Reddy Branch-owls and turtles

I started my work yesterday at the path’s entrance, foregoing my usual preliminary stroll about the woods in order to find some area to begin clearing. It was time to do first things first. Avoiding the necessary work around the entrance to the woods was like having company on the way when I had swept and cleaned the back rooms and bedrooms of my house but left the foyer and parlor undusted and cluttered. Rather haphazard and sloppy;  a bad first impression.

Prior to my work yesterday, rose, honeysuckle, and privet crowded the view of the visitor to these woods. Quite a rude introduction to what should be the beginning of  a lovely springtime conversation between the visitor and the blooms of the dogwood, Cornus florida, and blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium. Rather upsetting to have rose pulling at your pant legs and to see English ivy creeping up the sprawling grey trunk of the maple. Like tripping over the child’s toy left in the middle of the room or seeing the dust on the stairs when entering an otherwise lovely home.

So, I cleared for an hour, toppling several large privet bushes, clearing a dozen or so large rose bushes, and pulling the Japanese honeysuckle. Success measured by absence not presence. Good enough for now; time to move on.

Having cleared my doorstep, if you will, I now felt free to return to the interior, returning to the hill immediately before the holly stand where I had cleared before (the photo from my post Sweeping My Mind of Invasives).  Not a long walk, all of thousand feet or so. In the photo, the holly in the background has more cleared ground in front-more ivy, honeysuckle, and rose removed. I made an all effort to pull even the ivy and honeysuckle that is underneath the leaf litter. Think of a loosely woven mat of crisscrossing threads.

The sun is now able to reach the forest floor that is to the right of the trail. The left side of the trail remains cluttered with rose and honeysuckle. The thin vertical sticks that can be seen are a few dogwood saplings and a dozen or so ash saplings. Out of the photo, to the right, there are a number of blackhaw trees that may also take advantage of this opened ground.

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I was preparing to leave after nearly two hours of hard work when I heard the call of the barred owl, the “who cooks for you” and “who cooks for you all” urging me to do more to clear the way. How could I possibly leave? Not only is the song of this beautiful bird fascinating and beautiful, but the barred owl, Strix varia, lives in older forests among big trees. Hearing one is a positive sign of the health of these woods and of these trees. I imagine the fields nearby provide plenty of mice and other small mammals for this carnivore.

Though I was hot, this being one of those Washington D.C. spring days that serve as a harbinger of summer’s insufferable heat, and ready for a break, I went back up to the ridge to pull more of this year’s rose growth. I did not take any pictures, but I was enthused by the sun pouring onto all of the young ash and maple saplings no longer competing with the sprawling rose. This year’s growth of rose was little more than circles of green on the brown floor of the forest; I removed another dozen or so, using the pulaski. I am heartened by the progress here. Next, I need to pull several large privet bushes.

Having to leave, I made my way back down the hill, but my departure was delayed once again. I had to take some time to sit with (and lie on the ground for some good camera angles) the first box turtle I have seen in these woods. Perhaps, with my clearing of the rose, I had disturbed where it had spent the evening and early morning. I often think about the impact of my actions in these woods-the law of unintended consequences. I have prevented the ivy and bittersweet from creating more berries, slowing the spread of the vine along with freeing the trees of the weight of the vines. Have I also decreased the food supply for the creatures of this forest? There is grape here but I have not seen its fruit. With no license to plant native species, am I sacrificing anything in the short term for long term gain?

Another sign of a healthy ecosystem, box turtles tend to live within a relatively small area so this likely female (lacking the red iris of the male) has possibly lived in these woods for a number of years as box turtles can live to fifty or more years. There are likely predators nearby-muskrats and possums, but this turtle probably has more to fear from the cars on the nearby road than any natural predator.

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As spring break now comes to a close, and as I plan to travel to the mountain bogs of Western Maryland to plant spruce trees, I will likely be taking a week or so away from my woods. I think I will be returning with the larger trees in full leaf and the forest understory in more shade. I look forward to making more discoveries and learning more of the language of these woods.

I hope to be able to post some photos of hope as my son and I work to help restore the spruce forests of far Western Maryland. 99 percent of the state’s spruce forest was logged at the turn of the twentieth century. There is little to no possibility of these forests recovering without planting. We are both excited.

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