This was the first year that we decided to put up a Christmas tree so the four of us (wife, baby, dog and I) walked over to the neighborhood nursery and picked out a small Frasier fir. Small enough for me to carry home and small enough to not overwhelm our family room. When it came time to dispose of the tree I decided to cut the limbs off and throw onto the pile of branches etc. behind the garage thinking this could provide some cover for some small mammal, some safe access to the sub-nivean space. To the city’s credit, they have two collection periods and drive around chipping on-site which seems to make a lot of sense to me. Then all the chipped material goes back to the giant mulch piles which the city opens to the public throughout the growing season.
This morning while out with the dog I saw the neighbor’s had their tree out for collection and it reminded me of my pile of branches. I went back there hoping I might be able to make out some tracks but due to the recent warm-up, the tracks had faded. The good news is that there were a lot of tracks and a lot of different types of tracks. I’m looking forward to getting back there after a fresh snowfall so I can try to key them out as I’ve never been very good with small mammals.
The last few winters a barred owl has taken up residence in our neighborhood and has regularly used the nearest to my property of five evergreens that run along the back of my neighbor Lenny’s property. Owl pellets, random feathers, and copious amounts of owl shit underneath and streaking down the tree made for pretty good evidence the barred owl was using the tree as a feeding station. The base of this tree is about ten feet from the branch pile so who knows, maybe if the owl decides to return this winter I might have a hand in presenting it a meal.
As I was looking at the evergreens this morning, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure which species they were. It’s been many years since I did a lot of field work and many more since I did field work in conifer forests. I got out the tree book and started looking. Spruces rang true but which one I wasn’t sure. I went back out, clipped a twig and a cone and found a simple key online. White spruce it is. Until I hear otherwise.
I had noticed that the spruces didn’t look terrific with yellowing of the needles. In fact, there used to be a sixth spruce on the next neighbor’s property but that one died and fell on her garage roof where parts still lay today. White spruce has been a species impacted by “forest decline” across the U.S. and Europe. Where I live is at the southern end of their native range but accounts of spruce decline have been recorded in the National Forests a few hundred miles north. I doubt there is much I can do to impact the health of these spruces but I should probably try and get a head start on planting some trees that are native well to the south of us as well. Perhaps some white pines. For my daughter’s owls.