Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Into the woods - A walk at Mission Creek (Part 1)

After spending much of the past four days inside listening to speakers, I am getting a little stir-crazy.  So this morning, after completing two classroom presentations, I decided to head to the woods at Mission Creek Woodland Park for some needed "nature time".  Because i took so many photos during this walk, I am going to break this down into two separate posts.  Expect part two to be posted tomorrow (09 March 2016)

Before I even entered the park, I found something that I wanted to look at closer.

The woodchips at the base of this Eastern Hemlock trunk are the result of Pileated Woodpeckers searching for ants and other insects within the trunk

This old Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga candaensis) snag is slowly being devoured by insects.  The insects (especially ants) have attracted the attention of Pileated Woodpeckers.  Pileated Woodpeckers are capable of doing major damage to a decaying tree.

Pileated Woodpecker feeding holes in a Hemlock snag

The top of this snag has even toppled off the the tree, helped along by the woodpeckers.

The top of a Hemlock snag gave way when woodpeckers removed too much wood
Nearby I found a surprise - the dried flower stalks of Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) plants.  I knew that Indian Pipe can be found in the woods at Mission Creek, but I have never noticed it in this area before.

Indian Pipe stalks

Mixed in with the Indian Pipe stalks, I found the dried stalks of Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana).  What is so special about finding these two species? They are both parasitic plants - they have lost the ability to photosynthesize their own food.  Instead their roots invade the roots of nearby trees and draw sugars from the trees.

Indian Pipe (lower left) and Beech Drops (right)

After leaving the roadside snag behind, I wanted to get into the lowland areas at Mission Creek.  While the upland area is composed of a forest dominated by American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), the lowland area is divided into two distinctive forested wetlands: one dominated by Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and the other dominated by Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis).

I entered the lowland at the base of the sledding hill and entered into the Red-Maple dominated swamp.  Much of the ground here is covered with sedge tussocks.

Sedge tussocks create high points on the floor of the swamp

As these tussocks expand, they often become a place where other plants take root and grow, such as these tussocks which supported goldenrod plants last year.

Many tussocks become seed beds for other wetland plants

Sometimes these tussocks even support the growth of trees.

Small trees growing from sedge tussocks

Much of this section of woods has thawed completely and excess water is draining out through intermittent streams, but some areas still have a layer of ice.

An intermittent stream

Branches in, on, and under the ice

The Red Maple swamp and the Cedar swamp are separated by a small area of slightly higher ground.  This area has the same trees as the nearby upland, being dominated by American Beech, Sugar Maple, and Eastern Hemlock.  Much of this section of woods has a pit and mound topography.  This is caused when mature trees are toppled by wind and is typical of mature forests.  When the trees fall much of their root mass is torn from the ground, leaving a pit behind.  The soil from the root mass creates a mound next to the pit.  As the roots decay, they add their organic matter to the mound.  The pits are especially important habitats for many species of amphibians and aquatic invertebrates.  The mounds are often used as burrow sites for rodents and other small to medium sized mammals.

Pit and mount topography at Mission Creek

This part of my walk took me up to the bridge crossing Mission Creek.  The habitat on the other side of the creek is very different.  I will explore this in my next post.

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