Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another girdled Tamarack Tree

On the return path of the walk I came across this newly gnawed tamarack tree. There is so little bark left on this tree that it will certainly die. Tamarack is a favoured food of the local porcupine.

A Red Squirrel's Midden

I first came across the term midden when reading a report on archaeological findings where middens or piles of shells were found on the beaches of Prince Edward Island as evidence of early inhabitation by man. Always thought it was odd to have such a name for a simple pile but then it is a better explanation than just a pile. In fact says that a kitchen midden is a "mound consisting of shells of edible mollusks and other refuse, marking the site of a prehistoric human habitation." That is quite specific. I have also heard it used for the small piles of spruce or pine cone husks left by squirrels as pictured here. Numerous such middens have been found throughout the property today. It must be that the reduced food supply may be diminishing to a point where cone seeds now become the best there is on the forest menu of the red squirrel.

A mammal's Breathing Hole

There is an old fence/tree line that runs near the centre and along the length of the woodlot. I call it the Hawthorn line since it is made up mainly of hawthorn trees and basswood trees. Along this line I found a hole in the snow pictured here and the outer rim of the hole was covered in hoar frost crystals as shown in the photo. This is typical of a breathing hole for a mammal that is hibernating or holed up in the snow. There are at least two of these that I know of on the property. The other is from underneath an old barn floor.

Nature's home Builder, the Pileated Woodpecker

In today's walk the second exhibit I encountered was the hard work of the pileated woodpecker [Dryocopus pileatus]. The bird, as it seeks food such as insects in the trees, hollows out sizable holes which make ideal nests for small bird or mammals. The huge chips of wood in the snow bely that the construction was quite recent, and this size of wood chip is typical of the pileated.

The woodpecker must be able to hear the insects inside the tree. Some think that the woodpecker damages trees while in fact the tree by now is already rotted or insect infested in the centre.

In woodlot management it is recommended that a number of dead trees be left standing to provide habitat for animals. This tree will likely serve as a home for some animal one day.

The Highbush Cranberry

Today's walk in the woods provided a number of interesting exhibits. We have a number of highbush cranberry shrubs throughout our woodlot that were generated naturally. In winter they provide a rather attractive showy red berry against the dreary white and gray winter background. Apparently after a frost the berries do not taste as strong as when they are first ripened. In fact I tried one of these berries which has a rather pretty heart-shaped seed inside and it tasted a lot like a cranberry, though it is not of the same family.