Family Forest

The approximately 16 acres of wooded hillside on both sides of the valley on the Eastern part of the property are a designated Family Forest, previously known as a Tree Farm.

A small stream runs through the forest at about 80' in elevation below the homestead. This is a tributary of the West Branch of the Patapsco River so our small forest provides a much needed riparian buffer to this important feeder stream.

There are always a number of projects going on in our small forest such as path creation and maintenance, invasives removal, check dam construction, and tree thinning based on the recomendations of our county Forester.

forest sign

Burn piles and brush piles

For years we collected tree debris from storms, pruning, general slash from woodland management, etc. in a huge pile in the lower field and burned it each year in late winter. This approach was what one of us grew up with in central Maine. Great fun, but we realized this was not the most ecological approach in general and certainly not one for a warming world.

After taking the General Forestry Course through the University of Maryland Extension (highly recommended) and encountering an actual manual for where and how to build a brush pile to foster wildlife, we switched to accumulating our slash into (currently) two main brush piles on the borders of the pollinator meadow.

The last burn pile (my word, the roar of a large, happy fire)

The last burn pile

The current brush piles.

Brush1

Brush2

Not surprisingly, they look very similar. They were created about a year apart and are added to regularly with no particular priority. The base is a number of larger logs and limbs stacked crosswise like a log cabin which provides plenty of crawl spaces and hiding for small mammals, reptiles, etc. and then large and small brush is piled on top creating a mostly waterproof cover. The whole gradual decay process provides habitat for all the creatures below mammals and birds in the food chain: bugs, worms, mushrooms, bacteria, you name it.

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Forest Flora and Fauna

Not much of forest life stands still for a picture unless it is rooted in the ground. We have a typical animal population of an Appalachian Piedmont forest with a riparian buffer, and its requisite stream. Some of that population we see on a regular basis, some we only hear, and some we derive their presence from evidence left behind. (TBD ... discuss FIDS)

We have been excited to hear and see Woodcock. We hear Barred Owls (the hoot owl) nearly daily, especially very early in the morning but have yet to see one. We have seen a Northern Saw-whet Owl once unfortunately only because it had crashed into the glass basement doors shortly after we built our house. A Pileated Woodpecker regularly commutes from the wooded area to our East to the small wooded strip that borders us on the ridge to the West between us and our neighbors.

We see turkeys often now in the Spring and Fall, they apparently moved back to the area sometime between 2005 and 2010 because we never saw them in the first decade or so of moving here. We like to think the year we planted Buckwheat on 2 acres of the lower field were instrumental in their return. In 2020 I was bush hogging the 42 Tree Wood in early July to keep down the competition and invasives in order to favor our Redbud grove and a hen Turkey ran away from me. She didn't fly, so I stopped the tractor to investigate. Sure enough, after a brief search I found a nest with a perfect dozen eggs. Feeling bad that I had cleared a path directly at her for predators, I stopped the mowing and got the truck loaded with various slash and debris and returned to build a new camouflage shelter around the nest where I had encroached, leaving her exit runway clear. I checked a few days later and she was still there, fleeing as I got too close. A couple weeks later the nest was empty. I hope because the poults had hatched and left with Mom.

So you want to know about poults? I didn't think about them until finding this nest. Unlike songbirds, turkey (and chicken) hatchlings are precocial which means they hatch out with fuzzy feathers, open eyes, and ready to run! No hanging around in the nest waiting for Mom to bring back food. Makes sense if one is born on the ground in the middle of fox heaven.

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Forest Stream

One of the most remarkable inhabitants of our forest stream is the caddisfly. The adults are often imitated in tying dry fly fishing lures because they are a favorite food of fish. In the stream, in Spring, we see their protective larval casings, attached to Quartz rock. We first noticed them when scouting for quartz rocks in the stream, and we had no idea what we were looking at. Because the larva construct their shell from the tiniest bits of their surroundings, they simply look like their surroundings.

Some artists raise them in a tank with tiny bits of gold and jewels to make ornate art. Seems a bit weird. When the Caddisfly hatches, the artist keeps its shell? What happens to the Caddisfly?

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Check dams

Another ongoing current project is an effort to construct check dams along the old logging roads created when the area was cut over about 60 years ago. We have observed accelerating erosion over the past two decades we have lived here, either because storms have become more intense, dumping more water in a shorter timeframe, or, that combined with a feedback loop in the erosion process whereby the increasingly narrow channel accelerates the water and its eroding force.

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Planting trees

In the Spring of 2019, we planted 25 Redbud and 25 Black Locust in a small outcropping of forest we call the "42 Tree Wood", thereby making it more like a 92 tree wood.

In the Spring of 2021 we planted several more species in and around the forest.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) 2019

Redbuds were planted near colonial homes in America as early as 1641. The tree’s greatest wildlife virtue is the early blossoms that draw in nectar-seeking insects, it’s a critical and early source of food for honeybees and many of our native pollinating insects including several species of early-season butterflies. Northern bobwhite and a few songbirds, such as chickadees, will eat the seeds. It is used for nesting sites and nesting materials, and it also provides shelter for birds and mammals. The seed pods are packed with seeds that are eaten by a bevy of wildlife including quail, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Northern bobwhite, chickadees, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and even squirrels. Some experts rate it as one of our top 10 most important native flowering trees. The high rating stems from the species’ ability to provide these insects with an abundant supply of nectar and pollen when both are difficult to find elsewhere.

The early pink blooms covering the Redbuds in the understory of the 42 Tree Wood are also valued by the human eye in early Spring.

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) 2019

Black locust is a food item for many wildlife species. White-tailed deer and rabbits browse stems, Squirrels, doves, northern bobwhite, pheasants, Ruffed grouse and other game birds eat black locust seeds. Invertebrate species also consume black locust. It is a host to the Lepidopteran species the silver-spotted skipper and the three-staff underwing in the southeastern United States and it is widely visited by bees for its nectar throughout its native and nonnative ranges. Black locust is an important cover species for wildlife, providing nesting, roosting, and thermal cover. The persistent nature of black locust stems after plant death makes it an important resource for cavity-dependent wildlife species. A disproportionate number of snags were identified as black locust in a Maryland old-growth forest remnant. Black locust cavities are used for nesting and roosting by bats and birds including hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, northern flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, and eastern screech-owls. Red-eyed vireo and rufous-sided towhee have been specifically associated with black locust stands.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) 2021

Songbirds like finches and juncos eat the seeds, and humans know of nine insect species that depend entirely and only on sycamore trees, one of the most beautiful being the tiny sycamore lace bug (Corythuca ciliata). So if no Sycamores, then none of those insects.

Ten seedling Sycamore trees were planted in the small floodplain along the stream. This area was relatively open which should provide enough sunlight for the seedlings to grow. It was choked with dead and broken tree debris and undergrowth including various invasives such as Multiflora Rose , Japanese Barberry, and Oriental Bittersweet.

This was the view after clearing the area.

Flood plain cleared for planting

The Sycamores are planted in 5' tree shelters. These provide an advantageous greenhouse atmosphere for growth in the first 3-5 years and protects them from browsing by White-tailed deer of which we have too many.

Planted Sycamore trees

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) 2021

Six seedling Sugar Maples are planted in a small clearing just before the woods road that enters the forest. We call this area the "lower meadow". These augment the six Sugar Maples we planted 20 years ago as saplings after first moving here. We expect to harvest sap and make our own maple syrup from the original Maples within the next decade. It is likely someone else will enjoy the syrup from the six new trees.

The seedling Maples are also planted in 5' tree shelters.

Here in the northern Maryland Piedmont, even at the 800' elevation of the farm, Sugar Maples are at or near the extreme southern extent of their range. It is unclear if they will survive the changes already in motion from global climate change.

The sapling Maples have grown well so far, even through a couple of severe July/August droughts over the past 20 years. Below is a comparison of 3 of the original ones we planted, looking at foliage color around a certain date. We're interested in seeing if in our tiny remaining time here if we start to see any evidence of climate change in the next 20 years.

October 18, 2019

Maples 2019

October 20, 2021

Maples 2021

October 18, 2022

Maples 2022
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