Spring 2003
Home Up Mission Statement About Us Contact Us Site Locations For Teachers Outdoor Education Local Natural Areas Native Plants Conservation Links Sustainable Living Summer Newsletter Programs













                                                                                                    Spring 2003










I Cannot Write Tonight


            I'm not one who knows much about, or for most of my life have been much interested in, poetry.  But all day yesterday I'd been hearing pieces of lines of one of the few poems I've read and reread many times over the years as it bobbed up again and again in my mind. 

            In honor the poem's beauty and the beauty of the season I thought I'd share here in case some might enjoy it.





                   By Jesse Stuart


             I cannot write tonight for the moon is full

             And large as a wagon wheel above the timber.

            I must go out, for the world is beautiful,

 Must leave the open fire and dying ember.

For what are words upon an ink-stained scroll

When magic moonlight floods this stubborn world?

  When wary winds of ruthless winter roll

  Over the knolls, and leaves and sedge are hurled

             Into illimitable starry space?

            I must be out in beauty, hectic, rough,

 On mountains big enough for my embrace.

I must be out where I can love enough. . . .

             Remember, hills stay young; their beauty keeps

            Eternally as seasons come and pass.

            They will be there when this admirer sleeps,

            Who will not leave his shadow on their grass.


From "The World of Jesse Stuart, Selected Poems"



If you aren't familiar with Mr. Stuart he spent his life in the mountains and foothills of eastern Kentucky.  He worked first as a public school teacher and then as a farmer while he also wrote

poetry, essays, and short stories for publications that included "The

New Yorker" back in the golden era of quality magazines between the

1930s and 1960 or so.


It was wonderful being outside looking at the trees, the circle around the moon, the bracing bite (more of an affectionate nibble) of the cold air. Listening to the sound of the half dry/half damp unraked leaves as my old dog and I walked

and the puppy, with her boundless energy, ran across them again and again.  Having the feeling of beauty and peace wash, not over me, but through me.  The

sight of the woods behind my home and my neighborhood by moonlight that made even suburbia look comforting, peaceful, and inviting. If our second and first large snow of the winter comes tonight it will all be different but still the same, timeless, so peaceful it brings joy that goes so far it passes into the experience of sadness just knowing you can't stand there forever in its deeper warmth.


Joe Shchilling





Many have been excited to see the Bald Eagles in the Kankakee and Iroquois River watershed.  What do Bald Eagles need, in terms of food and shelter, in order to successfully rear their young?






Notes From the Urban Forest


Late winter is an excellent time to prune trees.  Correct pruning can help the tree to be more beautiful, healthy and safer in proximity to buildings and wires.  Incorrect pruning can cause serious problems that detract from the natural character of the tree, shorten the life of the tree and possibly make it hazardous.  It is bet to have your tree inspected by a certified arborist.

          This time of year is also a good time to brace trees.  Trees often develop weak crotches that are prone to breaking in storms.  In fact, I would say that weak crotch formations are responsible for 75% of the storm damage to trees that I have observed over the last 30 years.  Not only can the loss of major limbs completely destroy the natural symmetry of the tree, but limbs or whole sections of trees falling down can cause serious damage. 

          Certain species of trees are more prone to weak crotch formation than others.  The species most likely to develop this weakness are: silver maple, Siberian elm (usually incorrectly called Chinese elm), hackberry, Bradford pear and the other maples such as sugar and red but even more so in Norway maple. In addition, any time you have a tree with multiple trunks you have an accident waiting to happen. This is because as the trunks grow away from each other, seeking light, they tend to lean.  As the weight increases bearing down on what is almost always a weak attachment at the base. When these break under added weight of snow or ice and/or wind, often one third or more of the tree is lost.

          The good thing is that these weaknesses can usually be braced to minimize the likelihood of such breakage. There are systems especially designed for trees that can be installed that include the use of high-strength steel cable and/or the use of steel rods that go all the way through the tree.  Never should anything be wrapped around a tree unless it is very temporary.  Even within one year it can eat into the wood causing damage to the cambium. As with pruning, a certified arborist should be consulted for optimum results.

          People often spend hundreds or thousands of dollars having large trees planted.  If these trees are braced or staked to keep them upright it is important to do so in a manner that doesn't cause damage to the wood.  Every year I look at many recently planted trees that are being girdled by the wire or whatever was used to brace them.  Even the often-used hose pieces surrounding wire can eventually eat into the tree.  The main thing to remember is that these should be removed as soon as the tree is settled enough not to need them.  If after one or two years they are still needed, move them to a different location on the tree.


Rob Frothingham

Certified Arborist & Landscape Architect



Nature at Home


  Back in December, the Winter Solstice transformed the trend of ever-longer nights to a gradual lengthening of daylight.   During that midwinter lull, the Sun, for a few days, does not change its position very much, but seems to stand still in its southernmost declination.  Now, during some of winter's coldest weeks, each day is a little longer than the one before.  The keen observer can detect changes that foretell the coming of the Spring Equinox March 21st, when the day and night are of equal length.


While late winter brings some of the fiercest storms of winter; sleet storms and heavy snowfall, yet there are subtle hints of springIt is the season of sap, and the smell of the newly warming earth. 


Before the first crocus appear, deciduous trees, dormant during the longest nights, begin to show signs of running sap. You may begin to notice little icicles hanging from the ends of twigs.  The time to observe these is when the temperature rises above freezing during the day, and drops below 32o F at night.  Before long, the beginnings of leaf buds begin to swell along tree branches. 


 Ice on the river is at its thickest, and yet breakup is near, when the migratory ducks return. If there is still a snow cover, no animal can cross your yard without your knowledge. 



By observing tracks left by neighborhood wildlife in your yard or in nearby parks and preserves, you can get a better understanding of some of the things that are happening around you when you aren't looking.  There are a number of good books on animal tracks, as well as posters and charts to hang on your wall.  Rabbits, squirrels, voles, mice, chipmunks, skunks and raccoons are the most obvious to study first.  Rodents have four toes in front and five in the rear; rabbits and hares have four toes front and rear.  Those animals that are tree dwelling animals or perching birds generally place the front feet side-by side (such as squirrels); those that are ground dwelling or ground-feeders (such as robins, crows or rabbits) place the front feet at a slight diagonal.  Weasels have five toes front and rear, as do raccoons, possums, and bears (not seen in our area for quite some time!)  The cat family usually shows no claw marks in the track, has four toes front and rear, and the track shape is round.  The dog family, including coyote and fox, have four toes front and rear, generally show claw marks, and have a slightly oval shape to the print.




This is only the beginning! These are the alphabet; once you've learned this much you can begin to read the stories.  A squirrel descends a tree, ventures out on the snowy ground and then changes his minds. A rabbit rises on hind legs to nip buds, lose her balance and topples. A Raptors (owl? hawk?) swoops down on a rabbit, missing but leaves the mark of wingtips straddling the rabbits tracks in the snow.  A fox cuts across a rabbit's path and the rabbit explodes into a gallop to escape, its zigzag evasion and churned tracks telling of its desperate run for life.

             Late winter is also the mating season for many species of mammals.  Foxes, skunks, and raccoons begin courting, and if you have even a few acres of undeveloped land around you, or for that matter even a few good den trees or burrows, you will see and hear the squabbling that goes on!



A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard

            By John H. Mitchell



The Great Oak Forest


The oak gives shape and substance to the acorn. Life sustainer of the forest and many of its larger inhabitants, different species of oak have provided large amounts of protein and complex carbohydrates to black bear, deer, human beings, raccoon, gray and flying squirrel, chipmunk, white foot mouse, turkey, grouse, wood duck, mourning dove, blue jay and nuthatch. In the southern Appalachians, the oaks help fill the hard mast crop void left by the destruction of the American chestnut by introduced blight.



The oaks (Quercus spp.) are described by botanists as being divided into two subgroups, red oaks and white oaks. The red oaks have pointed leaf lobes, often tipped with bristles and their acorns take two years to mature; white oaks have rounded leaf lobes, and their acorns take one year to mature. All acorns contain tannin, a bitter compound that has a cleansing and beneficial action on the digestive tract. Generally, acorns of the white oaks have a significantly lower level of tannins than those of the red oaks.


The mildest of the oaks of the southern mountains is white oak (Quercus alba); the unprocessed acorn is not quite as bitter as a coffee bean and can simply be roasted and eaten by humans. Wildlife and humans alike know to gather the white oak acorns as soon as possible after they fall from the trees, because they will soon begin to sprout and many become damaged by insect larva (although they too are edible!). Red oaks, however, do not sprout until the following spring and are resistant to the larva that eat white oaks; they can be gathered later in the season, do not require fall processing and can be air dried and stored in a net bag. The most bitter of acorns can be made more palatable by leaching out the water-soluble tannins. Most writers recommend boiling the acorns repeatedly until the water no longer becomes brown; but that seems a bit like making soup and throwing out the nutritious broth.


 Instead, leaching can be effectively accomplished by cold water. Crack and shell the acorns, then grind them into a coarse meal. Place the meal in a cloth sack or tightly woven lidded basket and anchor the sack or basket in a clean flowing stream. Every several hours taste the meal and when the bitterness and astringency are gone the leaching is complete. The meal is then spread out into flat, broad baskets and stirred frequently until sun-dried. To assure dryness for storage of the flour, it is best to then parch the meal on a flat rock over fire, or in a cast iron skillet. When doing this, a light roasting of the meal imparts a fine, nutty flavor to the finished flour. The leached, dried, parched meal can be used at this point, or ground once more into fine flour.



Dry storage for the flour is essential. Acorn flour can easily become moldy with the right combination of moist conditions and a few warm winter days. When going into the storage container, smell the flour before using. If a musty smell has developed, discard the flour. Acorns can serve as a host for the aflatoxin mold, as can peanuts, rye and other grains; most frequently, aflatoxin poisoning comes from the mold aspergillus flavus. In these southern mountains, acorn flour often lasts into February or March before “going off,” when stored at room temperature on the kitchen shelf in a ceramic container. Freezing prolongs the shelf life; but the flour loses the richness of its flavor 8-10 months after freezing.


Breads, muffins, biscuits and pancakes benefit from substituting acorn flour for one third of the flours called for in recipes. Acorns are not glutinous, so breads made solely with acorn flour are extremely dense and either hard (when baked a little too long) or crumbly (when not baked long enough). My favorite combination is one part corn meal, one part whole-wheat flour and one part finely ground acorn flour.


It is believed that the Cherokee often prepared acorn mush in pre-Columbian times. At its simplest, acorn flour boiled in water, it is very filling and satisfying; but add some persimmon pulp, shelled hickory nuts or black walnuts and a little honey and you have a breakfast feast that will fuel a day full of vigorous activity and please the palate, too.


Oak and acorn - strength of spirit and vital sustenance for many generations of human beings.


            By Steven Taylor








Managing Small Woodlands for Cavity Nesting Birds


Dead trees or snags provide a valuable forest habitat for wildlife where birds can feed, nest, perch and roost.  Some birds which nest in tree cavities feed on insects which cause damage to commercial and landscape trees.  As cavity trees decay, they eventually fall and become large woody material on the forest floor, providing additional benefits for wildlife and creating forest soil.


Some small mammals, birds and amphibians use large, down woody material as a place to live and feed on insects, seeds, and fungi found on the forest floor.  If soil fungi is eliminated from the forest system, tree seedlings have difficulty because they cannot successfully extract nutrients and minerals from the soil.  Small mammals feed on fungi and pass fungal spores in their droppings.  As the animals move about the forest floor, they dispense spores and insure that the invaluable fungi will remain available throughout the forest succession.


As large woody material decays over time it continues to provide benefits for a woodlot and the ecosystem. Decaying wood acts as a reservoir for water storage by slowly releasing moisture throughout the summer.  This helps maintain a moist, cool forest floor where seedlings can survive.  Phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients are released providing essential elements for the growth of trees.  Nitrogen fixing bacterial live in decaying wood and produce nitrogen, an essential nutrient for forest tree growth.  Eventually, over a period of years, the decaying woody material becomes part of the soil, contributing to the cycle of forest health.


Habitat for cavity dwelling birds begins to form when a large tree dies and forms a "hard snag" with the bark still intact and with firm heart and sapwoods.  Later, this hard snag decays to be come a "soft snag" which may have some bark remaining but with the wood beginning to soften.  As decomposition continues, a soft snag may become a "buckskin snag" where the bark is missing and the wood continues to soften.  Decomposition causes snags to become shorter and shorter as parts of the top decay and successively fall, adding woody material to the forest floor.  Each of these progressive changes in a cavity tree represents a habitat change that benefits a different group of birds.  Snags may provide habitat over a period of 30 to 70 years depending on the size and species of tree and the type of forest in which it occurs.


A recently dead tree, or hard snag, is first used by Pilated and other woodpeckers, called primary excavators, which are capable of making a cavity in wood. 


As the hard snag decays and softens, a different group of primary excavators move in and create cavities.  Some species of Chickadees, woodpeckers and nuthatches are examples.  These cavities are then used by about 27 bird and 18 mammal species that can't make their own cavities, but rely on cavities made and abandoned by woodpeckers.  This group is called the "secondary cavity user" group.  Some examples are:

the house wren, tree swallow, wood duck, goldeneye duck, barn owl, saw-whet owl, American kestrel, bats, squirrels, raccoon, and porcupine.  An additional 25 bird and 23 mammal species depend on tree cavities during some time of the year if they are to survive in timbered areas.


In addition to the benefits that cavity dependent birds provide in consuming insects, some species such as owls, kestrels, weasels and marten prey on gophers, voles, rabbits and beaver which may cause significant losses in young forest stands.



Text Box:  




















Cavity tree management


Trees for cavity nesters should be managed in a woodlot according to number, height and diameter and should occur in the woodlot in relation to riparian zones and slope position.  The number of existing cavity trees and "replacement" cavity trees is important in maintaining long term populations of cavity dependent birds.  A minimum number of cavity trees would be two "hard", one "soft" and three "replacement" green (live) trees per acre with a minimum diameter of 15 to 17 inches and a height of 15 to 30 feet.  Additionally, two downed logs or trees at least 12 inches in diameter and 16 feet long, should be left for wildlife.  If trees of this size are not available, equivalent volume of downed material can be used.  A snag tree that is 20-24 inches in diameter and at least 30 feet high will provide habitat for large species like the Pilated woodpecker and wood duck as well as the smaller species.  These cavity trees should be distributed over 50 to 75 percent of the woodlot. 


Green replacement trees are as important as existing snags in a healthy forest because they replace snags that fall over, ensuring a constant supply of snags through time.


The most productive cavity habitat will be present when a variety of tree species, diameters and heights are available throughout the woodlot.  Large cavity trees will usually stand longer than small diameter trees and could be present through many stages of forest development.  Small diameter cavity trees provide minimum opportunity for cavity dependent birds and deteriorate within a few years.  Where conditions permit, cavity trees should be located within riparian zones or wetland areas, and on south and east slopes. 


Cavity trees in riparian zones eventually fall and may add large woody debris to stream channels.  This is a valuable component for maintaining pools and riffles which provide fish habitat, aquatic insect habitat which support healthy fish populations, and protection for fish from predators. 


Planning future cavity trees in "time and space" assures the owner/manager of a constant supply of birds, mammals and large woody debris that continually builds forest soil. 


Cavity trees can be a hazard to vehicles, buildings, power lines, fences and people if not managed properly.  Cavity trees should be located where they will not damage property or cause injury if they fall.  Guidelines for safe cavity tree nesting management are available from various state and federal agencies.


Source: U.S.D.A. Forest Service leaflet written by Richard J. Pederson




From Our Readers



I just read (cover-to-cover) the newest 'Woods of Wisdom'.  First, let

me tell you that I truly enjoy being on the mailing list.  Excellent

articles!  I've observed the fact that migrating birds don't seem to be

migrating as they should--either north or south.  I'm not a true student

of migrating birds, but learned a lot from my grandmother (a naturalist

and taxidermist) and many of the birds 'don't seem to know which way to

go' or even when to go.

Second, I have a suggestion to add to the list in this edition:  Share

all that you know about nature with your family & try to teach them to

appreciate all wild things for their beauty and diversity.  Feel free to

rephrase, paraphrase, or shorten as you see fit.  I think the beauty of

nature should be shared and our younger generations are losing out

because not enough of us take the time to show and teach.

An excellent opportunity for me to share arose a few weeks ago.  It was

a bitterly cold windy day and my granddaughter and I were going to

Osco's on Washington Ave.  Just ahead of us the doors were being pushed

open (I thought by the wind) and a muskrat was walking in the door!  He

was very unconcerned or rushed and proceeded to wander in and out

between the displays immediately to the left in front of the windows.  I

alerted the cashier, hoping she wouldn't scream and get hysterical.  I

suggested she tell a customer who was leaving to hold the door open and

simply 'usher' him out.  (I was praying that the animal wouldn't turn

and run around in the store or be belligerent.)  Well, it worked and he

went his merry way.  We decided that the building must either have just

been in his way, or he was taking a shortcut.  We also wondered how many

people at Jewel's or in the parking lot had seen him.  My granddaughter

is 9 and she and I still laugh about it.  What a treat!  However, the

downside is that the animal felt comfortable enough with humans to

simply walk through the building.  Have any of your readers also had a

similar experience?

I truly enjoy your newsletter!




Mae Watson

Mission Statement] [About Us] [Programs] [Site Locations] [Newsletter Back Issues] [Conservation]  [Outdoor Education]  [Plants] [Sustainable Links] [Local Natural Areas] [Current Newsletter] [Audubon Field Trips] [Contact Us] [Home]

last updated on August 26, 2013