Tree Snags for Wildlife

This is a story about the management of a landscape tree in decline, management with an underlying theme of benign neglect.

Last summer I heard the unmistakable sound of a Pileated Woodpecker hammering on a large old white pine tree near the edge of the lawn. I was thrilled to see our largest woodpecker so close to home, but also knew that its presence was a sign of a tree in trouble. Sure enough, there was advanced decay at the base of the tree and the Pileated was foraging on carpenter ants. The probability of tree failure and subsequent damage to nearby targets was high. The White Pine was a “hazard tree” and had to be removed.

My contract with a professional arborist for removal included an unusual request. I wanted to minimize the hazard – but leave a large snag for wildlife.

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The decision to create a snag payed dividends almost immediately. A Pileated Woodpecker is a frequent visitor, foraging around new wounds as well as old ones.

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Pitch oozing from the fresh wounds on a warm day provided an unplanned photo opportunity and aesthetic experience. The fascinating world of magnified pitch droplets kept me busy long after the woodpecker had left the scene!

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Pine pitch droplet, fly and spider; the droplet is about 1/8th inch across

 

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Apple Tree Blossoms 2017

May is apple blossom season in Central New York!

I worry like a farmer when the flower buds begin to open. Killing spring frosts are common and they can wreak havoc on new growth. We escaped those this year, but the bloom was greeted by cool, wet weather that greatly reduced the activity of bees and other insect pollinators.

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Warm weather finally arrived! Several days of summer-like weather really perked things up and the bloom peaked.

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We weren’t “out of the woods” yet. A clash of cold and warm air masses produced severe thunder storms, complete with high winds and hail. Wind in excess of 40 miles per hour damages trees, especially those that are predisposed due to poor form and/or location. Of the dozens of wild apple trees that I manage, two were affected. One, on soft, wet soil in a stream bottom, was uprooted completely and will become firewood and cottontail habitat later in the year. The other, pictured below, had poor structure: two large stems separated by a seam of “included” bark rather than solid wood. Lacking a strong connection, the trunks were ripped apart in the high winds.

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Days after the storm, the resilience of nature was apparent. Most trees, as well as their blossoms, appeared to have survived our erratic spring weather and should produce some apples this fall.

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The bloom is fading, the ground now littered with petals, but I’m still looking up. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, singing in the tree tops as they forage on flowers, have my attention!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Spring Greens

As I chase Spring in search of wildflowers, critters and other natural phenomena, I am reminded of something special that is often a backdrop for more popular subjects rather than the main attraction. Artists and photographers know it well, and they also know the challenge of capturing its stunning, ephemeral beauty at the right time and place. I’m referring to the palette of fresh, spring greens that appears as plants emerge from dormancy.

These images, in chronological order over a period of about two weeks, are my most recent attempt to capture “green-up” in Central New York.

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Aspen clone (May 4)

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Wild apple tree bloom and woody plant leaf development (1 of 2; May 10)

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Dairy farm (May12)

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Sugar maple foliage (May 14)

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Canada geese in a field of barley (a gang of newly hatched goslings at her feet; May 15)

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Sugar maple form and foliage (May 16)

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Red oak flowers and foliage (May 17)

Photos by NB Hunter (May 4 – 16, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

Wetlands and Fiddleheads

Although mostly cool, overcast and rainy, the month of May is yielding a rich assortment of scenes and subjects. Where to begin?! I’ll start with a recent trip to a small, swampy site where fiddlehead ferns and marsh marigolds were the dominant visual element.

A common wetland scene like this has marsh marigolds carpeting the low, waterlogged places, while dense clumps of cinnamon ferns occupy the high ground – raised tussocks of dense roots and emerging fronds.

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Young ferns with developing fronds aren’t limited to swampy sites….there are many species adapted to almost any site imaginable.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Too Wet to Gobble

This morning I discovered several eastern wild turkeys in a hay field in a steady, cold rain. It’s the peak breeding season, and this might be the gobbler’s point of view!?

“Two hens in sight……good breeding stock…..I should wow them with a good strut and gobble….”

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“But this cold rain has dampened my enthusiasm….I’m too wet and miserable to strut and gobble.”

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“Might as well do the next best thing – eat!”

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Photos by NB Hunter 5/5/2017 ©All Rights Reserved

Songbirds: the Answer for Cold, Rainy Days!

Several years ago friends gave me a flowering shrub as a retirement gift: a Purple Leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus x cistena). It persisted through droughts, monsoons, subzero temperatures, snow, ice and benign neglect, as well as transplant shock, and has finally produced a major bloom. Strategically positioned between two bird feeders, it has been the focal point of backyard songbird activity this spring. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

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Black-capped Chickadee

Goldfinches, the males now sporting their bright breeding plumage, swarm a ‘Nyjer’ seed (thistle-like seed) feeder throughout the day and brighten even the darkest days!

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Female Goldfinch

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The Spring songbird migration is in full swing so any of a dozen species can appear unexpectedly, and disappear as quickly as they arrived. I had about 30 seconds to interact with each of these colorful visitors.

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Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Photos by NB Hunter. (May 2 – 4, 2017). ©  All Rights Reserved