Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall of the Woodpecker Tree

This is how the woodpecker tree appeared in May 2014, the last time it was photographed in an upright position.  The stout Silver Maple managed to remain standing for nine years following its death in 2005.
This is that same view as of today.  It’ll be a while before I stop doing a double-take as I pass by the window outside which this large tree trunk once stood.  I had the tree cut short enough, so it wouldn’t reach the house if it fell in that direction.  Fortunately, it went the other direction and landed in a spot where it can be left to continue its slow deterioration.

I had been looking at birds on the feeder just minutes before the tree lost its hold on the vertical and flung itself to the ground.  The impact tremor was felt throughout the house.  The sound was reminiscent of a quarry blast.  I would have thought nine years of decomposition would have softened the trunk up a bit.

The three large branches broke at the point where they forked from the stout base.  The tree has securely brought itself to rest and will not be doing any further shifting of position.

Despite nine years of weathering, the outside wood of both branches and trunk are still remarkably solid.  Even when the tree was alive, the point that branches diverge from the trunk was a weak spot.  It’s natural that the breaks would occur here.

The dead tree has had no shortage of insect residents.  The wood surface is covered with holes created by a variety of wood borers.

There were only a very few locations where insects had obviously concentrated their feeding activities on wood located directly beneath the bark.  The bark remained securely attached for several years following the death of the tree.  I expected to find a lot more signs of insects in this part of the wood.

This cavity, found near the top of the smallest diameter branch, fledged a batch of bluebirds this summer.  I’m glad the tree didn’t come down during nesting season.

Decomposition was more rapid at and below the ground, where fluctuation of temperature and moisture levels was minimized.  Had the trunk followed the same pace, there would probably be just a pile of crumbs here now.

Side roots disappeared long ago.  A small central core was all that kept the dead tree upright.

Loss of its vertical attitude has not dissuaded the woodpeckers from visiting the tree.  They still probe the cracks and crevices, but seem to have abandoned it as a regular feeding station.

Sunflower seeds taken from the feeder are now conveyed to a dead limb on the old apple tree for opening and consumption.  I’ll miss watching the adult birds teach their offspring the knack of placing a sunflower seed in just the right crevice so the husk can be easily removed.  The woodpecker tree may be down, but I’m sure it will still provide plenty of interest for me to observe.

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