Thursday, October 29, 2015

Field Trip to Maquapit Lake

Bur Oaks and More

Bur Oak
On Friday past a friend and I went on a field trip to see a stand of Bur Oaks near Maquapit Lake.  Bur Oaks are not common in New Brunswick and to see a stand of them was an exciting prospect.  It was a sunny day about 10ºC.  Our fall colours are a bit past their peak but never-the-less are still beautiful.

The habitat was mainly lowland hardwood with a rich understory of ferns, blueberries, and other plants.  The overstory was dominated by water maples, red maples, balsam poplars and oaks.  The oaks were mainly bur oaks with very few red oaks.  We estimated there were at least 50 bur oaks, mostly mature trees.  We measured three of the largest and their diameters were 86, 78, and 66 cm.  Those were big oaks!  Pictured above is a view looking up into one of them.  They still had some of their foliage left although much had fallen off.

Bur Oaks
The Bur Oak's range extends from eastern Canada to the prairies and south through the mid-western states to Texas.  It is a hardy species being able to withstand fire and drought.  Note the thick bark shown below which protects it from fire. 

Bur Oak Bark
Bur Oak Leaf

The Bur Oak was an important source of food for aboriginal peoples.  The acorns are edible and today provide a food source for mammals and birds.  I have searched for bur oak acorns under nearly every tree I have found over the years and I always find a lot of acorn debris but rarely intact acorns.  They are all chewed open or show evidence of worm holes.  I suspect the animals are practically under the trees waiting for them to drop or the squirrels are in the canopy harvesting them before any other creature gets a chance.  It would be fun to harvest a few and boil them up to see what they taste like.  They have been found in archaeological digs going back 5,000 years showing they were an important source of food for our ancestors.  

Bur Oaks
Pictured below is the bark and leaves of the Red Oak.  Note the similarity the red oak bark shows with the Bur Oak.  The leaves are quite different.

Red Oak Bark

Red Oak Leaves
According to "Edible Wild Plants" by Lee Allen Peterson, the acorns of both the white and red oaks are edible although the red oaks are not as desirable as the white oaks.  The Bur Oak is a white oak and the acorns are apparently sweet.  The nuts (acorns) of white oaks can be used for flour, meal, or eaten as nuts or candy.  They are usually shelled and boiled to remove the tannins and then dried and roasted.  Dried nut meats can be dipped in maple sugar and eaten as candy or ground into a meal and used to make breads and muffins.  They are an excellent source of protein and fat.

The habitat we were in was on the shores of a marsh leading into Maquapit Lake.  The scenery there was beautiful as noted in the image below.  

Maquapit Lake Marsh
The waterfowl habitat in the marsh was excellent.  We found wild rice (Zizania) growing and other abundant food for waterfowl.  We happened upon a large flock of about 50 Wood Ducks and 20 Green-winged Teal.  See below.  We also found 5 Great Blue Herons.  

Ducks Feeding and Preening in the Marsh

Wood Ducks with Green-winged Teal in Background

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