Lisha Kill Nature Preserve

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Lisha Kill Nature Preserve

Post by tomhoward » Tue Sep 22, 2015 11:56 am

On this sunny, hot, humid Sunday, Elijah Whitcomb and I had a fascinating visit to Lisha Kill Nature Preserve, a property of the Nature Conservancy near Niskayuna in eastern NY. Our original destination was the nearby site of Old Maids Woods, which had been written about as an outstanding Black Oak site. Both sites are featured in the Kershner-Leverett book, The Sierra Club Guide to the Ancient Forests of the Northeast. We used this book as a guide to locating the sites. As it would turn out, Old Maids Woods was impossible to get to, so we decided on Lisha Kill, a site that was difficult to find, and with steep trails, but, despite the extreme heat and humidity of this month, was definitely worth the effort.

Elijah and I left North Syracuse shortly after 9:30 A.M. We took the Thruway east to the Schenectady area, going first through a low swampy area of Madison County with plenty of Ash, Black Gum, scattered groups of White Pine, and even some small Black Spruce that I never paid attention to. Elijah had told me of a patch of Black Spruce north of the Thruway. I found a patch of Black Spruce on the north side of the Thruway just east of the I-481 interchange. Then he showed me the Black Spruce patch he knew about, on the north side of the Thruway east of the Chittenango Service Area. I found a 3rd small patch of Black Spruce on the north side of the Thruway east of Exit 34. Black Spruce and Black Gum grow together.

We continued east through the beautiful and historic Mohawk Valley. We got off on I-890 near Schenectady, and followed the Kershner-Leverett book’s instructions correctly, and parked by a gate on a private power company road. We walked to the beginning of the trail, but the site has been neglected for a long time, and the sign for Old Maids Woods was turned around and hard to see. The trail no longer existed. Logs were down everyone in this young, brushy 2nd growth forest. There was a sign saying this was part of an Eagle Scout project in 1991 – it looks like it’s been neglected since then. There were blazes on a few trees going up the hill, but none going back down, so we could have gotten lost if we kept on. We had to give up.

We went up the hill where Old Maids Woods was said to be, and drove through a really nice neighborhood of houses amid White Pines, Red and Black Oaks. Old Maids Woods is near this neighborhood, and is possibly only accessible from there.

Now we decided to search for Lisha Kill. The areas around Schenectady is hilly in places, with plentiful White Pine (and we saw a little Pitch Pine), Red and Black Oaks, and frequent groves of Black Locust (much more common than in central NY).

We drove through downtown Schenectady on NY 5 – the downtown has been revitalized, but the area to the east on NY 5 is very rundown. We soon entered some nice neighborhoods, with houses, White Pines, and Oaks. It took us over an hour to find the small sign for Lisha Kill Nature Preserve on Rosendale Road. There is a parking lot there, and some cars were there, so other people were there. The site begins in a grove of 2nd growth Black Locust over 90 ft. tall. In the same area we found a big Birch, which turned out to be a Gray Birch over 12” dbh.

The trail soon became steep, going down into a dry (due to our prolonged drought) streambed, and up onto higher ridges. The forest became more impressive, dominated by Hemlock with frequent groups of big, tall White Pine. The main area of LIsha Kill is a rolling plateau dominated by frequent rough-barked White Pines up to over 120 ft. tall, slightly lower Hemlocks, and lower White Oaks. The biggest trees are about 3 ft. dbh. The forest was wonderfully pine-scented, the air fresh and purified by the pines; it was wonderful to be in the shade of tall White Pines and Hemlocks on a sunny, hot day like this.

The White Oaks are not very big, not the size and height of the old growth White Oaks in North Syracuse Cemetery Oak Grove, but Lisha Kill is the best site for forest-grown White Oak that I’ve seen east of the North Syracuse Cemetery Oak Grove. Elijah measured the tallest White Oaks at Lisha Kill to 101 ft. and 100 ft. All other Oaks we saw were under 100 ft. tall, with most in the 90s.

The earlier part of the trail (nearest the parking lot), is young 2nd growth with Ash, Hickory with big leaves (5 leaflets, most likely Shagbark), Black Oak, Elm (small leaves, possibly English Elm), Black Cherry, Hophornbeam, Norway Maple, small Norway Spruce, Beech (small), Bigtooth Aspen (a big one over 18” dbh, over 82 ft. tall). We would not see most of these trees in the older forest beyond. We also saw a little small American Elm at Lisha Kill.

In the first part of the older forest, in the steep ups and down, we entered some groves of White Pine, with some small groups of Hickory. Some of the Hickories could be Pignut (5 leaflets), Red Hickory (7 leaflets), and possibly Bitternut. They are large trees, and look like Oaks from a distance. The Hickories are taller than the Oaks, and are over 100 ft. tall. We also saw Black Ash, Witch Hazel, Walnut, Hornbeam by stream, 1 small Chestnut Oak, Spicebush.

The older forest in the larger upper areas is dominated by White Pine, Hemlock and White Oak, with frequent Black Oak, less common Red Oak,(these Oaks were big, but not very tall).

Near one of the stream crossings (wooden bridge over dry stream), I measured a Hickory (possibly Pignut), that reached up into the canopy among the White Pines, to about 110 ft. tall.

In first group of tall White Pines, cathedral setting of towering White Pines, I measured this White Pine 115.2 ft.

Elijah measured 2 White Pines in this group to 120 ft.

I measured a White Pine down hill to 114.3 ft.

In the same area, Elijah measured a typical Hemlock – one of many, and not the tallest, to 108 ft.

We’d see several Hemlock log cross-sections (of trees that had fallen across the trail), and all had wide rings, with none over 150 years.

Lisha Kill, at least the sections we saw, should best be considered Secondary Old Growth. Old growth characteristics like pit and mound topography, coarse woody debris (abundant in some places), big tall trees, trees with unusual growth forms (especially with leaning twisting Oaks), stag-headed crowns, balding bark developing, but the trees seem to be no more than 150 years old, or a little older, far too young in this area to be old growth. Many of the White Pines (especially slender ones) had rough, blocky, platy bark (and a few looked so much like Pitch Pines they could be mistaken for Pitch Pines), but none of these White Pines seem to be much over 150 years old. Even still, this is the finest White Pine forest I’ve seen in eastern NY outside the Adirondacks. Lisha Kill looks somewhat like Hearts Content in PA with towering White Pines soaring high above the other trees in the canopy, but the White Pines of Lisha Kill are much younger, much shorter, smaller than the great, ancient White Pines of Hearts Content. The White Pines of Lisha Kill look taller than the 120 and more feet heights we measured, and the tallest should be about 130 ft. tall, or a little more. Under the White Pines and Hemlocks, are many big but not very tall White Oaks.

I measured a White Pine in the first group, a slender, leaning tree downhill by dry stream crossing to 110.5 ft. – it looked taller.

In the first group of tall White Pines, we came to a big Black Birch, 6 ft. 3” cbh, that Elijah measured to 100 ft. tall, a personal best for Elijah. As far as I know, this is the tallest Black Birch yet measured in Upstate NY. It is an old-looking tree, with rough, blocky bark. This is the largest Black Birch I’ve ever seen in NY. We would see many more Black Birches, but none as big or as tall as this one.

I measured 2 White Pines in the first group on the hilltop to 123 ft., and 124.9 ft. This is the tallest tree I would measure at Lisha Kill.

We were in the midst of fragrant White Pines over 120 ft. tall.

By another stream crossing we came to a big White Oak with darker than usual bark, and a big scar.

One of the biggest White Oaks, 28.4” dbh, about 90 ft. tall.

One of biggest White Pines, 31.9” dbh, about 120 ft. tall.

We walked through a grove of Black Birch close to 90 ft. tall. This section was classic Hemlock-Black Birch forest.

We heard Bees humming, and saw them flying sunlit outside their nest high in a White Pine.

Elijah measured a typical Hemlock in this section to a surprising 118 ft. This tree did not look this tall, and there seem to be taller Hemlocks in the same area. Elijah and I both aimed at a sunlit shoot high in the upper crown of this Hemlock. I measured this same Hemlock to 118.5 ft. This is not the top, and the tree is even taller; we could not see the highest point of the shoot we aimed at, so this Hemlock should be about 120 ft. tall.

I measured a slender Hemlock in the same area to 114.8 ft. This tree seemed taller than the Hemlock just above.

Elijah measured a 28.7” dbh White Oak to a height of 100 ft.

Elijah measured a big Black Oak, straight up to at least 99 ft., the tallest Black Oak measured on this outing.

The old growth survey of this site, led by Fred Breglia and David Yarrow, with team members Bob Leverett, Bruce Kershner, Neil Pederson, Lou Sebesta, Tom Diggins, and others, in Dec. 2001 found White Oaks at Lisha Kill 106.3 ft., and 104.6 ft. tall. In 2015, Elijah and found no White Oak above 101 ft. The 2001 survey also measured a Red Oak to 114 ft. In 2015, Elijah and I found no Red Oak taller than at least 97 ft. The 2001 survey’s tallest tree was a White Pine 123.4 ft. tall. In 2015, Elijah and I measured several White Pines taller than that.

I measured a small White Oak with balding bark, leaning on a Hemlock to 88.8 ft., an another White Oak with bulging base to 92.5 ft.

Elijah measured a White Oak to 96 ft., and a Red Oak (straight up shot) to 97 ft.

Near a big fallen Black Oak, a White Oak and Black Oak have big trunks leaning in the same direction, away from the fallen tree.

We found a 3-trunked coppice White Oak, a sign most likely of logging over 100 years ago.

In the same area Elijah found 2 small American Chestnuts.

Elijah got 121 ft. on a slender rough-barked White Pine.

We visited a group of slender tall White Pine mixed with lower Black Birch, and some Striped Maple.

A big Hemlock log cross-section had about 120 rings, with the inner rings extremely wide, indicating rapid growth when the tree was young.

In a blow down area, where big White Pines fell, there was a lush growth of ferns, and above the blow down stood the tallest trees we saw at Lisha Kill. a grove of towering White Pines. These White Pines soared like skyscrapers above us. These White Pines are over 120 ft. tall, with the tallest possibly over 130 ft. Some Hemlocks in this section are nearly as tall as the White Pines (and taller than some of the White Pines. Elijah got 117 ft. above eye level on a Hemlock in this group; the base was not visible, so this Hemlock should be about 120 ft. tall. Elijah measured another Hemlock in the same group to 121 ft., a complete measurement, and the tallest Hemlock we would measure at Lisha Kill. In the same group, Elijah got 129 ft. on a straight up shot on a White Pine; this tree is easily over 130 ft. tall, and is the tallest tree we would measure at Lisha Kill. Elijah got 124 ft. on another White Pine in this group of towering trees. These White Pines seem much taller than 120-130 ft.

We returned by the way we came (after we asked some people if the trail we were on led back to the parking lot – they said it did not – we were on the wrong trail, but taking the wrong trail led us to the tallest White Pines).

On the trail back, we came to a large old shaggy Grapevine, a vine possibly well over 100 years old; it climbed over 60 ft. into a Hemlock and White Pine on opposite sides of the trail.

Trees in main older forest at Lisha Kill:
Dominant: White Pine, Hemlock, White Oak
Associate: Black Oak, Red oak (less common than Black Oak), Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Striped Maple, Black Birch (common in some areas), Hickories, Basswood, White Ash, Black Ash, American Chestnut

Tallest trees: White Pine 129 ft.+
Hemlock 121 ft.
Hickory 110 ft.+
White Oak 101ft.
Black Birch 100 ft.
Black Oak 99 ft. +
Red Oak 97 ft. +

We returned to I-890, headed west, and could see Old Maids Woods on its ridge, a forest of Hemlock, with taller White Pine.

We took the Thruway back to the Syracuse area, through the lovely Mohawk Valley, like a romantic or Impressionist painting – calm Mohawk River, green hills with patchy forests and fields, hills blue-hazed in the distance.

On the Thruway we passed between the cliffs of Little Nose and Big Nose, with their old growth White Cedars, interspersed with Paper Birch, and some White Pine on cliff tops, and in forested ravines going off to the north.

Tree heights measured at Lisha Kill:

Bigtooth Aspen 82+
Hickory 110+ (possibly Pignut)
White Pine 115.2
White Pine 120
White Pine 120
White Pine 114.3
Hemlock 108
White Oak 101
White Pine 110.5
Black Birch 100 (Elijah Whitcomb, tallest Upstate NY)
White Pine 123
White Pine 124.9
Hemlock 118.5+
Hemlock 114.8
White Oak 100
Black Oak 99+
White Oak 88.8
White Oak 92.5
White Oak 96
Red Oak 97+
Black Oak 97+
White Pine 121
White Pine 123
Hemlock 117+
Hemlock 121
White Pine 129+ (Elijah Whitcomb, tallest tree measured)
White Pine 124

Heights in feet measured by Elijah Whitcomb and Tom Howard of NTS by Sine method

Neil Pederson and other scientists have cored White Oaks and Pignut Hickories at Lisha Kill. These cores indicate that some of the trees are older than Elijah and I estimated them to be. In the article, “The influence of winter temperatures on the annual radial growth of six northern range margin tree species”, by Neil Pederson, et. al., in Dendrochronologica, 22 (2004) 7-19, 2 of the species sampled are White Oak and Pignut Hickory. Lisha Kill is one of several sites surveyed for this article. For White Oak, Lisha Kill is characterized as “Oak – mixed hardwood… Likely grazed and logged – barbed wire and old road present.” For Pignut Hickory, Lisha Kill is characterized as “Appalachian Oak (northern type).” The elevation of Lisha Kill is 85 meters above sea level.

In this study, Neil Pederson and his team cored 18 White Oaks with ages ranging from 112 – 188 years, with a median age of 167 years, and earliest date of 1816. Neil Pederson and his team cored 14 Pignut Hickories, with ages ranging from 153 – 251 years, with a median age of 170 years, and earliest date of 1753.

The Dec. 2001 survey of this site, which has been cited for tree heights above in this report, says that Fred Breglia and Bruce Kershner cored a 29” dbh Hemlock to 339 years. So there are (or were?) much older trees on this site than Elijah and I estimated. Some parts of the old forest at Lisha Kill can be considerably older than others, but most of the forest we saw seems to date from the mid to late 19th century.

Tom Howard

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Re: Lisha Kill Nature Preserve

Post by tomhoward » Tue Sep 22, 2015 7:44 pm

I forgot to mention the date of this visit. Elijah and I visited Lisha Kill Sun. Sept. 6.

Tom Howard

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Re: Lisha Kill Nature Preserve

Post by ElijahW » Fri Sep 25, 2015 8:18 pm

Tom, NTS,

This was another great trip with Tom, and the tree sizes were much more impressive than I'd anticipated. The tallest group of white pines and hemlocks seemed to be all about the same age, presumably older second-growth, but were noticeably taller and more vigorous than the trees in any other area of the Preserve. This was also the place with the most lush undergrowth, so the soil may be richer, deeper, of a different type, or a combination of those factors. I'm confident that as well as 130' white pines, Lisha Kill also contains 125'+ hemlocks, a significant height for NY, and especially for what we're assuming is second growth.

The black birch I measured to 100' is likely closer to 105', but hitting a high point against a taller canopy proved difficult. This tree is not the same individual measured previously by Bob Leverett at 99' at Lisha Kill, as the latter tree had a much smaller CBH (3'11"); thus, Lisha Kill should contain at least two 100'+ black birches (That's exactly two more than we have in CNY). My opinion on Lisha Kill is that most, if not all, of the old growth is concentrated on the edges of the ravines and in the ravines themselves, and the rest of the Preserve is old second growth. To know which trees were cored would be a great help, but this is my guess.

"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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Re: Lisha Kill Nature Preserve

Post by dbhguru » Fri Sep 25, 2015 9:00 pm

Tom, Elijah, Erik,

You NY guys rule! Outstanding report. And you really got my attention with that 100-foot black birch. It goes into the database. At some point, it would be great to see a PDF file that consolidates these outstanding trip reports.

Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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