Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

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JHarkness
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Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

Post by JHarkness » Fri Jun 29, 2018 3:29 pm

Perry Hill Brook is a small brook in eastern New York running a little over a mile and a half from a series of springs atop the hill of the same name. It flows through my forested property, through a wetland on my property, joins with a small brook from a nearby wetland and descends the mountainous terrain rapidly, after leaving the hill behind, it enters a series of wetlands on the valley floor and meanders it's way to join forces with the Ten Mile River, a tributary of the Housatonic River. In less than a mile, the brook drops from an elevation of 1,100' to an elevation of 430', the steep terrain creates a series of cascades which add a lot of beauty to the forest when spring meltwater is making it's way off the hill. Once the meltwater has come and gone, and brook is little more than trickle, and the upper part regularly dries up by mid-summer. I am fortunate to own a good stretch of this brook and the forest that surrounds it, needless to say, the upper part of the brook and the forests and wetlands it nourishes are safe from the harm of humans. It is the forests along the upper part of the brook that this essay is about.

The forest that the brook runs through is a patchwork of various stages of regrowth, one part is covered in a 40-year old maple-ash forest, while another is covered by a 120-year old black birch-hemlock forest. But much of it is some form of disturbed old growth, the rocky steep terrain never would have made great pasture and parts would have been hard to log, it's my assumption that the most profitable species were logged, accounting for the reduced white pine, yellow birch and hemlock numbers I see now, but that species such as sugar maple, american beech and white ash were left. At one point there was a road that ran through this forest to access several farm fields on the top of the hill, and at one point there was a small pasture for sheep or cattle within the forest, barbed wire can still be found attached to old maples, birches and oaks. This pasture was, however, abandoned in the 1930s and looks like little more than a large canopy gap today. Based on bark patterns and growth characteristics, the oldest trees at this site are in the 260-310 year range, and many are very impressive in stature given the sites rich soils and it's protection from wind.


I've documented 20 species at the site so far and there may be more that I haven't yet discovered. The eastern white pines likely would have had a large presence here but all of the mature specimens have long since been logged out, I recently took advantage of several canopy gaps and reintroduced white pine to this part of the forest. That makes 21 species. The only thing to note is that only a single black oak occurs here, and it can be considered invasive, it, as well as all of my other black oaks, can be traced back to a single planted seed source, that is invasive in my books whether it is native to the region or not. This particular tree is also attempting to grow over top of a hemlock of high importance, the oaks has been girdled to help the hemlock and to increase the amount of standing snags for wildlife habitat in this part of the forest.

1. Eastern Hemlock
2. Eastern White Pine
3. Black Birch
4. Yellow Birch
5. Paper Birch
6. American Beech
7. American Chestnut
8. Striped Maple
9. Sugar Maple
10. Red Maple
11. American Basswood
12. American Elm
13. Slippery Elm
14. Black Oak
15. Northern Red Oak
16. Bitternut Hickory
17. Pignut/Red Hickory
18. Shagbark Hickory
19. American Hornbeam
20. Eastern Hophornbeam
21. White Ash

Now that I've brought up the species list for the site, I will move onto the individual trees of the site and their character.

Sugar Maple
No other tree has as much ecological importance to this site than the sugar maple does, and this site features a sizeable collection of grand old sugar maples, some very large and some very old. One such maple grows on the bank of the brook, it is 9' 5" in circumference and sports a crown of 47.5', it's height will need to be confirmed with a laser measurement once the leaves have fallen, but it is known that the tree exceeds 130' in height, it's 'shaggy' bark has almost entirely been lost with age, it's bark is now thin and somewhat flaky. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of this tree is the bark on it's lower trunk, which almost looks as if it's been white-washed.
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A look up the tree's tall trunk into it's almost perfectly formed crown is perhaps the best way to show the tree's stature. The is a living optical illusion, it would seem, when viewed from a distance, it looks no different than any of the other sugar maples here, in fact it looks smaller. The reason is that you lose a sense of it's girth when viewed from a distance, which makes the tree's overall size seem small, compared to the Perry Hill Ash, which I've made several posts about, it looks tiny, despite the identical circumference.
IMG_2823.jpg

But this isn't the only old sugar maple here, there are at least a dozen maples I would consider 'old growth' at this site, and many have even more character than this tree.

This much younger (180-200 seems likely) sugar maple, it leans off of a steep slope and it's gnarled crown reaches around it's neighbor's seemingly trying to get to as much light as possible. This tree stands 110' tall and is 7' 2" in circumference, what it lacks for in size or age, it makes up for in character.
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Or this older maple growing near the top of the valley the brook flows through, this tree has not been accurately measured, but it's circumference is known to exceed 11'.
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In my opinion, only the eastern hemlock rivals the sugar maple's aesthetic value at this site, and the hemlocks are slightly less attractive at the moment given their present EHS infestation and the fact that white tailed deer have wiped out almost all of their saplings. While young maples may not have much character, old ones hold a since of wisdom in their massive trunks and gnarled crowns.

Northern Red Oak

There are not many northern red oaks along the brook, there are only five, one of which died this past year. Nonetheless, they are one of the most impressive species to be found here.

This young (maybe 150?) red oak is one of my favorites at this site, it grows just beneath a "terrace" dominated by sugar maple and hemlock, the red oak used to have a number of hemlock neighbors as well, but they were hit hard by HWA when it arrived here in the late 1990s, any that survived the initial attack were killed by the EHS that soon followed. It's buttressed roots, arrow-straight trunk, and wide spreading crown make it one of the most beautiful trees here.
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But it holds nothing on my favorite red oak... this tree, named for my late grandfather, Gene, stands along the side of the brook just a hair under 1,000' of elevation, his age seems to be close to 300 judging by his deeply furrowed bark. At 126' tall, Gene is the tallest red oak on my property, and at 12' 3" in circumference, he is the largest single-trunk forest grown tree on my property, only my neighbor's 14' 2" single-trunk white pine is larger.
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Seen from a distance, the massive oak appears to be the only large tree at the site, in fact many of the other trees in this photo surpass 8, and even 9 feet in circumference. This oak likely has survived so long as it was in the perfect place to be used as a "living fence post" and his bent trunk wouldn't have yielded very good lumber, he shaded cattle for a short portion of his life with his immense crown, but that period didn't last long as the tree has retained his forest-grown appearance.
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Elms

There are two species of elm along the brook, two American elms and one slippery elm, sadly one of the American elms succumbed to DED this summer, it was likely infected when it's roots were injured and partially girdled several years ago. The other two elms are doing quite well on their own, one's putting up with DED, while the other has been facing off with white tailed deer as it's still a seedling.
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The mature slippery elm is a thing of beauty, it stands along the property land guarding the mature forest along the brook from outsiders, it literally grows in the brook, and it casts it's long roots across the stream bed, over boulders, and across the bank. It's crown is just as rugged and twisted as it's roots are, with multiple leaders competing with each other, while several large limbs reach through neighboring trees trying to gain access to more light. It measures an impressive 112' in height and 7' 4" in girth, the latter taken at 5.1' above midslope due to the old metal fencing attached to it, I suspect 7' 9" is probably a close guess to it's circumference at 4.5'.
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IMG_1997.jpg

Eastern Hemlock

I don't intend to put much here in the way of the hemlocks, they've lost a lot of their aesthetic value in recent years and are far less impressive in the summer when their dark green needles disappear into the hardwood canopy. I will instead only talk about one hemlock, a very special hemlock that is perhaps my favorite tree in my entire forest. I've dubbed it the Mahican Hemlock for the local Native American tribe, apparently, when European settlers first arrived here, the hemlock forests in the vicinity of my property were where a several Mahican families would spend the winter each year. I only felt that it's appropriate for this tree to be named after them. The tree isn't overwhelmingly large or old, but it's stature leaves an impressive. I haven't measured it yet this year, but as of last fall it was 8' 0" in circumference and 117' tall, that makes it the tallest conifer on my property. While it's not old growth yet, it's getting close to achieving that status, it's bark is just beginning to break into large, thick plates, it's almost lost all of it's lower thin limbs from it's youth while it's upper limbs take on a much older, gnarled appearance. The tree survived the initial HWA attack in the 1990s likely because it has access to plenty of light, many of it's neighbor's didn't fair that well. The HWA had disappeared from my forest until this past year, but it has had a continuous EHS infestation that has been causing massive mortality of the hemlocks, we just lost five in this grove from it last year. The Mahican Hemlock was treated, as well as several of it's neighbors, at the beginning of this month. They're not 'out of the woods' yet, so to speak, but I'm already seeing more rapid growth than just a few weeks ago. There once was a much larger older hemlock here, I have little doubt it exceeded 130', it died of natural causes sometime in the mid-1900s, it's age could have been well over 300, and perhaps even older. Perhaps it's trunk was too gnarled or rotted to warrant it being used for lumber, with it's loss, we now only have two canopy emergent hemlocks that are currently producing seeds, the Mahican is one of them. I hope to do some thinning of the hardwoods to allow more of hemlocks to gain access to more light, one site has a number of 200-year old hemlocks that are a mere 50' in height, suppressed by taller red oaks, many of which aren't even that old, but instead seem to have beaten the hemlocks growth rate.
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When viewed from below, it almost appears as if the tree is dead, but it actually has dense foliage over the top 45' of it's crown, another strange optical illusion. It's immediate neighbor is a leaning black birch that manages to reach all the way across the gorge the brook runs through here. I've recently assembled a partial deer exclosure here, hemlock regeneration has completely stalled, and we keep losing more trees to the EHS, so it's important that they can get established some place. It's unlikely that all the hemlocks will be able to be treated, but most have a bright future ahead of them.
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I won't go on any more, though there is still a lot about this site that I haven't revealed here, a part two is in order once the leaves fall and measurement can resume. I will close this with a few other photos from around the stand.
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Red Maple
Red Maple
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IMG_2817.jpg
Last edited by JHarkness on Sun Jul 01, 2018 8:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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Ranger Dan
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Re: Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

Post by Ranger Dan » Sun Jul 01, 2018 8:04 am

Joshua-

Thank you for sharing those great photos and interesting descriptions of your magnificent forest. It's great to know that places like this exist outside of public property.

Dan

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dbhguru
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Re: Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

Post by dbhguru » Sun Jul 01, 2018 9:13 am

Joshua,

Indeed. Second what ranger Dan said. Your insightful and detailed posts are an important contribution during this period of lighter posting to the BBS. Keep'um coming.

Bob
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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JHarkness
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Re: Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

Post by JHarkness » Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:01 am

Dan, Bob,

Thank you! It's becoming apparent that there are a number of forests such as this in this area of New York, not perfect undisturbed old growth, but not clearcut and farmed second growth either, these patches are more in between. Me theory is that they were used frequently as woodlots, some lumber harvesting would have taken place, but likely they were kept to provide firewood, hunting grounds and in some cases (like my forest) used to shelter livestock. I've been trying to build up a database of ring counts from such sites, mostly I've seen 180-220 years of age, but what's important about those numbers are that they come from younger trees, sometimes even just midstory trees, that have spent at least the earlier parts of their lives in a deeply shaded already somewhat mature forest. I don't know if I would really call these patches "old growth", but it's nice to contemplate that there has been a forest at these sites since the last ice age, even if just young and shrubby at one point. Given time to heal, these sites could become magnificent old growth forests in another century or so, but unfortunately most people have no clue what these forests are and continue to cut them to sell lumber or to build houses (like we need more of those).
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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dbhguru
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Re: Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

Post by dbhguru » Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:01 am

Joshua,

Dr. Henry Art from Williams College has a long running study of old woodlots, places that were cleared of their forest cover. He succeeded in documenting significant difference between the ground-level vegetative cover versus that typical of recovering clear-cuts, pastures and agricultural fields. He studied plants like dwarf ginseng. Its seeds are ant dispersed. So the spread of that kind of species is very slow. He computed rates of dispersal for such species.

Bob
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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JHarkness
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Re: Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

Post by JHarkness » Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:11 pm

Bob,

I'll be sure to read up on his studies. I haven't seen any dwarf ginseng here recently, but your post made me remember having seen some years ago and not thinking much about it. Perhaps it has fallen victim to deer browse or worm damage... I've actually documented an interesting mix of herbaceous plants at this site compared to younger forests. This site has partridgeberry, Canada mayflower, wild sarsaparilla, trout lily, red trillium, white trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, blue cohosh, white snakeroot, false soloman's seal, bellwort, various asters, wood anemone and rue anemone, that's only what I've documented so far. Comparing that to the site directly across the brook, which is 120 years old, only wild sarsaparilla, Canada mayflower, jack-in-the-pulpit and partridgeberry can be found there, though there's probably some red trillium scattered around that site as well.

Joshua
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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JHarkness
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Re: Forests of Upper Perry Hill Brook

Post by JHarkness » Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:38 pm

ENTS,

It's a hot summer day, so what better to do than search for old winter photos of my forest? Well, that's just what I did, I figured I'd share a few of them here as they convey some of the trees here better, especially the hemlocks.
These trees are all second growth, no old growth remnants on this side of the brook.  They aren't that young though, the hemlocks are 105-115 years old and some of the birches are up to 125 years.  There are actually over twenty hemlocks in this shot, but they blend in very well.
These trees are all second growth, no old growth remnants on this side of the brook. They aren't that young though, the hemlocks are 105-115 years old and some of the birches are up to 125 years. There are actually over twenty hemlocks in this shot, but they blend in very well.
IMG_4670.jpg
Mahican Hemlock, top is not visible in this shot.  It was just over 117' when this was taken, it's probably over 118' by now.
Mahican Hemlock, top is not visible in this shot. It was just over 117' when this was taken, it's probably over 118' by now.

That's the last of the winter shots here, but I do have some more recent summer shots. I've been experimenting with panoramic photos to better capture the stature of these trees.
Tallest sugar maple on property, over 130' and currently the oldest, likely between 300 and 330 years old based on bark patterns and growth form.  There was once a far more impressive sugar maple, three actually, all were over 10' in CBH, one was almost 12'.  They were much older, how much I don't know.  They were spared because they grew on a rock outcropping in the middle of the brook, and one was used to support barbed wire.  Two succumbed to old age and the largest blew down a couple winters ago.
Tallest sugar maple on property, over 130' and currently the oldest, likely between 300 and 330 years old based on bark patterns and growth form. There was once a far more impressive sugar maple, three actually, all were over 10' in CBH, one was almost 12'. They were much older, how much I don't know. They were spared because they grew on a rock outcropping in the middle of the brook, and one was used to support barbed wire. Two succumbed to old age and the largest blew down a couple winters ago.
Largest, oldest red oak on property, largest single-trunk forest tree on property.
Largest, oldest red oak on property, largest single-trunk forest tree on property.
Joshua
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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