Buckhorn Island State Park

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Erik Danielsen
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Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Aug 17, 2020 3:25 pm

Buckhorn Island State Park is located at the north end of Grand Island, an irregularly shaped, relatively flat island situated in the Niagara river between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, about 7 miles long on its longest dimension. The ecology of Grand Island is aligned with that of certain other parts of the great lakes and midwest, such as southeastern Michigan and much of southern Ontario's Lake Erie shore, with a diversity of oaks and hickories on drier sites, and hardwood swamps occupying areas of poorly drained soils. The forests here include some species otherwise rare in NY state, notably Shellbark Hickory and Shumard Oak.

The Shellbarks are straightforward, but the range-edge Shumard Oak population here as assessed by Quercus expert R. J. Jensen has less distinctive leaf morphology than typical further west and south, due to extensive intergradation with Northern Red Oak. A combination of leaf texture and hair tufts, depth of lobes, acorn cap thickness and other traits help to identify Shumard elements of the Oak communities here, and some manage to be pretty obvious. One such specimen in Buckhorn Island State Park has been proposed as the state champion, with dimensions dramatically exceeding the 215-point planted tree in Monroe county currently on the list. In getting familiar with these Grand Island Shumard oaks, I'm reminded of many oaks in similar clay-heavy wetlands and riparian zones down through Erie and Chautauqua counties that have always bothered me with traits that just aren't quite proper for Q. rubra as described. Shumard is also documented, and rare, in Erie County PA- why shouldn't there be populations on NY's Lake Erie Plain linking the Grand Island trees with those in PA? Definitely questions to keep pursuing. There are prospective Shumards in at least one of the preserves owned by the organization I'm working for, and we're developing capacity to test genetics to better understand their abundance and distribution, which may be applied to some of these questionable populations further afield. There are even candidates I've run into in some of Zoar valley's furthest downstream floodplain forests. Other associates like Swamp White Oak and Pin Oak don't range quite that far up the Cattaraugus, but do come close.

I've made a couple stops at Buckhorn in the last month to measure trees on days when I'm up working in the Niagara Gorge. Dense canopies limit what I'm able to do for now, but it's been satisying to explore and get a sense of where the large trees are, and are not. Much of the forest is young, and much of that was completely ash-dominant. Nearly all of the huge, columnar (mostly green) ash are dead. More mature forest in low wet areas consists of basswood, american elm, shagbark and shellbark hickories, red-freeman-silver maples, and pin oak. Drier uplands tend towards white and red oaks, beech, and sugar maple. Intermediate zones are the most diverse, incorporating any of the above plus bur, swamp white, and shumard oaks, bitternut hickory, black walnut, willows, cottonwoods, and black maple. There's a tall shrub layer throughout, variously incorporating various hawthorns, dogwoods, spicebush, prickly-ash, and lots of invasive buckthorn.

Green Ash - 109' - dead
Freeman Maple - 107' - 6.3'cbh
Cottonwood - 107'
Shellbark Hickory - 105' - 5.4'cbh
Swamp White Oak - 104'
Black Walnut - 103.5' - 9'cbh
American Basswood - 103'
Bur Oak - 101' - 8.8'cbh
Shellbark Hickory - 99.5' - 6.7'cbh
Bitternut Hickory - 99' - 7.9'cbh
Pin Oak - 98'
Shumard Oak - 93' - 16.5'cbh prospective NYS champion
Swamp White Hybrid - 92.5' - 7.5'cbh
Bitternut Hickory - 91.5' - 9.5'cbh huge spreading crown
Common Buckthorn - 37'
Cockspur Hawthorn - 26.5'
Prickly-Ash - 20.5' - 0.5'cbh
Nannyberry - 18.5'
Spicebush - 18.5'
Gray Dogwood - 13.5'
Attachments
View from the marsh. Forested land lies on either side. The marsh connects to the Niagara River at either end, separating "Buckhorn Island" from Grand Island proper.
View from the marsh. Forested land lies on either side. The marsh connects to the Niagara River at either end, separating "Buckhorn Island" from Grand Island proper.
The champion Shumard Oak
The champion Shumard Oak
Looking up the tallest Shellbark.
Looking up the tallest Shellbark.
Bur Oak in foreground, Swamp White behind.
Bur Oak in foreground, Swamp White behind.

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bbeduhn
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by bbeduhn » Thu Aug 20, 2020 10:52 am

Erik,
That's a fascinating place! How is the rest of Grand Island? It looks like several parks dot the landscape around the island. I know I've been across Grand Island on the way to Niagara Falls, but I wasn't aware that I was even on it at the time. Since the falls are just downstream, I wouldn't expect any major flooding events in the forest but I would assume the marsh area goes through some wet periods and some dry periods.

The shumard oak does look like it has some degree of intergrade in the bark but I can't make out the leaves well enough to see the degree of intergrade.
Brian

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Thu Aug 20, 2020 7:42 pm

Hi Brian,

I think the marsh stays pretty wet. It has artificial impoundments that regulate the water level to some degree, having been a "wetland reconstruction" project some decades ago. The forests are not so much flooded in the sense of being floodplains of the Niagara, but the extremely poorly-drained nature of many of the soils (heavy clay loams) means that much of the spring passes with saturated soils and ample standing water, with a rather extreme swing to dried-out surfaces this time of year. Ecologist Patricia Eckels describes the ecology of these forests in greater depth in this article: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/ResBot/Repr/Eckel%20Proposal%202018.pdf

I'm curious about the cues you see in the bark? I have only limited experience with typical Shumard, but it did seem to me that traits were a bit different in the south (Georgia piedmont region) than what I saw in the upper midwest (southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio), in both bark and leaves. Similarly to how Black Oak has distinct differences between the interior (great lakes) region and atlantic slope region within the state of NY. That is to say, I'm not well equipped to suss out differences between Shumard and Northern Red barks on sight.

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bbeduhn
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by bbeduhn » Fri Aug 21, 2020 2:32 pm

Erik,
Thanks for the article link. I love it when people propose new forest types, not that it happens often. I've found trees where they aren't supposed to be, range wise or altitude wise, and I know Will Blozan has as well. I guess it's the anti-establishment in me. Certain assumptions are made in determining forest type or species range but it tickles me when these assumptions don't pan out. Grand Island is an unusual place and it may still hold more surprises.

I don't have all that much experience with Shumard oak, and I have mistakenly called it black and N red oak before. I do see N red oak frequently. Shumard doesn't quite have the ski track bark that often occurs with N red oak but it does tend to have a vertical pattern. Black oak always seems to lack verticality. I don't have a good explanation for how the fine bark ridges differ between N red and shumard. They just stand out when I see them, most of the time. Trees don't follow the rules 100% of the time. Your Shumard looks more Shumardii but it doesn't scream Shumard.

I've been paying attention to hybrids lately. You can find leaves that fit either parent, but most leaves will be inter-grade.
Most of the hybrids I've been paying attention to are planted specimens. I rarely ever encounter any hybrids in the forest. As far as oaks are concerned, I've seen N red/black and white/post. White/chestnut occurs by me but I've yet to find one.
Brian

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ElijahW
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by ElijahW » Fri Sep 04, 2020 1:36 pm

Erik,

Well done. Shellbark Hickory I’ve seen growing naturally, but Shumard Oak I’ve not, at least in NY. It ought to also grow across the river in Ontario, then, right? Not that we’ll be allowed over there anytime soon. This is a great collection of species in an unusual place. Thanks for sharing,

Elijah

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JHarkness
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by JHarkness » Fri Sep 04, 2020 9:16 pm

Erik,

This is a beautiful site, with some truly remarkable trees! Having never thoroughly explored the forests of western New York, I'm somewhat surprised by the presence of some of these species here, particularly the shumard oak, which I would have totally walked by, dismissing it merely as a big northern red oak. I've actually been surprised to learn how many 'southern' tree species occur in your area from reading your posts here over the years. I've always puzzled about how much of far western NY is considered to be northern hardwood forest, while the southern Taconics are generally said to be "oak-hickory forest", when we only have four oaks (mostly Quercus rubra), hickories are fairly limited in their distribution, and sugar maple and hemlock are by far the dominant canopy species - I assume the Taconics simply get lumped together with the Hudson Valley, despite being a totally different ecological area.

I look forward to reading more about these wonderful forests you have out there!

Joshua

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Lucas
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by Lucas » Tue Sep 08, 2020 10:01 am

http://www.nativetreesociety.org/specialreports/index_specialpublications.htm

http://www.nativetreesociety.org/specialreports/niagara/Niagara_peninsula_old_growth.pdf

navy island next to buckhorn but in Canada is old growth with shumard.

Also google it with various key words..

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:11 am

Our understanding of tree species distributions and forest types is definitely still a work in progress. Often those in a position of management for resource or conservation have to treat the available information as comprehensive and set due to the nature of their work, and I think that working attitude permeates into the way most of the rest of us in the natural sciences perceive the forests around us. That does definitely set up a bit of "going against the grain" excitement when we observe differences that have been glossed over before. NTS's historic push to recognize that there still are many small pockets of old-growth in the east when there were long assumed to be essentially none fits that mold too.

The Shumards on Grand Island and in neighboring Niagara County were long assumed to be Northern Red Oaks, until a student doing a botanical inventory of a wetland site called Klydell Wetlands started to think the oaks he was seeing just weren't quite right.

Shumard and a number of other rare species we'd think of as more "southern" like Pumpkin Ash do occur in both western NY and southern Ontario. These southern ecologies really come along the low great lakes plain from a postglacial distribution up the Mississippi river basin, which is why some of the species rare in Michigan are the same as those rare in western NY for example. At the same time, the vast majority of western NY's geography is higher Allegheny Plateau, which is why in broad strokes the region would be considered a northern hardwoods ecology.

I think that with regard to the classic drier oak-hickory forest type we still have a lot to sort out regarding its distribution in relation to pre-settlement land use history. It's definitely the "natural" association in some environments, but in others that association shows up in a patchy way within environments that would probably trend more towards "northern hardwoods" if left without any human influences at all, many of which (as in much of southeastern NY) have been observed to be transitioning away from historically observed oak-hickory types to more mesic northern hardwoods in the last century of forest recovery.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Buckhorn Island State Park

Post by Erik Danielsen » Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:19 pm

I've been able to make a few more quick visits to Buckhorn to continue exploring and measuring trees. As of this past week, the large 16.5'cbh Shumard Oak has lost about half its crown. It was interesting to be able to look at the foliage, twigs, and acorns up close rather than scavenging fallen bits to scrutinize. The tree is certainly pretty Shumard-y, but some of the other specimens in lower and wetter spots manage to conform to the typical species.
Shumard Oak foliage on the ground.
Shumard Oak foliage on the ground.
The canopy here has exceeded my initial expectations. Currently Buckhorn is home to state height maximums not just for the rare Shumard Oak and Shellbark Hickory, but Bur Oak and (barely) Swamp White Oak as well. Cottonwood is the top "big tree" but not so dominant as at Stewart Park in Ithaca, and large bur oaks range from intermediate growth forms to tall slender trees, as do the slightly more abundant Swamp White Oaks. Some of the thicker-trunked oaks are probably taller than listed here, but grow in an area of dense canopy where good shots into the crown were limited, while the specimens of more slender form were revealed by the recent death of a mostly-ash canopy. Several hybrids between the whites, swamp whites and burs are scattered throughout, and their identifications are tentative.
Trunk of the tallest Shumard Oak. Very pleasing form.
Trunk of the tallest Shumard Oak. Very pleasing form.
While Freeman Maple is ubiquitous, there is at least one stand consisting mostly of tall, straight Silver Maples over 100' with narrow crowns, with one graceful vase-shaped specimen with a spreading crown above a lower trunk that makes 13.02'cbh with cylindric form looming above the smaller trees like the statue of Athena in the Parthenon- this tree really made my day. Taken together with the rest of the species composition, this element of tall single-trunk Silver Maples reminds me more than any other site of Pearson Metropark in Ohio, at the other end of Lake Erie, where the Silver Maple height champion resides.
The largest Silver Maple is a real standout.
The largest Silver Maple is a real standout.
New measurements:

Eastern Cottonwood

120' / 14.05'cbh
118.7' / 12'cbh
108.5' / 10.85'cbh

Shumard Oak

110.6' / 10.1'cbh
106.5' / 7.95'cbh
105' / 10.3'cbh
104' / 5.3'cbh

Pin Oak
112' / 7.4'cbh

Northern Red Oak
105' / 5.7'cbh
98.5' / double
93' / 15.2'cbh

Bur Oak
106' / 9.75'cbh
103.5' / 8.83'cbh remeasure
88' / 11.1'cbh
84.5' / 11.3'cbh
80.45' / 14.2'cbh

Swamp White Oak
112.6' / 9.05'cbh
104' / 8.55'cbh
101.5' / 10.15'cbh
79 / 10.8'cbh

Quercus hybrids
77' / 10.1'cbh Quercus x bebbiana
99.5' / 7.1'cbh Quercus x schuettei
98.5' / 10.95'cbh Quercus x schuettei

Silver Maple
111' / 13.05'cbh
109' / clump
107' / 9.35'cbh
107' / 8.2'cbh

Freeman Maple
103' / 12.2'cbh whacky old form
98' / 12.2'cbh intermediate form

Bitternut Hickory
102.5' / 4.7'cbh

Hop-Hornbeam
64' / 4.1'cbh pretty impressive for its species

Spicebush
22.5'

RHI10 stands at 110.02.

RGI is turning out to be one of the more impressive measures of this site:

16.5 Shumard Oak
15.2 Northern Red Oak
14.2 Bur Oak
14.05 Cottonwood
13.05 Silver Maple
12.2 Freeman Maple
10.95 Schuett's Oak
10.8 Swamp White Oak
9.45 Bitternut Hickory
9.04 Black Walnut

RGI5=14.6, RGI10=12.54
Big old Freeman maple with a twisted crown.
Big old Freeman maple with a twisted crown.
Looking up into the tallest Swamp White Oak.
Looking up into the tallest Swamp White Oak.

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