Saturday, May 13, 2017

Spring Trees Glowing in New England

There's a grand show on the road right now in New England. It's been running for weeks, and is traveling from south to north. You can still catch it in its prime in the more northerly areas of Massachusetts, and up into Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

It's the annual spring colorfest that Nature produces in her forests. I'd like to think it's all for our enjoyment. Whether it is or not, it's rivaled only by her fall show. I can't decide which I like better... in the fall, the air is crisp, cool and dry, free of biting insects, and is charged with the aromas of newly fallen leaves; in spring, after a white winter without horizon, the dazzling, sunny pastel colors are a warm, spirit repleneshing ambrosia.

Mountainside streams have been thundering for two months with meltwater frantically fleeing forests of higher elevations, to escape eventually to the sea.

It's been the best time to visit ice cold waterfalls. You'd find yourself gleefully grinning like a kid with excitement at the overwhelming sounds and sights of pounding water. Although water is everywhere, and we may take it for granted, this simple substance is one of the most mesmerizing in nature when it's in a hurry. 

Upon the retreat of the last snows, streams relax their pace a bit, and the forest landscape is a mix of browns and grays, save for a few dark evergreens. You might think that we've had enough of white at this point. Ironically though, one of the first trees to brighten our spirits does so with... yes, white flowers. Serviceberry (genus Amelanchier), known also as shadbush, is a small, nondescript, understory tree. Most never even notice it;
Shadbush flowers
until, that is, its flowers appear like popcorn on the hillsides.

But even before the shadbush flowers, maples have hung their showy blossoms out on the breezes. Red maples are so named because many of their parts are red: the flowers, keys (samaras), and new twigs are all red; even their leaves turn red in autumn.

Before this fleeting spring season surrenders to summer, maybe you'll find time to answer the forest's invitation to come see the show. You'll have to head northward to chase its tail end though.

"The best things in life are free."

Red Maple Flowers
Red Maple Keys
Sugar Maple
Sugar Maple Flowers

Along the Westfield River

A northern Berkshires Pond in May

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Icing on the Trees

My pal Arnie is always in the mood to go for a hike in a forest when I call him, in most any kind of weather or temperature. A few days ago, we headed out in frigid conditions to further explore an old growth forest tract in a mountainous region of Western Massachusetts.

There was snow on the ground, but not particularly deep. We were expecting that. What we weren't expecting, but were delighted to see, was a frosty white coating of ice on entire distant mountainsides along the route to our woods. A few more miles down the road and we were now driving through a crystal forest. The heavens overhead were azure blue. The sun was putting silvery white sparks of life into the thick ice overcoats encasing every tree twig in sight. This is probably the finest glamor show that winter ever puts on. We had no choice but to stop the car and do some photography. Old growth forests are high on our priority list of places to see and be, but the ancient trees weren't going anywhere and would wait a little longer for our visit. Ice crusted mountainside forests are ephemeral, you don't keep them waiting.

So here are some of the images recorded that day. They can't replace the personal experience of being there, of course. But we hear so many sensationalized "dangerous winter storm" warnings in today's media that it seems only right to celebrate and share the beauty of such events once in a while.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Old Growth Forest for a New Year

It's day three of a brand new year. Who knows what's in the works for us in the coming months? Looking out my window, I see that today is gray, damp, and somewhat gloomy. It occurs to me that new years probably should begin on a sunny, breezy, greened-up kind of early spring day, not a day like this. I find myself longing to be in a verdant, old growth forest. Even though I've lately been exploring a 200-year-plus stand of hemlocks and hardwoods, those several outings were bright white with snow. Thoroughly enjoyable, yet missing so much.

I craved a tonic, like a steamy drink on a bitter cold day. Something to bring me back to the lush, leafy forests that flood my senses with a pleasing wavelength of green light, scented air, and the renewing rush of mountain streams. I knew what that would be: a meander through the photos of those places. So that's what this is, a visual essay in green. I hope it does for you what it's doing for me. All the scenes are from aged forests of Western Massachusetts.

Happy New Year !

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Finding the Massachusetts Champion Yellow Birch Tree

By mid-morning on a snappy early-December day, Jared Lockwood, Arnie Paye, and I were leaving a warm vehicle and trudging off into unfamiliar woods in part of the Monroe State Forest near the Vermont border in Massachusetts. Our mission was to locate and explore an old hemlock stand described to us by friend and old-growth forest expert Bob Leverett, to evaluate its potential inclusion in an old-growth forest documentary film.

First, Old Growth Hemlocks

Small, but older hemlocks
 Unaware that there was a trail nearby we could have followed, we instead plunged into thick forest and bushwhacked our way across a steep slope, enveloped in both sun and snow flurries. It quickly became evident that this was an older forest than the typical second growth woods so common in this region. Hemlocks were tipping us off to that fact with their rugged, aging bark. They weren't the largest diameter hemlocks to be found in this forest, yet their bark, trunk, and limb characteristics were clues to their advanced age, likely 200 or more years in many cases.

A hemlock soon to be downed by wind?
One old hemlock we encountered will soon be hugging the ground, judging by a huge crack in its trunk. It's hard to imagine it surviving the winds and snow loads of another winter.




Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Exceptional New England White Pine

The following is an essay by good friend and guest writer Bob Leverett, a nationally recognized expert on eastern old growth forests. The text and photos were supplied by Bob, except as noted.  Enjoy!

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Saheda, Profile of a Great New England White Pine

by Robert T. Leverett

December 6, 2016



On November 27th, my wife Monica and I went to the Elders Grove in Mohawk Trail State Forest (MTSF). We wanted to walk off some of our Thanksgiving turkey, especially the stuffing, but that was not my only mission. I wanted to re-measure the huge Saheda white pine to record its end-of-2016 statistics.
The Saheda Pine

 I keep close tabs on the annual growth of this tree, and was absolutely thrilled to confirm a height of 171.0 feet and a girth of 12.0. Saheda has finally arrived! 
The big Mohawk pine has the distinction of being the second tallest tree we know of in New England, and the combination of its height of 171 feet and girth of 12 feet places Saheda in even more exclusive company. So far as we know, only one other white pine in the entire Northeast has achieved the combination of 12 x 170: the Seneca Pine in Cook Forest State Park, Cooksburg, PA. It is a marvelous old growth specimen that reaches 12.6 feet around and 174.9 feet in height.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Global Worming

The Unexpected Threat to Eastern Forests

Well friends, here we go again. There's a long list of threats to our forests that have come about as a result of our human activities. Now there's another serious invasive pest, one that we have welcomed, and thought was completely beneficial; one that has insidious behavior, yet seems so benign and desirable to have around. It's advancing into our northeastern forests, altering their composition, even destroying them. And there's nothing we can do to stop it. What hideous critter is this?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mt Tom's Peregrine Falcons: 2016 Season

Peregrine Falcons on Mt Tom

A previous blog article (here) chronicled the 2015 nesting of two peregrine falcons on the Mount Tom Range of Western Massachusetts, and provided a link to a video (here) on our companion New England Forests youtube channel. That video documents the lives of the two female peregrine chicks raised last year.

Because the video has been well received, and continues to attract a steady stream of viewers, fellow photographer Rich D'Amato and I decided to produce a short video this year to update interested viewers with the results of the 2016 nesting.

Adult Male Peregrine Falcon Nesting on Mt Tom
Mt Tom Adult Peregrine Falcon (RJ D'Amato)
The same two adult falcons that nested on Mt Tom last year (2015) mated once again in 2016. They chose the exact same nest site as last year. The female, in her third year of life, originated in New York state; last year was the first time she raised young. The male, now in his thirteenth year, was originally banded in Vermont, and had nested on Mt Tom with other females prior to his current mate.

Rich and I did not spend as many long days watching the birds this year as last year, although Rich put in much more time on the cliffs than did I. But we've assembled a short video summarizing the falcons' 2016 nesting season, a season with good results, and some unexpected, sad news.

You can view the new 2016 video on the New England Forests Youtube channel (here), or in the player window below (may not be visible in email feeds).