Thursday, December 14, 2017


On a tract of public land in the Big Woods a stand of white oak has been growing on some very fertile, moist soil for well over a hundred years. The stand of white oak wasn’t very large, probably not more than ten acres in size but, because they were growing on good soil, the trees had done very well and many of them were two feet or more in diameter.

Every few years the white oak have produced a bumper crop of acorns –

Acorns that fed black bears –

And white-tailed deer –

Gray squirrels and chipmunks –

And wild turkeys –
White oak on a good growing site such as this one can reach 350-500 years of age so most of the trees in this small patch of woodland had many years ahead of them. 

A few of the trees were crooked or had decayed centers, but most of them were big and healthy –

Then, a forester I’ve known for many years mentioned that he was planning a timber sale that would include this stand of white oak. I pointed out the significance of this small stand of trees to wildlife: the seasonal pool it contains where frogs and salamanders lay their eggs, and the vast quantities of acorns it has regularly produced. In fact, the area fed wildlife during  years when nearby areas occupied by other species of oak and various hickories were essentially devoid of nuts.

He went on to mark the trees to be removed, the timber sale was sold to a large sawmill, and the trees were cut. Here are the results –

A number of the trees that were left were damaged during removal of the cut trees –

Although "the book" on best management practices for seasonal pools where amphibians breed recommends not cutting any trees within 100 feet of the pool's edge, that recommendation was not followed. 

Don't assume I'm an anti-forest management person; we live in a wood-framed house with wooden floors, doors, windows and trim; I've been a woodworker for decades, making more than 65 pieces of furniture; we utilize all sorts of paper products; there's a pile of firewood along the driveway. Wood is certainly more environmentally friendly than metal or masonry but not every wooded acre has to be managed. 

I’ve known and liked the forester who marked this timber sale for many years; he attended one of the best professional schools and, although the production of woody fiber for forest industry seems to be the sole interest of all too many foresters, this fellow has always appeared to be sensitive to the other forest resources wildlife, wildflowers, clean water, aesthetics. As soon as I saw the results of the timber sale I thought of Sir Peter Scott’s oft repeated comment, “We should have the wisdom to know when to leave a place alone.”

My disappointment is profound and these ten acres will forever color my opinion of the forester.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

From the Cave

Back in July I posted the first photos from the entrance of a small cave beneath a rock outcrop on a steep sidehill – those photos can be seen here. Now, months later, and including a several week interval without a camera in place, it’s time to post more photos from the cave.

Black bears frequently visited the cave entrance. From the photos it was impossible to determine if more than one bear visited –

One bear even entered the cave, revealed by a photograph that showed a tiny bit of its back behind the fallen branch.

Also frequently visiting the cave entrance were the local gray squirrels that used that fallen branch as a runway and even entered the cave occasionally –

The squirrels had best be alert and wary because bobcats often came by as they hunted along the many rock outcrops on this steep hillside –

There was a break in the time a camera trap was in place because during one of those visits a black bear walked right up to the camera trap –

And bit the steel box containing the camera trap whereupon a tooth punctured the Fresnel lens in front of the sensor –

Fortunately I returned to change the batteries and memory card in the camera before rain had gotten in through the hole and damaged the control board. So I brought the camera trap back to replace the lens and it was several weeks before there was an opportunity to install a replacement.

Bears are the bane of camera trappers – but I still find them irresistible.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

It Gets a "D"

If someone asked me to grade the months of the year there’s no question that April and May would both get an “A”. April would deserve that grade because that’s the month the waterfowl return, the days are warming and many are absolutely balmy, the rains are usually gentle, it’s nice enough to get back on the bike, waterfalls are at their peak flow, and spring’s first wildflowers are in bloom. May receives an “A” for its generally lovely days, the surge in blooming wildflowers, colorful warblers that are returning from their winter quarters in Central and South America, deciduous trees’ buds are bursting and new leaves are expanding, in May it’s warm enough to comfortably put the canoe back on the water.

October also gets an “A” for its glorious fall colors, its pleasantly warm days with a crystal blue sky, bike rides without hordes of other folks on the rail-trail, some of the best canoeing of the year, ripe apples, white-tail bucks and bull elk that have shed their antlers’ velvet, and the bugling of rutting elk.

All the other months have their good and not so good sides that, in my opinion, warrant grades of “B” or “C” – all that is except November which gets a richly deserved “D”. Why a “D”? Because November is dark, damp, dreary and depressing, the cloudiest month of the year. Unlike me, some of my friends love November because of Thanksgiving feasts and family get-togethers, because Christmas is just around the corner, or because they’re enthusiastic hunters and deer and bear seasons are in November.

I’ll step back from grading the months to say that even in dark, damp, dreary and depressing November there are still wonderful things to see in the great outdoors. A day’s walk in field and forest reveals some color:

The yellow of a goldenrod, probably the last one I’ll see this year –

More yellow the fruit of horse nettle –

On a field’s edge a cranberrybush viburnum with its brilliant fruit –

And the mottled bark of a sycamore that also grows along the edge –

The field/woodland border is a good place to find “wild” apple trees and here was one still holding a few apples, shriveled now from having been frozen –

Then in another tree the color of the tail of a red-tailed hawk that was preoccupied in scanning for an unwary squirrel –

On a far hillside the crown of an aspen positively glowed with bright yellow leaves that were still hanging on –

Entering the forest the red leaves of a seedling red maple came into view –

Also growing low to the ground was a black huckleberry that still held a few leaves –

And a partridgeberry with its green leaves and bright red fruit –

Red isn't the only low-to-the-ground color, as demonstrated by these blue-gray turkey-tail fungi


So, even though I give November a “D”, there’s still color and joy to be found in field and forest – and occasionally a few bright sunny days.