Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sorting Acorns by Floating and Sinking

It turns out that floating acorns is a very quick way of selecting the good from the bad. The bad acorns float and the good acorns sink. In fact after floating them I found that the majority of the remaining acorns very unfortunately floated and failed the float/sink test. So how effective is this test anyway? I decided to dissect a number of good and bad acorns to see really how effective this test is. Results are shown in the following photos.
Evidently all the floaters were bad. 

The sinkers were evidently in generally very good condition. However a number of the sinkers still had larvae exit holes so this test is not 100%.

At some point the larvae should stop emerging so at that point we should be able to determine that all remaining acorns are clean. I can't store the nuts in a plastic bag if there are any larvae remaining.

The number of remaining acorns was sufficiently low to count them and 370 acorns are left. That is a loss of  71% of the nuts or a survival rate of 29% and I don't think it is over yet and more losses are expected.

Acorn Update

Red oak acorns need to be stored in a cool place for a month or so before planting. so I stored the acorns in a plastic bag in the beer fridge cooler.
Larva found of  Acorn Weevil
Much to my dismay, I found many larvae at the bottom of the fridge which tweaked my curiousity. It turns out that even though the acorns were selected many were still contaminated by eggs and the emerging larvae of the Acorn Weevil [Curculio glandium.] Apparently the larvae fall to the bottom of the bag and then chew their way through the plastic thus ending up at the bottom of the fridge. In nature they fall to the ground and then bury into the earth. I found that many of the acorns had the typical exit holes. So I will have to sort the good from the bad acorns one more time.   

Monday, October 08, 2012

A Friendly Thrush

Last week while clearing some trail and making lots of chainsaw noise I was surprised to see this thrush hopping around nearby among the leaves gleaning the forest floor for bugs and seeds. It seemed quite unperturbed by my ruckus, which for a thrush should be quite unusual. I am having a challenge trying to identify if this is a hermit thrush, or wood thrush which are the more common thrushes in the area. Anybody know? I am even thinking it might be a grey cheeked thrush. 
Not enough spots for a Wood Thrush

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Gift of Acorns

Bert, a colleague in the Ontario Woodlot Association offered me a large quantity of red oak acorns. While there are many Burr Oaks, I have no red oaks on this property and welcome the idea of adding some more diversity on the woodlot. I have very large areas of concentrated ash trees and fearfully anticipate that the emerald ash borer will devastate those areas so diversity should pay off. Bert advised me that the acorns had already been floated and the floaters have been removed so the thought was that what remains are pretty well in good condition. To get an estimate of the number of acorns, I weighed 100 acorns and then weighed the whole box and by extrapolation calculated an estimate of 1270 acorns after taking out the weight of the box.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Red Maple Saplings are hit hard by White-tailed Deer

During my childhood, the red maple [Acer rubrum] was a common tree in the clay based swampy woods that was part of my playground near my home in the Montreal suburbs; and thus I have some memorable attachment to the species. It also has a very lovely display of fall colour. For that reason I was happy to see one red maple sapling west of the house and it has been attempting for the longest time to grow, but every fall and winter it would get the top nipped off by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). This is somewhat frustrating since there are so few red maples around. Cutting the top or leader of this tree doesn't kill it but severely stunts its growth. It then has to start over again to find a new leader. The only good thing is that in the mean time it keeps building up its root system in anticipation for a chance to shoot out. Once the tree is about 6 feet tall the leader is harder to reach and it should be safe from deer browsing.

To add to the diversity of this woodlot, in May I bought and planted several dozen young red maples from the Ferguson Forest Centre Nursery in Kemptville, Ontario. Thinking that the deer would have ample supply and variety of greenery for food at this time of year, I didn't bother taking any preventive measures yet to protect these saplings from the deer. Alas on my recent inspection of the new arrivals I was much dismayed to find that at least half of the new saplings have already been munched on and topped by deer as seen in this photo. The satchel is placed in the background to provide contrast.

The deer must really favour and be able to sniff out the red maple since many of them were obscured among other greenery. It was quite surprising how they singled out this particular plant. This is discouraging for the success of red maples in the area since all sapling are threatened this way. Instead other much more successful plants and often undesirable invasives like buckthorn just merrily grow and carpet the area untouched by deer. The deer in this case is its own worst enemy in this mix leaving an undesirable landscape for them as well as me.

I immediately started to protect the trees, and cut strips of Bounce fabric softener sheets which deer don't like and attache them to the top branch, or leader, of what remains of all the new saplings.

For preferred deer foods: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12148-61306--,00.html

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Balsam Fir

As a youth I was always intrigued by the Balsam Fir Tree [Abies balsamea]. The bark of this tree typically produces blisters containing an oily gum. Back in the 60's we often had to entertain ourselves through bouts of boredom as there was very little in the way of electronic gadgets then. So as kids one of the activities we did was break a small twig, poke one end of it into the gum blister and then place the twig in the water of a stream or ditch. The twig would then be propelled by the change in surface tension on the water which was sort of entertaining and even mystifying. This was admittedly only a brief diversion, since we with short attention spans then probably had to run off and pursue imaginary forest spirits, or play hide-and-go-seek or something.

Our woodlot has a very limited diversity of trees dominated probably by white spruce which was planted in the abandoned fields and white cedar and ash which naturally regenerated everywhere else it seems. To add to the mix I was advised by a colleague woodlot owner that his property is over run by Balsam Fir so I offered to relieve him of some of the seedlings. I since planted 95 Balsam firs from that event.

This spring I have also ordered and planted Balsam firs, Eastern Hemlocks and Red Maples bought from the Ferguson Forest Centre. All three species are virtually nonexistent here.

There is an excellent website that gives pretty detailed information on tree species of Norther Ontario which is: http://www.rook.org/earl/bwca/nature/trees/abiesbal.html

Some of these northern species are also common here and I cut and pasted a portion of the data on Balsam firs below.
  • Soils mostly acid, though tolerating a wide range of soil acidity, on textures from heavy clay to rocky soils, underlain by a variety of materials, including gneiss, schist, slate, sandstone, and limestone. Most common on cool, medium to wet sites with soil pH of 5.1-6.0.
  • Late successional or climax species. Replaced after fire by pioneering hardwoods and conifers, such as Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), and Black Spruce (Picea mariana), it is generally absent for the first few postfire decades.
  • Shade tolerant with less demanding seedbed requirements than many associates, it readily establishes under a canopy of hardwoods and conifers. Usually common in understory beneath pines, aspen, and paper birch. In the continued absence of fire, may assume dominance as the canopy of the pioneering trees begins to die off.
  • Subject to windthrow, especially on shallow wet soils.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Buckthorn Succession - Something New

While attempting to find suitable locations for tree planting, I thought I would plant some shade-tolerate trees like hemlock and balsam fir in areas that are completely overtaken by Glossy buckthorn [Rhamnus Frangula] with the hopes that the trees would in time shade out and out compete the buckthorn. Much to my surprise and delight I already found Eastern white cedars [Thuja occidentalis] growing among the buckthorn as seen in this photo. This cedar is also known to be shade tolerant and appears to be doing well even in the heavy shade of the buckthorn. This is so encouraging. The losing battle with buckthorn can be exasperating at times.

What Exactly is the Name of that Buckthorn?

There are two species of buckthorn on this woodlot. By their Latin names they are Rhamnus frangula and Rhamnus Cathartica. There is ample confusion about their names for me anyway since I tended to use European buckthorn to name one of them and thus the Latin names were very helpful. For that matter, even for R. frangula there is also another Latin name: Frangula alnus, considered by some to more accurately describe the plant. I will stick with R. frangula for this blog's sake. Listed here are some common names used and their origins:

R. cathartica R. frangula
Brief description as I know them on our woodlot. Small thorny tree, purple/brown shiny stem less invasive than R.frangula Thicket with no thorns and gray bark, very invasive here on this woodlot.
Books: Underlined = principle name used b. = buckthorn
Shrubs of Ontario, Soper & Heimburger, Royal Ontario Museum
ISBN 0-88854-283-6
Common b. Glossy b.
Trees in Canada, Farrar
ISBN 1-55041-199-3
European b.
Common b.
Purging b.
Glossy b.
Alder b.
Trees of Ontario, 2001, Kershaw, Lone Pine
ISBN 1-55105-274-1
European b.
Common b.
Purging b.
European waythorn
Hart's thorn
Carolina b.
Glossy b.
European alder-b.
European Alder,
Columnar b.
Fen b.
Black dogwood.
Trees and Shrubs, 1972, Petrides
ISBN 0-395-35370-X
Common b. European b.


Common b.
Purging b.
Alder b.
http://www.ipaw.org/invaders/buckthorn/index.aspx Common b.
European b.
http://www.treecanada.ca/tree-killers/plants.htm Common b.
European b.
Glossy b.
Black b.

In conclusion, it seems that the name that is least confusing or most common in English for Rhamnus Cathartica is Common buckthorn and for Rhamnus frangula is Glossy buckthorn which I will endeavour to use from now on. I was inclined to use European buckthorn which really didn't help my situation as you will see from the list. Both buckthorns are imports from Europe and its adjacent continents so they both can be called European I suppose.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Rock Heaves

Why do rocks work their way up out of the ground? Ten years ago the spot in this picture was level without any visible signs of rocks or dips in the grass. Now there is this huge 200 kg (440 lb) rock emerging a little more each year as shown here. I can't get my riding mower over it anymore as I have in the past.

It turns out that this rock is lifted by ice buildup referred to as an ice lens below the rock. This is typical of a frost heave and apparently these don't occur due to the expansion of water due to freezing as I first thought, but due to the capillary action of water in fine soil that creates these ice lenses and it is brought on by alternating freezing and thawing near the frost edge. This happens in fine porous soil like our glacial till, but does not happen in sand or clay since neither allow capillary action of water. The soil also exerts pressure on the sides of the rock which by friction will hold up the rock. As the ice underneath melts and drains away it leaves an empty void and soil likely erodes and trickles in to partially fill this void from the sides before the rock settles back down although a little higher than the original position. 

What is interesting in this picture is the sink hole to the right of the rock that is about the same size in volume as the amount of rock protruding above the soil, so this soil is evidently creeping down under the rock over time. 

Extracting such a large rock out of the ground is a lot of work. Instead, one might let nature do the work over a longer time. One can fill the depression and build up earth around the rock to keep it lifting and just mow around it. At some point the rock will be lifted so high that all one has to do is remove the surrounding earth and take the rock away more easily. In the mean time it can be a conversation piece in the lull of a party and squirrels can use it as perch while nibbling on pine cones.  This is living with nature I figure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Ring Necked Phesant - An Exotic Bird in Our Midst - thanks Climate Change

 Last week one morning while scanning the view out the kitchen window, I noticed a chicken-like bird with a long tail scurrying across our driveway and into the bushes. None of the wild chicken-like birds seen here so far have a long tail. I have heard the neighbours speaking about pheasants in this area. Only the Common or Ring-necked Pheasant [Phasianus colchicus.] is known in these parts. We were fortunate to have had a light snow fall that morning, so later in the afternoon I went looking for tracks and took this photo which corroborates my visual observation. I consulted a copy of Scats and Tracks of the Northeast ISBN 1-58592-105-X which shows the tracks of the pheasant and the ruffed grouse for comparison. These tracks are definitely smaller than that of the grouse and the toes are noticeable uneven being shorter on the inside than the outside. The most common other bird tracks throughout the woodlot are created by the turkey and the ruffed grouse. The turkey's tracks are obviously much larger. The grouse's tracks are only slightly larger and its toes are more even on either side than these tracks.

According to the half dozen bird books on the shelf, the pheasant here is right on the edge of its habitat. and more common to the south and east.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

From Trespass to Trespass and attempted robbery.

On one of my recent ski outings I decided to 'bushwhack' to the back of the property to look for any more evidence of trespass. I did find what looked like very small boot prints or else deer prints in very deep snow. Also and much to my dismay, I now found out that the November trespasser was also attempting to cut up one of my wind fallen trees that was not part of but near the trail he was clearing. This was not just any old tree. It is an American Black Cherry [Prunus serotina] of formidable size pictured here. it has three stems ranging from 30 cm (1 foot) to 60 cm ( 2 feet) in diameter and no branches for the first 7.6 metres (25 feet). All saw cuts in this photo are of the thief's doing.

It turns out that the wood of this species as long as it is in good condition is highly prized by cabinet makers, and indeed one often hears of cherrywood furniture.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rasslin' Raccoons

This morning at around 4 am I awoke to a commotion outside in the inky darkness of scuffling, grunting and whimpering. Armed with my terrycloth dark blue housecoat, felt lined Ski-doo boots, a stick and a 2,000,000 Candle Power Rechargeable Spotlight SKU 37-9452, I proceeded to investigate. Under the front porch I found two raccoons [Procyon lotor] embraced in what appeared to be a rather violent and intense wrestling match. They were so involved in their frenzy that they were oblivious to the two million candelas staring straight at them. With no intent to enter the melee I proceeded to throw rocks to dispel them but to no effect. By the time I returned with my pocket sized idiot-proof digital camera the skirmish had shifted to the woods. Is it raccoon mating season already?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Sharing the X-Country Ski Trails in Winter

Now that I have cleared a good portion of the trails on the property, I have been able to establish good cross country ski trails without having to always confront drooping snow laden branches etc. After having attempted to ride the trails with the ATV I noticed that the snow under the ski trail is of a whole other consistency than what's next to it. Though the ski trail is a mere 30 cm wide, the snow base seems to be  about twice  that and this base is a very solid packed snow. As you can see from this photo the heavier forest inhabitants make good use of these trails as well.

This base makes it very difficult to manoeuver with the ATV since the wheels sink into the snow on either side and the belly of the bike gets caught on the ski trail. The only way out was to ride with one wheel on the ski trail base and the other in the deep snow. This didn't t do the trail much good for skiing.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Aspen Die Back in the Woodlot

Last November I attended a local update by the Regional Forest Health Network that included a presentation on the poor health and die-back of aspens. I had indeed noticed that on the back of our woodlot, where we have a very formidable stand of poplars, many of the trees but not all are dying. Characteristically what happens is that the trees break in the trunk around mid height. This picture shows a typical example of this damage.

I recently came across a booklet on Forest Threats that was prepared by The Canadian Forest Service almost 30 years ago. In it they describe Hypoxylon Canker of Aspen [Hypoxylon pruinatum]. Using that lead, I then found some excellent material on the internet and noted that the scientific name has changed a bit. It is now better or more popularly know as [Hypoxylon mammatum]. I suspect that this is what's affecting our poplars. I am not too concerned about this loss since I never saw a large market for poplars, although I will say we have many towering giants reach well over 20 metres (60 ft.) in height. Poplar is a pioneer species meaning it is usually grows first in an opening typically preparing the soil by its own decay, for next generation and usually higher quality trees like oaks and other hardwoods.

This die back does cause a couple of problems. One is that the opening up of the canopy will release the buckthorn in the understory. For example all the brush in the foreground of this picture is Glossy Buckthorn - a very invasive and moderately shade-tolerant shrub from Europe, and no doubt this invasive will take off as soon as there is more light.
Another problem is the danger of the tops of the towering trees, often called widow makers in forestry parlance, from falling and becoming a hazard to persons below and especially if cutting the trees or moving them in anyway.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Couple of Crows picking corn under the snow

While watching the crows feed it seemed as though there was a degree of symbiosis taking place were one crow would watch while the other ducked down to to feed.

But alas, no such luck. It seemed to be more of a random process where at times both would duck down to eat and leave both vulnerable. 

The crows must have remembered where the corn was from before the snowfall since there was no visible evidence from the surface that there was corn underneath.