Camera traps, June 2014

Velvet-covered antlers in the Lehigh Experimental Forest.

Velvet-covered antlers in the Lehigh Experimental Forest.

More data from the Lehigh Experimental Forest camera traps. Our complete list of “trapped” species since October now includes:

  • Buteo jamaicensis (Red-tailed hawk)
  • Canis lupus familiaris (Domestic dog)
  • Felis catus (Domestic cat)
  • Homo sapiens (Human)
  • Marmota monax (groundhog)
  • Meleagris gallopavo (wild turkey)
  • Odocoileus virginianus (White-tailed deer)
  • Procyon lotor (Raccoon)
  • Sciurus carolinensis (Gray squirrel)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus (Eastern cottontail)
  • Tamias striatus (Eastern chipmunk)
  • Turdus migratorius (American Robin)
  • Vulpes vulpes (Red fox)

A few highlights from the two video cameras (wild turkey at the end!):

 

Wine from the forest?

Forest on South Mountain, eastern PA.

Spring in a forest on South Mountain, eastern PA. Black birch (Betula lenta), sometimes referred to as sweet birch, is in the foreground.

The forests of eastern Pennsylvania are shades of brilliant green in the early spring, as the young leaves of deciduous trees emerge and begin the annual pulse of photosynthesis.  Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), trout lily (Erythronium americium), spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), and other wildflowers add sprinkles of color to the ground, and the smell of the damp soil hints at the forest’s deep history.  The spring forest is alive and bursting with potential, and a walk through its lightly shaded understory can rekindle excitement that had unknowingly diminished during the long winter.   If only you could bottle the experience of a spring hike and save it up for later in the year.

Perhaps you can? Sort of. While searching online for something unrelated, I stumbled into an old-time recipe for oak-leaf wine.  I had never heard of using tree leaves in wine, but they have been used as a flavoring similar to many flower-petal wines (e.g., dandelion wine). In fact, there are at least two of these oak-leaf wine recipes, one that uses young spring oak leaves and another that uses mature summer oak leaves.  And they apparently result in wines that differ in flavor. Interestingly, beech leaves (in the same family as the oaks, Fagaceae) have also been used in wine (see here), as well as to flavor gin (beech tree noyau).

One month after fermentation started, the Beech - sugar maple wine is on the left and the oak - black birch wine is on the right.

One month after fermentation started, the beech – sugar maple wine is on the left and the oak – black birch wine is on the right.

Every forest type offers unique sensory experiences, so I thought it might be fun to attempt a few batches of wine that reflect the character of particular forest communities. I thought I’d start with two forest types common in eastern Pennsylvania, beech-maple and oak-black birch.  Beech-maple forests are particularly nice in spring, and common in northeastern Pennsylvania. Oak-black birch forests are abundant in the Lehigh Valley region, particularly on South Mountain.  Black birch twigs make a delicious, wintergreen-flavored tea that I am quite fond of, and I can easily imagine it contributing to an interesting wine. Sure, these wines won’t likely capture the experience of spring hike; in fact, it is tough for me to imagine what they will taste like and perhaps they will turn out terrible. However, I figured it would be a fun little weekend project, and it was certainly a good excuse to take a few extra hikes with my daughter this past spring. I document what I did below, and I’d appreciate comments or suggestions from anyone with experience making oak or beech leaf wine.

Disclaimer and note of caution: Ingesting any wild plant is dangerous.  Proper identification is critical, and even if your identification is correct you are still taking personal risk because many plant compounds have not been thoroughly studied.  One of the recipes below uses black birch, which contains methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate metabolizes into salicylic acid (aspirin). Although the amount of methyl salicylate in the recipe is very low (likely the equivalent of about 1/4 to 1/2 tablet per bottle), aspirin does interact with other medicines and high doses of aspirin are dangerous particularly when combined with alcohol. Also, alcohol itself is a poison, and you must be over 21 years old in the United States to legally ingest it.

American Beech and Sugar Maple Wine

Ingredients

Young american beech leaves, cleaned and ready for the wine.

Young american beech leaves, cleaned and ready for the wine.

  •  1 gallon fresh, young american beech (Fagus grandifolia) leaves
  • 32 ounces pure maple syrup
  • 0.75 cups sugar
  • 0.5 cups chopped, golden raisins
  • 0.75 tsp acid blend
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 0.5 tsp yeast energizer
  • 0.5 tsp Yeast (Lavin EC-1118)
  • Campden tablet(s)
American beech leaves after additional of boiling water.

American beech leaves after addition of boiling water.

What I did

1) Washed beech leaves and carefully removed any stow-away insects. There were quite a few.

2) Boiled one gallon of water. Added water to beech leaves in a food-grade plastic bucket (primary fermentation pail). Covered with a towel and allowed it to sit for 24hours.

3) Strained leaves and emptied leaf-infused water into a large, stainless steel pot. Added zest and juice of orange and lemon (avoided the bitter pith) and brought the mixture to a boil. Simmered for 20 minutes.

4) Added maple sugar and table sugar while stirring to dissolve.  Added 0.75 cups of sugar, which was sufficient to bring the hydrometer reading to 1.095.  This should correspond to approximately 14% alcohol if it ferments dry. You could add more or less sugar (or use more maple syrup and skip the sugar).

5) Added golden raisins, acid blend, 0.5 tsp yeast nutrient, and 0.25 yeast energizer. The pH of the mixture was 3.4.

6) Stirred the mixture well to introduce as much oxygen as possible, and then poured it into a clean, sanitized, food-grade bucket (2-3 gallon) and allowed it to cool to room temperature.

7) Pitched yeast according to yeast instructions. I used Lavin EC-1118 yeast, as this is a very robust and reliable strain. Covered the bucket with a towel, which was secured around the top of the bucket with a rope.

Beech-maple wine in secondary fermentation.

Beech-maple wine in secondary fermentation.

8) Signs of fermentation (i.e., bubbles, foam) were present within 12 hours.  I stirred the mixture several times a day for the first three days of active fermentation.

9) After 3-4 days, I added the additional yeast nutrient and energizer.

10) When the specific gravity was near 1.000, I transfered the mixture into a one-gallon carboy, topped it off with a small amount of water, and put an air lock on the top.

11) When fermentation was complete (about 2-3 weeks, the specific gravity reached 0.988 in less than two weeks for me), I siphoned off the wine into a fresh, sanitized carboy, leaving the sediment behind. I added one crushed campden tablet (K-meta).

12)  I will allow it to age in an air-locked carboy for several months until it is clear, racking as needed to remove any sediment. Once it is clear and fully degassed of CO2 it will be bottled.   According to the available recipes for beech leaf wine it will likely need to age at least six months to a year.

Oak and Black Birch Wine

Oak-black birch wine in secondary fermentation, before the addition of five cups of black birch tea.

Oak-black birch wine in secondary fermentation, before the addition of five cups of black birch tea.

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon fresh, young oak leaves (Quercus spp.)
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 0.5 cups chopped, golden raisins
  • 0.25 tsp acid blend
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 0.5 tsp yeast energizer
  • Yeast (Lavin EC-1118)
  • 5 cups of black birch tea (~1 cup per bottle of finished wine)
  • Campden tablet(s)

What I did

1) Washed oak leaves and carefully removed any stow-away insects. I used chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) and a smaller amount of red oak (Quercus rubra).

2) Boiled one gallon of water. Added water to oak leaves in a food-grade plastic bucket (primary fermentation pail). Covered with a towel and allowed it to sit for 24 hours.

3) Strained leaves and emptied leaf-infused water into a large, stainless steel pot. Added zest and juice of orange and lemon (avoided the bitter pith) and brought the mixture to a boil. Simmered for 20 minutes.

4) Added sugar while stirring to dissolve. Of course, it would be better to use black birch syrup (i.e., syrup made from birch sap) but this is hard to find.  I added 5 cups of sugar, which was sufficient to bring the hydrometer reading to 1.120.  This should correspond to approximately 17% alcohol if it ferments dry. However, this will be diluted with the black birch tea and the final wine should be about 12% alcohol.

5) Added golden raisins, acid blend, 0.5 tsp yeast nutrient, and 0.25 yeast energizer. The pH of the mixture was 3.4.

6) Stirred the mixture well to introduce as much oxygen as possible, and then poured it into a clean, sanitized, food-grade bucket (2-3 gallon) and allowed it to cool to room temperature.

7) Pitched yeast according to yeast instructions. I used Lavin EC-1118 yeast, as this is a very robust and reliable strain. Covered the bucket with a towel, which was secured around the top of the bucket with a rope.

8) Signs of fermentation (i.e., bubbles, foam) were present within 12 hours.  I stirred the mixture several times a day for the first three days of active fermentation.

9) After 3-4 days, I added the additional yeast nutrient and energizer.

Making black birch tea.

Making black birch tea.

10) When the specific gravity reached 1.04, I made 5 cups of black birch tea.  I used fresh twigs, broken to fit into mason jars.  Boiled water, removed from heat, and then waited about 10 minutes before filling the twig-packed jars.  I then closed the jars and allowed them to sit for 24-36 hours.

11) I transferred the fermenting wine into a one-gallon carboy, and filled the remaining volume in the carboy with the black-birch tea (it took 4.5 cups, so I enjoyed a half-cup of tea). I place an air lock on the top of carboy.

11) When fermentation was complete (about 2-3 weeks, the specific gravity reached 0.988 in less than two weeks for me), I siphoned off the wine into a fresh, sanitized carboy, leaving the sediment behind. I added one crushed campden tablet (K-meta).

12)  I will allow it to age in an air-locked carboy for several months until it is clear, racking as needed to remove the sediment. Once it is clear and fully degassed of CO2 I will bottle it.   According to available recipes for oak-leaf wine it will likely need to age at least six months to a year.

 

Nine new wetland ecologists disperse to the world (PLE day 15)

When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, and to the citizen, most dismal swamp.  I enter a swamp as a sacred place – a sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow of Nature. - Henry David Thoreau

"Wetlanders" or "hummock hoppers," this was a great group of students. Artwork by M Stranix (direct link here).

Call them “wetlanders” or “hummock hoppers,” this was a great group of students. Artwork by M Stranix (direct link here).

The Pymatuning wetlanders demonstrated their mastery of wetland ecology this morning on the final exam.  This was a fantastic group of students, each bringing different perspectives and backgrounds to our discussions and explorations.  Every one of them worked extremely hard, was not afraid to get wet :), and respected and appreciated each other’s opinions and differences.  They learned a tremendous amount in a few weeks, and we collectively had a lot of fun along the way.

The experience was highly rewarding for me as well, as I learned a little bit more about wetlands, became a better naturalist, and tried a few new pedagogical things in the classroom (and in the field). And my life is richer for having known these individuals.  Teaching this course has consistently been the most fun and rewarding experience of my professional year.  And you certainly can’t beat spending three weeks at the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology!

So long hummock hoppers! Hope your summer gets even more peaty……

……or swampy

………..…or marshy. :)

 

 

Wetland restoration, treatment wetlands, and some fun on the lake (PLE day 14)

The Pymatuning wetlanders discussed wetland restoration this morning, including an examination of the Florida Everglades Project, which is the largest wetland restoration ever attempted.  We discussed the history of environmental degradation in South Florida and how it altered the hydrology and biogeochemistry of this unique wetland complex. The students were happy to apply their knowledge of Phosphorus cycling toward understanding some of the problems and challenges that the restoration effort is attempting to fix.

Examining the wetlands adjacent to Pymatuning Lake.

Examining the wetlands adjacent to Pymatuning Lake.

My favorite field assistant joined us for the wetland exploration.

My favorite field assistant joined us for the wetland exploration.

We had a short break, during which the students finished mounting a few labels on their plant collections and collectively cleaned the wet lab of peat, mud, dead macroinvertebrates, and various other byproducts of our recent explorations. We then briefly discussed treatment wetlands, highlighting the use of these created wetlands to treat things like municipal wastewater, non-point source pollution, and acid mine drainage.  I then provided a brief overview of the course and its structure, highlighting what this hard-working group students has accomplished in only three weeks. Then we had one last bit of fun exploring some of the wetlands in the littoral zone of Pymatuning Reservoir via canoe. The students used the rest of the afternoon to study for tomorrow’s final exam.

A paleoecological record in a day (PLE day 13)

Analyzing plant macrofossils from a peat core.

Analyzing plant macrofossils from a peat core.

One afternoon. Nine students. Approximately 8500 years of history.

The Pymatuning wetlanders spent the morning learning about wetland development and the roles that wetlands play in the broader earth system. In the afternoon, we examined the sediment core that we collected from Titus Bog yesterday – all 8.5 meters of it! The students sieved samples from along the core, and identified and tallied plant macrofossils (e.g., leaves, seeds). By applying age-depth information from previous work on the bog (Ireland et al., 2011), we estimated the age of the samples along the length of the core.

Carefully examining peat from Titus Bog.

Carefully examining a sediment core from Titus Bog.

The diagram below shows our paleoecological results, and clearly shows that the site started as a deep kettle lake (the lower samples lacked macrofossils) some 8500-10,000 years ago, and  was occupied by a shallow lake with abundant submerged aquatics like nodding waternymph (Najas flexilis) and pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) throughout much of the mid Holocene. In the later Holocene the area was shallower, supporting a mix of submerged aquatic plants like nodding waternymph, along with floating leaved plants like white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata).  About 800-900 years ago a floating peatland established at the site, with various sedges, Sphagnum, cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos), and leatherleaf shrubs (Chamaedaphne calculata) characterizing the surface vegetation. We will discuss the record in the context of peatland developmental models tomorrow…

Plant macro fossil diagram from Titus Bog put together by the 2014 Pymatuning wetlanders. All values are numbers per 30cm3 of peat, except for Sphagnum and Cyperaceae which represent coverage estimates in cm2 for 30cm3 samples. Estimated age and depth are shown to the left.

Plant macrofossil diagram from Titus Bog put together by the 2014 Pymatuning wetlanders. All values are numbers per 30cm3 of peat, except for Sphagnum and Cyperaceae which represent coverage estimates in cm2 for 30cm3 samples. Estimated age and depth are shown to the left.

 

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