Thursday, November 16, 2017


Shagbark hickory that is. Shagbark hickory is aptly named for its bark which, as the trees grow, breaks loose in large plates that curl away from the trunk.

Shagbark hickory can be quite large and forest-grown trees are usually tall, they can exceed 100 feet in height, and straight –

Trees growing in the open are usually wide and spreading –

Like most hickories, shagbark’s wood is strong and heavy and has traditionally been used for tool handles and chair rungs. Its compound leaves normally bear five leaflets and turn bright yellow in the fall.

But it’s not the tree, or the wood, or the leaves that especially interest me. Of most interest to yours truly are the shagbark hickory’s nuts –

The actual nut is inside a thick hull that splits into four segments –

Both shellbark and mockernut hickory also produce nuts worth gathering, but shagbark’s nuts are larger. Just be sure not to gather nuts from pignut or bitternut hickory trees; both species produce bitter unpalatable nuts.

In late September several nearby shagbark hickories provided an abundance of nuts, free for the picking. In one spot I knelt down and picked up 22 nuts without moving. It’s not every year that the trees set fruit in such abundance, shagbark hickory usually has bumper crops at three to five year intervals but, although they usually bear some nuts each year, the trees may not produce any fruit in other years. 

Nuts with a small perfectly round hole were discarded –

Those are the exit holes of weevil larvae that feed on the nutmeats and pupate over winter in the soil –

It didn’t take long to gather enough shagbark hickory nuts to fill a number of baskets.

Inside those nuts is an edible sweet nutmeat that is time consuming and tedious to extract but well worth the effort.

The nuts were rinsed and spread out to dry for a few days – then the opening commenced.

Extracting the nutmeats takes time, quite a bit of time. A light blow with a hammer easily cracks the nuts’ shells, and then it’s time to bring out the nut-pick. Extracting the nutmeats is slow work, but a good thing to do on a rainy day, in the evening or when there’s an unexciting football game on TV.

From all the nuts I gathered we retrieved 23 cups (about 5 ½ pounds) of delicious nutmeats that can be dried or frozen for later use –

Although hickory nuts can be used wherever walnuts or pecans are called for – and I think they taste better then either of those – H uses them to make absolutely delicious cookies. Here’s her not so secret recipe –

Hickory Nut Cookies
          ½ cup butter or margarine
          6 tablespoons brown sugar
          6 tablespoons granulated sugar
          1 egg
          ½ teaspoon vanilla
          1 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour
          1 teaspoon baking powder
          ¼ teaspoon each baking soda and salt
          1 cup chopped hickory nuts
Mix butter and sugars together until smooth, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and then blend into the smooth mix. Stir in the nuts. Place teaspoon size beads of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes. Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies.

And the results –

When the trees start dropping their fruit speed is of the essence since mice, chipmunks, squirrels, wild turkeys and black bears quickly consume the nuts. If you don’t have ready access to shagbark hickory trees, nutmeats can be purchased commercially for $40-$60 a pound.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Log

For all of 2017 one of my camera traps has been mounted with a view along a fallen aspen log in order to document the species that use the log as a travelway.

Interesting and some humorous photographs have resulted, here’s a sample:

Gray Squirrel –

Red squirrel

Hermit thrush –

A blue jay in the almost dark –

A coyote walked the log

Some photos haven’t been of something on the log, but are instead of a nearby visitor, here a wild turkey –

And a pileated woodpecker on a nearby dead tree –

A white-tailed deer
One morning a black bear walked the log –

Surprisingly, a spider even triggered the camera –

By far the most frequent users of the log have been raccoons that have contributed more photographs than all other species combined.
Raccoons can be a real pain in the --- (insert the word of your choice) for those of us who run camera traps. If bait is used to lure a predator in view of the camera, raccoons will devour the bait; their curiosity and dexterity mean that they can occasionally even open the waterproof case; at the least they move the way the camera is mounted on a tree or stake or smear the lens glass with saliva, mucous or mud.

Some of the raccoons that have been caught on camera

Although they may be a pain in the ----, raccoons are intriguing animals that provide an abundance of good photos. I plan to leave the camera trap in place to capture more photos.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Colors, I See Colors

Colors, this is the time of year that whenever I’ve been outdoors there have been colors, vibrant colors, everywhere. These are not the colors of wildflowers or the greens of summer, they’re the colors that paint entire hillsides in northeastern North America – the yellows, reds, oranges, purples and browns of the changing leaves.

As the days shorten and the green chlorophyll in the leaves of deciduous trees  breaks down, other pigments in the leaves begin to become apparent, very apparent –

Each tree species tends to have its own distinctive color. Red maple lives up to its name –

While sugar maple tends toward orange –

But can also display yellow or red –

Black maple, sugar maple's close relative, is even more colorful with it's leaves of many colors

The birches, black, yellow and white, display a brilliant lemon yellow –

White ash leaves (on the few trees that are left alive after the arrival of the emerald ash borer) often turn purple –

The hickories and tulip-poplar are species whose leaves become bright yellow –
Pignut Hickory

It’s not just tree leaves that turn color, the leaves of many shrubs and vines also acquire vibrant colors –
Poison Ivy
Maple-leaved Viburnum

Virginia Creeper

Staghorn Sumac
What a joy it is to live here where there is a change of seasons and the forests are ablaze with color each fall –