Black Birches of Eastern New York

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JHarkness
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Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by JHarkness » Tue May 15, 2018 2:29 pm

On my property in northeastern Dutchess County (Taconic Mountains Region) I have a number of large, old trees, perhaps not old growth, but some of them are very remarkable. Among them are a grove of black birch, Betula lenta, in an area I call "The Valley of the Giants", reason being is the size of not some, but all of the trees in this area. The valley is a glacial depression around 830 feet at it's lowest points and 990 feet at it's highest protected by several 1,100 foot ridges. Many giant sugar maples, american beeches, northern red oaks, american elms and white ashes are in this area, a small handful of ash trees even exceed 135 feet and one exceeds 140 (but I need to take more measurements of this one to confirm it's height), but one of the most prominent species here is the black birch.

In April I began an extensive search of my property to try to identify the largest and tallest black birches, the one that topped the list was a 117-footer with a 6' 10" circumference, I came back the next day to confirm that measurement and got 102' instead, today however, I was able to determine how that error occurred. The tree has two tall thin branches, one that is 102' and the other at 117', but it's very deceptive given the slope of the terrain when seen from one angle and they appear to be at equal heights except when viewed from a great distance. I was able to take three measurements today and they all came to 114' from different angles, the top three feet not being included as the 117' height was to the top of a branch that died during the winter and still retains it's winter buds, it may be alive, but it hasn't yet begun to leaf out if it is. Amazingly, this tree would have topped 125 feet last year as a storm snapped off what used to be it's highest branch, the fallen branch measured at 16' long and the point of breakage was just a hair over 110 feet. Several other birches in the grove originally got ignored because of their small circumference, the largest only being 5' 10", ironically, this is also the shortest mature black birch in the grove at 112'. These trees are, however, quite a bit older and entirely lack their first layer of bark. The tallest I've identified so far comes in at a whopping 129', I took great care getting this measurement and the only issue I ran into was identifying the highest branch from below, I had two possibilities very close to eachother so I went with the one closest to where I measured from, in theory the tree could top 130' but I'll need to take more measurements from different angles to determine that. I will have another post about these trees once I've confirmed the heights of these three and have measured more of the trees in the grove, I wouldn't be surprised to find a tree that does top 130'.

Here are the measurements I've collected so far from these trees:
Circumference: 6' 10"
Height: 114', formerly 117'

Circumference: 5' 10"
Height: 112', shortest mature tree in grove

Circumference: 5' 9"
Height: 129', believed to be tallest in grove

As you can tell, these are not remarkable trees in terms of circumference, but the height is what's so impressive about them, and they're not young trees either.
The 129-footer, only 5' 9" in circumference.
The 129-footer, only 5' 9" in circumference.
The 114-footer.
The 114-footer.
Looking up the tall, thin trunk of the 129' birch, it appears that the birch started growing here after the maple and has attempted to grow around the maple's crown.  The maple and a northern red oak of equal size are certainly taller than the birch, how much is the question at the moment.
Looking up the tall, thin trunk of the 129' birch, it appears that the birch started growing here after the maple and has attempted to grow around the maple's crown. The maple and a northern red oak of equal size are certainly taller than the birch, how much is the question at the moment.
Other remarkable trees in this grove include a white ash that has had it's preliminary height recorded at 148', but I figured I could be five feet low or high on this tree given the difficulty in locating the highest branch in the crown, and the 148' is even a bit on the conservative side, several northern red oaks that top 120 feet, a handful of maples that top 125 and many large old beeches that may break 130, and certainly break 120 feet. One tree of particular interest is an absolutely massive american elm on my neighbor's property that I know exceeds the height records and may make state champion too, but I can't confirm my suspicions as I do not know the current property owner. Perhaps most amazing is the abundance of large ,old ashes, I've counted 13 standing on my land that exceed 130 feet, three that appear to exceed 140 and my neighbor has at least three dozen standing trees that look to be around 125', but sadly the EAB has reaked havoc on this grove and most of the ashes are dead or dying, and just as many rotting trunks of equal size lay on the ground, fortunately a few of the larger ones are still alive and in decent health so I'll be treating them this summer.

Here are some photos of the other trees in the grove.
The 148 foot ash, it's "baby" is the tree in the background to the right, this tree has not yet been measured but appears to exceed 120' and is at least 7' in circumference.
The 148 foot ash, it's "baby" is the tree in the background to the right, this tree has not yet been measured but appears to exceed 120' and is at least 7' in circumference.
The trunk of a young, albeit very tall, red oak.
The trunk of a young, albeit very tall, red oak.
Looking up the trunk of a dead giant.
Looking up the trunk of a dead giant.
I do not have a laser rangefinder so if these heights are to be confirmed and added to the ENTS database, someone with a rangefinder who's qualified to take these measurements will need to check them. I would buy a rangefinder, and may do so at some point, but at the moment that money would be much better spent at treating the hemlocks on my land for elongate hemlock scale and the largest ashes for EAB, which unfortunately is no small, or cheap task. I always take great care in ensuring I have a clear line of site to the highest twig and in finding a perfectly vertical angle to that twig from beneath the crown, so I'm very confident in these measurements. Out of the tests I've run to determine the accuracy of my method, I've found it to generally be accurate to within three feet, and that drops to under two feet when paired with a good tripod.
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by Larry Tucei » Wed May 16, 2018 8:57 am

I have been visiting northern Wisconsin for many years and are familiar with the northern species like yours. The trees on your property are starting to reach respectable heights. Black Birch is a tree that Bob has been documenting for some time now and has compiled a listing of trees throughout New England. The Ash is very tall 148'. You may want to get a rangefinder, clinometer for more accurate measurements. You have a beautiful piece of property how many acres do you have? Great photos of your trees. Look forward to more of your posts. Larry

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JHarkness
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by JHarkness » Wed May 16, 2018 9:58 am

Hi Larry, thanks, I have 60 acres, most of which is forested, a lot of it is certainly second growth, but I've found a number of trees that date back to 1760s and 1770s, why several large fields with good soil would have been abandoned after just two decades of use is beyond me, my theory is that the land was never entirely clear cut, and instead the most profitable species were selectively removed (thus accounting for ancient beeches and maples but a lack of old hemlocks and pines), either way, the forest is well on it's way back to it's natural state and it's a show that's definitely going to be fun to watch, or rather it will be fun to see the tiny portion of which will happen during my lifetime. I'm pretty confident in my measurements, though I definitely will take more and will consider a rangefinder once our ashes and hemlocks have been treated. The height of the ash actually doesn't surprise me too much, this grove is very protected and I've measured many trees in the grove to heights over 120 feet, and a fair few to over 130, 140 doesn't seem too far out of the question, especially when the trees that exceed that height are in the most protected area of the entire grove.

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

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dbhguru
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by dbhguru » Wed May 16, 2018 3:59 pm

Joshua

Thanks for the eye-opening information. Very impressive trees! I'm certainly not be surprised by black birches in the 100 to 110-foot height range. Above 110, they become pretty scarce. If your 129-foot height is accurate to even 6 feet, you have the tallest black birch we know of. That possibility is truly exciting! Also, your ash trees are extraordinary. They certainly look it in your photos.

If I understand your measurement approach, you locate the highest twig and then attempt to locate the point on the ground vertically under it. Is that the process?

Were I using this method, below is the process that I'd follow.

After marking the spot on the ground vertically beneath the top, I would then move back to a point where I could see the top, the base, and the point on the ground directly under the top. This would be my location of measurement. I would then measure the distance from my eye to the spot on the ground under the top, presumably using a tape. I would also measure the distance from my eye to the base of the tree, again using a tape such as shown in your photos. From my measuring location, I would then take the angles to the top, the spot on the ground vertically beneath the top, and to the base. I would then apply the following mathematical process.

Let:
D1 = distance from eye to spot on the ground vertically beneath the top
D2 = distance from eye to base
X1 = level distance from eye to intersection with vertical line from top to spot on the ground
X2 = level distance from eye to vertical line coming up from base point
A1 = angle from eye to top
A2 = angle from eye to spot on the ground vertically under the top
A3 = angle from eye to base of tree
H1 = height of top above eye level
H2 = height of base above/below eye level
H = total tree height

Angles above eye level are positive and angles below eye level negative. Tangents of negative angles are negatives. This comes into play on how H2 is treated.

X1 = D1(cos(A2)) (This gives us a level line from the eye intersecting the vertical line from top to ground)
X2 = D2(cos(A3)) (This gives us a level line from the eye intersecting the vertical line up from the base)
H1 = X1(tan(A1))
H2 = X2(tan(A3))
H = H1-H2 (Why subtraction? Remember angles below eye level are negative. So, a negative of a negative is a positive.
This approach keeps the same formulas regardless of whether or not the base is above or below eye level.)

The success of this method depends on how well you can get vertically under the twig that you've identified as the top. The NTS method of cross-triangulation is a method for identifying the spot on the ground vertically beneath the top.

BTW, we have developed four methods for measuring tree height with tape an clinometer (clinometer used as an angle measurer): (1) crown-point cross-triangulation, (2) parallax, (3) 90-degrees to vertical plane containing top and base points with line of sight going to trunk (two variations), and (4) External baseline with two versions. All of these methods are described in posts under the Dendromorphomety topic.

I may be able to visit you in Dutchess County in June or August and take new measurements of what certainly appears to be some very important trees. Or perhaps Erik Danielsen or Elijah Whitcomb can pay you a visit. Let's stay in touch.

Best regards
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: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by JHarkness » Wed May 16, 2018 6:38 pm

Bob,

Thanks for the kind words about my trees, they've always been very special to me, and now it seems they might be a bit more special than I had always thought.

Yes, that is my measurement process, I tend to, especially in the winter when the entire tree is well visible, search for a 45.0 degree angle from what I've identified as the highest twig, then position the clinometer at a 0.0 degree angle and identify a spot on the trunk that is level with my tripod and measure from there to the base of the tree, then I anchor a tape to the something at the site where I measured the angle from, stretch the tape to the base of the tree and use the clinometer to locate the location at a 90 degree angle below the highest twig,this is to simplify the process and avoid any human error, but when there's a visual obstruction of some kind, or it's simply a hard tree to measure like that, I perform the measurement exactly as you have described. I haven't read the the AF's measurement guides fully, but I did read the entire height measurement section and I always ensure I'm following those guidelines when I measure trees.

I'll private message you with some more details of these trees and possible dates that might work for you, or someone else, to come out here and confirm my measurements,

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

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dbhguru
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by dbhguru » Wed May 16, 2018 7:10 pm

Joshua,

Thanks. This is indeed exciting. Looking forward to your email.

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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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat May 19, 2018 12:12 pm

Sounds like the topography and geology of your site are ideal for producing tall trees. Whether Bob, Elijah, or myself, it will be excellent to get rangefinder confirmation of what sound to be some excellent trees. Your photo of the tall ash is beautiful in its own right, and the trunk's base and lack of taper remind me of the Kaaterskill Falls white ash that currently has the highest ENTS-confirmed height in the state.

The Black Birch is of course the most exciting big question at this point. We know white ash can exceed 150'- 122' or taller would be a record across the species' entire range. The tallest black birches I find are usually similarly small in girth, but are typically stretching up high and often snaking a bit to find a little canopy gap to take advantage of. The tallest rangefinder-measured specimen, on Long Island, is one such tree (and not terribly old). I will note (not to keep harping on it) that with a rangefinder with a vertical-distance display function, determining the tallest twig from a bunch that all appear even is a cinch. Remeasuring another one of NY state's tallest white ash yesterday the tallest twig, near the edge of one such cluster, visually appeared to be shorter than most of the rest but was in fact nearly 4 feet taller than any of the others. In such a situation, determining the true top twig purely visually would be almost impossible (the topography in this case will only let you back up so far!).

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JHarkness
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by JHarkness » Sun May 20, 2018 2:18 pm

Erik,

Yes, the birch definitely is the big question at the moment. Ironically, it's one of the least impressive trees in the grove and even now I haven't yet confirmed it's measurements, I will hopefully confirm them within the next couple days though. I discovered the other day that my neighbor has a very impressive white pine that breaks 150', I don't know by how much, it's an example of a tree where an accurate tape and clinometer measurement is simply impossible. It's foliage is so dense, and the highest twig is so far up that the area that it's in can't even be identified from beneath the tree. I will be remeasuring this pine soon with a laser rangefinder as, assuming my current height measurement is reasonable, it appears to exceed the current state champion, not by much, only a couple points, but it certainly appears to do so. It's height isn't much of a surprise at all to me, after all, Cathedral Pines of Cornwall, CT is only a couple miles from this site and I believe a tree there was measured to 172' before the microburst hit the grove. The fact that the tree is there is what surprised me, it appears to have been left when all the other pines were cut down simply because it's massive trunk splits around twenty feet off the ground (likely from white pine weevil damage) and is nowhere near straight, so it simply wouldn't have made good lumber. Hopefully, I'll be able to put up a post about the pine sometime soon.
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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JHarkness
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by JHarkness » Fri Jun 01, 2018 1:37 pm

ENTS,

I remeasured the tall birch early this morning, I'm not pleased with my result as I could barely make out the highest twig due to the newly leafed out forest and low lying clouds blocking the view, I plan to do an extensive search for the tallest trees in the grove this fall and get their heights recorded when there are no leaves blocking the view. However, I did get fairly consistent results and I'm confident the tree is slightly taller than the height listed below, I ended up going with the lowest of three measurements to be on the safe side, but I'm certain it is taller, there is, unfortunately, no good way of measuring it right now.

Height: 126' (could be up to 130')
Circumference: 5' 9 1/2"
Average Crown Spread: 28.5'
Total Points: 202.6

There are at least a dozen other black birches of comparable size in the grove, it's possible that some could be taller, I should be able to measure them all this fall and winter. Currently, I have measured three within the grove, they measure 112', 117' and 127'.
The tall birch scraping low-lying cloud bottoms.
The tall birch scraping low-lying cloud bottoms.
"Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

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dbhguru
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Re: Black Birches of Eastern New York

Post by dbhguru » Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:41 pm

Josh,

I gotta see those birches. I think you just may have the record tall grove that we know of. There may be taller ones in the Smokies, and again, there may not be. Regardless, we're confirming 100-footers from New England to Ohio and south to Georgia. Not bad for a species that is commonly listed as having a maximum of 60 to 80 feet depending on the source.

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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