Edwards Lake Cliffs

2014/04/10

Today we took a short walk through one of Cornell’s natural areas- the Edwards Lake Cliffs Preserve. Unfortunately, despite both the excellent kiosk map and trail blazes, Edwards mapwe managed to wander off course and miss the waterfall, not to mention the limestone cliff and lake view. Here’s some photos straight from the Plantations website, with the views we missed:

Still, it was a great walk, and a great job by the Natural Areas steward and Cornell staff that Edwards Lake Cliff Preserve 42.522°N  76.509°Ware maintaining it. There were plenty of invasives -to be expected, considering the neighborhood- but also flora and fauna of other sorts. We surprised a grouse, didn’t surprise what might have been an eastern black swallowtail, and, it being a bit early for wildflowers, identified some interesting trees.
Now to suss out what we were looking at.
First off, we were north of Ithaca, near the east shore of Cayuga Lake.  My Guide to Plant Communities tells me that if there are Juniperus virginiana (red cedars), and there Edwards Lake Cliff Preserve 42.522°N  76.509°Wwere, it’s either a dry upland or post-agricultural forest. We also spotted shagbark hickory,ashes,red & white oak (another dry upland tree) and bitternut hickory. Both juniper and oak are more likely to be present in high lime areas like Edwards Cliff. Interestingly, abandoned farm fields with limestone bedrock are also a favored habitat of swallow-wort, which we can testify is rife in the area. Mostly we were on a hilltop, on the south side of Gulf Creek facing north, and we definitely passed through post-agricultural fields.
How close did I get to understanding what I was seeing? Here’s what the Plantations has to say:
This 84-acre preserve protects one of the rarest environments in the local region – the lake cliffs.  Besides the lake cliffs, the other salient natural feature of the preserve is the gorge called Shurger Glen, cut by Gulf Creek, which, confusingly, gives rise to Portland Point.  This is a forested ravine and winding gorge with breathtaking waterfalls, scenic views and rare species.  Additionally, there are old fields, shrub thickets and successional forests all with a history of agricultural use.  There is old forest on and upslope of the lake cliffs.

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NAA: Reading the Landscape

The old Bald Hill School site

I never miss a field trip with Robert Wesley if I can help it, and this was to a site new to me. We hoped to add some tools to understanding ecosystems by finding clues to past land use, with a smattering of biology thrown in.
Near the original schoolhouse site at the edge of Bald Hill School Rd., we saw typical evidence of a former inhabited site-myrtle and daylilies. The Acer saccarum (sugar maple) and Fraxinus americana (white ash) in the woods are 25-30 years old, but larger trees run along the road, indicating perhaps the age of the road and/or a property boundary.

Hedgerow trees along Bald Hill School Rd

Hedgerow trees along Bald Hill School Rd

Pinus strobus on right

This Pinus strobus (white pine) has wide lower branches. When the pine was first growing, it must have been open around it, as further evidenced by the young Acer rubrum (red maple) nearby. It must have once stood in a field, which still existed until fairly recently,as the forest is still young.

Following Robert Wesley

Following Robert Wesley quick

As we walked, and by walk  I mean sometimes we ran, we got quick lessons in botany and tree identification.
No one needed any help identifying the black flies, but according to Robert, they don’t bite for the first few days they appear, and sure enough, they didn’t. Like most bloodsucking and all stinging insects, only the female bites. (Hey, they need to, for the babies. And those ovipositors evolve into such handy weapons!)

Sapsucker damage on American elm

Sapsucker damage on American elm

Sapsuckers really did a job on this Ulmus americana (elm), and yes, they can kill a branch or even a whole tree by girdling it.

Oak

Oak

We also saw a rather magnificent oak (note the tiny figure standing next to it).>

Pits & mounds

Pits & mounds

We then came to an area that, though it had been logged extensively, had always been a forest. We saw the pits and mounds, typical of unplowed ground, which are caused by trees tipping over and then decaying.
On the other side of the road we saw the opposite-evidence of plowing. When a slope is plowed, the soil moves downhill at about a foot at year and raises the height at the bottom of a field.

Furrows

Furrows

Since a field on a slope was generally plowed from top to bottom each time, at either end you might see the dip of a “dead furrow” or the ridge of a  “back furrow”.

Farmland that has returned to forest is not as fertile as if it was never farmed. As it reverts, the first trees will be those who don’t have to germinate in shade, such as red maples and white pine (or if it is wet, ash or elm), depending on the seed source in the area. Later the white pine will die out and be replaced by shade tolerant species such as beech, Tsuga canadensis (hemlock) and sugar maple. Other trees species may grow where an “event” such as a blowdown, has occurred. Check the leaves on the  forest floor to  to get an idea of the relative quantity of tree types. Pastures leave behind Crataegus (hawthorne), Malus (crabapples) and Rhamnus (buckthorn), which the cattle or sheep don’t eat. Long term pasture use can level the ground almost like plowing.

Remains of a stone wall

We came across a rock wall near the road, usually evidence of “getting rid of” rather than construction, and so often evidence of a field edge.

Further along, a large patch of old fashioned Narcissus pseudonarcissus told us we were near former civilization.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Soon  we came upon the basement of an old homestead. The lower stones were dry laid, but the upper ones were cemented with concrete, which means repairs were made after its arrival in America in the late 1800’s. We also saw a seep, which might indicate a good spot for settling. Nearby stood ash and Juglans nigra (black walnut), probably planted by the former owners.

House foundation

House foundation

The lessons never stop…On the hillsides as we drove away we saw red maple in full bloom-perhaps evidence of poor soil. Hilltop soils are less fertile, because the soluble nutrients run downhill.
I look forward to applying what I’ve learned today, probably coming up with more questions than answers. The more I learn about reading the landscape, the more sense of place I feel where ever I am.

Recommended reading:
Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels

NAA: Landscape Your Yard With Native Plants

Disclaimer:
1) Generally I am not directly quoting anybody, unless you see quotation marks. All factual errors are mine!
2) Re: above-Corrections are appreciated!

Nikki Cerra gave us as much of an overview in landscape design with native plants as time and some gorgeous slides allowed. Topic number one was….

Why landscape with native plants?
A native species is defined by both a geographic and a time reference. In NYS, it generally refers to pre-European settlement.
*Native plants support the ecological food web-plants,insects and animals have co-evolved. For example,plants provide food for wildlife at the time they need it.
*They are suited to the habitate, requiring less care and pesticide use.
*Esthetically, they provide a connection to one’s sense of place.
*Because they are more likely to thrive in their own habitat, they can save you money.

Site Analysis & Inventory
What type of soil do you have? If you can roll a damp ribbon with it two inches long, you have loamy soil (composed of sand,silt and clay in relatively even concentration). Another test is to put some soil from your site in a mason jar and mix with water and a teaspoon of dish soap. Let it settle for 2 hours.The sand will be on the bottom, silt in the middle and clay on the top.

First, clear out the invasive species-let’s hope this is not a tall order! Then create a Base Map of your site (including a list of your existing plants. To get scale, try using Google maps and a scale of 1:4 or 1:8. Note the following:
The SitePrevailing winds, the topography of the land,existing structures nearby
The Hydrology-Both natural and man made
Design constraints-Wires, access for people
The Light-How much light, and at what time of year.
Existing Plants
Your Local Native Species & Habitats-If you have or can create a habitat for 3-4 regional species, other species will be drawn to it and be included.

Human and Bird Essentials
Human needs I didn’t note down. I felt I had a pretty good idea both by instinct and training. Bird essential are pretty obvious,too-shelter, water, nesting sites and food.  Most birds are insectivores, and even the ones that aren’t feed insects to thier young. In the winter, berries can be found on dogwood, Malus corinaria (sweet crab),Quercus alba (white oak).
Birds prefer their water on the ground and, in the summer, in shade. A bird bath should have a rough surface for better footing and be 1/2″ at the edge to 2″ at the deepest. They also like moving water. For low-tech system, suspend a bucket with a pinhole in the bottom over the bath and let it drip.
Shrubs and trees should be a mix of evergreen & deciduous in various heights, as different bird species live at differing heights. For nests, birds prefer thorny plants like crataegus (hawthorn), Rosa carolina or meadow rose. The more variation the more different niches available for different birds. You can create a bird friendly hedgerow by simple running a wire between two posts for birds to perch on. Their droppings wil plant the seed of their prefered berries for you!

Basic Design Concepts
Basic design elements include Lines, both vertical and horizontal (trees are an example of vertical lines). In addition, trees have Forms, such as circular or conicals, as do perennials. This combination of Line and Form creates Mass. Texture can be fine, medium or coarse-mostly medium. Fine texture with coarse behind it makes small areas seem bigger. Coarse in front with fine behind makes big areas cozier.

Color Wheel

Color Wheel

Color options can be monochromatic, analogous (adjacent on the color wheel), or complementary (opposite on the wheel). Styles range from naturalistic to formal. You can reveal or conceal the view. Use native plants combined with landscape design principles for gardens that are not just beautiful, but beneficial to other living creatures.

Resources:
Plant Native