Saturday, November 12, 2022

Banding a Sharp Shinned Hawk unscathed, growing chestnut trees to help fight off blight

The weather remains more like September than November as temperatures have gotten up in the sixties several days now. We’ve had some hard frosts which has done in most of the greenery in the woods except some of the ferns that remain green all winter even under the snow. The deer have been working on the fern curls already since there is a lack of a mass crop of nuts of any kind. I saw where they were working on the black cherries that dropped from the trees just like eating nuts, but I don’t think the nutrient- or fat making-value is the same in the cherries as in the beech or acorn nuts.

When there were chestnuts around, that must have been a big source of fall food for the animals and birds. Those nuts fed the flocks of Passenger Pigeons that once blackened the skies when they flew over. It’s hard to believe that a pigeon could eat a chestnut, but they did. I’ve watched ducks and turkeys eat both acorns and beechnuts. The chestnut is about the same size as an acorn without the cap. I have ten chestnut [trees] grown from the nuts now in my yard. They are in their second year, and some are almost three feet tall. I have them fenced, as I think the deer would nibble on them. I’m growing them until they flower. Then they can be pollinated with pollen from some genetic trees that will produce nuts for growing more trees that will be able to fight off blight [a plant disease, typically one caused by fungi such as mildews, rusts, and smuts]. [Blight] killed thousands of these beautiful trees all over the east coast states.


Stump sprouts still come up from the energy stored in the roots of these diseased trees and some of those produce nuts yet today. There are a few larger trees that survived the blight, and nuts from those trees have been used to produce some tolerant trees. Pollen from these trees is used in hopes of getting a strain that will resist the blight in the future. Where I grew up in West Milton near Ballston Spa in Saratoga County there were some of these stump sprouts growing around the old farms there. I picked some nuts from the ten-foot-tall sprouts and took them to the NYS DEC Tree Nursery between Ballston and Saratoga. They planted these nuts and trees grew from them, only to be killed by the blight before they were two years old. I did find a couple larger trees in the woods that were nearly a foot DBH [Diameter at breast height, the standard for measuring trees] still living, but never did get back to see them again as they were on the Government Atomic Project property. They may still be living, for all I know.

Golden Crowned Kinglet in hand. Photo by Gary Lee.

Later this week, another hurricane is going to hit southern Florida. Subtropical Storm Nicole is in the Atlantic and is expected to become a hurricane late Wednesday [Nov. 9] and hit south Florida early Thursday [Nov. 10] morning. It is going to cross the state into the Gulf of Mexico then swing north and go across the Panhandle of Florida into Georgia and up the coast of South Carolina by early Saturday [Nov. 12]. This just when lots of our birds are trying to make their way to the wintering grounds in the Caribbean Islands (and some on to South America.) Many of the birds I had here last week have gone that route, as I only have a few sparrows still around. On Saturday [Nov. 5] I had over forty American Goldfinch move in, so I put up the net and I was catching a few when I saw a hawk fly by the windows chasing one of the finches.


Into the net they both went, and out I went to capture the Sharp Shinned Hawk. It didn’t catch the Goldfinch, but they were only a few inches apart in the net. I got it out and into the house for a band without getting snagged by his sharp talons. I put on a band, measured the wing, took a couple pictures in hand and out the window it went. Earlier that day, I did catch another Golden Crowned Kinglet male which had very little crown, so it was born this year and on its way south. Some of these little birds do stick around all winter, as you might see them with a flock of Black Capped Chickadees foraging in the woods. I’ve gotten them on the Old Forge Christmas count a few times in early December. Sunday morning [Nov. 6] a few Evening Grosbeaks showed up at the feeders, and this morning [Nov. 7] a dozen were at the feeders, along with a female Cardinal. You never know what might show up during migration.

Hope you all got out to vote, and by now we will know which way the government is headed for the next couple of years, but that’s another story. See ya.

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

8 Responses

  1. Richard says:

    We have a Sharp-shinned hawk in our woods in Southern Washington County. It seems pretty territorial, as it’s always around. There are more Bluebirds that overwinter each year. Fifteen years ago I had to drive to a certain hedgerow to spot them, and now there’s always a small flock year-round on our road, as well as large numbers of over-wintering Robins.

  2. Boreas says:

    Driving S on the Northway around Peru yesterday I saw a very tight ball of Starlings trying to outmaneuver a Sharpie that seemed to be pursuing them out of boredom – similar to a Merlin’s attitude. The Sharpie just pulled away and continued flying SE toward the lake.

    I planted six chestnut saplings this Spring and am hoping they do well. I likely won’t be around to see them drop any nuts, but I hope I can keep them away from the deer long enough to grow taller than me. I currently have them protected in “tree tubes”, and hopefully they will establish some good roots before I go. I planted another about 10 years ago that has yet to flower.

    • Singlespeed says:

      Excellent article. Perhaps it was a typo, but ‘mass’ crop of nuts would properly be ‘mast’. Just sayin.

      • Larry G. Orvis says:

        Tree tubes should be minimum 6 feet tall. Check my site “The Morrison Place” in Camels Hump State Forest on Google Map on Vt Route 17 & Gore Rd in Starksboro & Buels Gore, Vermont for photos.
        I have been planting & growing red oaks as a volunteer for over 30 years in various places where no oaks existed prior to my 72 years in the northeast highlands of Addison County. The oaks started producing after 30 years. Try coffee grounds around the base of of your seedlings and small trees. Been experimenting for many years with all types of wildlife vegetation with positive results.

  3. Rich Wickman says:

    Thanks, I really enjoy your stories. What and where was the “government atomic project”?

    • Worth Gretter says:

      Gary is referring to the Kesselring Site in West Milton, which is operated for the US Navy by Knolls Atomic Power Lab (which is located in Niskayuna, just outside Schenectady). The reactor plants (called “prototypes”) on the site have mostly been decommissioned as training of sailors has moved to training ships instead.

  4. Frank Myers says:

    I got Chestnut fever from my father. We still have some blighted trees around our hunting preserve in central PA Huntington County. I delight to see articles of mature trees and of researchers trying to produce blight resistant trees.
    I too notice Robins wintering over. As a child I remember watching for the 1st robin of the spring usually spotted in March.
    I appreciate your writing.

  5. Michael W Darlington says:

    Just a note — the blight did not kill thousands of chestnut trees. That’s about 5 orders of magnitude short. Billions, in fact.

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