Saturday, December 31, 2022

New England's Native Oak Trees: New Film


Eastern White Oak

Oak trees are found across the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. There are hundreds of species in the oak genus Quercus (about 450 to 600, depending on which source you consult). About 90 of those occur in the United States, and 12 are native to New England. There are also a few other oak species planted in New England that don't naturally occur here. 

For many years, I've had an uneasy time identifying some of the oak species in New England; I could readily place them in one of the two oak groups (the white oak group, or the red oak group), but nailing down the species was a test that often left me frustrated. I found that many people have the same difficulty, even forestry professionals who spend a lot of time in the company of trees. 

Why is that? It's because there is a lot of both similarity and variability in the visible characteristics of oak trees- particularly bark and leaves, which are what most people rely on to identify trees. A given species (or individual tree) can have leaves that look significantly different depending on whether they're in the sun or shade, are juvenile or mature. And the features of one species can often be quite similar to those of another.  

There is a natural variability of characteristics from tree to tree of the same species. But with oaks, there is also a significant degree of hybridization that can occur wherever they can receive wind-blown pollen from other species of the same (white or red) group. Quite often when trying to identify which species an oak belongs to, we find ourselves confused... "the leaves look like a northern red oak, but the bark isn't quite right, and the acorns don't look right either".

A couple years ago, I decided to gather footage for a film about New England's native oaks, to not only help others identify them, but to discipline myself to study and learn them as well. A retired biologist friend, Al Richmond, was just as eager as I was to become more proficient at putting oaks in their proper pigeon hole, so we spent many a day seeking out each of the twelve New England species, plus a hybrid or two. It was often frustrating, but it was an adventure we both enjoyed. A few of the species are uncommon in this far northeast corner of America, which heightened the challenge.

The film is now completed; it evolved into more than just a "how to identify oaks" project, so other oak-related topics are covered too. For example, many are aware of the havoc that gypsy moths (now known as spongy moths) can wreak upon a forest; but do you know the relationship those moths have with mice and acorns, and why a forest mix of white and red oaks is important? Wildlife biologist Jeff Boettner does a great job explaining that. 

Gypsy (aka Spongy) moths laying eggs

In the hierarchy of ecologically important tree species, oaks are at the top. Their acorns are of course a major food source for numerous species (eg, squirrels, deer, turkeys, bears, porcupines, etc, etc). But they contribute in less obvious ways that are equally important. For one, their leaves are munched by far more insect species than any other type of native tree. Those masses of insects, typically out of our sight and unnoticed in the canopy, are the major draw for most of our nesting warblers and other songbirds who migrate here from southern climes to raise their young on the bountiful protein "bugs" provide. The spring and early summer bird life we so enjoy in our forests and yards would be greatly diminished were it not for oaks.

Gnarly old white oak

The gnarly old white oak in the photo has something in common with the Wright Brothers first airplane flight... can you guess what it might be? I'll bet not.


Here's something that probably hasn't come up in conversation at the dinner table: when the last glaciers receded northward some twelve to fifteen thousand years ago, forests began to recolonize barren, previously-glaciated regions. Oaks showed up surprisingly quickly, considering their heavy seeds (acorns) aren't carried aloft on the balmy breezes. It has been calculated that, based on the typical distance from the tree that acorns either land or are cached by animals, the oaks should still not be as far north as they are for many hundreds of thousands of years. So how did they get where they are in just a few thousand? 

What are oak galls all about?

Cotton candy? No- wool sower gall






And why do so many of the acorns you pick up have a tiny round hole in them?

Why is that little hole there?


These questions are addressed in the film.

There are more seldom-seen topics covered, but let's keep those a surprise until you watch it. 

And you can do that, starting at 2pm EST on New Years Day (1/1/2023). 

Watch New England's Native Oak Trees on our New England Forests Youtube channel then. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 4, 2022

RBP - Red Bark Phenomenon

RBP on Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

 In the last couple decades or so, people have increasingly been noticing a peculiar rust-red color appearing on the trunks of trees here and there in New England and other regions. It has come to be known as "Red Bark Phenomenon" (RBP), a term coined by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. 

Affected trees typically show this coloration on just one side of the tree, usually the side facing north or west. Often it's found on trees near a water body- a pond, stream, or river. The condition does not affect just one tree species; on the contrary, it has been found on a wide range of tree species, both conifers and hardwoods, both native and introduced. But it seems to most often show up on eastern white pines (Pinus strobus), hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis), and oaks (Quercus spp), among the many others.

What causes this bark discoloration? Researchers have determined that it's a coating of algae in the Trentepohlia genus. It's a green alga, but contains large quantities of carotenoids and other compounds that hide its green chlorophyll from our view and make it appear an orange-red color. It does no known harm to the trees, being just a crusty coating on the bark's exterior. Trentepohlia is typically found in humid locations. The reason it appears on just the shadier side of trees is that a lot of sun exposure would quickly dry it out.

Sometimes it's seen on just one or two trees at a given site, as was the case with the white oak shown. 

RBP on White Oak (Q. alba)

In other locations, whole stands of trees might host the algae (see the photo of the white pine stand). 

 When I was first learning to identify scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), the particular trees I was looking at had rusty orange coloring in the bark furrows, which I assumed might be a characteristic of the species (similar to the red oak in the photo below). Then I found others that had no such color. That confused me a bit until I realized that I was seeing RBP.


RBP on White Pines






RBP in Red Oak (Q. rubra) bark furrows

 The next two photos are closeups of RBP on white pine and white oak bark.

Trentepohlia species can be found on other substrates besides bark, such as moist rocks, concrete, buildings, etc. They can also combine with certain fungi to form lichens. 

It may be easy to confuse other bark conditions with RBP. For instance, dead or dying hemlocks and other species may have their outermost bark layers chipped off by woodpeckers searching for insect larvae. Over time, woodpeckers may chip away at virtually the entire length of the trunk, so the entire tree looks orange. At a casual glance, this may look like RBP, particularly on hemlocks. With the current ash tree devastation being caused by the emerald ash borer, it's common to see bark chipped off white ashes (Fraxinus americana) too, exposing a somewhat orange color.

Not RBP: Dead White Ash (Fraxinus americana)
Not RBP: Dead Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)













Monday, November 28, 2022

White Pine Film Event in Hartford


New Hampshire virgin white pines

 If you look at a forested hillside almost anywhere in the northeast, you'll probably see eastern white pines poking up through the canopy and towering over the surrounding trees. We tend to take those pines for granted; they're just part of the natural landscape.

King's Pine
But 400 years ago, stands of huge, primeval New England white pines were highly valued by the English Crown, the finest being axe-marked as the “King’s pines”. They were sorely needed for ship masts, and were the primary motivation in sending colonists to these shores, eventually sparking the American Revolution. Their importance didn't wane post-revolution; on the contrary, they were integral to the building of much of the eastern United States through the following century. It's a cogent story.

And that story is told in "Eastern White Pine - the Tree Rooted in American History", our one-hour documentary film that uses vintage images, current footage, and soaring aerial views to tell the 4-century tale of the pine's critical contribution to America's founding and history. You may be surprised to learn how the white pine is woven through the fabric of this country's formation.

Today, the white pine still is economically important, but it's much appreciated for its ecological role too. A number of wildlife species are dependent on pines; some are described in the film, from birds to bears.

On Saturday, December 10, 2022, the film will be shown at Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT, at 3pm, sponsored by Connecticut Valley Garden Club and Trinity College. Admission is free, and includes pine-influenced snacks and tea to warm you on this winter day. 

Prior to the film, at 1pm, there will be a pine forest walk nearby. A Q&A session follows the film. Details are available here

It'll be an interesting day. We hope to see you there!



Saturday, November 12, 2022

Beaver Pond Wildlife Part 5 film in Hartford



Reserve a seat at Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT, for the November 30, 2022 screening of "Beaver Pond Wildlife: Part 5 - Fall to Winter", the final segment of the Really Wild Wednesdays: Eager Ecological Engineers program, which begins at 7pm. Admission is free.

The 5-part film series documents wild animal and plant life above and below water at typical northeast beaver ponds over a year's time span. 


In Part 5, we'll see the dramatic change of colors from summer greens to autumn's fiery reds and glowing golds, as the bounty of summer quickly wanes. All wildlife is now focused on the priority of surviving the coming winter. Some have migrated to warmer climes, or soon will be. Some are preparing to hibernate. Others are stockpiling as much food as they can to ensure they'll have enough to survive until spring.

Some of the scenes we'll see include: 

-birds such as hawks and falcons, bluebirds, chickadees, cedar waxwings, and others, dealing with the first snowfall;

-beavers in their ice-covered pond; harvesting trees; working on lodges and food caches.

-otters in the snow, and eating fish on the ice; 

-a muskrat finding food, on and below the ice; 

-actual sounds of beavers vocalizing in an icy lodge;

-the history of our beaver populations; 

-the overall ecology of beaver pond habitats, and the benefits they provide to a wide range of plant and animal species;

-and so much more!


As always, there will be a Q&A session following the film.

Thank you to Professor Susan A. Masino of Trinity College for organizing this series, which is part of the Frederick Law Olmsted 200th birthday celebration.


More info at the Real Art Ways "Events" page. Registration is strongly advised, as seating is limited.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

New Film: The Forgotten Forest Primeval

 Some thirty or so years ago, ecologist Chris Kane suspected he was amidst an old growth forest one day, on the side of New Hampshire's Mount Sunapee. It sure appeared to be undisturbed by humans. Gnarly old trees. Plenty of old, downed wood. Thick understory. No sawn stumps. No stone walls. But, could it really be?

Chris invited a few other experts to take a look at this forest and give their opinions. Charlie Cogbill, an old-growth forest researcher from Vermont; New Hampshire forester Ken Desmarais; and Frank Mitchell (UNH Cooperative Extension) obliged. They all came to the same conclusion: this was original, primeval forest! No sign of human intervention.

With some research, Chris found written evidence from more than a half-century earlier documenting the fact that this was known to be old growth. Astonishingly enough, knowledge of it apparently had been lost to time, even though a ski slope enterprise had been established on the mountain in 1948, and hikers had long been active there too. That can be explained by the fact that eastern old growth is not particularly easy to recognize by those not already familiar with its characteristics.


Mt Sunapee primeval forest
Mt Sunapee primeval forest


Fast forward to late 2021. I was contacted by Steve Russell, president of the Friends of Mt Sunapee group. He described the Mt Sunapee forest to me, and asked if I'd be willing to make a film about it. I was surprised to learn there was any such forest there, and agreed to go up and see it for myself in the spring of 2022. 

Steve Russell

I met Steve and Chris at the base of the mountain on a warm, early June day. They proceeded with my initiation. "Oh, it's only about a quarter-mile walk to the trailhead", Chris said nonchalantly. With backpack, tripod, and camera, I followed along. About sixteen miles straight up a mountainside later (it might have been twenty-six, I lost track), under a blisteringly hot sun, we got to the trailhead. "This is where we start" said Chris. Start?? Despite his soft-spoken, gentle manner, I was now silently planning his death.

But as soon as we got out of the merciless sun and into the cool, green shade of the understory, my temperament quickly eased. My heart rate finally slowed down, and although all unbound water in my body had boiled out into my shirt, I started to appreciate the woods I was immersed in. A short way up the trail (oh yeah, more up, of course), we came upon the first of the ancient yellow birches, which don't look anything like the juvenile birches we see in worked-over forests of today. I began to think maybe Chris should just be tortured a bit, not necessarily totally annihilated. Maybe.

At that point, Chris announced that he had to leave us early that day (no doubt he had heard of ice cream being available somewhere), but he had just enough time to lead us up to the ridgeline where, he proclaimed, I just had to see the view over Lake Solitude, a mountainside tarn (ie, small lake). Well, could I say no to that? Not without embarrassment. Up we went. 

Ok, ok, so it was well worth the effort. At least from that point on, it was a downhill excursion. Chris might actually live another day. And Steve, brother mountain goat to Chris, wasn't complaining at all about the abuse; he'd been here many times before, and I think he actually likes this! Not sure what it is about old trees that draws nuts like us to terrain like this. 


Lake Solitude on Mt Sunapee
Lake Solitude on Mt Sunapee


I had been spending way too much time over the last few years sitting at beaver ponds all day for the Beaver Pond Wildlife series, and not getting my usual hiking exercise. Time to get back in shape! 

Chris Kane at old yellow birch
Chris Kane at an old yellow birch

So, there were more trips to Sunapee to gather footage. I forgave Chris for being in better shape than I. Maybe he hadn't gone for ice cream after all. He's slim and fit from years of stomping around on vertical land.

The Mt Sunapee primeval forest is designated by NH Natural Heritage as "exemplary", one of the best remaining sites in the state featuring northern hardwoods and spruce/fir. Off-trail, it's rugged terrain, not for the sneaker-clad crowd. The small-boulder-strewn slopes are rather treacherous to navigate, with ankle breaking voids hidden by fallen leaves, and the going is necessarily very slow, which is one reason why this forest is still primeval.

Dave Anderson (Senior Director of Education, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, aka "The Forest Society") joined us on one of the hikes. Steve, Chris, and Dave all share some of their thoughts in the film that has resulted from those days in primeval forest on the sides of Mt Sunapee. 


Chris Kane (L), Dave Anderson (R)


And you can experience some of the old forest vicariously, by watching The Forgotten Forest Primeval - Rediscovering Mt Sunapee's Old Growth, on the New England Forest Youtube channel. Long live the ancient forest!

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Beaver Pond Wildlife Part 4 in Hartford



On Wednesday, September 28, 2022, the fourth segment of the Really Wild Wednesdays: Eager Ecological Engineers program will take place, when "Beaver Pond Wildlife: Part 4 - Mid Summer to Fall" will be screened at Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT, at 7pm. 

The 5-part film series chronicles wild animal and plant life above and below water at typical northeast beaver ponds over a year's time span. 


In Part 4, great blue heron nestlings are growing quickly. Fledgling red-shouldered hawks take their first flights, and practice flying around the pond. We'll see how a flood and a bear affect the beavers. There's a new family of belted kingfishers honing their skills. 

We'll also see: 

-how bees and hummingbirds uniquely interact with various flowers;

-North America's only carnivorous butterfly;

-newly hatched painted and snapping turtles emerging from underground nests;

-how aquatic bladderwort plants capture food;

-beavers preparing for the coming winter;

-tiny slug eggs hatching;

-otters; mink; weevils; snakes; leeches; various birds;

-stunning aerial views of New England's signature autumn foliage;

-and lots more!


As always, there will be a Q&A session following the film.

Thank you to Professor Susan A. Masino of Trinity College for organizing this series, which is part of the Frederick Law Olmsted 200th birthday celebration.


More info at the Real Art Ways "Events" page. Registration is strongly advised, as seating is limited.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Beaver Film Part 3 in Hartford



On Wednesday, July 13, 2022, the third segment of the Really Wild Wednesdays: Eager Ecological Engineers program will take place, when "Beaver Pond Wildlife: Part 3 - Early to Mid Summer" will be screened at Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT, at 7pm. 




In Part 3, we'll see a red-shouldered hawk in action; an elusive American bittern; the underwater lives of many larval insects, including dragonflies, water scorpions, and more; nesting kingbirds on the hunt; diving kingfishers; and some pretty entertaining bullfrogs. 

Speaking of bullfrogs, there will be rarely-observed scenes that may come as quite a surprise to some. 

Of course, we'll see beavers at work too. Plus mink and otters. 

A lot to see.


Red-shouldered hawk with frog
Red-shouldered hawk with frog

Thank you to Professor Susan A. Masino of Trinity College for organizing this series, which is part of the Frederick Law Olmsted 200th birthday celebration.


More info at the Real Art Ways "Events" page. Registration is strongly advised, as seating is limited.





Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Beaver Film Part 2 in Hartford

The Really Wild Wednesdays: Eager Ecological Engineers program continues on June 8 with the showing of "Beaver Pond Wildlife Part 2 - Late Spring" at Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT, at 7pm.



The 5-part film series documents some of the multitude of species typically found in, on, and around New England (and other northeastern) beaver pond environments, season by season. 

Part 2 covers late spring, a bustling time at typical beaver ponds. Bird activity is high, with nesting season well under way. Insects are the go-for food item birds rely on now to provide the protein they need to reproduce. 

Grackle with dragonflies


Water snakes, mating





Frogs, toads, turtles, and snakes are mating and producing offspring as well.

Beavers are patching up dams, and their two-year-old youngsters are leaving the pond to establish their own new homes.

Ducks, herons, muskrats, ospreys, dragonflies, and more ... they're all going about the business of life, making spring itself come alive with hectic activity.

Osprey, over nest

A Q&A session will follow the film. Admission is free, but seating in the gallery is limited to about 50. Registration is advised. For more information, visit the Real Art Ways website

Parts 3 through 5 progress chronologically through early summer to winter, and are scheduled for July 13, September 28, and November 30, respectively.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Beaver Pond Wildlife film in Hartford

Few wildlife species are more intriguing, or have a greater ability to alter and create habitat than that iconic keystone species, the beaver. This unassuming mammal goes about its daily life setting up and maintaining its homestead, all the while creating aquatic and terrestrial conditions that so many other creatures rely on.

Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT, will host "Really Wild Wednesdays: Eager Ecological Engineers". These events will feature our 5-part "Beaver Pond Wildlife" film series beginning on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, when Part 1 will be screened at 7pm. A Q&A session will follow the film.

The films document some of the multitude of species typically found in, on, and around New England (and other northeastern) beaver pond environments, season by season. 

Part 1 covers early spring, with parts 2 through 5 progressing chronologically through late spring to winter. Each part is approximately one hour in length. Parts 2 to 5 are scheduled for June 8, July 13, September 28, and November 30, respectively. 

Admission is free, but seating in the gallery setting is limited to about 50. Registration is advised. For more information, visit the "Events" section of the Real Art Ways website

There will also be a film at 5pm, "Olmsted and America's Urban Parks".



Monday, March 21, 2022

Celebrating Old-Growth Forests in Connecticut


Old Growth Forest

There's a lot of interest in eastern old growth forests, as evidenced by the fact that our Lost Forests of New England film is approaching the one-million-views milestone. An upcoming event will focus on old New England forests.

"Celebrating Old-Growth Forests in Connecticut" will take place On April 9, 2022. Dr. Joan Maloof, founder of the Old Growth Forest Network, will be leading a forest walk in Hartford, CT. That begins at 10am at the Keney Park Wood Materials Management Site (392 Tower Ave). 

Dr Maloof will point out features of the Keney Park forest, and talk about her organization's goal of having at least one forest set aside in every county of the U.S. (ie, those where forest can grow) to grow naturally, without logging, and to be open to the public. Forests inducted into the Old Growth Forest Network do not  have to currently be old-growth; the idea is to allow them to eventually develop into old-growth condition again.

Following the walk, there will be a lunch at noon, and book signing by Dr. Maloof at Real Art Ways

At 1:15, The Lost Forests of New England will be screened in the Real Art Ways theater. This one-hour documentary-style film tells the story of what our regional ancient forests once looked like, and what their current status is. Several prominent scientists and old-growth experts describe the importance and characteristics of primitive forests.

There will be a short Q&A panel session with Dr. Maloof; Jack Ruddat (a WPI student who has researched and identified Connecticut old growth sites); Dr Susan Masino of Trinity College; and others.


The entire day's activities are free. More information is available at the Real Art Ways website.

Friday, March 4, 2022

New Film: Beaver Pond Wildlife - Part 5

Looking back now, the last three years have rapidly slipped away into blurry memory. They were spent as long days sitting quietly at beaver ponds, and though they seem to have passed quickly now, I do remember how some of those days drifted along painfully slowly at the time, for lack of action. During most days, however, there were things very worth seeing, and those days were some of the best days of my life. 

Beaver with ice on head
Beaver with ice on its head

Many of the secretive, "mysterious" animals I had always wanted to see in their candid behaviors, not just in a fleeting glance, in time made themselves available to me, some for the first time. Not only beavers, but mink, otters, ospreys, hawks, muskrats, eagles, and bears. The underwater lives of dragonflies, damselflies, diving beetles, water scorpions, and others were just as fascinating. 

Two of the highlights involved bullfrogs. The first of them persistently jumped to catch perched dragonflies, comically failing for days; but it finally got things figured out. The second was a large, obviously hungry and fearless bullfrog that stalked numerous birds and even a gray squirrel; it attacked a chipmunk several times, and later eventually captured a feathered meal. It's been a very fulfilling few years. There were many times when I left the pond at day's end with a big smile of satisfaction.

At the start, with the goal of documenting a year's time span at New England beaver ponds in mind, I naively thought it would (logically) take a year to complete. Well, I was only off by 200 percent. And now, those three years have been reduced to a total of four hours and 45 minutes of digital "film" time. Part 5, the final segment of "Beaver Pond Wildlife", is now finished. It's a relief to have it completed, but it's also a bit disappointing... now I no longer feel I have an excuse to sit at a pond all day. But that's ok.

Otter in Snow
Otter rolling in snow

This final segment covers autumn into winter. Wildlife activity at the ponds is certainly at a lower level than in spring and summer, but is no less interesting and rewarding to observe. To miss the year-end part of the story would be like not reading the final chapters of a book you've enjoyed to that point. 

The onset of winter may feel like an ending, but it really isn't, it's just a different season. Life of course goes on for many creatures, though not as readily observed by us. While some migrate to warmer climes, or regions with more food, others stay and endure. It's rather amazing to me that some animals actually plan ahead for their winter survival, such as beavers and chipmunks accumulating a food cache. 

I'd certainly recommend investing some leisurely hours at a beaver pond, sitting quietly and patiently, particularly in spring or summer. Bring binoculars, and maybe a camera. But be forewarned... you may become addicted.

I want to thank several people who were particularly helpful in the making of this series, offering filming opportunities, reviewing the films, and making suggestions or corrections. They include Alan Richmond, Ed Neumuth, Mike Mocko, Debra Silva, Ted Watt, and Bart Bouricius. Thank you!

As for me, other film projects await. See you in the woods!

You can see all five parts of this series on our Youtube channel. To start at Part 1, click here. To go directly to this new Part 5, click here, or in the player window below.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

New Film: Beaver Pond Wildlife - Part 4

Beaver, grooming
Beaver, grooming

It's always been difficult for me to spend days indoors; the woods beckon. But these raw, cold days of early winter are making it a bit more tolerable to sit at a computer and edit footage (yuck!). As a result, another hour of the "Beaver Pond Wildlife" series is finished. Part 4, "Mid Summer - Fall" is now available on our Youtube channel. 

This continues the chronology of a typical year at New England beaver ponds; Part 1 covered early spring; Part 2, late spring; and Part 3, early-to-mid summer. If you have not watched Parts 1 through 3 yet, I'd suggest watching them in sequence before watching Part 4. 




By mid-summer, most, but not all, bird species have finished raising young and have largely moved on. So, beaver ponds tend to be more quiet, and seem less hectic. Yet there's still an enormous amount to see and appreciate, not only of the animal kingdom, but the plant kingdom as well.

Bladderwort flower

Beaver adds mud to lodge
Beaver adds mud to lodge


I'm pleased to say that there are again at least a few scenes of things that most people have never witnessed, or perhaps are not even aware of. I counted myself in that group, because I was quite lucky to happen upon these surprises, and delighted to discover them. I consider such events a reward for having the perseverance to spend entire days being relentlessly entertained at beaver ponds. No beans being spilled here; you'll have to watch the film to find out what they may be. Enjoy!


Young red-shouldered hawk
Young red-shouldered hawk