Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 13 April 2015

Even bigger trees, herps and dragons

The last few days have been quite nice to be out in. Regular readers will know that I am trying to document as many of the largest trees in Rondeau that I can get to. At the moment, I have documented over 200 individual trees. The main details I've included are species name, diameter at breast height and the GPS coordinates.

On the weekend I came across the biggest tree I've measured so far. It is an Eastern Cottonwood, but instead of its normal open habitat setting, this one was in one of the deeper parts of the Rondeau forest.
 This individual measured 163 cm dbh at first, but since I had to go around a large Poison Ivy vine, I decided to reduce the diameter to 158 cm. This is more than 20 cm dbh larger than the next largest one I had measured to this point in the project. I had my tripod with me this time, and with the delayed shutter, I was able to get myself into the photo for scale. I purposely converted it to black and white....the reason being that an historically well known and significant tree was photographed in B&W back in 1908, and is shown below. It is of a huge Sycamore tree. I posted this one a few weeks ago. Big Syc, as it was affectionately known, died in 1969, fell over in 1972, and even today is still a large decaying log on the forest floor. At its peak, it measured about 165 cm dbh, which is just slightly larger than the Eastern Cottonwood I came across a few days ago, so the similarity in size, and the similar wet woods habitat, gave me the idea to put myself in a similar pose. The big difference, however, is that Eastern Cottonwoods grow relatively quickly and seldom live more than 100-125 years. Sycamores, on the other hand, grow more slowly and may live for more than 300 years. Given the normal growth and longevity for Eastern Cottonwood, it is possible that this individual may not be any more than 125 years. However I think that the figures normally quoted for their growth and longevity are for open grown trees under very good growing conditions. In my opinion, growing in the middle of a wet maple-oak-beech type forest, the growing conditions may be somewhat different, and it is possible that this individual may be quite a bit more than 125 years of age. We will probably never know, since the inside of the tree is likely mushy and there is no way to count the rings even with a good increment borer tool. Nonetheless, since cottonwoods apparently grow about 2 cm diameter per year, it may just surpass Big Syc in a few short years. You can bet I will be out remeasuring it to see!
Big Syc in 1908
A short while after discovering this huge cottonwood, I came across another, not quite as large. It was a mere 142 cm dbh. I expect I will find more, and when I get around to measuring some of the large Silver Maples, another fast growing species of wetland habitat, there may be some trees that supersede the cottonwoods I measured this day. I will probably have to wait until a drier time of year to get the right height for measuring at the standard breast height....right now most are sitting in up to a metre of water.

Oak trees grow much more slowly than cottonwoods do. I was pleased to find this large Red Oak, measuring 123 cm dbh. Right close by and in the background of this next photo is a White Oak, which is just shy of a metre dbh. The Red Oak shows a decided lean, a typical characteristic of an old growth tree. Undoubtedly both of these oaks, even though they are smaller than the big cottonwood, are considerably older.
While covering the section of forest I had planned for, there were a good number of birds out and about. No warblers, however, but lots of Northern Flicker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers as well as smaller numbers of Eastern Phoebe, Pileated Woodpecker (I think one was creating a nest hole), Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren and the like. Turkey Vultures were plentiful, and an adult Bald Eagle floated overhead.

It was a rather warm day, the kind where it makes one think of a tasty ice-cream treat, which made me think of the caption for this next photo.
Baskin' Robin
I noted a couple of Mourning Cloak butterflies, as well as Eastern Garter Snakes and a Northern Brown Snake.
Eastern Garter Snake
The Northern Brown Snake was on the move and did not want to stick around for my photography efforts.

The sunny warm conditions encouraged amphibians to get busy. There were lots of Wood Frogs vocalizing throughout the sloughs, along with a few Spring Peepers. A single American Toad was noted dead on the road.
Wood Frog
Today I went to check some areas along Lake St. Clair, specifically the Angler Line wetland where Yellow-headed Blackbirds were found last year, as well as the Lake St. Clair Trail and the waterfront of Mitchell's Bay. It was another warm day, but much windier.

The land birds were not of a great diversity, but I did see things such as Eastern Phoebe, lots of Tree Swallow, Northern Flickers, etc. There were still lots of waterfowl on the lake, but well out from shore since the wind speed and direction made it popular for wind sailors/surfers.

In the quieter areas of the old canal that goes along the trail, I found a lot of Painted Turtles.....about 46 in all. I'm sure they were trying to play catch up on getting their internal physiology going, now that at least for the short term, the weather is warming up.

'Tired' Turtles
I also saw my first dragonflies of the year. This pair of Common Green Darner were already 'in wheel', so the reproductive phase of their season is now underway!

I didn't see any Yellow-headed Blackbirds.....they may be out there but the wind might have kept them lower.

At the northeast corner of the waterfront parking lot was this quite large Eastern Cottonwood. It is open grown on a very good site. It measured 143 cm dbh.


  1. Another fine post!
    I have been checking for the Yellow-headed blackbirds regularly (and I am sure others have as well), but have not found any. Perhaps they are at another location nearby this year. As we know, they eventually left the Angler Line location last year.

    1. Thanks, Blake. I know the Yellow-headeds seemed to be content where they started out last year, but that fire in the Phragmites kind of changed their minds. At that point they moved to a patch of cattails well out from Mitchell's Bay, towards some of the occupied islands at the south end of Walpole. Those cattail stands have taken quite a beating over the winter, so there isn't much there for them right now, so perhaps they will show up at another wetland for awhile. Or maybe they will come back to Angler Line and give it another try. There certainly are lots of various sized cattail wetlands along the east side of the lake for them to choose from.