Tuesday, February 19, 2013

President's Day Cherry Tree Ramble

Climbing to the top of The Peak, a local topographic high point
It's become an annual tradition that I lead a President's Day Cherry Tree Ramble to entertain and educate folks who have President's Day off work.  My goal in leading the walk is to enlighten the hikers about the myth of George Washington's chopping down a cherry tree and confessing his transgression to his father, and to show the participants how to distinguish between the native black cherry (Prunus serotina) in the Preserve's woodlands vs. the introduced bird cherry (P. avium).

Washington's exploit was fabricated by an itinerant preacher and Washington groupie named Mason Locke Weems who published a book called The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington in 1800.  In the fifth edition (published in 1806), Weems inserted the story about Washington's vandalism to demonstrate the future president's forthright and honest nature.  In reality, very little is known of Washington's early life, and historians are sure this story (among many of Weems' others) has no basis in reality.

Though the day was cold, the sky was bright blue and sunny.  The three hikers and I were accompanied on our walk by a forestry consultant named Joe who has been clearing invasive vegetation from The Peak Woods in preparation for restocking the forest with new native trees this spring.  It was a convivial group, and the small size allowed us to interact frequently.
Hiker Judy examining the bark of a native black cherry
Native black cherry, when mature, develops a distinctive thick, scaly, dark bark.  The tree can live to be 200 years old, and produces lots of drupes that attract birds, which spread the seeds to new locations.
Forestry consultant Joe and hiker Karen atop The Peak with a bird cherry
In contrast, bird cherry (also called European, sweet, mazzard, or gean cherry), has a smooth bark with distinctive horizontal corky sections called lenticels.  Bird cherry is a short-lived tree (about 50 years) and has inferior value as lumber compared to the native species.  Like black cherry, bird cherry also produces numerous drupes that are consumed (and spread) by birds.  Bird cherry is the species that was cultivated to produce the edible cherries we use in pastries.  Though it was introduced by colonists from Europe, it is native to western Asia.
Consulting forest restoration expert Joe and the hikers looking at invasive vines in the forest canopy

A Snowy Start to St. Valentine's Day

Overlooking the pond behind the Visitor Center
On Wednesday, February 13, Mary and I went to bed with rain and awoke with a bit snow.  Mary teaches at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so we had to get up extra early because of anticipated traffic problems.  Arising before dawn gave me an opportunity to capture some of the snow just as the sun was coming up.  The forecasters were calling for temperatures in the mid-40s with bright sunshine all day, so this enchanted scene will be evanescent.


Monday, February 11, 2013

A "Plague" of Robins

Late last week, I commented on a post by Grizz at his Riverdaze... blog that American Robins (Turdus migratorius) had, so far, failed to strip the tiny fruits from the crabapple tree in the front of the Executive Director's residence as they usually do much earlier in the winter.  Well, the major winter storm that buried New England and New York only left three inches of snow here in the Pennypack Preserve, but it was enough to send the overwintering robins into a feeding frenzy.  As I shoveled the walks and drive on Saturday morning, hordes of robins descended on the crabapple tree and feasted.

Just a few of the dozens of American Robins gorging themselves on crabapples
Winter has been pretty mild so far this year, so the birds have found alternate sources of food in the thickets where they hide.  I suspect that crabapples don't have much fat content, so the overwintering berry eaters prefer other fattier fruits.  But winter's winding down now, and the birds have harvested much of the other available fruit; they must be becoming desperate.

My dependents eat even before I do (but I have admit I brewed coffee first)
A Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta candensis).  These northern visitors were more numerous at the beginning of winter, but a few have hung around all season.
A few more snowy images.  This was our first substantial snowfall of the season.

View down to the pond behind the Visitor Center
The old-field (Crabapple Meadow) near the entrance to the Trust's headquarters
The east end of the Executive Director's residence, added in 1833 to an existing 1791 house