Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

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Jess Riddle
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Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by Jess Riddle » Fri Jun 13, 2014 10:11 pm

Nts,

Tom Howard’s recent post about the best places in Central New York to see various tree species reminded me that I had been remiss on not reporting on one site I visited a few years ago that might make the list.

To get to Ithaca, best known as the home of Cornell, you have to go down. The town sits in a long, narrow, glacier-carved valley at the head of one of New York’s Finger Lakes. Coming into town from the east, the grade cuts through limestone bedrock, bends, then straightens to give you a long overlook of Cayuga Lake. At the foot of the grade, the highway curves towards the inlet, but immediately swerves back the other way to bring you into town. Surprisingly, that last curve also brings you up close to a forest composed of thick, gray trunks.

Fuertes Bird Sanctuary lies wedged between lakeshore Stewart Park, Highway 13, and Fall Creek, and entirely within the floodplain of the last. Cottonwood strongly dominates the entire 50 or so acres, and spicebush is similarly dominant in the understory. What the forest lacks in diversity and extent it makes up for in average tree size.

I had only enough time to wrap a tape around a few of the larger trees and shoot straight up with a rangefinder. One cottonwood on the edge of the stand was 16’6” cbh while cottonwoods in the interior maxed out at 15’2” cbh and about 130’ tall. Probably less likely to be noticed by visitors, spicebush reach 1’0.5” cbh, an exceptional size for the region. Green ash, which might come to dominate the site in the long run, reaches about eight feet circumference and 113’ tall. Swamp white oak, another potential successor to the cottonwoods but currently rare, reaches only about 100’ tall. Sycamore, similarly represented by only a few trees, tops 10’ circumference and reaches heights similar to the cottonwoods. Perhaps the most impressive tree in the stand was a 13’8.5” by roughly 125’ freeman maple. Other species in the stand that I did not measure include American basswood, black ash, butternut, boxelder, and staghorn sumac.

I hope someone has an opportunity to give this forest a more thorough investigation; it’s an easy side trip on a visit to Ithaca.

Jess

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Don
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by Don » Sat Jun 14, 2014 12:17 am

Jess-
Reminds me of one of my favorite 'play-on-words' bumper stickers from that area, which read:
"Ithaca is Gorges"
and my favorite mom and pop car wash and laundry, called:
"Suds your duds, and bubble your buggy"...
-Don
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Jun 14, 2014 11:27 am

Ithaca sure is fun like that. :-D I'd be surprised if there really aren't any big tree spots hiding in those gorges, just waiting for someone with a rangefinder to walk in...

Sounds like a great cottonwood site. Similar to the older postings here on cottonwood sites on lake champlain- long, skinny lakes in upstate NY and great cottonwoods just belong together. There are a few massive cottonwoods at Long Point on lake chautauqua that could use some remeasuring as well, in the same vein. There's an old report on them on this site, but the biggest hollow one described has since fallen down.

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tomhoward
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by tomhoward » Sun Jun 15, 2014 2:07 pm

NTS,

This would be a great place to do a survey. Maybe Elijah Whitcomb and I can take a look at it. The Cottonwoods seem to be the tallest in the central NY area, and the Freeman Maple could be the tallest of its kind in NY.

Tom Howard

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tomhoward
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by tomhoward » Wed Jul 09, 2014 6:59 pm

NTS,

On July 6, 2014 Elijah Whitcomb and I visited this site. Here is my report:

On this warm sunny day Elijah Whitcomb and I had an excellent visit to this extraordinary old Hardwood Wetland Floodplain forest. The Fuertes Bird Sanctuary is part of Stewart Park at the south end of Cayuga Lake. Most of the park is open lawn with big open-grown Cottonwoods. The Bird Sanctuary is a dense forest of towering trees that is reached by a bridge across a stream, followed by a boardwalk above the swampy forest ground; on this boardwalk is an excellent interpretive sign explaining the history of the site and a panel illustrating the types of birds that can be seen (Elijah and I heard birds in the dense forest canopy, but we did not see many birds in the forest). This site used to be known as Renwick Wildwood, and according to the New York State Museum Bulletin of 1916 (Twelfth Report of the Director), “this is the last bit of virgin bottom-land forest left in this vicinity.” In 1916 the forest was dominated by Elm – there are no Elms left today, or at least we didn't see any. Tuliptree was also said to be present, but Elijah and I didn’t find any. The site probably covers about 30-40 acres, and Elijah and I saw only a small part of it, in the roughly 2 hours we spent there. The interpretive sign has a lot of this good information from 1916. One of the leading members of the Cayuga Bird Club, Dr. Louis Agassiz Fuertes, led the effort to preserve this site for posterity. It became a park in 1914, and was added to Stewart Park, when Stewart Park was established in 1921. The 1916 Museum Bulletin also says that “It is without doubt the most beautiful piece of old timberland left in this region.” I completely agree. It is one of the most impressive eastern forests I’ve ever seen.

Fuertes Bird Sanctuary is described in Davis, Old Growth in the East: A Survey (2003, p. 30) as follows: “Stewart Park Woods/Fuertes Bird Sanctuary (Ithaca): a 22.5-acre remnant of a once-extensive floodplain forest at the south end of Cayuga Lake, probably had some logging in the past but shows no evidence today, owned by the City of Ithaca.”

Fuertes Bird Sanctuary is one of the tallest forests I’ve ever seen in the central NY area, with some of the largest forest-grown trees I’ve seen around here. Today the forest is dominated by enormous towering Cottonwoods, easily the finest collection of Cottonwoods I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many. The Cottonwoods here are magnificent, with their high dense crowns sparkling in the sun. In 1916 this site was documented as virgin forest, and the trees today are large, with balding bark, and lofty sometimes crooked crowns, but we could not get good age data – we did not find stumps, and I got only about 70 rings on an 8” radius Cottonwood cross-section. Trees probably grow quite fast in the rich wetland soil. This site has been preserved since 1914, and there is no evidence of logging, except for the removal of what seems to have been a dead Cottonwood that fell across the trail.

We entered the forest by going down some stairs from the boardwalk, and plunging deep into the forest on a winding, rather muddy trail. The site has a tropical rain forest feel with towering hardwoods all around, with each tree carrying a big vine (usually incredibly luxuriant Poison Ivy, some Virginia Creeper) aloft into the high dense canopy, above a dense lush understory with much fragrant Spicebush (to 15 ft. high – biggest Spicebush I’ve ever seen), many Ferns, and Skunk Cabbage covering much of the ground with huge leaves. There were plenty of mosquitoes, but not as many as in the mosquito-filled forests of the North Syracuse area.

Cottonwood is the dominant tree, but other big tall trees include Sycamore (one really tall one seen), Freeman Maple (hybrid of Red Maple and Silver Maple), regular Silver Maple, Bur Oak (which Elijah measured to over 102 ft. with straight up shot with laser rangefinder), Swamp White Oak, Green Ash. We saw one small Beech tree; Boxelder is plentiful in the understory. There are no conifers. The tallest trees – Cottonwoods and Sycamores – should be 130-132 ft. tall, with a possible maximum of 135 ft. The density of the forest in full leaf made it impossible to see tops and bottoms of these trees. The trees are definitely taller than our measurements. The Cottonwoods, which reach and no doubt exceed 130 ft., are among the tallest Cottonwoods in NY State – the tallest Cottonwood I know of in NY is a 134 ft. tree in Zoar Valley.

All trees measured in the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary are forest-grown, single-trunked.

These are the largest forest-grown trees I’ve ever seen in eastern North America.

Trees measured, both by Elijah and me, were measured by the NTS sine method; all height measurements are in feet. All trees with over 12 ft. cbh are 12 X 100s (12 ft. cbh and 100 or more feet tall), and there are many trees in this size category that we did not measure. We need to do an intensive survey when the leaves are down, and with dry conditions. Cbh measurements were made by Elijah with his tape.

Cottonwood, typical tree 107.6:

Cottonwood 12’10” cbh, straight up shot by Elijah 120’ +, tree should be at least 126 ft. tall.

Cottonwood by trail near water, bark sloughing off, 14’6” cbh

I measured (straight up shot) a Virginia Creeper, climbing over 102 ft. up one of the more slender Cottonwoods – I’ve never seen a vine climb so high.

Bigger Cottonwood near tree with tall vine 14’10” cbh

Sycamore, very tall, 7’8” cbh:
Height 126.7 (top not reached, only highest part visible to laser rangefinder could be measured, tree should be at least 130 ft. tall, tallest known Sycamore in central NY area)

There are larger Cottonwoods near this Sycamore, and these Cottonwoods seem to be even taller than the Sycamore. One of the largest of these Cottonwoods is 13’3” cbh, and Elijah got a height of over 127 ft. with a straight up shot – this Cottonwood should be at least 130 ft. tall.

Cottonwood 16’1” cbh (61.5” dbh) – largest tree seen, leaning trunk, straight up shot over 110 ft. – like nearly all the other big trees, a huge Poison Ivy vine climbs it. This is the largest forest-grown, single-trunked tree I’ve ever seen in eastern North America, surpassing the 58.5” dbh Red Oak I saw at Lily Dale Grove in June 2003.

Big Cottonwood – I measured height above eye level to 117 ft., could not see base so I could not get a basal shot – tree is easily over 120 ft. tall.

Freeman Maple, 11’9” cbh, largest of this type I’ve ever seen – Elijah got a straight up shot of 117 ft. – this tree is overtopped by a much taller Cottonwood. This should not be the huge 13’8.5” cbh 125 ft. tall Freeman Maple Jess Riddle measured. That tree has an even larger diameter. As it is, this tree Elijah and I saw is larger than any Red Maple I’ve ever seen. Right next to this tree is a slightly smaller Freeman Maple of similar height.

In the open area of Stewart Park, we measured some large trees – these are all open-grown, in the grassy lawns with expansive views of Cayuga Lake. There are large numbers of Canada Geese in the open lawn so you have to be careful where you walk.

In this open area, Elijah measured a Dawn Redwood to 54.5 ft.

We measured 2 large trees by a tennis court:

Sycamore 12’5” cbh 116.7 (from a different vantage point Elijah got a height of 117.7 ft., a lot for an open-grown tree)

Cottonwood 13’10” cbh 110.92 (from a different vantage point Elijah got a height of 109.91 ft.)


7/9/2014 – In the hot humid evening of July 8, 2014, a severe thunderstorm hit Ithaca, and trees were knocked down in Stewart Park – it is possible that some of the magnificent Cottonwoods Elijah and I saw in the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary July 6, were blown down.


Tom Howard

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Jul 09, 2014 11:42 pm

Definitely sounds like a must-visit site. Hopefully that storm didn't do too much damage; the same system dumped on my area just prior and the local waterfall looked more like a rock-quarry explosion set to play on loop than a flowing body of water.

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dbhguru
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by dbhguru » Thu Jul 10, 2014 10:07 am

Tom

Wow, have you ever got my attention. What a site! And in Ithaca. My wife has a musical colleague at Cornell named Malcolm Bilson. We occasionally visit Malcolm and his wife. I'd like to vist there in the late fall. Maybe you, me, and Elijah could meet up. I would have Sparky, my LTI TruPulse 200X with its gate function. We could settle the issue as to exact heights down to +/- 1.5 inches.

Cottonwood is one of my favorite eastern trees and I've thought of doing an article, maybe for American Forests entitled "Cottonwood, the Forgotten Wood". New York State would be a prime location for the article. The species was much more valuable in pre-colonial and colonial times than today. So much of the public perception about individual tree species has been shaped by the timber industry, which of course, is always myopic and focused on what pays its way out of the woods in a perpetually quixotic market. Modern lumberman loathe cottonwoods, but old-timers, who knew how to work with it, made excellent use of it in some locales, e.g. upstate New York in the Champlain Valley.

Again, splendid report.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
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tomhoward
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by tomhoward » Sat Aug 16, 2014 9:05 am

Bob,

It sounds great. Hopefully, Elijah and I can arrange this outing in the late fall after the leaves are down. It is an extraordinary site, and Elijah and I barely scratched the surface July 6.

Tom Howard

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tomhoward
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Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by tomhoward » Wed Oct 08, 2014 7:59 pm

NTS,

Fuertes Bird Sanctuary, Stewart Park, Ithaca, NY Oct. 5, 2014

On this rather cold mostly cloudy (with a few drops of rain and some sun) day Elijah Whitcomb and I traveled to Ithaca to do a second survey of the old growth hardwood flood plain forest of the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary. We took a back way, saw several large trees. We first went through Elbridge (in Onondaga County, west of Syracuse, saw one of 2 surviving c.1908 trolley waiting stations on NY 5 on east side of Elbridge – the other, which used to be part of the Plank Rd. Historic Village in North Syracuse, and now belongs to the Cicero Historical Society). On the east side of Elbridge are 2 large Kentucky Coffee Trees. There are 2 big tree cross-sections displayed just outside Elbridge Library. We continued to Auburn – big open-grown Bur Oak with some much smaller Yellowwoods by Willard Memorial Chapel. We took NY 34 south out of Auburn (by the big house with large trees on lawn of William H. Seward and father south by the much smaller and simpler house of Harriet Tubman). We took a side street to Auburn’s St. Joseph’s Cemetery, saw the 2 huge open-grown White Oaks (about 20 ft. cbh and possibly no more than 180 years old) that Elijah posted to NTS about a couple years ago; these open-grown White Oaks are short, no more than about 50 ft. tall, with spreads much greater than heights, and this is typical of open-grown Oaks. We went along the scenic tree-lined shore (all 2nd growth forest) of Owasco Lake, on toward Moravia. North of Moravia Elijah spotted a really big open-grown Oak on a nearby side road; we pulled over to examine it – Elijah measured this large, but possibly not terribly old (maybe 150-180 years old) White Oak at 15 ft. 10 in. cbh. We continued south to Ithaca on NY 38 (by the entrance of Fillmore Glen State Park, with what look like tall White Pines rising out of steep forested slopes). Before getting to Ithaca, we came to Cayuga Lake, idyllic setting with tree lined shores, sailboats.

Fuertes Bird Sanctuary was as awesome as on July 6, with huge trees towering out of the bottomland; the forest was dry, as little rain has fallen for many weeks. Fall colors were just getting started, with more yellow, gold, and some orange and red (huge red leaflets) on the giant Poison Ivy vines climbing most of the great old trees. The Cottonwoods are the largest, most impressive trees, and really big Silver Maples, Freeman Maples, Sycamores, Bur Oaks, Green Ashes dominate the lofty canopy. Many trees are over 120 ft. tall. The first tree measured is most likely the 125 ft. Freeman Maple Jess Riddle reported on. We measured this huge tree to a height of 124.6 ft.:

Cottonwood, too close for basal shot so this is only height above eye level, 10 ft. cbh:
Height above eye level: 115.9 ft.+
This tree is typical of most Cottonwoods.

Cottonwood, too close for basal shot so this is only height above eye level, 10 ft. cbh:
Height above eye level: 124.8 ft. – this tree should be at least 128 ft. tall. A colorful Poison Ivy vine climbs over 85 ft. up this tree.

As we went further into the forest, we entered a section containing the largest Cottonwoods we had seen yet, this section a little ways past the farthest point we had reached on July 6. We came to an utterly enormous Cottonwood, single-trunked, forest-grown, with a huge buttressed base, and rough bark with prominent ridges. This tree had a tall thick straight trunk with little taper, holding up a vast high crown; the crown of this giant Cottonwood seems to be at least 100 ft. or more across, and way over 120 ft. high. Elijah measured this tree at 16 ft. 8 in. cbh (63.7” dbh); this is the largest single-trunked, forest-grown non-conifer I’ve ever seen anywhere. The following is the best measurement we could get on this giant:
Height 126.9 ft.
This is most likely not the highest point of this tree, and the highest point is probably at least 130 ft.

This section of the forest is like a great cathedral, a cathedral of dozens of enormous towering Cottonwoods whose vast crowns form an arching canopy like a cathedral roof high over our heads. This section, the most awesome deciduous forest I’ve ever been in, could be called the “Cottonwood Cathedral”.

In the same area we measured a double-trunked forest-grown Sycamore as follows:
Height 116.7 ft.

We found a big Sycamore next to a slightly smaller Bur Oak, the Sycamore 12 ft. 2 in. cbh.

Unfortunately, this magnificent forest is next to the main highway (NY 13) and there is plenty of highway noise. And we left the old growth more quickly than expected. We entered an open 2nd growth area, with many Grape vines, and much smaller, lower trees. In the 2nd growth, we found Butternut, Basswood, Mulberry, Boxelder, some Red Oak, Black Locust, and lots of Sycamore. The largest tree in this section was a partly open-grown Sycamore (15 ft. cbh, single-trunked) in a pleasant group of large Sycamores. We reached the end of Fuertes Bird Sanctuary at the arch dedicated about 1914 when this site was saved; the arch, which was beautiful then, is in ruinous condition now, with graffiti marring its crumbling pillars.

We went back into the forest. I counted 60 rings on a 22” radius Black Willow log. There were many Sycamores in this area, with a little Black Willow. We saw a Great Blue Heron taking off from a pond.

We soon re-entered the tall forest, back into the awesome old growth. The forest was beautiful with its understory composed mostly of wondrously fragrant Spicebush, turning yellow.


Large Silver Maple, 10 ft. 3 in. cbh (not the Freeman Maple hybrid with Red Maple):
We were too close to get a basal shot:
Height above my eye level - 114 ft. This tree is easily over 119 ft. tall. This is possibly the tallest Silver Maple in NY State. This tree is near the boardwalk at the end of the trail.

Trees in the old growth part of the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary:
Dominant:
Cottonwood, Sycamore, Silver Maple, Freeman Maple, Bur Oak, Green Ash
Associate:
Black Ash, Bitternut Hickory?, Boxelder, Beech, Red Maple, Norway Maple, possibly Basswood

Spicebush dominates the understory. Huge Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper vines climb high up most of the big trees.

Fuertes Bird Sanctuary covers about 40 acres, but only a little over half is the towering old growth forest. The figure of 22.5 acres in the 2003 edition of the Davis Survey of Eastern Old Growth seems to be accurate.

Elijah and I returned to his car and we drove into downtown Ithaca and up the hill, on some confusing tree lined roads, to the beautiful campus of Cornell University and the magnificent Cornell Plantations. This idyllic area near Beebe Lake, in the aptly named village of Forest Home, is the subject of the next 2 reports.


Tom Howard

Joe

Re: Fuertes Bird Sanctuary

Post by Joe » Thu Oct 09, 2014 7:04 am

dbhguru wrote:
Modern lumberman loathe cottonwoods, but old-timers, who knew how to work with it, made excellent use of it in some locales, e.g. upstate New York in the Champlain Valley.

Bob
Bob, any idea what those old timers used cottonwood for?
Joe

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