Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bolt Hole Report, October 22, 2009

Yet another day in fruitless pursuit of a white-tail. And a warm day it was, too! I slow walked a circuit in the woods to the south of the old jeep road. Most was on state property but some was on property we (Mark and I) have permission to hunt. The going was complicated by the number of blow-downs I had to either go around or climb over and the "turtle" rocks beneath sphagnum moss that had me slipping and sliding in the flat wet spots.

While I didn't see anything to shoot at (deer, bear, coyote, etc.) I did gather information and see a large owl being chased by a raucous blue jay.

I had stopped on the edge of a relatively clear are to catch my breath and try to cool down when the jay set up a racket off to the north. At first I thought it might have spotted a land critter and so went on high alert. I've had them do that before and been rewarded with a shot at a deer and the sighting of a fox traipsing through the woods. But this jay moved too swiftly for it to be a land based creature it was alarmed about. I therefore turned my attention to the sky expecting to see a hawk come into sight. Instead, a large owl (probably a barred owl as it's the most common around these parts) came gliding over the tree tops heading south toward some hemlocks on the far side of the hollow.

The owl flight is remarkable in that it is totally silent. A raven's or even a hawk's wings will make a noticeable flapping sound that can be heard for some distance, but not the owl. While sitting in a tree stand one bow season I once had a barred owl land above me. It had approached from my rear and I wouldn't have even known it was there except the tree actually shook with its landing. It sat for some minutes scanning the ground about us before taking off. Again the tree shook with its launch into space and its great wings could be seen flapping but there wasn't a sound.

So that sighting was my excitement for the morning. Well, that and the discovery of a rub line--a series of small trees along the trail that a buck had used to rub the velvet off its antlers. I found four altogether, but they were at least several weeks old. No fresh bark lay atop the leaves that had gathered at the base of the trees. Interestingly, one was a small cedar tree but the others were all stripped maples. This despite an abundance of small beech trees in the area.


This afternoon was more of the same. I went into an area I had visited several times over the last few years only to be foiled by the presence of new blow-downs that blocked the trail and my vision. Them and the beech leaves which are just now turning yellow. I walked about 3/4 of a mile (the same as this morning) and saw nothing. I didn't even bother to sit in the spot for which I headed. I couldn't see more than 20-30 yards anywhere. So after two hours I was back in the Bolt Hole just as the showers--and colder temperatures--blew in from Canada.


Speaking of beech trees...I know that Tolkien seemed to have a love of those smooth barked lovelies. It was a beech forest that the elves lived and Tolkien's description of their grand city in the air speaks of his fondness for the beech tree. Well, as far as I'm concerned, they could all burn!

Beech trees seem to be the most fickle of all seed producers. Like Goldilocks, they demand that things be "just right" before they will produce their nourishing nuts. Unfortunately, things are seldom perfect. This is the second consecutive year in which the beech nut crop has been a failure and that hurts squirrels, birds, deer and bear. When the nuts are plentiful, the critters will gorge themselves in the deep woods and seldom move far from a thick stand of beech trees. When they aren't around...then neither are the critters. Or, at least, the critters need to wonder more in search of food.

While the beech apparently needs perfect conditions to produce fruit, they seem to create their own conditions for living. Get one beech tree growing and have it produce just one good corp of mast and pretty soon you'll have a thicket of beech trees. And thicket is the proper term for they will be so close together that it will be tough to get through them. And they are sloppy trees, to boot. The lower branches seem to wear out and die after just a few years and then break off at the trunk of the tree. The broken branches dangle from their mates or litter the forest floor. Some of them are up to an inch or more in diameter at the base and several yards long. While they can't be considered "widow makers" getting bonked on the head by one when you brush against it enough to dislodge it from its perch can generate respect.

And the leaves! I can truthfully say that I have never seen a beech leaf with any insect damage. Oh, there may be some that are broken and torn from falling branches (self inflicted wounds) but for the most part they are intact. And persistent. While nearly all the trees have lost their leaves, the beech is just now turning from green to bright yellow. Eventually they will turn brown. But even then, many--perhaps 50%--will remain on the tree all winter long. In the winter, while the snow covers the ground, the rattling of dry, brown leaves of the beech may be the only sound in the woods. Trying to hunt in an area populated by beech trees that are still clinging to their leaves is a challenge. Your line of sight is reduced considerably.

The forest ranger from whom we got our burn permit for the brush piles in the apple orchard wistfully spoke of the possibility of forest fire. He actually said the area "needed" one. I haven't checked on this, but the leaves of the beech may contain some oil or chemical that protects them from insects but also from decay. Their buildup on the forest floor may hinder other species from taking root and surviving. I do know that when wet they are as slick as a pool of hydrolic oil on smooth concrete. (Don't ask. It's a long story in which a rainy night, a spinning forklift, and a very angry foreman play parts.)

I've come to the conclusion that the elves must have worked awfully hard to keep their beech woods neat and tidy.

All in all, between the plethora of beech trees and blow-downs in the "forever wild" lands here about, perhaps a forest fire isn't such a bad idea. Certainly the forest could use a little rejuvenation.

No comments: