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Aspen proliferate ‘underground’; bird count fast approaching

Northwoods Notebook

(Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo) This stand of bigtooth aspen in northern Dickinson County likely radiated out from a parent that took hold on the hillside many years ago.

This, obviously, is a photo from several weeks ago. The glorious golden leaves on this bigtooth aspen grove have long since dropped or been stripped by wind.

But each autumn, this stand of trees along Six Mile Lake Road flares in yellow splendor after much of the surrounding foliage has faded.

It also illustrates an interesting quality of the aspen family. This closely spaced stand provides a clue on how they differ from other trees.

Aspen might not be as impressive in height or girth as the conifers and other evergreens, or hardwoods such as oak and maple. But they are fascinating in how they establish themselves if given the opportunity.

This aspen stand could be considered a plant leviathan, in that the entire grove likely is interconnected.

Aspen extend their kind not just by seeds — though they do produce catkins for seeding — but by underground runners, sending out roots that bear shoots that grow into trees.

This cluster very likely is a group of clones, radiating out from a parent bigtooth aspen that took hold on the hillside perhaps decades ago. According to the U.S. Forest Service, aspen roots are stimulated by fire or logging to produce suckers that grow into clones.

Quaking aspen, also in the Upper Peninsula, can be even more extensive. One grove in Utah is thought to be the largest organism in the world, with 47,000 aspens originating from a single male parent over thousands of years.

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Hard to believe it’s nearly December, but the annual Christmas Bird Count is fast approaching.

Phyllis Carlson of Quinnesec again will coordinate the local effort, set for Saturday, Dec. 19.

This year’s Christmas Bird Count will be the 121st for the National Audubon Society, which enlists “citizen scientists” to do a 24-hour bird census within designated circles in the U.S., Canada, and many countries in the Western Hemisphere. The data then is analyzed to gauge how avian populations might be expanding their numbers and range, or losing ground.

Unlike the Great Backyard Bird Count, which Audubon also does along with Cornell Lab of Ornithology in February, this one doesn’t take individual reports — the work must be done by teams in the 15-mile circle only, to keep records consistent for comparison.

All information must be filed through the local coordinator, so to volunteer or offer other assistance, contact Carlson at pcarlson279@gmail.com or 906-774-5868.

The more eyes out there that day, the more complete the survey will be. It can be a fine way to get out and see some of the birds in the area, under the guidance and assistance of experienced birders.

And birding is an activity that easily allows for social distancing in these COVID-19-challenged times.

This could be a prime year to get involved — several of the winter finch species seem to be showing up in good numbers, especially evening grosbeaks and even some pine grosbeaks and crossbills.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews@com.

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