Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Butternut Grove

During my walk today I visited the clearing area at the northeastern corner of the woodlot referred to as Area G in the woodlot management plan. Area G is the only clearing in the whole woodlot which was not intentionally kept open through cultivation or clear cutting. It should in time have grown in with trees and yet there is but a thin and sparse planting of several poplar trees and others. I always wondered why is this so? This area had very old and well rotted cedar tree stumps which were cut some 30 or more years ago. In fact there was evidence that it was cleared at least 45 years ago. The field has remained undisturbed for all these years and yet but few trees took root as well as grass and some small herbaceous vines.

Having become sensitised to the plight of the butternut tree [Juglans cinerea L.] and the fact that in certain parts of North America it is becoming an endangered species due to major die off created by the butternut canker, I have become more experienced at identifying the tree. So during this visit to area G to my amazement I found very many butternut trees in area. Many were dead trunks with the characteristic butternut canker scares, some were alive but in poor condition and a few others seemed still healthy. I counted some 3 dozen trees or remains of trees all together. Now that the trees were bare it was easier to identify and count them all. One butternut tree was much larger than the others and may well have been the parent that provided the seed source for the rest. It had a dbh (diameter at breast height) of 35 cm (14 in.). In forestry, the stem diameter of a tree is measured at breast height or 1.3 metres (approx. 4 feet) above the ground hence the term dbh.

I have long wondered why area G stayed clear and think I may have hit upon the answer. The butternut tree has an interesting characteristic in that it produces Juglone toxin in its roots. Other plants whose roots touch the butternut root will draw this toxin and wilt and even die. This also occurs with black walnut. The article at published by the University of Wisconsin well describes this phenomenon. This provides a plausible explanation for why area G is so lightly treed. One has to wonder then if reforestation of the area will work at all without removing all the roots of the dead butternut trees, a ridiculously arduous and prohibitively expensive job. Buckthorn and the elm also adversely affect or stunt the growth of neighbouring plants near their roots, but I am not sure if these species use the same process, something to investigate for another post.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Flying Turkeys and Rutting Deer

Took a walk in the woodlot today dressed in my protective chain saw gear with the intent of doing some serious bush whacking. The hardhat and screened face shield or visor along with the legging chaps provide much needed protection when bush whacking through dense under brush. The male white-tailed deer [Odocoileus virginianus] or bucks are now entering the rut and becoming quite aroused. During my walk in the bush today I found three patches indicative of the bucks in rut. Bucks will scratch a bare earth patch on the ground about a 30 cm. (a foot) across and nearby one can usually expect to find a small shrub all mangled up often with the bark scratched right off which the buck does by thrashing his antlers. I found these throughout the woodlot and not in any specific area. There were also deer tracks although not more than usual.

On the walk back I came across three wild turkeys [Meleagris gallopavo] who flew off from a perch high up in a tree. When turkeys are perched in trees it usually means that they were already scared or chased up. It may well be that they saw or heard me coming as I was bushwhacking or they may already have been chased up by other predators.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Vernal Pool

During our trip to St. Catharines Ontario, two weekends ago, we toured several woodlots on Sunday. During one of the tours we were introduced to the concept of the vernal pool a visited a few that were purposely designed as such in a reforested field that used to be farmed. Vernal as in vernal equinox I presume implies seasonal or that it dries out at least once yearly. We learnt that a vernal pool will support a unique habitat. The process of drying will not let certain plant and animal species survive in a vernal pool that would otherwise survive in a continually filled pool for example fish. This means that certain species which cannot cohabit with for example fish can survive in a vernal pool. These species include virtually all amphibians including many frog species and salamanders and bugs.

We have many amphibian here on our property and I know of a couple of pools that dry up each year. There is a swale or shallow ditch that is only full in the springtime. I imagine that these pools must have actually contributed to and provided the ideal conditions for the abundance of frogs in this woodlot.