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First Post - Darian Copiz

First post to BBS...

by Darian Copiz
Wed Mar 24, 2010 9:57 pm
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Reenadinna Yew Wood


In May of 2009 I had the opportunity to visit Ireland. Although not particularly known for trees, yews are an important part of the country's natural and cultural heritage. For any Ent visiting Ireland, you must make visiting Killarney National Park a priority. This location is not only spectacular, but also has what is probably the most important woodlands in the country - some of which may be old growth. Apparently there are small pockets of old growth oak woodland, but these are not easily accessible and I did not have time to visit them. However, I did visit what is probably the best known of the park's woodlands, Reenadinna Yew Wood. I have seen this listed as one of only three remaining yew woodlands in Europe. The wood is on the north side of the Muckross peninsula. The trees grow from the limestone bedrock. This rock is very weathered with numerous deep fissures. There was even a cave I explored which ended up being a tunnel. The rock is covered in moss, so that the the ground layer of almost the entire woodland is pure moss with few other plants. This moss somtimes covers the fissures and the sharp limestone beneath making conditions mildly treacherous in some locations. The north side of the wood ends where limestone cliffs drop off to Lough Leane.

The trees themselves form an almost pure stand of yews. Although the trees vary in size and apparently age, there is little regeneration. This may be in part due to the heavy shade, but probably more importantly from deer browsing. A biologist I met on the site said that the deer actually wedge themselves under the fence that surrounds the site in order to browse on the yews. Despite the browsing pressures the wood is still spectacular. Some of the trees are very large. I have included two images of the largest tree I came across, sorry, no measurements.


by Darian Copiz
Tue Oct 19, 2010 5:22 pm
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Araucaria angustifolia


This past January I visited Brazil on vacation with my girlfriend. It was my first time there and one of the things I wanted to see was the Brazilian pine, Araucaria angustifolia . This is not the same species as the better known monkey-puzzle tree ( Auracaria araucana ) which occurs in Chile and Argentina. A. angustifolia occurs primarily in southern Brazil, but also neighboring Argentina and Paraguay. Its range extends as far north as the mountains near Rio de Janeiro, but the heart of its range is the highlands of Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. The araucaria forest is a sub-category of the Atlantic Forest biome. This link provides more extensive information about the species:

The location I chose to visit in order to see the species was the "city" of Urubici in the state of Santa Catarina. This municipality, which is more of a town, has the designation of being the coldest area in Brazil, where a minimum temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit has been recorded. Snow can occur between June and August. Although Araucaria angustifolia is listed as endangered on the IUCN red list, in the vicinity of Urubici it is relatively common. I saw many examples of the species, but of course I also wanted to find any exceptionally sized trees. I met with a biologist in Urubici from the Instituto Serrano, a conservation organization which focuses on the southern Brazilian highlands. He told me of a large araucaria not far outside of town. Going to visit it I found the road to be just barely passable with a normal car, although I'm sure locals would just laugh and say it was no problem. We stopped to talk to people along the road, asking for the property of Sr. Catolico and the big araucaria. Most knew of the tree and how to get to it. When we arrived at the property we were fortunate that a caretaker was nearby and offered to guide us to the tree which was located in an open wooded area of the property's pasture. I might as well mention at this point that although I had brought my measuring equipment to Brazil, it just so happened that I did not have it with me when visiting the tree. I felt bad enough about it, so I don't need any scolding. I also had difficulties with the storage media for my camera and lost many of my pictures, but fortunately my girlfriend Cristina was also taking pictures - which are the ones I have provided here.

We came across a large araucaria, but our guide laughed and said it was a son of the big tree. When we did arrive at the big tree my expectations were not dissappointed. As you can see from the pictures, the trunk flare is still prominent at breast height, but I would estimate its diameter to be about 5 feet at 10 feet off the ground. I estimated the height at about 120 feet. The tree was in a small grove of large trees which appeared to be declining. I am also including a picture of one of the dead trees in the grove which was very similar in size to the big tree.

At the end of our visit our guide mentioned that the property might be for sale. He seemed to be hinting that maybe a rich foreigner could purchase it in order to preserve the trees. The trees were exceptional and far larger than any I had seen elsewhere in the vicinity of Urubici. However, the site was fairly disturbed and the trees appeared to be on the decline. There are probably larger and taller araucarias in some less accessible locations in southern Brazil, but these probably occur in only small remnant pockets. Although it is a timber species and there are efforts to restore araucaria forest, most commercial forestry consists of non-native eucalyptus and slash pine plantations. Hopefully the acreage of araucaria forest will increase and remnant stands of uncut trees will be preserved. It is a beautiful tree, and the pine nuts are also delicious. An increased awareness of the species and its benefits may help restore it to greater prominence in the southern Brazilian landscape.

by Darian Copiz
Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:51 pm
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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


Last fall I received a research permit to investigate habitats and measure trees at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center near Laurel, Maryland. I visited the property several times during the winter. The site is located in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and is in the coastal plain physiographic province. Part of why I wanted to visit the site was to investigate reports of old growth forest along the Patuxent River in the refuge. The following is an excerpt of the report I that I wrote based on these investigations. A discussion of old growth is followed by some tree measurement data. I have removed citations and made some edits from the original.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources defines old growth as the following:

“An old growth forest is a minimum of 2 ha (5 acres) in size with a preponderance of old trees, of which the oldest trees exceed at least half of the projected maximum attainable age for that species, and that exhibits most of the following characteristics:
1. Shade tolerant species are present in all age/size classes.
2. There are randomly distributed canopy gaps.
3. There is a high degree of structural diversity characterized by multiple growth layers (canopy, understory trees, shrub, herbaceous, ground layers) that reflect a broad spectrum of ages.
4. There is an accumulation of dead wood of varying sizes and stages of decomposition, standing and down, accompanied by decadence in live dominant trees.
5. Pit and mound topography can be observed, if the soil conditions permit it.”

A search for old growth forest at the Patuxent Research Refuge was inspired primarily by Mary Byrd Davis’ document, “Old Growth in the East: A Survey” and Matthew C. Perry’s description of large trees at the refuge. Davis’ assessment indicated that there may be as much as several hundred acres of old growth, uncut, or virgin forest at the refuge.

For the purposes of determining the occurrence of old growth forest, both research and in the field reconnaissance was employed. Through a conversation with Dr. Matthew Perry, some areas were identified for investigation, including the site known as Beech Island - located upriver of Duvall Bridge. Aerial photography was also used to determine promising areas for old growth forest. Historical maps and site history were investigated to determine past disturbance on the refuge.

The conclusion derived through this research and site investigation is that it is unlikely that any areas in the north or central tracts of the Patuxent Research Refuge could be considered old growth. Resultantly, it is even less likely that any areas contain primary or virgin forest. Below is a rough review of field observations for the DNR old growth criteria. These observations focus on the Patuxent River floodplain, more specifically around Beech Island. Most other areas in the refuge were clearly young-aged forest.

As no trees were cored as part of this study, tree ages were not recorded. Perry’s description of the big trees of Patuxent is undated, but appears to have been written within the past ten years. It states that based on ring counts done in the past, some trees in the Patuxent floodplain are over 135 years old. Although this is relatively old for the region, for many species it would not meet the DNR criteria for which the oldest trees exceed half the maximum known age for the species. Species found on the refuge which live longer than 270 years include Liriodendron tulipifera, Quercus alba, and Nyssa sylvatica. Although some of the trees in the floodplain are fairly large, one might expect them to be larger if they were old growth. The floodplain consists of rich soils, and moisture is abundant. The large sizes of the trees may be attributable more to growing conditions than exceptionally old age. Tree coring could potentially extend the known ages of the trees in the floodplain. However, many of the largest (assumed oldest) trees are hollow. Dating these trees through tree ring counts would most likely be inconclusive.

Observations of additional DNR criteria may also be inconclusive. Shade tolerant species (beech) were observed in a variety of age classes. However, this is common for many secondary forested areas as well. Canopy gaps were common, but this was primarily a result of the braided river channel. A low degree of structural diversity existed. There was little shrub layer or herbaceous layer, little downed dead wood, and little pit and mound topography. However, each of these attributes could be lacking due to frequent flooding in this area.

Determination of old growth based on observation did not yield a definitive result. There are some old sections of floodplain forest, but they may not be old enough to qualify as old growth. Historic conditions, however, further indicate the unlikelihood of old growth, and particularly primary forest on the refuge.

In 1690, Richard Snowden built Birmingham Manor on a knoll northeast of Brock Bridge. Much of the site is now under the Baltimore Washington Parkway, but some of the remains of the manor still exist. According to at least one source, the brick and oak timbers for the house were transported up the Patuxent River by barge. It is unclear how far up the river barges went, but the same source also indicates that since the time of the manor’s construction, the river has silted in, forming islands and a braided channel.

At least as early as 1734 the Snowden’s had constructed the Patuxent Furnaces iron works along the Little Patuxent River near the bridge just east of the contact station. However, it is likely that some form of iron production was occurring at this or nearby sites, particularly near Brock Bridge, even earlier, and probably shortly after the construction of Birmingham Manor. By 1795 maps show iron works in the area as well as a mill at Duvall Bridge. Churches and farms are also scattered across the landscape. Iron furnaces and forges required a large quantity of wood for the production of charcoal used in fueling the facilities. By 1800, and for many decades before, the land which is now the Patuxent Research Refuge had been under intensive industrial and agricultural use. Another map produced shortly after 1800 shows the area around Brock Bridge and the crossing of the Little Patuxent River. Although trees are shown elsewhere on the map, no trees are shown along the Patuxent River. The Patuxent Furnaces were closed in 1856 due to a lack of wood and iron ore. The other iron works and saw mills in the area probably closed soon after as well.


Prior to the creation of Fort Meade in 1917 and subsequently the Patuxent Research Refuge in 1936, the north and central tracts had experienced over 225 years of disturbance. Over 120 of these years were intense disturbance, including repeated cutting of trees for lumber and charcoal production. It is likely that trees unsuitable for lumber were also cut, because they could be used for charcoal production for use in the iron works. Considering that wood was eventually in short supply, it is likely that any tree of significance was cut, even if access was not particularly easy.

Mining for iron ore consisted mostly of open pits. Tobacco farming and other forms of farming also occurred in the area. The heavy impacts of tree cutting, iron mining, and farming most likely generated a large quantity of sediment, both in the refuge and upstream of the refuge. Slash from tree cutting was historically thrown into rivers which would have also increased sediment deposition in the Patuxent. The islands and braided channels existing along the Patuxent River in the refuge today are likely a result of siltation from this sediment. It is unlikely that the currently existing islands occurred in their present form or locations 320 years ago when Birmingham Manor was built.

For these reasons as well as the lack of conclusive field observation evidence, it is very unlikely that there is any old growth on the Patuxent Research Refuge north or central tracts. However, it is probable that some trees on the refuge are over 150 years old, which corresponds to previous tree ring counts and also to the end of intensive use of the site. By some definitions, some areas on the refuge might be considered old growth. Additionally, the refuge also provides very good potential for future old growth, but it can be said with a relatively high level of certainty, that the refuge does not include any primary or virgin forest.

As part of field investigations for old growth forest , some trees were measured on the refuge. These were typically examples of the species which were particularly large. Circumference at breast height (CBH) was measured with a tape at 4.5 feet above the ground at mid-slope. Heights were measured using the Eastern Native Tree Society methodology which uses laser range finders, clinometers, and sine calculations to determine height. This is the most accurate method of height measurements commonly available. The included table provides documentation of these measurements.

Species - CBH - Height - Notes
Carpinus caroliniana - 3' 10" - 55' - fallen, on ground, height measured with tape
Carpinus caroliniana - 3' 8" - 56.5'
Fagus grandifolia - 14' 5" - 110.8' - appears trunk may be hollow at base
Fraxinus americana - 10' 8" - 114.8'
Fraxinus pensylvanica - 9' 9.5" - 120.5'
Fraxinus pensylvanica - 10' 9" - 126.4'
Liriodendron tulipifera - 13' 0" - 137.1'
Liriodendron tulipifera - 15' 0" - 127.5' - bark is balding near base
Magnolia virginiana - 2' 10" - NA - measured at 2' from ground, hollowed out trunk
Magnolia virginiana - 1' 9" - NA
Magnolia virginiana - 1' 9" - 55.7'
Pinus virginiana - 3' 6" - 112.3'
Platanus occidentalis - 20' 5" - 119.0'
Quercus lyrata - 10' 5.5" - 113.6'
Quercus michauxii - 10' 4" - 107.6'
Quercus michauxii - 13' 8" - 118.8'
Quercus palustris - 11' 8" - 111.6'
Toxicodendron vernix - 11.5" - 24.3'

Trees of note include the following:

Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam): Two large trees of this species were measured, but one of them had recently fallen. The tree which was still standing was large, but is not larger than the current state champion. However, it is quite a bit taller than the current champion, and as such is note worthy. It is very likely that larger trees of the species exist in the refuge elsewhere along the Patuxent River.

Platanus occidentalis (sycamore): This tree is not large enough to qualify for state champion status. However, it is a particularly nice specimen of the species. The habit is uniform, the trunk does not appear to be hollow, and the tree is very large. This tree grows along the Little Patuxent River, but is easily accessible from the nearby road.

Quercus lyrata (overcup oak): There were several trees of this species occurring in an area of the Patuxent floodplain. The example measured appeared to be the largest, but others were similar in size and exploration over a broader area might lead to discovery of a larger tree. One dead tree of very similar size had fallen nearby. Overcup oak is an uncommon species in Maryland. The tree measured is much larger than that of the current state champion, and as such should easily be able to become the new state champion if nominated.

The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is a fairly large site. I measured relatively few trees and would like to measure more. I am hoping to renew my research permit for this winter and make more extensive measurements of the trees on the property.

by Darian Copiz
Tue Aug 23, 2011 11:47 pm
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Romania - trip report

August, a year ago (2014), I took a trip with my family to Romania. Although seeing trees was part of my intent for the trip, it wasn’t as much the group’s intent, and I ended up only having limited time to explore. As a result, I made almost no measurements – only two. However, those measurements, pictures, and a little description may be of some interest.

Prior to the trip I did some research and came across a variety of maps showing areas of virgin and old growth forest. It should be noted, that these labels don’t necessarily have the same meaning we associate with the terminology in the U.S. In some cases, the term “old growth” may be very similar to what we consider it, but often both of these terms refer more to natural forests with minimal disturbance from man. One area we visited was the Prahova Valley, in the mountains north of Bucharest. A map showed a relative abundance of virgin forest on the slopes of this valley. However, this was an ancient trade route since before Roman times. Additionally, the name of one town in the valley, Busteni, is translated as “logs.” Although it is now a resort town, the name seems a clear indicator it was originally a logging village. These considerations are a caveat to the attributed age of the forests.

I measured the heights of two Picea abies on the grounds of Peleș Castle in Sinaia, a town south of Buşteni. Sinaia was founded as a monastery in 1695 (named after Sinai in Egypt). In the late 1800s, Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen lineage selected an area near the monastery to construct a summer retreat (the castle). My family was visiting here because of our connection to the area, which started with my great grandfather who worked as a painter in the construction of the castle. Access to the castle was along the little valley directly to the south, which was lined on both sides by carriageways. However, it appears the forest in the narrow interior of the valley was left relatively intact. This is where I saw some tall spruce. I measured two trees from the carriageway on the south side of the valley. I got 148.6’ for the first one, and 150.1’ for the second. I didn’t measure the trunks, but would guess they were in the 18-24” dbh range. This was a very small taste for the species, growing in a somewhat preserved, but fairly open, less than pristine woods. I also saw it as a dominant component of the forests on the Bucegi plateau, just to the west. I would be interested in what some of the undeveloped, densely forested valleys running east from the plateau would produce.

North of the mountains is the Transylvanian plateau. We visited some of this area also, a region where much of the farming is still traditional (maybe not for long though) and some pastures have very nice trees. We visited one of these pastures, the Breite Plateau, which is a well-known grassland with ancient oaks on a rise above the medieval city of Sighișoara. At one time there was a proposal to develop a Dracula theme park on the site, but fortunately nothing came of that. When we were there, we came across few other people – a shepherd with his sheep and dogs, and another visitor who pointed out what is supposed to be the largest and oldest tree on the plateau. He said the tree is estimated to be 800 years old. The website for the preserve also mentions 800 as an estimated age for the oldest trees. As you can see from the picture, this large tree is a double-trunk. I expect the age estimates are based on ring counts and extrapolated for the diameter of the tree. Since it’s a double-trunk though, it seems halving the estimate is reasonable. Nevertheless, it is still an impressive tree. Other oaks in the grassland were also large and picturesque, with the gnarled branches characteristic of older trees. The oak species are Quercus robur and Q. petraea , however I did not look closely enough at them to differentiate. I suspect that those with a greater amount of powdery mildew may be Q. robur .

We also hiked through other pastures in Transylvania, with trees not quite as majestic, but still significant. These included more oaks, but also beech, Carpinus betulus, and Betula pendula. One grove of birches (B. pendula) was particularly interesting, because of the trees' contorted form and roughly ridged bark.

Romania is known for having some of the best, and most extensive forests in Europe. It also has many areas of traditionally maintained agricultural landscapes with beautiful open grown trees. I was only able to see a tiny bit of this. It is definitely a place I would like to return. There is some urgency to this, as the forests are being logged, both legally and illegally, and as the agricultural practices become increasingly industrialized. Next time I’ll try to take some more measurements.

by Darian Copiz
Sat Aug 22, 2015 7:23 pm
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Rich Hole Wilderness, VA

Last fall (October 2014), I visited Rich Hole Wilderness. This is the same location that Ranger Dan had visited about 2 and half years earlier, and I used his report to point me in the right direction. I didn’t cover as much ground as he did, but I can contribute pictures, a few measurements (as notes under pictures), and some additional detail about the site.

Rich Hole received wilderness designation in 1988. However, prior to this, 1,326 acres of rich cove (or rich hole) forest in the area was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1974. The National Park Service page for this landmark describes it as being virgin forest. Although I haven’t found any maps of the landmark, presumably it corresponds to the series of coves on the northwest side of Brushy Mountain, north of where the ridgeline jogs to the east. Access is through the saddle between the two segments of this ridgeline. As Dan describes, there is a clearing on the saddle where there used to be a house or cabin.

The clearing is a remnant of past disturbance. There was additional past major disturbance along the base of the eastern slope of the ridge. A series of iron mines and cuts were active there from the early 1800s into the early 1900s. Associated with these mines, were charcoal production facilities and iron furnaces, with the closest furnace located to the southwest at Longdale Furnace. The demand for wood in charcoal production would have denuded much of area, with the most accessible locations probably being cut several times. These furnaces supplied the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war, coke was used in iron production, possibly with a resultant diminished logging pressure on the surrounding forests.

My wife and I hiked up the trail to the saddle between the two ridgelines of Brushy Mountain, and descended down the long cove northeast of this saddle. We skirted along the slope on the east side of the cove. At the end of the cove, the going got tougher, with rocky ground, and increased brush. That is where we decided to turn around. My wife isn’t a fan of bushwhacking, and I was already impressed she had gone so far. We headed back up the small stream draining the cove. The soil along the swale of the cove and on the lower slopes was dark and rich, but becomes rockier, drier, and apparently more acidic as one goes up toward the ridgeline of Brushy Mountain. Based on geologic/mineral maps, the ridgeline is sandstone of the Rose Hill formation. The maps don’t provide close detail, but it would appear the rich soil in the coves may be derived from Martinsburg Shale, which can include limestone and calcareous shale.

The trees, downed wood, and sprouting vegetation all indicated a relatively recent fire. Looking this up later, there had been a major fire here in 2012. The fire had occurred in April, just a month after Dan’s report. The incident map for the fire shows that it originated in the area of coves and spread to burn over 3,000 acres, including jumping over Interstate 64. From what I saw, it fortunately appeared to have been a ground fire, and most of the large trees were in relatively good condition. Hopefully, this was the case for the other coves to the northeast as well. An observer of the fire, commenting online, mentioned it was the third fire they had observed in the Rich Hole area, seeing the first one as a kid, and the second one as a teenager.

The forest in the long cove was fairly open, with a sparse understory. This may be why my wife bushwhacked without complaint. As mentioned, the growth became denser and more brushy toward the end of the cove where the small stream turns west to meet Alum Run. As Dan reported, Quercus rubra is the most common species. Acer saccharum was also common, and is responsible for most of the yellow coloration in the photographs. I observed Fraxinus americana mostly at the head of the cove. Other species were Tilia americana and Ulmus americana, also at the head of the cove – possibly this is the area where the soils are richest. There were many large girthed red oaks. I did not take any height measurements, partly because of time constraints, but also because the heights did not look impressive. I would guess at maximum tree heights in the cove of around 120 feet. Some of the larger oaks may have only been around 100 feet. However, I would have to actually measure to confirm this – maybe I would be surprised.

I did not get the impression that this cove consisted of virgin forest. It was adjacent to the settled area of the saddle, and is reasonably accessible to what had been the mining area just to the east. That being said, I did not see any cut stumps. I think this cove was probably at least selectively logged in the mid to latter part of the 19th century, but may not have seen much disturbance since then. I would guess that the older trees may be around 150 years old.

Based on the aerial photography and on the topography, it seems that the smaller, more northern coves may be where the real promise lies. Due to the relative inaccessibility and because of large canopies and gaps on the aerials, these appear to have to have a greater likelihood of being virgin forest. I had wanted to return to explore at least one or two of these over the winter, but wasn’t able to. I am curious how far Dan got – at which cove/saddle he turned around. I aim to return, maybe this winter.

by Darian Copiz
Thu Aug 27, 2015 8:14 pm
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Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, DC

Although I remain silent on the BBS for long periods of time, I have been following posts to some extent by reading the daily email summaries when I have a chance. Last year I read about others’ experiences with the TruPulse 200. With the winter approaching and the desire to get out and measure some trees, I decided to invest in a TruPulse 200X. During December of 2014 I used this to fairly methodically measure trees at two areas in Washington, DC and one area in Virginia. The areas in DC are along the Potomac Gorge. The first area (which this post is about) is the floodplain of the Potomac River, within the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The second area, which I will report on in a later post, is the bluffs above the floodplain, known as the Potomac Palisades. As fair warning, neither of these sites has very tall trees. I measured these sites because I would like to make fairly comprehensive measurements for the Potomac Gorge (which started years ago with measurements on Roosevelt Island). I am planning for this to be a continued effort, but started with these two sites partly because I wanted to get them out of the way. They (particularly the palisades) weren’t the most pleasant places to go tree hunting.

The Potomac floodplain upriver of Georgetown is an area of green open space that is popular with joggers, runners, fishermen, and boaters. In the past, it was an industrial landscape. Mills and foundries were built along the base of the bluffs where small tributaries empty into the Potomac. Rock was quarried from the bluffs for building stone. Construction on the C&O Canal started in 1828, and previous work on other canal ventures had started even earlier. The section upriver of Georgetown was one of the first to be completed. In 1910, the Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad was completed, running on a constructed rise through the floodplain adjacent to the canal. After a flood in 1924, the canal fell out of use. The last train ran on the Georgetown Branch rail line in 1985. Today, Canal Road runs along the base of the palisades. Next to that is the canal and its towpath. The abandoned railroad, which is now the Capital Crescent Trail, runs next to the towpath. The primary area of tree growth occurs between the trail and the river. However, some of the larger trees are in the narrow area between the towpath and the trail, which becomes narrower as one progresses downriver.

DC_Washington West_1945.jpg
The largest trees common in the floodplain are sycamore and silver maple. Tulip trees are not common, but occurred on higher land closer to the bluffs. In general, I measured sycamores and silver maples if they were around 14’ cbh or larger, and other large species if they were 10 – 12’ cbh or larger. I measured smaller sized trees if they appeared large for the species or were especially uncommon. I also measured smaller cbh trees if they appeared particularly tall. The tallest trees occurred in the bend between the towpath and the Capital Crescent trail, where the trail descends and curves down from the palisades. This area had probably been left relatively untouched since the railroad was built. The trees with the largest girths were fairly scattered. In most cases they were probably growing in the 19th century and had been left in place for one reason or another. I measured a total of 59 trees. Tables of top measurements for each species are provided below, a height table followed by a girth table. For the girth table, I excluded trees that were multi-trunk measurements.

The height RI is 108.9.’ The RI for girth is 13’ 3.” The most impressive trees here were noticeable for their girth, with the most unusual of these for the area being the hackberry. The most annoying tree to get to was the large girth tulip, which required a bushwhack through fairly dense undergrowth in the narrow strip of land between Canal Road and the canal. What I thought was one of the nicest trees, was a black walnut (the tallest) growing upriver of Chain Bridge.

by Darian Copiz
Sun Aug 30, 2015 10:59 am
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Potomac Gorge - Scotts Run Preserve and upriver


This past winter Will introduced me to Bob Vickers, who is a big tree hunter and is on the Fairfax County Tree Commission in Northern Virginia. Bob and I met a few times in the winter to check out some big trees in the Potomac Gorge. We went to Scotts Run Preserve to measure a big sycamore he had scoped out. I got the height on the sycamore and at a later date also measured a tulip, beech, green ash, and pawpaw in the immediate vicinity. These are all in the rich floodplain of the Potomac at the base of a steep slope.

Bob also took me to see the national champion chestnut oak which is further up the Potomac from Scotts Run. I measured the oak shorter than what is in the records. Also, it’s a triple trunk tree, but still impressive – and considering it’s growing at the end of a slight spur ridge, it’s respectably tall.

All these trees are listed below, including an elm I measured at another location in Fairfax County along the Potomac.

Species - CBH - Height - Notes
Asimina triloba - 1' 8" - 67.4'
Fagus grandifolia - 7' 9" - 118.5'
Fraxinus pensylvanica - 8' 9" - 123.1'
Liriodendron tulipifera - 17' 7" - 145.5' - bark is sloughing off main trunk, tree may be gone soon
Platanus occidentails - 15' 7" - 149.7' - height measured previously as 154.9' possibly in error
Quercus prinus - 18' 6" - 133.3' - national champion, cbh taken from records, triple trunk
Ulmus americana - 12' 9" - 100.8'

I measured the pawpaw twice, on two separate days, to double-check the height. I also double checked the sycamore, but wasn’t able to replicate my initial measurement so used my second measurement. The pawpaw, sycamore, and tulip were all within a hundred feet or so of each other. The tulip is in significant decline and probably won’t be around much longer.
I plan to make more measurements in Scotts Run and elsewhere along the Potomac, but not necessarily at a fast pace. Bob also has some more trees in mind he’d like to show me – particularly some pawpaws on an island in the Potomac. I hope to go see these soon, when the canopy clears up.

by Darian Copiz
Sat Aug 27, 2011 5:24 pm
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Potomac Palisades, DC

The bluffs along the Potomac River and the adjacent neighborhood in Washington, DC are known as the palisades. I measured trees occurring in wooded areas here (with a few open grown trees as well) between December 2014 and March 2015. Most of the woods occur on the steep slope between the top of the bluffs and Canal Road which runs along the bluffs’ base. An old trolley line, which had opened in 1895, used to run along the top of the slope for much of its length. It was decommissioned in the early 1960s. There has been some controversy about whether or not to make this a more formal trail. In the meantime it stays open, relatively unvegetated, and is a means of traversing the palisades. Closer to the Maryland line, the Georgetown Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad climbed up along the slope. Now it is the Capital Crescent Trail. Various sections of the bluffs had been quarried in the past, leaving cliffs and rock outcroppings. Civil War fortifications had been installed on the heights above Chain Bridge. Despite the multiple causes of disturbance, some patches of older trees still occur on sections of steep slope and in some of the small stream valleys emptying into the Potomac.

As with the District portion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, I measured trees that had a large cbh for the species, were uncommon, or appeared to be tall for the area. I measured a total of 147 trees consisting of 28 species. Making tree measurements in this area was often not very pleasant. The steep slopes made it necessary to walk down around some trees and back up the slope to get a tape around the trunks. There was a lot of dense undergrowth, including quite a bit of greenbrier. These conditions combined in some cases to make throwing the tape to the other side of the tree the only reasonable alternative for taking a cbh measurement. During one such toss around a tree, I gashed open my hand on greenbrier thorns, getting blood all over the tape. In another case I estimated the cbh (and noted such) as it was right at the edge of a cliff, and wasn’t worth risking maneuvers to try and measure it. Some trees were also in close proximity to traffic and people’s backyards – or at least what they might think are their backyards. While walking along the old trolley right of way, I became a bit uncomfortable the first time I saw a pack of dogs approaching. Then I saw their walker, which put me at better ease. Although the right of way is used, one comes across people infrequently.

Overall, the tree heights and girths were slightly greater than that of the Potomac floodplain below. This is mostly attributable to sections of older trees, but also to greater overall diversity. On the other hand, the open southwest facing exposure in much of the area would tend to limit girths and heights. The section with the highest concentration of big trees was the stream valley of Maddox Branch, which is easily accessible and has a footpath running through it. Many of the large trees here were growing more or less in a line along the west side of the stream. I believe some of these may have originally been semi-open grown trees along a fence line or property line. Behind this line was a small section of woods which appears to have been relatively undisturbed for over 150 years. There are a few other small areas along the palisades which may have a similar age. Other interesting sections included a grove of willow oaks on the slopes east of Arizona Avenue (what used to be Davis’ Branch) and some larger trees near the Georgetown Reservoir.

The height Rucker Index is 113.8 feet. The girth Rucker Index is 13 feet 11 inches. As is often the case, the large old tulip trees were the most impressive. What stood out most about the site though, was the number of large black cherries growing on the disturbed slopes. Cherries in the DC area are often not a very large or long-lived species, and many of the cherries along the palisades were in decline. The period since disturbance may have been about the right balance to produce trees that were large, but not quite dead yet. I measured 5 black cherries with a dbh over 3 feet. An uncommon tree I measured was a hackberry, which based on its form appeared to be Celtis tenuifolia. However, I have not yet confirmed this and it could possibly be C. laevigata or less likely C. occidentalis. Near the Maryland border, there were also a few Quercus muehlenbergii, which are not common in the area.

I previously mentioned that the palisades was not the most pleasant place to make measurements. However, it was definitely interesting, with a lot of history – and signs of history, some discoveries of nice trees, and good views of the Potomac below.

by Darian Copiz
Mon Sep 07, 2015 6:03 pm
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Caledon State Park, VA

I have been to Caledon State Park several times over the years and there have been previous NTS reports (the most recent only 2 or 3 posts down) on the location, but there haven’t been many measurements taken. With the new ease and accuracy of measuring with the TruPulse 200X, last fall I decided to take some fairly methodical measurements. The drive there is fairly annoying, or I should say the drive back is, as the stretch of I-95 between Fredericksburg and DC is almost always congested during afternoons and evenings. It can take me an hour and a half to get there and three hours to get back. I went four times over the winter to measure, and took an additional trip in the spring for some pictures. I also have some pictures from the fall of 2013.

The area encompassed by Caledon State Park has a fairly long history of settlement. The park is located on the Northern Neck, the peninsula between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. American Indians had been active in this area for thousands of years, but by the 1640s and 1650s the English had purchased much of this land from them, and the Indians were being pushed out. In 1659 John Alexander purchased land in the Caledon area from Edmund Scarborough (who had sometimes been questionably aggressive toward the Indians). The Alexanders settled between 1663 and 1664 and farmed the land for many years. There were other property owners as well. A stone boundary marker is still intact along one of the trails with the name of the owner, John Short, and the year it was placed, 1754. The land for the park was donated to the state of Virginia in 1974.

Historically, tobacco farming dominated the region. The area within the park had various settlements, farms, and even included a tobacco inspection warehouse at Boyd’s Hole, an area of deeper water that allowed ships to dock. Tobacco was inspected here before export to make sure the colonists weren’t trying to pull any fast ones on those at the receiving end in Europe. During the Civil War the Confederates harassed Union boats from the area. I have included a Confederate map from the period. The map shows three sections of forest within the area of interest. I checked out the portion along the Potomac River near Boyd’s Hole. It was obvious that it had been cut since the map was made. It may have even been cut by Union soldiers to remove cover for the Confederates. The other two sections of forest are on the east and west tributaries of what is known today as Caledon Marsh (just west of Fitzhugh on the map). I haven’t yet thoroughly investigated these areas. The western section may be outside of park property.

I focused my measurements starting from the well known grove of tulip trees at the head of the eastern tributary of Caledon Marsh. For the most part the terrain is gently rolling, with some steeper banks going down to streams here and there. Most of the area has been farmed, but some of the steeper banks may have remained as forest (although logged) for most of the site’s history. Closer to the Potomac, the rolling terrain drops toward flatter, wetter terrain with somewhat less interesting tree cover. The site is on the coastal plain, with relatively sandy soils.

As with other sites I have measured recently, I attempted to measure all trees that were especially large for a given species. This equated to roughly 14’ cbh for tulip trees, 12’ cbh for oaks, and 9’ cbh for beeches. Of course trees that looked especially tall were also measured. I measured a total of 96 trees. Some of the oaks were not easy to identify. There seemed to be some overlap between pagoda oak and southern red oak, and possibly with black oak as well. There may be some hybridization occurring here. In the measurement tables I have noted when species designation was not entirely clear.

The grove of large tulip trees is the old growth that Caledon is known for. These are impressive. In an area less than an acre, there are seven tulips over 14’ cbh and five that are over 160 feet tall, with several others not lagging far behind. These trees line both sides of a shallow cove. Periwinkle covers quite a bit of the ground. I get the impression that the grove was intentional – at the least that it was intentionally preserved, but possibly that it was even planted or that there may have been some selective removal of trees combined with landscape plantings. I would estimate the tree ages to be around 200 years. This would place their origin in a period when tulip trees were popular and were often used for planting around estates, including Jefferson’s Monticello. The grove occurs next to a clearing where people still live.

The next valley to the west also had quite a few large tulip trees, including the tallest one (I was somewhat disappointed it didn’t break 170’), which appeared to be younger than some of the other large tulips. Although not quite as exceptional as the first cove, the other valleys to the west continued to produce large trees. The tulip trees are definitely the stars of Caledon, but the coastal plain oaks do very well here. Pagoda oak is common, and gets fat and fairly tall. What I felt was the best measurement though, was a tall black oak. It appeared the tree was either already dead or on its last leg. This made the measurement that much more timely and I’m glad I was able to measure and photograph it before it is gone. Hickories also did well. Trees of smaller species (persimmon and holly) attained respectable heights. From what I measured, and as far as I recall, there was an absence of ash, maple, and sycamore. I expect this is due to the sandy soils which are probably fairly acidic.

Caledon is a special place. In addition to the large trees there is a lot of history, and wildlife. You are almost guaranteed to see bald eagles when you are there. I also saw red-headed woodpeckers, which I almost never see in the DC region. The park lies along the Potomac River, which provides for nice views. Typically it is not very crowded – except for the drive. Despite the traffic (and it will only continue to get worse) I will be returning, and I expect I will make some additional measurements.

by Darian Copiz
Wed Nov 11, 2015 9:40 pm
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Maryland Canopy Height Map


Partly inspired by George Fieo's spectacular finds at Fair Hill, I started looking further into other potential tall tree sites in Maryland. Of course one of the best ways to do this is with LIDAR, but I was very apprehensive about looking for data sets, piecing them together, and processing the data. I was hoping that maybe someone out there had already done some of this, and had actually been hoping this for some time. Maryland has some great online mapping resources. Maybe DNR or another organization would have tree canopies. I had searched for it before, but hadn't come across anything. This time though, I hit the jackpot. Coming from my alma mater, here it is:

The canopy height layer goes up to 50 meters. The quality varies a bit from county to county, but overall looks good. According to the website, eventually they will also be making the files available - which would be very helpful, as then a query could just be done to locate all areas with canopies over a certain height. In the meantime, I have been visually scanning and clicking on different areas of the map to find tall tree sites. Based on previous experience, online resources don't always stay around forever, so I have been mapping promising sites on a personal Google map. If anyone would like access to this map, let me know and I can send a link.

So far I have checked out a couple sites and the map appears to be a good resource for locating tall tree sites. However, the field measurements fall short of map measurements - which seems to be typical enough for LIDAR data. Although the map indicated tree heights in excess of 49 meters, so far my tallest measurements have been just shy of 160 feet - which still isn't shabby. I will post reports on the sites I have measured soon, but they aren't Fair Hills. I don't think I even got a full Rucker Index for them. They were still of some interest though.

by Darian Copiz
Thu Jan 05, 2017 7:50 pm
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Swan Point Creek, MD

Swan Point Creek runs through Jug Bay Natural Area, which is part of Patuxent River Park. Much of Jug Bay Natural Areas has relatively short trees. Most of the area is old farm land, where tobacco had been grown for possibly hundreds of years. I hadn’t really thought of measuring trees here because I hadn’t previously seen any tall ones. However, canopy maps showed that midway along the length of the stream, near the border where it enters the park, there is a stand of tall trees.

The spot is a nice little stream valley. It’s another site with a relatively open ground story, easy to walk through, and also a pleasant place to just sit and look at the forest. The area of tall trees is relatively small. I only measured seven different species. Below are the results.
The beeches stood out here. They grew tall, and with nice forms. Trees also seemed to achieve good heights with relatively skinny trunks compared to other places I’ve measured. Some of the sweet gums as well as other trees were rotting at the base due to old beaver damage. It would have been nice if the site was larger, but there are some spots scattered elsewhere in the area that I might get around to measuring at some point.
by Darian Copiz
Sat Jan 14, 2017 4:43 pm
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White's Woods, MD

The website on Maryland tree canopy heights that I recently came across allowed me to assess various parts of the state to locate sites that may have tall trees. From this visual scan, it appears that the greatest number of sites are in the inner coastal plain or in the piedmont near the fall zone. Both Fair Hill and Belt Woods are within these geographic areas, with Fair Hill being in the piedmont and Belt Woods being in the coastal plain.

The first site I looked at occurs on Prince George’s County park land that includes Enterprise Golf Course and the Newton White Mansion. The land was part of the old Newton White dairy farm. A wooded area occurs just east and southeast of the mansion, which I’ll refer to as White’s Woods. I was going to measure some trees in pockets of woods to the north, but that area is under the control of park police, who chased me away.

White’s Woods is of a similar character to Belt Woods, which is only about 3 miles away. The terrain is gently rolling and the understory is relatively open. It also reminded me a bit of Caledon State Park, particularly how a grove of large tulip trees was growing near the home site. As is the case on most sites in the region, the tulips were the stars of these woods, achieving the greatest heights and girths. Nothing was record breaking, but it was still an impressive site – especially the density of fat tulips within sight or almost within sight of the mansion. Although the tulip with the greatest girth was open grown near the mansion, the rest were within the woods, and had large girths and respectable heights. There were over 10 tulips with a cbh of 14 feet or greater, about half of which were over 150 feet tall.

I ended up getting a 10 tree Rucker Index mostly by chance. I was primarily looking for exceptional trees, not necessarily the ten tallest tree species. The RI could probably be bumped up a bit through a more thorough investigation of the site and inclusion of more oak species. Some of the wooded pockets to the north would probably also increase this. In the process of chasing me off, the police did mention that many very large oaks had been blown down in the northernmost patch of woods a few years back. I had also noticed that on the aerial photograph. The canopy website didn’t reflect this, so must use older data.

Although I had hoped for more, I was still impressed with White’s Woods. As at Caledon, the grove of tulips appeared to had been purposefully maintained as an amenity for the nearby house. The basket oak and sugarberry attained what I thought were good heights. However, the identification of the sugarberry was based almost entirely on bark and wasn’t completely conclusive. It could potentially be a hybrid with C. occidentalis .

by Darian Copiz
Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:15 pm
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Re: Multi-stem Trees - Measuring Circumference

Most definitions of "tree" include mention of a single or main stem or trunk. One stem of a multi-stem woody plant could be nominated, but it should be just that stem - including height and canopy spread. I think the pith trace is a good rule, but think that allowing the point of divergence to be anywhere above the root collar is too generous. Pith divergence shouldn't be any lower than 4.5 feet, and for large species of trees even that is very generous. Although in some cases determining pith divergence may be a little tricky, for the majority of trees it's pretty clear. I have a hard time recalling any trees I measured where I couldn't tell.

It's fine to include shrub species as champion trees, as long as they have a tree form. However, including tree species with a shrub form is a different matter. To be a champion tree, for starters it's got to at least be a tree. If there's some magnificent "trees" that branch below 4.5 feet, that's great. People can visit them, admire them, and praise them, but that doesn't mean they have to be champion trees. We've been underwhelmed by champions for years. Modifying the rules can change that. Including multi-trunks doesn't.

by Darian Copiz
Thu Jan 05, 2017 7:09 pm
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Re: Multi-stem Trees - Measuring Circumference

Although the examples I've seen appear to be pretty clear to me and I'm not sure why there is so much debate about this, I think there are some potential complications if one is using the root collar for determination, as that area can be somewhat muddled. At 4.5 feet above the ground there is less room for interpretation and things are even clearer. Breast height is where circumference is measured, so that should be where the number of trunks should be determined. Otherwise we might as well measure circumference at the root collar.
by Darian Copiz
Tue Jan 24, 2017 8:57 pm
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Killiansburg Woods, MD

On President’s Day I explored a section of woods which I’ll refer to as Killiansburg Woods. The name is derived from Killiansburg Cave, a rock overhang at the west end of the woods which residents of Sharpsburg used as a shelter during the Battle of Antietam. The woods extend east to Snyders Landing, along a north facing slope bordering a bend in the Potomac River. The C&O Canal forms the northern edge of these woods, where cliffs of Conocheague Limestone drop to the canal below. There are several small caves extending back into the cliffs. Some of the coves in the woods above appear to be sinkholes, forming perched valleys with flat bottoms and steep sides.
The underlying limestone results in rich soils and some species which are not particularly common in the state. Thuja occidentalis grows on the north facing cliffs, sometimes within arm’s reach of Juniperus virginiana, which grows on the crest of the cliffs. North facing limestone bluffs along the Potomac are the only locations I know of where Thuja grows in Maryland. Quercus muehlenbergii is another uncommon species that occurs here, but I only came across one or two of them. I would have expected to see Magnolia acuminata also, but did not encounter any. The woods don’t appear to be particularly old, although there were a few large older looking trees scattered about – the 13.6 cbh black oak being the most significant one. Civil War era maps show woods in the area, but the extents are unclear, and much of it could have been cut since then. A 1944 USGS map does clearly show most of the area being wooded and it does not appear there has been significant change since then.
The measurements I took are a sampling, and not a very full representation of the site. All of the trees measured were in the coves behind the cliffs, with the exception of the Thuja, which was on a cliff, and the Populus, which was at the edge of the canal, next to the towpath. The tall tulip was in a broad cove in an almost pure stand, with a few sycamores mixed in. I don’t think I got the tallest Thuja here, it probably tops out at around 50 feet.

by Darian Copiz
Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:04 am
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Turkey Run Park, VA

Turkey Run Park is an area I have frequently visited. In November 2010, Will and I measured a few trees there. I had been meaning to go back to thoroughly measure the area, but had been planning to work my way up the Potomac Gorge, out of D.C., so it had not been first on my list of places to measure. However, with the arrival of emerald ash borer in the region it got bumped in priority. Will mentioned an ash over 130 feet in his report, and I had also noticed some impressive ashes while hiking through the area at various times. This winter was likely my last opportunity to measure ashes in the park, as next year will probably be too late. Unfortunately, in the meantime other areas will not have their ashes documented.

Turkey Run Park is a small area north of George Washington Memorial Parkway between Turkey Run and the next stream to the east. Jurisdictionally, it is part of the Parkway and also houses the headquarters for the Parkway. Technically, the area that Will and I had previously measured was actually outside of Turkey Run Park, but still within George Washington Memorial Parkway land. Much of the area I measured over this winter was also outside of the technical Turkey Run Park, but mostly within the Parkway land. Some of it was south of the parkway and included much of Langley Oaks Park. The map below depicts the areas I measured outlined in green. The area outlined in yellow, was a valley with particularly tall trees. Of interest, the tan area to the lower right of the map, is the CIA.
Historically, much of the area had been farmland. However, the steep slopes along the Potomac may have been wooded for many years. A map from the 1860s depicts many of these slopes as being forested, but also shows a soapstone quarry in one location within the park. The remains of the quarry are still apparent. There are additional signs of disturbance and development along the river, but overall it is less disturbed than other portions of the Potomac Gorge, especially compared to areas lower down the river. Some of the trees are clearly quite old. I counted 174 rings on the stump of a white oak near the park entrance. The stump was 9 feet in circumference at 1 foot above the ground. I’m sure other nearby trees are older.

As Will mentioned in his report, the slopes along the Potomac consist of rich woods. These slopes can be categorized as basic mesic forest – a forest type which is not common in the vicinity other than along the Potomac. This forest type, combined with the other variety of habitats, and the fairly large area measured resulted in a high diversity of species. Silver maple was not very well represented even though it is very common and attains large sizes elsewhere in the Potomac Gorge. I would have also expected ironwood and river birch to attain larger sizes. On the other hand, there were very good specimens of quite a few other species. I spent 14 days between December and March, measuring a total of 232 recorded trees, representing 42 species.
As previously mentioned, the area outlined in yellow on the map was especially rich in tall trees. It contained the tallest tulip, red hickory, red oak, and beech, and one of the tallest black walnuts. Just outside of the area were also the tallest mockernut hickory and scarlet oak.

The Flora of North America and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System don’t recognize Carya ovalis as a separate species. I tend toward being more of a lumper myself, but included C. ovalis here in order to distinguish between differences I noted in the field, and because the Flora of Virginia recognizes it as a species. The nuts were used for identification, with the red hickory shells clearly splitting to the base, often with small ridges along the edges of the segments. Interestingly, I did not find the bark of these trees to be any shaggier than trees with C. glabra type nuts, and actually often found C. glabra to have shaggier bark. Another interesting difference is that I found three C. ovalis trees over 145 feet tall, but the C. glabra type didn’t get over 139’. Will had measured a pignut as 138.7.’ I believe the tallest one I measured was the same tree, but I ended up slightly shorter at 138.3’ – I may have missed the top, or it hasn’t gotten taller.
Another tree Will measured has grown. The basswood he measured as 124.5’ I measured to 128.5.’ Tilia is not very common in the region, but along the Potomac at this location it is fairly abundant. Almost all of these trees are curved and form a long arc. However, the tallest one is very straight, with no sign of the trunk curving. Some of the less straight ones were still tall though. I measured three others over 120 feet tall.

I tried, but unfortunately wasn’t able to match Will’s 150.0’ for sycamore, but only achieved 148.5. I also didn’t match the pawpaw measurement and fell short of the bitternut hickory measurement by 0.1.’

I believe the site has a mix of sugar and black maple. I primarily used fallen leaves for identification. The leaf shape is the primary characteristic the Flora of Virginia uses to distinguish. This wasn’t always very clear though, and I wasn’t always certain of the identification.

In regards to ashes, the area did not disappoint. It will be sad to see them all die though, which is already underway. Green ash is the predominant species and achieved impressive height. Some large girthed trees were also included. I’m doubtful if the species gets much taller in the Potomac Gorge, so I’m glad I got to this site before they are gone.
The forest around Turkey Run is some of the nicest in the area and is also known for its spring display of wildflowers. Despite the constant hum of the parkway, frequent planes, and occasional helicopters it can feel fairly wild at times, especially when one is down by the Potomac and the hills and river flow block the sound of traffic. Wildlife I saw over the winter included deer, fox, turkey, bald eagles, hawks, a black snake (in hawk’s talons), and a variety of other birds as well as signs of beaver. It is fortunate to have this area of rich natural heritage so close to the city.

by Darian Copiz
Tue Mar 14, 2017 5:40 pm
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