Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jean Knops Visits: Sabbatical Research
Jean Knops is one of the long-term Hastings fellows. Jean did his doctoral research here and later a post-doctoral study; both on the nitrogen cycling in our oak woodlands. Jean is now a Professor at the University of Nebraska, the only state with a unicamel legislative body. (He says it does not necessarily help). Jean and Walter have been doing the annual California Acorn Count and like clockwork, they conducted the count again this year, making it something like 25 years in a row. See what I mean about "long-term"? Walt and Jean also spent a week or so looking at Keith White's 1960's blue oak sites on Hastings. They wanted to resample these woodland stands measured by White in the 1960's to see if any saplings are new. It turns out that blue oak saplings in the grass, only a couple of feet tall, are older than Walt or Jean. Thus, it takes maybe hundreds of years to see the blue oak saplings becom small trees. Frustrated by the format of the 1960's data, about all we can say is that the stands look about the same. Walt and Jean (well, mostly Jean) decided that we need to individually tag about 1,000 small oaks on Poison Oak Hill so that in 40 years or so the next generation of Hastings folks can go back and see how slowly indeed the blue oaks grow. For now, it looks like there are as many small (reproducing?) oaks in the grassy layer of the blue oak woodlands as there were in the 1960s. Without individually marked trees though, we can't really say. So, we now are in the process of trying to find the funds to hire a field assistant who would live at Hastings for a few months and do this work for future generations. Anyone out there have about $2,000 to fund such an investment into the future understanding of our blue oak forests? Contact Mark Stromberg.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Woodpecker Condos. We welcome Bridget Piculell (center), Ryan Drobek (left), and the continuing presence of Justin Stahl. Bridget and Ryan, both from the San Diego area are graduates from UC Santa Cruz (Biology) and are working with Eric Walters.
When they are not working out in the field watching the very sociable Acorn Woodpeckers, Bridget enjoys knitting and Ryan is into bicycles. However, this fall and winter they will focused on the project that Eric is directing. This is basically an experiment to see what might control the number of acorn woodpeckers. It is curious that the woodpeckers have relatively few young and there are large areas where they do not occur. One hypothesis is that the woodpeckers are limited by habitat. Most old trees have been cut down for firewood for the last hundred years or so around here. The old trees are perfect for woodpeckers who excavate nesting and resting holes and drill thousands of holes to hold their acorns. So, to add this special aspect of habitat, Eric, Bridget, Justin and Ryan will be helping Eric build and hang 50 artificial next boxes (shown above) in trees and adding old logs that have been drilled with holes by acorn woodpeckers elsewhere but have been cut down for various reasons. By the way- if you have a fallen log or large branch with a lot of acorn woodpecker holes in it, we could use it! PG&E staff have been very helpful in donating a few old power poles the woodpeckers have pecked to a weakened state that needed to be replaced. Over the next month or so, the artificial woodpecker nest holes (wooden- made from branches of a pine that died on Hastings) and a variety of "previously owned" woodpecker trees will be festooned over Hastings. In the next few years we will see if these woodpecker condos are claimed by any wandering woodpeckers and if these new condo woodpeckers have any effect on the more established neighboring woodpeckers. The very sociable woodpeckers will probably have an interesting story; we will keep you posted.