Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A late summer field

Well the goldenrod is out with a few clumps planting their yellow flags in the square. The yarrow and trefoil are still in bloom with the occasional fleabane, and purple vetch still out. The grass has mostly toppled over to form a messy mat over which you can walk. The insect life has grown numerous with plenty of truly large yellow and black orb spiders hanging out at the centre of their webs. The grasshoppers are quite large though not numerous. I saw yesterday a clump of large metalic japanese beetles mating all over a rasberry bush. There is a wasps nest in the square. The wasps are living in the ground and the only evidence of their nest is a small patch of disturbed earth in front of their wasp sized hole in the ground. The wasps were entering the hole every couple of seconds so it must be a fairly large colony.

As for mammal predators, I have seen a couple of different cats hanging out in the area in the past week. I didn't see any active hunting but one was spending time in the tall grass of the square. Yesterday I also saw a young coyote less than a kilometer away at the intersection of huntclub and woodroffe, it was broad daylight and he didn't seem to mind too much being watched. He eventually lopped away down the road.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trees of the 1995 planting

I took some time in the past week looking at trees planted in 1994 and 1995.

Silver maples: These are quite a few fast growing silver maples. They have multiple trunks, but typically only one or two survive. The others as well as the lower branches die off and are easily broken off. The tree cuts off circulation to the branch at the trunk and after a year or two the branch is completely dry. The bark breaks apart and the branch will snap cleanly off with only a slight tap.

White Ash: These are also a common part of the overstory of the forest. They are more often a single trunk with multiple branches sweeping up. Their branches do not cleanly break off unless they have dried out completely after several years, otherwise the dead branches will remain flexible and on the tree. The bark on the tree trunks are only begining to become mature crevised bark. The bark on the branches is smooth redish brown.

Trembling Aspen: This short lived tree is already dying except at the edges of the forest. They spread by suckers and are expanding into the 2010 planting area through suckers.

Eastern Cottonwood: These fast growing trees are about 50% taller than the rest of the trees. They are already large trees, with one or two thick trunks. The branches of this tree are upsweeping, the bark readily falls off the dead branches but they don't break cleanly off until they have rotted out. Some of these trees have already died but the ones that remain have thick substantial trunks. These trees are already suckering into the new planting area.

White willow: This sickly bushy trees is growing on the forest edge but has died out in the interior.

Staghorn Sumac: The far south-east corner of the berm area is a sumac bush that is vigorously suckering into the grass area. The mower keeps it in check but it has also come up in the new bush area.

White spruce: There a few of these trees from the original planting. They are overshadowed by the deciduous trees except where they are on the edge of the forest.

White pine: A few of these straggly trees remain from the original planting, but they haven't been able to keep up with the other trees and are slowly being crowded out by the taller trees.

Red Oak: A couple of these trees are poking out from the edge of the forest.

Hawthorne: The hawthorne is on the east side north of the sumac bush. There are a couple of different hawthornes growing there.

Serviceberry: a few of these are on the eastern side by the Hawthorne. Most of the leaves seem to fall off in high summer.

European buckthorn: This is growing vigorously in the understory all over, especially on the north side.

Honeysuckle: This is also growing in the understory but grows best at the forest edge.

elderberry: a single elderberry (probably from the original planting is growing iin the northeast corner.

Sugar maple: There seems to be a few sugar maples growing although it is not as common as the silver maple

Saturday, July 3, 2010

New resident? Groundhog

I think this is a new groundhog who has taken up residence in the holes on the east side of the berm. The holes had seemed disused for some time but this little guy was out there the other day making himself at home.

I saw some scat the other day that looked like it was perhaps from a coyote. It was black and full of fur and about the size of a dog's scat. I saw a coyote a couple of weeks ago not a mile west along Huntclub so they are certainly about. Hopefully they come by and take a few of the meadow voles. I have caught glimpses of the voles too often to not be sure that they are plentiful. I don't often get a good view of them though , I just see the little brown ball streaking across a bit of ground before it disappears into the grass. I learned though that the voles can be vocal. They make a high pitched squeek when they are disturbed by something. The other day I heard this high pitched squeek in the grass as I was walking through the square, when I came back to investigate I found a ball of grass about the size of my palm that turned out to be a nest of mice. There were 5 mostly hairless blind voles in the nest. Three of them came away in the covering when I removed the roof of the nest. I put them back and they seemed to be ok. 3 of them squiggled into the grass and the remaining 2 seemed to be asleep. When I came back a few hours later they were all gone. hopefully the mother had made a new nest for them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Are deer visiting the area?

I was taking the tags off the newly planted trees this past week when I noticed that many of the serviceberry plants (Amelanchier arborea) have had some of their twigs cut. The cut was quite a distinctive cut. About a foot off the ground at a 45 degree angle, cleanly cut through with some damage to the bark on one side. The twig can be found by the plant with some of the leaves still on the twig. After consulting the internet I think it is unlikely that it was deer. Downy serviceberry is listed as one of the trees unlikely to be damaged by deer. Also browse evidence is supposed to be a ragged broken end not a clean cut.

I think it is much more likely it is a rodent cutting down the twig in order to get at the tasty leaves higher up. This fits with the 45 degree cut. Supposing the rodent cocked its head to the side to reach up and use its incissors to cut the twig. The damage to the bark on one side of the cut could be the mark of the lower teath. So which rodent is the culprit and why is the damage occuring all of a sudden? In the triangle cottontail rabbits are a common sight. I know meadow voles are around ( The other day I suprised one as I was pulling the grass away from the base of a tree. I practically grabbed it when I went to grab a handfull of grass, it then scurried away between my legs disappearing down one of its runways), squirrels are common, there is a chipmunk living on the east slope by the path as is a groundhog.

I have never seen a squirrel eat leaves and a meadow vole or chipmunk wouldn't chop down a twig a foot up from the base. No the most likely culprits are groundhogs or rabbits. Of the two I believe a groundhog is more likely because rabbits are too common a sight on the south side of the berm where the damage occured. If it was rabbits surely there would have been more damage all along. No I think it was a wandering groundhog looking for a new home that came by and opportunistically took some time feeding on his favorites.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Heat wave at the end of May

This past week has been a heat wave of record breaking temperatures for Ottawa. Lawns are already turning brown and the garden plants are suffering. Out on the berm the wildflowers don't seem to mind the heat too much although the newly planted trees and bushes are struggling. Today the second mowing of the season went around with a large mower leaving a double wide path around the trees on the south side. They seem to have done a pretty good job of avoiding hitting the trees.

The other day I took a closer look at the differences in the plants around the 2009 and 2010 plantings. Some plants found in the newly planted area are not present i nthe area left uncut for over a year and vice versa. In the 2010 planting area there is little grassleaved stitchwort and no vetch while in the 2009 area (the square) there is little white clover or chickweed but a lot of vetch and stitchwort. The area along the forest edge is even more diverse with buttercup daisies, wild carrot, goldenrod, canada thistle, philadelphia fleabane and yellow mustard all common while practically absent from the square or the bush area.

In the regularly cut over lawn area the common plants are: grass, dandelion, white clover, round leaved plantain, chickweed, black medick, yarrow, crab grass, silvery cinquefoil with patches of devils paint brush, hawkweed, birdfoot trefoil

In the newly planted bush area that has not been cut this year the common plants are: grass,dandelion, white clover red clover, chickweed, stitchwort, yarrow, black medick

In the square that was planted last year the common plants are: grass, crabgrass, birdfoot treefoil, red clover, vetch, grass leaved stitchwort, yarrow, dandelion, bull thistle. There are also isolated patches of other plants (wild carrot, chickory)

In the area that gets irregularly cut along the forest edge the common plants are: grass, goldenrod, wild carrot, yarrow, dandelion, stitchwort, blackmedick, birdfoot trefoil, honeysuckle, cinquefoil, philadelphia fleabane, canada thistle, purple vetch, buttercup, goldenrod, mustard, daisy.

In Bloom:
dandelion mostly finished,
philadelphia fleabane
daisy just starting
creeping charlie
white clover
lilac mostly finished
honeysuckly mostly finished
red osier dogwood
ajuga 2 patches along fence
common speedwell
thyme leaved speedwell one patch
devils paint brush 2 patches
yellow hawkweed 1 patch
purple vetch
blue eyed grass under forest edge
columbine (pink escapee one patch)
yellow mustard (wormseed?)
garlic mustard (mostly finished)
Unidentified Escapee along fence yellow flower single pistle multiple yellow petals over laping about 2-3 cm wide in a small head of 3-4 flowers. leaves pinnately compound alternate on stem grows to 2 feet high, seems to like moist shady area and can compete with the grass on the north side

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer is here

Summer is here with some really hot days. It was supposed to get up to 30C today. There hasn't been a proper rain since the weekend the trees were planted. Today and yesterday the city worker came by and watered the new trees. The trees desperately needed it since they hadn't had time to spread out their roots. Some of the maple trees that had frost damage are starting to recover and are producing new leaves. A few of the pine trees that were planted don't look like they have any life in them. I suspect they may not live.

This heat is bringing out the flowers. On the south side of the berm where the grass was commonly mown and where it is a bit drier the speedwell is all over the place in the short grass. Speedwell seems to be past the prime of its bloom period. Chickweed another small white flower that does well in short grass areas is starting to become more common. On the north side of the berm the common low flower is the purple creeping charlie. It is spread out all over and it doesn't seem to be bothered by competition with tall grass as it is all through the area where the tall grass is growing. It is really quite pretty.

One interesting looking plant that has been a mystery all spring finally reaveled itself to be the devil's paint brush. it grows in several large clumps in a sunny dry area on the south side of the trees where the mower goes once a year. They have been large mats of individual small plants. Until now the plants have stayed low to the ground and have just put out some very hairy leaves from a central base. With the hot weather a flowering head has jumped up and opened up to reveal the bright orange head of a devil's paint brush hawkweed.

In Bloom:
dandelion (going to seed)
creeping charlie,
devil's paint brush
fleabane, (pink just coming on)
blue eyed grass ( one location)
yellow rocket
garlic mustard (past prime)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Tree Planting

It's lilac and honeysuckle time. This past Saturday morning Manordale Public School came and planted 450 trees and bushes. It was awful weather, cold and rainy, so everyone who came out deserves a big thanks. There must have been 30-50 volunteers planting trees and they finished the job in about 3 hours. As the soil was wet, the planting was rushed and getting them in the ground was all that was important. Some were planted too deeply, some had roots exposed, some were not patted in firmly. These deficiencies will be remedied over the next few days. The biggest hardship the trees had was that there was a bit of a frost the next night. The red maples especially seemed to take that hard with many of those in exposed locations severely wilted now. Today was the first grass cutting of the season in the berm area.

Volunteers planting trees on the north slope of the berm.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Preparation for new planting

As part of the preparation for the new planting on May 8th I spent some time tagging the small trees with bright orange tape so that people can see them more easily.

I took a bit of an inventory of the trees and shrubs that survived from last year. I may have missed a few or double counted a few but by my count the survivors are as follows:

- 3 Pagoda Dogwood (had a lot of die back)
- 11 Red Osier dogwood
- 8 Speckled Alder (vigorous)
- 3 american elderberry
- 12 staghorn sumac
- 3 chokeberry
- 4 unidentifiable bushes
- 32 Red Maple (stubby red bud)
- 26 Sugar Maple (long narrow greenish brown bud)
- 14 tamarack (deciduous conifer)
- 6 white spruce
- 12 trembling aspen
- 5 white pine
- 3 colorado spruce
- 4 white cedar
- 2 hazelnut
- 2 basswood (tentative id )
- 8 oak (red oak? the oaks were a favorite of the voles)
- 2 black spruce (tentative identification, these did not survive transplanting well as several others went brown last summer)
- 15 bushes tentatively identified as service berries
- 5 unknown trees/bushes of very slender fragile twigs with pale drooping leaves. Buds are very slow to develop and more of the ~20 that were planted may have life in them yet. (Very tentatively identified as hackberry)
- 9 unidentified trees (most small twigs with buds only slowly developing)
- 47 white spruce seedlings

A total of 232 trees and bushes survived the first year. We were supposed to have planted 350 last year so about 66% survived. Some trees didn't show any signs of life after being transplanted. They may not have survived the previous winter or may not have been able to handle the shock of transplantation. More than a few bare twigs were planted that never developed a viable bud. A few only had one or two buds that developed. A few of the spruce trees turned brown over summer. A few of the aspens lost all of their leaves mid-summer. Some of the seedlings didn't survive transplantation and some got covered up by the summer grass. Some were chopped down by the mower last summer. The major culprit, however, was winter and rodent damage. At least half of the oaks that were planted did not survive the winter. The service berries received a lot of damage as did the sugar maples, the sumac and the hackberries. Some of the bushes were munched right down to their base and are unidentifiable. Some of the trees lost all of their roots to the rodents and toppled over. Some of the trees that are still alive are not likely to survive the summer because the rodent damage is so extensive around their base. But where there is life there is hope.

On Monday evening at dusk while I was taking inventory of the surviving bushes I noticed several bats swooping around over the 2009 planting taking insects on the wing. It is good to see bats as I don't often see them around Manordale.

In flower:
common speedwell
garlic mustard
yellow rocket
creeping charlie
canada plum (? back north corner)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Predators and a visit to Ben Franklin Wood

Yesterday while inspecting the West Side planting area I saw a couple of rabbits scuttle into the thicket. They must have heard something besides myself because I had been standing still at the time. Moments later another rabbit bounded past at a full gallop through the trees into the thicket. Hot on his tail there was a crash and a crack and a big red dog jumped out of the forest. He was suprised to see me as he had evidently been focused on rabbits. His master called and he bounded back into the wood having evidently forgotten about the rabbits. The dog got me thinking about the predators on the berm. Obviously the dog was a predator although he might not be too successful with rabbits. What other predators were there?

In the insect world there were loads of unidentified spiders crawling through the grass. I had also seen many 12 spotted lady bugs and one spiny soldier bug but what potential large wild predators were there? I have seen scat of a medium sized carnivores but haven't actually seen anything. It would be very exciting to see a coyote, fox, weasel, or shrew as there is evidently a plentiful supply of meadow voles around. I have no doubt that there are red tailed hawks that visit the area but I haven't actually seen them.

After inspecting how the trees are doing (everything is leafing out quickly now) I continued on to Ben Franklin park to see if the Trilliums and Dog Tooth Violets were out yet(they were). Along the way I noticed the evidence that some predator had caught a bird. By the amount of feathers and the size of feathers it was quite a large bird, perhaps a sea gull or a pidgeon. Further on, as I entered the woods I found some more evidence of a successful predator. A squirrel tail was lying on the path, either someone has a full stomach or there is a very sorry looking squirrel running around in Ben Franklin Wood.

In bloom:
common speedwell
shepherd's purse (under oak)
yellow rocket
garlic mustard
forget me not
elderberry (north corner 1995 planting)
cherry ( escapee by north corner)
crabapples (just about to start)
daffodil (escapee by north fence)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Winter Cress and a Flicker

The Winter Cress (or Yellow Rocket) is starting to flower. These plants grow very quickly in the spring and their heads are now well above the level of the grass from which they sprang. They are found along the border of the forest where the grass is cut only in the fall. According to the books the plant is a biannual that only flowers in the second year. Presumably they have spent all of last year storing up energy for this fast growth spurt this spring. The plant is part of the mustard family with small flowers flowering from a spike with each flower having four petals.

The winter cress is the yellow flower on focus. Out of focus below it is a baby bull thistle plant

While inspecting the spruce seedlings on the north slope I heard a rustling in the leaves in the woods on top of the berm. I figured it was one of the squirrels I had seen earlier until I got closer and a large bird flew up into the branches. I initially thought it was a mourning dove but then I saw a red patch on the back of its head. It was a type of woodpecker called a Common Flicker, they are noted for being the only type of woodpecker that commonly hunts for insects on the ground which is presumably what I heard it doing. It would of been very strange behaviour for a dove but exactly what you might expect from a flicker.

In Flower:
Winter Cress

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Witch's broom on the oak tree

In 1995 a single oak tree was planted in the triangle area along with a couple of dozen crabapple trees. These trees have had to put up with the mowers and the pollution from the road. Some of the crabapples have perished leaving gaps in the grid pattern in which they were planted. Others have suckers growing up from the base which is I believe a sign that the tree is under stress. The single oak tree has survived, and as it was more mature when it was planted it is now the most prominent tree in the area. The tree has to contend with the salt from the road and it is always very late in leafing out. The limbs on the bottom half of the tree have a growth pattern named witches broom where multiple small branches or twigs all come from the same spot on a larger branch. The upper part of the tree has a much more natural growth pattern where the limbs become progressively smaller out to the last twig(see picture). This is probably due to the salt damage from the road.

The oak tree before the leaves appear. The lower branches have the appearance of witch's broom while the upper branches appear to have a natural growth pattern.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New tree planting areas staked out

It was a rainy day today when I went out to visit the trees. I saw three or four juncos hanging out by the path over the berm on the east side. The buds on the trees are starting to leaf out on a variety of early trees. The speckled alders are quite advanced and I saw my first maple leaves of spring on a sapling.

This past tuesday Jennifer the city forrester came by and staked out where the new planting for this year will be. Manordale school is getting organized to plant on Saturday May 8th an additional 450 trees and bushes in several locations along the berm.

Areas to be planted this year. The Square and the North Slope were planted in 2009 and the new trees will fill in gaps. The West Side and the Bush Area will be new plantings for this year.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meadow Vole Heaven

The meadow voles did a real number on the trees planted last year. There are signs of their runways and burrows all over the long grass between the trees. Many of the trees were killed by the rodents eating their bark either just below ground or at ground level. The bushes were extensively eaten as were the oaks and the sugar maples. The trees that survived the best were pine, spruce, tamarack, red maple and sumac. I guess those trees don't taste very good to voles.

The runways the meadow voles made under the snow cover the square planted on the south side of berm last year. The north side of the berm fared better. My hypothesis is that this is due to the type of vegetation growing. On the south side a lawn that has been regularly mowed was allowed to grow wild. This produced a very pretty mix of clover, chickweed, vetch, birdsfoot trefoil and grasses. In places the trefoil and clover made a dense mat underwhich rodents could safely go about their business away from flying predator's eyes. On the north side of the berm the slope had been mowed once a year and the area was a well established field with tall grasses. There was rodent damage evident here as well but not nearly as extensively and the runways were not as well packed.

The meadow vole runways are about the width of two fingers. They sometimes end in larger chambers under the snow, sometimes they end in a hole leading underground. Note the bush that has been stripped at the bottom of the picture.

The plastic wrapping didn't do too much good for this poor tree as the rodents gnawed the roots completely away

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Garbage pick up

Well it turned cool this past week and there was a fair bit of rain that the fields probably needed. I went out a couple of times this past week to pick up garbage in the triangle. This is the first time I have really attacked the garbage situation there. I know from past experience in Ben Franklin woods that it takes a couple of years to see satisfying results as the first go through the woods inevitably leaves alot of trash that is hidden by leaves and branches. But after a couple of years there is very little trash left in the interior of the forest and most of the trash is found within 20 feet of the forest edge. On the berm the forested area is quite narrow but there wasn't a great deal of wind blown trash visible, most of the plastic seems to have been there for some time. Even when there isn't that much garbage visible it is amazing how easy it is to pick up a couple of garbage bags full. There is alot of garbage burried in the leaves that you only notice when you look. There was a lot of small pieces of styrofoam, plastic food wrappers of various kinds and larger plastic sheets or bags.

When the berm was originally planted they put a black plastic ground sheet down on top of the soil to keep the weeds and grass from competing. 15 years later this black ground sheet is still there mostly burried but poking up out of the soil here and there. I removed some of this material where it was visible. It seems to have received some holes over the years but was still a material barrier for the plant roots as every hole had roots poking through itin search of nutrients and water. At this point I think the ground sheet may be hurting the circulation of nutrients back to the trees. According to the text books the tree roots will reach into the humus made from the leaves they shed each fall seaking their lost nutrients. It also means that the humus is likely to dry out more quickly as the rain water runs off the berm and the water can't wick up from below.

I don't know how continuous the ground sheet is, certainly there are many gaps in it where trees once were planted and over the years various animals have probably chewed through it. Perhaps it is not materially impacting the nutrient or water flow. In some places where the ground sheet is visible it looks like it is fairly intact but in other areas it dives down under the forest litter and humus and it is impossible to remove without tearing it to shreds. The humus layer can be quite thick and looks like a rich organic soil full of roots.

A sample of the ground sheet pulled up out of the ground. Note: it is relatively intact with some small holes. Some of the larger holes may have been created when dragging it out of the ground.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Neighbourhood

The berm area was created as part of the construction of the West Hunt Club road in 1994. It had been part of the experimental farm. The farm remains on the south side of the road, and is about 4000 acres of fields, farm buildings and small woodlots. It is part of the area protected by the greenbelt from development. It is quite intensively farmed but there are deer on the farm and coyotes have been spotted.

A sound barrier earth berm along the north side of the road separates Manordale subdivision from the road. Manordale was developed in the early 60s with the typical wide suburban lots of the time. The low density allows for plenty of room for trees and wildlife, with your typical suburban residents: squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, house sparrows, grackles, robins, starlings, crows etc. all present.

The earth berm is a continuous feature, about a mile long between Ben Franklin Park in the west and Woodroffe road in the east. Our area of interest is a 3 acre triangular area half way along the berm made by a bend in the road around the end of Kimdale Street. This bend also allows the road to switch from the north side of the hydro easement to the south side of the hydro easement. To the east of Kimdale street the hydro easement is on the north side of the earth berm and is a field that is cut about once a year. There is a bike path through the field and this area is more visited by the occasional dog walker than to the west of Kimdale.

Along the top of the earth berm a narrow band of trees about 15m wide was planted in 1994-1995. In the Triangle the berm has a gentle south facing slope and steep north and east sides. At the west end of the triangle the treed area widens to about 30m creating a small 1/3 of an acre thicket of young trees. West of the thicket there is a path kept clear by a mower over the berm and then the band of trees continues all the way to Ben Franklin Park where it connects to a small 8 acre woodlot of mature pine beech and maple trees.

Ben Franklin Wood is divided by a bike path into a west side and an east side. The east side, close to Manordale, is a stand of fine tall pine trees between which people can easily walk. It is an area where kids play and teenagers occasionaly hang out. The west side is little disturbed and is a refuge for any animals or plants that might not like to be disturbed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Early Spring

It's not supposed to be this warm at the end of March. This year the big thaw must have been around the first half of March. There wasn't that much snow to melt and the ground is now fairly dry. Dry enough to kneel on the ground and not immediately have wet knees.

It was shirt sleeve weather today when I went over and visited the berm. The buds were starting to swell on the maples, alders and populars. I saw a few sluggish house flies hanging out on the twigs of the sapling maples. I also saw a couple of spider webs with tiny spiders sitting in the middle of them.

First post

The mandate of this blog is to record the observations from a small treeplanting project on some city property along West Hunt Club Road in Ottawa Canada. I'll try to keep it updated weekly with observations.