Saturday, January 23, 2010

Should we shovel?

An anonymous citizen recently asked the Town to clear the snow from the Boardwalk. That would be a pretty big job. And even a quad with a snowblade would likely damage the wood structure, especially the 2x4 curbing. So I'm not too keen on mechanical equipment being used. I think a snowblower would work pretty well if it was used immediately after a fresh snowfall before the snow got packed by users.

Snow clearing would certainly make it easier to get around in the winter, especially for folks who aren't too steady on their feet and those who need a wheelchair to get around. On the other hand, I personally like tromping through the snow and seeing all the people and critter tracks.

In the end it comes down to a tradeoff between the benefits of clearing and the costs - damage and dollars. I think it's a good idea to shovel the boardwalk when the packed snow turns to ice near the end of winter. That's when it makes sense. The ice is slippery and removing it will speed the drying of the boardwalk for the spring season. Anyone who wants to bring their shovel along at the tail end of winter would be more than welcome. Maybe I'll see you out there!

Trees of the Boardwalk - White spruce 1

White spruce cones are longer than the short, almost round cones of black spruce. The female cones are near the top of the tree and the smaller male cones are lower down. The male pollen is blown by the wind to the female flower structures, and having the males in the lower story helps ensure the pollen goes to other trees, preventing self-fertilization.

White spruce cone crops are somewhat erratic, occuring every 5-7 years or so. When a bumper crop comes along maturing cones cover the upper branches, and they spark a bonanza for wildlife. Red squirrels clip the cones in a constant fall. Then the squirrels race to store the cones before they ripen and start to dry out and open, spilling their seed cargo. Seed-eating birds appear from nowhere to feast on the cones still attached to the trees. Seed specialists often seen at the Boardwalk when spruce seeds are abundant are white-winged crossbill, pine siskin, and pine grosbeak.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trees of the Boardwalk - black spruce 1

Two of the three local spruce species are found at the Beaver Boardwalk. Unfortunately you can't tell black spruce and white spruce apart by their colour namesakes. The 3rd species, Engelmann spruce, is only located at higher elevations near treeline in our area.  Black spruce is the smallest local species. The biggest local specimens seldom exceed about 40 cm in diameter and 20 m in height. Although black spruce will grow in a wide range of soil conditions, it's most abundant on organic wetland soils. However in eastern Canada black spruce is associated with mineral soils in upland areas.

The best way to tell the difference between black spruce and white spruce is by looking at the cones. Both species have smooth, sometimes pitchy, cones. The longer white spruce cones open as they mature and tiny winged seeds spill from the open cones to be blown where the wind takes them. In contrast, black spruce cones are smaller and rounder. And while they may open while still on the tree like white spruce, they often remain closed for years, waiting for a hot sunny day or a forest fire to open the cones and spill the seeds.

Boardwalk users may have noticed a dark brown stain on the edges of the decking in a few places. The stain came from black spruce cones schucked by red squirrels on the edge of the structure. Rain soaked the discarded cone scales leaked the dark stain. It will be interesting to see how long that stain lasts!