouble thanks to a distinctly nasty fungus.  White nose syndrome has killed between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats since 2007; when that is combined with the tendency of people to eradicate colonies at the drop of the hat, habitat loss, and light pollution…well the news isn’t good for bats.  Despite the fact that the little guys are a free and effective form of bug control.  (I also think they are cute)

Happily, Esperanza is doing its part in environmental community service*.  We knew from ground evidence/plus seeing them that there were bats in the porch and that there were bats in the south end roof, and that there must be bats in the barn (the mystery is that we never see the bats in it, but the pattern of droppings** is impossible for mice without wings).  We didn’t know that there are at least forty in the northwest corner of the roof.  Last night, we happened to be at the right place, and they popped out as bats do from roofs: one at a time with a great squeaking and scrabbling.    Rather nice to see.  But I do wonder what the total count for the house and outbuildings is?

*Because it is the right thing to do…pity that doesn’t translate to the finances.

**the squeamish would perhaps liken it more to a carpet…

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