Friday, January 18, 2019

End of the trail

Two more photos from the Hoomak Lake trail:

Tree remains in the lake. With lichen.

And this:

Why, people? Just why?

A mere hundred or so steps from the end of the trail and a trash bin, someone tossed this bottle as far into the forest as they could. I had to stumble and crawl over logs and moss to retrieve it and take it to the bins.

Why? It wasn't carelessness; that was a purposeful toss. At least it wasn't plastic, but still ...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Not a pretty picture

I didn't know this.

Hoomak Lake sign: Dwarf mistletoe

Legend: Dwarf mistletoe are perennial flowering parasitic plants. They live on and injure their host, in this case coniferous trees. In BC., dwarf mistletoes can cause extensive damage in our forests, resulting in the loss of valuable wood. On the coast western hemlock and mountain hemlock are the principal tree species affectd. Some forests containing large volumes of hemlock are seriously damaged.
Notice masses of thickened branches in the trees in front of you. They are called "witches brooms", and are the result of dwarf mistletoe in western hemlock trees. The mistletoe parasite will eventually kill the host tree.

This was written 20 years ago. The poor tree in front of me as I read the sign is long dead.

Legend, continued: The dwarf mistletoe plant looks like a leafless, segmented, woody stem. It is a greenish-yellow colour and it "roots" in the host tree, absorbing nutrients from its host. It grows in a small mass of shoots just a few centimetres long. New plants are formed when a single sticky seed is projected from an exploding mature fruit and lands on live tree bark. Removing the infected trees is the optimal way of eliminating dwarf mistletoe.

And here's that infected tree.

Not a pretty picture.

I have seen trees like this before, and wondered briefly what chewed them up, out here in the forest where no machinery wanders. I never looked too closely; just shuddered and went on my way. Now, I paid more attention, and came home to study up on it.

Look at the photo above: you can see the short stalks of the mistletoe. They sprout directly from the tree bark, and almost, but not quite look like part of the tree. Also note the fat branches. The root system interferes with the normal growth of the branches. These thick branches are weakened, and easily broken (in a wind storm, for example).

Fat branch and "brooms".

The balls of deformed branches plus a tangle of mistletoe are called brooms. (Not my idea of a witches' broom, which is designed for speed. Not these.) They don't appear until the tree has been infected for several years; at first, the mistletoe lies hidden beneath the bark.

The mistletoe damages the tree in other ways; it absorbes its nutrients, primarily carbohydrates, from the tree sap. And it can somehow extract water from the tree xylem even in times of extreme drought. The tree above the mistletoe infestation is starved and thirsty, and dies off.

I have looked at these and said "How ugly!" I have thought they spoiled the forest. I cringed at the sight.

I was wrong. I've been too stuck on my limited human ideas of beauty. These witches' brooms are valuable wildlife habitat. My "Wildlife and Trees" guide mentions fishers, martens, flying squirrels, black-backed woodpeckers, marbled murrelets (endangered), and spotted owls (ditto) as species which roost or nest in the shelter of these knots.

Dwarf mistletoes may contribute in various ways to biodiversity - by creating openings in the forest following tree death, by providing nesting sites in the 'brooms' and by providing food for a range of vertebrates and invertebrates. There can therefore be some conflict between the requirements of forest exploitation, and environmental concerns. (Plantwise Knowledge Bank)

E-Flora BC has several good photos of dwarf mistletoe on live hemlock. Here's one. Next time I see one of these trees, I'll stop and examine it closely, to get a good look at the mistletoe.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Signs along the trail

On the Hoomak Lake trail, I found the interpretive signs interesting. I"ll include a few among my photos of the sights along the trail.

Sunlight on the top of a mossy log in a patch of salal.

Brief history of the site.

Legend: Reforestation History
Welcome to the Hoomak Lake trail. This site was logged in 1959 and slash burned in 1960. Since there was inadequate natural forest regeneration, Douglas-fir seedlings were planted in 1968-8-69. A white pine blister rust infestation had destroyed much of the natural young western white pine trees. In 1984, the site was juvenile spaced and pruned. ...

"... slash burned in 1960." After a site is logged off, the remaining broken timber and branches become a fire hazard, so the slash is piled and burned as prevention. The cleaned area then is colonized by fireweed, which provides shelter for early tree seedlings.

The white pine blister rust is similar to the (probable) rust I found on the Ridge Trail a few weeks ago. It can spread rapidly through a forest, killing the trees.

Western White Pine cone.

These cones can grow up to 30 cm. (12 inches) long. I don't know what those white patches are; they were hard and dry, and firmly attached to the cone.

Tree species on this site.

Partial legend, written in 2000: This area contains Douglas-fir, western redcedar, western white pine, western hemlock, and red alder trees.

Ferns growing on a well-rotted log. The duff is mostly pine or hemlock needles, dead ferns, and a few alder leaves.

Forest Succession

Legend (again, written in 2000):
An old forest will most often contain trees of various ages and sizes - from young to old, short to tall. Some species, such as western hemlock and western red cedar, can grow in low light conditions. Douglas-fir, on the other hand cannot survive under the shaded canopy of the tall trees.
Notice the different levels of tree heights in the forest around you. (Note: I craned my neck here. The Douglas firs are 'way up there in the sunlight.) The biggest and tallest trees in sight are Douglas-fir trees. They are the original or "pioneer" species, growing natural or planted before the ground was shaded by other vegetation. Pioneer species are the first species to grow back on a disturbed site.
Around you are numerous short, little western hemlock trees. They will eventually grow taller and take over from the pioneer species, ultimately being the tree species that exists on this site - the "climax" species - until the next disturbance. This process is called forest succession.

The "little" western hemlocks from 20 years ago are now tall, thin trees.

Once established, saplings in full light may have an average growth rate of 50–120 cm (20–47 in) (rarely 140 cm, 55 in) annually. (Wikipedia)
20 inches a year for 20 years: 400 inches or 34 feet, plus their year 2000 height; the trees are now nearly a third grown.

I didn't know this:


So Douglas fir that grew up in shady woods can get sunburnt. I can relate.

Legend: The damage on the Douglas-fir beside you is called sunscald. When such a thin-barked young tree is suddenly exposed to intense direct solar radiation, the high temperature can kill live tissue (cambium) below the bark. In this instance, juvenile spacing ... created openings that allowed sunshine into the previously shaded young forest.
... Trees that have grown up exposed to direct sun have usually developed a thicker, insulating bark.

White patches on trunk.

This is the tree that was beside the sign. Whether it is the one the sign referred to, or that one has long turned into duff, I can't tell.

Mushrooms on fallen tree.

These mushrooms were soft, jelly-like, from white to tan to pinkish. The leaves on the ground around them are red alder.

Something else I didn't know, tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Your pick of trails

Hoomak Lake is half-way up the north end of Vancouver Island. There's a rest area beside the highway there, with picnic tables and maps and clean rest rooms. It's a good place to take a break, on a long, mostly empty highway. From the parking lot, the lake is just visible through the trees. I had found a sort of trail, steep and sllppery, down from there to the lake side on previous stops.

This time, I noticed a trailhead sign half hidden behind the restrooms. With stairs down to the lake. Nice! I went on down.

View of Hoomak Lake from the steps.

And from the landing.

From there a trail, wide and well travelled, leads off towards the upper end of the lake. I can't resist a good trail.

Looking back from above the trail.

In the year 2000 (I discovered from a sign up top later on) the trail had been improved with interpretive signs. They're old now, some badly spotted and smudged, but still legible, although some now point to trees or stumps ("just in front of you," they say) that are no longer here.

"Old Railroad Grade"

Legend: Old Railroad Grade.
You are now standing on an old railroad grade that was used for log hauling for about 22 years. Originally constructed here in 1955, this branch line ran from Woss Camp to Croman Reload, about 5 km west of here.
Croman Reload was one of several locations in the Nimpkish Valley where loads of logs were transferred from truck to railcar. Croman Reload became inactive in 1980 and this connecting rail line was taken out.
At one time, steam locomotives chugged along the rails, pulling their log loads right where you are now standing. More recently, diesel-electric locomotives hauled logs here. Canadian Forest  Products. Ltd. still uses these today in the Nimpkish Valley.

After a short walk, made longer by stopping to read the signs (more on this later), I came upon a new sign, still white and clean.

Long trail, short trail, and just plain trail. Take your pick.

I took the short trail. There was no way of knowing how long that long trail would be.

The short trail turned and went back up the bank, turned again to return to the parking lot. After a bit, I found another sign:

Long trail, short trail again. I took the short one.

Up top, I found a map of these trails.

So the long trail is fairly short, too. Next time, I'll take that one.

One more sign, for those who see water and think "Fish!":

Good Fishing

Legend: If you look across Hoomak Lake from here, the distance is about 700 m to the other shore. Hoomak's length is about 1800 m. Hoomak Lake offers good fishing and canoeing opportunities. It was stocked with10,000 cutthroat trout between 1984 and 1991 to supplement its natural trout population.
Look for a variety of birds on the lake, including ducks and Trumpeter Swans (in the late fall and winter months). Along the shoreline, watch for birds such as sparrows, juncos, wrens and warblers, plus woodpeckers in the older trees.

What I learned from the rest of the signs, next.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Lake Hoomak

I drove north, looking for snow. Didn't find any, but I found a trail alongside Lake Hoomak.

The lake.

More photos and the story, soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Wild forest floor

I grew up on Vancouver Island, in the northwest coastal forests, dense, lush, and silent, only marginally tamed along the edges. Across a creek that ran under my bedroom, a creek we crossed on a fallen tree, crawling (me) or dancing (my brothers) according to our sense of balance and scorn of danger, and through a hollow log that traversed a salmonberry thicket, we came out onto a fern- and moss-blanketed cathedral: unlogged Douglas firs, yards across at the base, towering high into the rainy clouds overhead. My brothers would race on through; I tended to find a dryish log and sit there a while, just listening.

On the Ridge Trail, I followed a sort of trail off the main trail; a deer track, maybe, looking for mushrooms. There were none visible, and I didn't want to disturb the moss, but stepping carefully around mossy roots and huge ferns, I got a brief flashback to my childhood wanderings. This was the forest floor I knew of old.

Healthy forest, mixed evergreen and deciduous, probably third-growth, after two or more loggings.

The trees on the ground are as essential to the health of the forest as the standing timber; they provide nutrients and shelter to new growth and the animals that make it their home. The moss on top soaks up the rain, releasing the moisture slowly to the thin layer of soil underneath; these forests sit on rock, sometimes barely under the surface duff. Without the moss, they would dry and burn with the first lightning stroke.

Evergreen fern.

It's not an ecosystem hospitable to humans, my brothers notwithstanding; any human trails are made with chain saws, constant monitoring, frequent traffic. Abandoned for a year or two, they disappear.

Sometimes I wonder at the early explorers who made their slow way across the continent, following ridges like this one, rivers like the one in the valley below, clambering at every step over slippery logs, stumbling into hidden holes, sinking through wood that seemed solid and turned out to be mostly wet rot, trying to find a dry, flattish spot to sleep after an exhausting day. Or at today's firefighters; at least they have helicopters and chain saws, but it's still a daunting task.

Much of Vancouver Island is logged off now, sometimes repeatedly. Entire mountain sides lie open to the sun and wind, the moss dry and brittle, the ferns dying. With the added burden of a warming climate, they are a bonfire waiting for the first match. I'm not looking forward to our next fire season.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

January greys

Another grey, windy, wet day, with half-hearted attempts at sunshine.Gulls and eagles were soaring high above; they do love the wind!

And below, bouncing waves, and bouncing wigeons.

The white line of surf is all that shows of the breakwater at high tide. Rotary Beach.

Gull, taking a one-footed break atop a purple martin nest post.


Burnt logs on the shore

Leftovers from a forest fire? Or from someone's huge beach bonfire?

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Between the rains

They promised us rain. As usual. They were wrong, for once; it snowed all day, morning to night, yesterday. Pretty! It's melting already, of course, and we can expect rain tomorrow. It's 2° Celsius (35.6° Fahrenheit) now (1:30 AM), at the airport up the hill.

But there are moments these days when the skies are not grey and parked right down at treetop level:

New snow on the Lower Mainland peaks. Taken through the car window from the shore highway, Monday PM.

Early morning sunrise, a week ago. Through my kitchen window. 8:24 AM.

Clear blue, from the Ridge Trail.12:30 PM.

A Skywatch post.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Bare branch serendipity

Another reason to appreciate the winter months: driving by on the highway, en route to collect water for my aquarium, I saw an eagle's nest, usually hidden behind green stuff. I turned off at the next road, turned again, and again, and came up on the tree from the far side. From one spot, I had a clear view, without too many intervening branches.

Eagle and her nest.

She's eating something pink.

Another turn, and I found another viewpoint, from someone's driveway.

The eagle. I can't see what she's eating.

Of course the nest is empty at this time of year, but now I've found it, and the two possible spots from which to view it; I'll be back in the spring.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Ice on puddles

The weather people here must struggle with boredom. Tomorrow morning, there's supposed to be a bit of sunshine. And from there on, it's rain for the foreseeable future. Rain, showers, rain, rain, rain. ... The difference between showers and rain, as far as I can tell, is that when it's showering, sometimes it stops for a bit.

So I was surprised to see ice on puddles at the mouth of the Ridge Trail, at under 100 metres above sea level. Just there, and nowhere else.

On the gravel road, a mini-puddle, with frozen maple leaves.

In each puddle, the ice takes on different forms, makes unique patterns. Here, the puddle is about two inches deep, on mixed grass and weeds beside the trail.

On green grass, weeds, with fallen maple leaves. Curvy fracture lines.

A few metres farther on, the trail enters the shelter of the forest. No ice here. Everything is dripping wet and waiting for the next rain shower.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Chameleon lichen

After a few days of strong winds, the forest floors are littered with broken branches, dead leaves, conifer needles, and lichens; clumps and threads and whole branch-loads of lichens.

Two lichens; Lungwort and a beard lichen. On a Bigleaf maple mulch.

High on the trees, where the rain drains away quickly and the lichen is exposed to sunlight, the thallus is a mix of browns, from pale beige to dark chocolate brown, to a yellowish mid-brown. In the shade, where it's still dry, it's a paler greenish-grey. Tossed down here onto the wet ground, and then rained on, it turns a bright green on top, and a pale blue-grey on the underside.

The beard lichen, those pale threads mixed in with the lungwort, stay the same colour whatever the weather.

I didn't know this:

L. pulmonaria has the ability to form both vegetative propagation and sexual propagules at an age of about 25 years. ... Dispersal by vegetative propagules (via soredia or isidia) has been determined as the predominant mode of reproduction in L. pulmonaria. ...In this method, the protruding propagules become dry and brittle during the regular wet/dry cycles of the lichen, and can easily crumble off the thallus. These fragments may develop into new thalli, either at the same locale or at a new site after dispersal by wind or rain. (Wikipedia)

25 years! Lichen is slow-growing. How many years does it take to completely coat a tree, like the one I posted yesterday?

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Who needs leaves in winter?

... when there's leaf lichen?

Licheny tree, Ridge Trail.

A branch within reach. Lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria.

The lobes supposedly look like lung tissue. Basing their reasoning on sympathetic magic (if it looks like something else, it must be good for that thing), European physicians used this to treat lung ailments. Here on the Canadian west coast, the Sechelt First Nations people used it for the same purpose, but for different reasons.* Maybe it actually worked?

*See Plants of Coastal British Columbia

Friday, January 04, 2019

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Fir twig blisters

In the duff beside Ridge Trail, a litter mostly composed of fir twigs, needles, Bigleaf maple leaves, scraps of lichen, I saw what at first glance seemed to be some leftover electronic detritus, human trash; two fragments of something like wires wrapped in bubbly tape. When I pulled away the leaves covering it (muttering to myself about careless hikers, even up here), it turned out to be a small fir branch, with weird bubbles at the tips.

(Sorry, anonymous hikers; my bad.)

The branch, on site. Bubbles and cups. The main terminal twig is 2 inches long.

I looked around and found no others. I brought this one home to examine more closely.

The bubbles grow out of the top and sides of the twigs. The bottom side is bare.

Each little bubble is about 5 mm. long, 3 mm across the top. They are hard and dry, with a faint resiny odor. I broke one off and tried to cut it in half; it crumbled, was still hard all the way through. With my hand microscope, I could see no structure, just random crumblies. Rubbing it between my fingers released a stronger resin scent..

Zooming in on a few bubbles.

Lower down on the branch, these pits (about 4 - 5 mm. across) seem to be the remains of previous bubbles.

A few dried needles remained on the branch. I examined these under the microscope. They are flat, with one centre vein, and a notched tip; their length varies from 1 to 1.5 cm. At the root, they have a half twist, then grow out straight. They're pale brown, as dried needles usually are, but are covered with blackish spots.

It seems that they are some sort of parasitic growth, probably a fungus, maybe one of the rusts. There is a similar disease, White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola) that infects needles and bark of pine trees, but the blisters are not the same.

I need help here; can anyone identify these?

Another view. Sort of reminds me of octopus tentacles.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Last summer's vanilla

Last Sunday, the sun appeared from behind the rainclouds, and I hurried to get out there before the rain came back. Without any particular destination, following my nose, I discovered a new trail, in Elk Falls Provincial Park, high above the Campbell River. "Ridge Trail"*, a sign said. I walked about a mile, all uphill, through ferny mixed conifer and deciduous (mostly bigleaf maple) forest, with the river far below, to my left as I went.

A flat stretch, near the top. (At least of that first mile.)
Evergreen ferns, lichens, mossy trunks, ferns, lichen, trunks, ferns ... Greens and browns. A pleasant, quiet walk. With a few surprises.

Leaf lace

Most of the leaf litter is from the Bigleaf maples, burying all the summer ground dwellers, but this one vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla) escaped, caught on a fern. It's three leaves, rising from a centre stalk. I've always known it as Vanilla Leaf; a bouquet, taken home and dried, will release a vanilla scent, enough to perfume a room.

E-Flora gives an alternate name: Sweet After Death. It fits.

Detail of the vein structure. 

More surprises, next.

*The trail is a 4-hour hike. I must have walked about a quarter of the trail. I'll have to go back on the next sunny day: the view from the top is spectacular, they say.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Coming up 2019

The dawn of a new year. May it be a good one!

(2: Name plate number dug up in a back garden in New Westminster.
0: Sea urchin test, Campbell River shore
1: vintage tile, Habitat for Humanity
9: found in garage sale freebie box.)