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.