Forests of Exceptional Character


Oak Openings used to spread across the eastern half of North America.  They were formed by the glaciers.  As the ice moved south, it stripped off most of the topsoil. In some places, it exposed the bare bedrock.  These islands of rock were surrounded by deeper topsoil.  As the ice retreated, new topsoil started to form on top of the bedrock.  This left a structure where there was a large area with very little topsoil surrounded by areas with deeper topsoil.  Oak trees migrated to the surrounding areas, but couldn’t root in the shallow soils of the openings themselves, which became grasslands.  This created a symbiotic relationship between the Oak trees and fire.

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Nothing larger than a bush can root in the shallow, variable soils of the opening.  This makes the whole opening vulnerable to fire.  Any fire that starts there will involve the whole savannah and surrounding areas.  Oak trees are covered by a thick layer of bark that protects them from fire.  The Pines and Poplars that compete for space in the forest rely on fast growth.  When a fire sweeps through the forest, these thin skinned trees succumb much sooner than the tougher Oaks.  The closer the Oaks grow to the fire prone prairie, the safer they are.  This has created a monoculture of sorts, where the Oaks out compete most other species in the area.  The abundance of food from the Oaks, and the proximity of savannah and forest habitats, attracts a wide variety of animals.

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The openings also attracted humans.  Native Americans used the openings as sites for their villages and farmlands.  The open grassland made defense easier, and the fires renewed the soil each year.  The openings weren’t suited for large scale farming or occupation, so they were mostly destroyed as the European settlers moved West.  Quinn Oak Openings is the last opening in New York state, perhaps the only one left East of the Mississippi.  The habitat has the highest rating for rarity in the state, and is among the rarest habitats in the country.  It really is a little piece of the great plains tucked away in an upstate forest.  Pictures can’t really show the stark contrast at the edge of the forest or the regular shapes that the grasslands create.  There are circles, rectangles, and the largest opening covering several dozen acres.  Some of the right angles are created by the prescribed burns that the Department of Environmental Conservation still does to maintain the habitat.

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In our modern world, we don’t need the Oak Savannahs for food or defense.  It’s an area worth preserving, though.  It’s now the last example of a unique series of geologic and biologic circumstances.  The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the NYSDEC to purchase land surrounding the opening and preserve the area.  Currently, the oak opening is in a state of suspended development. There aren’t any plans to support education or outreach for the park, there are minimal trails and facilities for visitors.  It’s a really interesting place to hike through.  After following a deer trail for a quarter mile, the close forest opens up into an enormous opening.  It feels like it’s a man made structure, the circles are too perfect, the lines are too straight.  It takes a moment to realize that this was all created by nature.


Mendon and Lollypop Favorites

Joe, Nat and I went for a hike this morning before I went over to Lollypop.  Joe just signed up for a marathon, so he pretty much took the lead 🙂  Here’s Joe with Charlie, both with the long tongues.  The Inuit say that a long tongue is a way of telling how tired the sled dogs are.  I don’t think Joe’s that tired, and Charlie wore himself out sniffing after every deer scent he came across.  I saw more than 30 deer cross a road in the park this morning.  It was really cool to watch them clatter across the road for so long.  We went up the hill to see the the water tower, and I gasped some sweet, sweet, oxygen.

The volunteer notes on this cage said “Hissy”

After taking pictures in cat adoption, I usually look at the dogs for a few minutes before going back to cat holding 1.  Dogs are really a two person job, so I don’t take dog pictures for the website.  I couldn’t  help but pause by this fellow.  He’s a beautiful dog, white Siberian and… looks like Shepard.  I could just picture him rolling around in a mud puddle with Amber over at Mendon Ponds.  Nez Pa.  If you’re looking for a dog, Koda here would be perfect.  Visit him over at

Oatka Creek

I have about as much control when I hear of a sure thing fishing spot as Yukon Cornelius.  A guy at work told me about a stretch of Oatka creek that gets stocked with yearling and 2 year old trout every spring.  So, My friend and I set out early one morning to check it out.  We fished the stream for about 4 hours, didn’t catch a thing.

Monday, I go back into the office, ready to confront the guy for sending me to a dead spot.  His desktop image was 15 trout in a baking dish.  He an two others caught their limit that same morning… and were heading back home after just an hour.  Turns out, the good spot is a couple miles further upstream than the spot I tried.

This afternoon, Amber and I went looking for that section of the stream.  We found it pretty easily, even the gun club that my friend at work talked of.  Three of them were drinking beers across the stream on the club’s porch when I got to the big pool.  I tried a bunch of different lures, from spinners to spoons to jigs, but didn’t catch a thing.  Oh well, it was a fun hike.  I took my disappointment out on the dog, mocking her mercilessly for being afraid of a woodpecker.

Mendon Ponds 09

Today was the first time I’ve been back to Mendon Ponds in more than a year.  I was planning to take the Algonkian trail, but I entered the park at the wrong entrance, so I just walked around Hundred Acre Pond for a while 🙂

Now you see it… now you don’t!  Amber was great except when the little pony went by, she had a minor meltdown just as we passed each other.

I only found a couple plants poking through the carpet of dead leaves.  I think the one on the left is a pitcher plant?  I’m not sure, but they have little cavities and fruit flies buzz around the openings.  I’m really rusty at trail photography, Amber played with no less the a dozen dogs while we walked the trail, and I didn’t think to take one picture of it.

Mendon Trips

It’s still pretty cold here, but there are usually some nice days in March.  I’m looking forward to taking the dog to Mendon Ponds Park once or twice in the next couple weeks.  I went to Mendon Ponds once last year.  I don’t know, 2008 seems like a bit of a lost year for me and photography.  I need to get out and take some pictures.  These pictures are from 05 and 06, I’ll have some 08s in a while.

Spring in Mendon Ponds

Amber and I went over to Mendon Ponds last weekend to check on Spring’s progress.  With the warmer weather, the trees are starting to get back in gear after the long winter.

Mendon Ponds

Mendon Ponds

 I bought a new lens for my camera a couple weeks ago.  I’ve taken it to Lollypop a couple times, but it’s been too cold to really take it out and try it.  Yesterday, it was in the 40’s and sunny, so Amber and I went over to Mendon Ponds Park to check out the Deep Pond trail.


 I eventually pulled out the telephoto to do some birding.  My favorite tree in the park is on the right.  I’m impressed with the new wide angle.  It’s a lot lighter than my old lens, and 25 mm wider.  Tamron 17-35mm


 The geese are coming back.  there must have been 4 or 5 hundred of them on Hundred Acre Pond.  They all took off at the same time when a couple fisherman spooked them.  They flew right over our heads and we didn’t get hit once.

Mendon Ponds PhotoSet

Mendon’s Watching You

As I said, the Devil’s Bathtub trail was full of insects. The spider webs were remarkable, but all the other insects where interesting, too. The first cool days of early Fall make them all sluggish and very good subjects. The fly let me get really close and was still sitting on the leaf when I left. Same for the caterpillar.

Devil’s Bathtub

 I took the dog down to Mendon Ponds Park last night.  We walked down the Devil’s Bathtub trail.  In late summer, this boggy trail is filled with insects.


 The spiders are building their fortresses in the leaves.  I almost got a picture of the tenant in the right web, but she ducked back into her folded leaf before I could bring the camera around.


 I didn’t get a good shot of this spider spinning her web, but it was fun to watch her work.

Mendon Ponds South Meadow


Lori and I walked the South Meadow trail this afternoon.  It was nice to get out and walk, now that the heat has let up a bit.  I tried something new this time.  I took off my 90mm macro lens, and opted for the 70-300 macro.  I don’t like this lens at all.  It’s slow, cheap, and has artifacts on the glass.  It does have a long distance macro, though.

I have to get really close to the subject with the 90mm.  I’ve bumped into more than one butterfly trying to get just a little bit tighter.  that’s the coolest feature of that lens.  The minimum focusing distance is just a couple inches.   The last time I walked the high meadow, I couldn’t get within a dozen paces of any of the cool critters.  They just flew off before I could get into range.  With the 70-300, I could take pictures from a distance, but still get close shots.  I really need to replace this lens with something better.

Mendon Ponds Set