Note: This is part three of the story of a recent visit to Ashuelot Park in Keene, New Hampshire.
There was plenty of evidence that woodpeckers live here. This hole was about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and from what I’ve read, that means it was probably made by a downy, hairy, or red headed woodpecker.
This hole was much larger and rectangular, so it was probably originally made by a pileated woodpecker, although other pileated woodpecker holes I’ve seen have more rounded corners than what are seen here. Since there were pieces of gray fur inside, it is most likely being used by another bird or animal now. Woodpeckers make new holes each year and many other birds and animals use the abandoned holes for nesting sites.
Here are the tell tale signs of a sapsucker, which is in the woodpecker family. The horizontal rows of holes cause “phloem” sap to dam up and accumulate in the plant tissue just above the wounds. The bird enlarges the holes over the course of several days and then adds another row above the first, eventually resulting in square or rectangular patterns of many holes. Sapsuckers have a kind of brushy tongue that they lick up the sap with. The kind of sap that we tap maple trees for is “xylem” sap, which is much thinner and less sweet than phloem sap. Because phloem sap is so much thicker and stickier than the watery xylem sap that we make maple syrup from, scientists can’t figure out how these birds get it to flow so freely. Insects, bats, other birds, and many animals also drink sap from these holes.
You won’t find any woodpecker holes in this tree! This is the easily recognizable undulating form of American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), also called “muscle wood” for obvious reasons. The wood of this tree is very heavy, dense and hard, and though some call it “iron wood,” that isn’t much help with identification because several other species are called the same thing. Blue Beech is another common name because the bark resembles that of the beech. American hornbeam is a smallish understory tree that is usually found on flood plains and other areas that may be wet for part of the year. It’s hard to find one of any great size because they have a short lifespan.
Beavers wouldn’t be gnawing on the tough wood of American hornbeam, but they didn’t have any trouble with this cherry. The blackening and fungal growth at the top of the stump shows that they took this tree down many years ago. It must be a popular spot with beavers though, because they are still cutting the new shoots at the base.
Fresh water mussels are abundant in the river and make good snacks for raccoons, muskrats and other animals. Locally there is a recovery plan in place to save the dwarf wedge mussel (Alasmidonta heterodon ) which, though abundant 100 years ago, is now known in only 12 locations in New England. Far more common is the eastern elliptio, the shell of which I think appears in the above photo. Mussels are very important because they filter and clean the water.
I was hoping I’d also be able to show some signs of the black bear, deer, and moose that are seen in this area, but they haven’t left any calling cards lately, apparently. I’ll keep my eyes open.
The fourth and final part of this walk in the park will be along shortly. Thanks for stopping by.