Things are a little less busy now that Christmas is over with all the festivities, numerous bird counts and all the scouting that goes along with them. Plus the weather has changed in the last few days and the bird diversity has declined, including the loss of some of those bright spots of December, namely the Harlequin Duck and the Vermilion Flycatcher. The Yellow-headed Blackbirds have been a little harder to find as well, if in fact they haven't left the area.
Nonetheless, I did get out on one more bird count since the St. Clair one that I reported on most recently. It was the Skunk's Misery count, in only its second year. It was not a great day for bird photography, so the 'goodies' that we saw went mostly unphotographed, but it was always nice to see Eastern Bluebirds, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Great Horned Owl and Red-breasted Nuthatch, among the more common species. It has been a great year for Bald Eagles. Not only did we see a record 27 on the St. Clair NWA count a few days earlier, there were lots on the Skunk's Misery count as well. I had 8 eagles in my area alone, some of which were reasonably cooperative for the camera (however if they could have stayed a bit longer so I could avoid the branches in front of them, which messed up the focus a bit.......)
In the last couple of days I have spent a bit more time at Rondeau, searching out and measuring big trees again, to continue on with my personal project relating to old growth forest that some of you will have read about on previous blog posts. With the ground mostly frozen, access is a little easier, and the ticks should be dormant.....certainly a priority for someone who has been accused of being a tick magnet and contracted Lyme Disease as a result!
One of the things I wanted to do was to photograph a couple of priority specimens, and do so using a new gadget I acquired. The challenge when being by oneself when photographing these trees, and trying to get in the photo to provide a sense of scale, is that once you set off the timer, there are only a few seconds to rush from the camera and get in position and wait for the click, and then repeat it each time you want to change something. While for the most part it is not difficult, it can be a little trickier when on uneven footing. I learned this the hard way one time when in my rush to get into position, I felt and heard a 'snap' from my leg, which was the sound and feeling of my hamstring being torn.
Fortunately I was very close to the road and my vehicle at the time, as it is not easy to walk very far with a torn hamstring while carrying camera gear! So to minimize the risk, I purchased a wireless shutter release. I can get all set up, stand wherever I like and in whatever posture I like and click away just by pressing the button on the transmitter! It couldn't be easier.
You may have seen another version of this next photo previously. It is a huge Eastern Cottonwood, the largest one I have come across in the park so far. It measures approximately 160 cm dbh. Those two large vines on the trunk are Poison Ivy, each one being several centimetres in diameter themselves!
It is difficult to know how old these trees are. Both species are relatively fast growing, and Eastern Cottonwood trees seldom live to be more than 150 years old. Is this one older? Possibly, as it is in an area sheltered from all but the strongest wind, and it on a great site for growth. However we probably will never know until it comes crashing down and then use an oversized, two person chainsaw to get a cross section. And even at that, it may not be possible to tell, as many trees in Rondeau are hollow or at least rotting in the middle. As good as it is for trees growing at Rondeau, they do not necessarily have as long a life span as they would if they were on a drier, more upland site. The fluctuating water levels of Lake Erie put an enormous amount of stress on the trees. Being a sand spit, there is no place in the park more than about 6 metres above the lake level (depending on the lake level), and much of the park is closer to being only 2-4 metres above the lake level at the most. During periods of higher lake level, trees that are growing on the slight ridges because it is a bit drier, may end up having some of their root system 'drown'. When the lake levels drop again, the tree must grow new roots that help in their survival.
Those trees such as Silver Maple that only grow in moist or wet conditions, even growing in up to half a metre of water, will have some of their roots at least partially dry out when the lake levels drop. Since the lake levels seldom stay at a stable level for more than a few years at a time, most trees are constantly facing periods of adjustment.
Rondeau was historically identified on sailor's maps as 'Pointe aux Pins', which means Point of Pines. That is because of the many White Pines along the eastern side of the park, which stood taller than most of the surrounding trees. White Pines, due to their highly resinous sap, are very resistant to boring insects and also to rot. However it is rare to find a large old White Pine in the park. I don't know of any that are greater than one metre in diameter, and most barely make it to half a metre. Even White Pines, which grow on the driest ridges of the park, are susceptible to the fluctuating water levels, which results in their demise before attaining large diameters. This was highlighted during my most recent trip to the park where I came across two individuals that had snapped off due to the intense east winds of late, and showed how rotten they were inside.
Both trees looked quite healthy and solid before these high east winds did their damage.
Just before I left the park, I checked out the east beach near the north end. Nothing much has changed. The lake looked reasonably placid, and several hundred Canada Geese were continuing with their restful ways.