Thom Smith: Saving Lanesborough's oldest resident - King Elmer

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King Elmer, probably the largest elm tree in Massachusetts, made the news in The Berkshire Eagle on June 19 with a story by Jack Lyons and photographs by Stephanie Zollshan. What wasn't known at the time the reporter and photographer were on the site — not far from U.S. Route 7 on Summer Street in Lanesborough — is the treatment with a Dutch Elm Disease fungicide, the reason we were there to watch, would require another day to complete. They finished on Friday around 5 p.m., instead of Thursday, so overall it took about 16 hours to deliver approximately 70 gallons of water mixed with the fungicide.

"Normally, it would likely be about 4 hours, so this was a very slow uptake," according to Jim Neureuther, chairman of Lanesborough's Tree and Forest Committee. "Ron Yaple and assistant Michael Schmitt of Sheffield's Race Mountain Tree Service arrived around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday and began untangling what appeared to be a half-mile's worth of tubing, in addition to pails, chemicals and barrels. After some 66 taps were inserted into the lower extremities of the tree (almost like maple syrup taps only in reverse), and connected to a powerful little pump and chemicals were added to the barrels of water — courtesy of neighbors via garden hoses from outdoor spigots — the treatment began."

The going was slow, and in fact, Yaple was "surprised at the slow draw, especially since the weather was in our favor" he told Neureuther. "A large tree, like King Elmer, that is actively supplying water to support growth this early in the growing season should be taking up something like 300 gallons of water a day, since a sunny day with moderate humidity means there is a high water demand to overcome the evaporation from the leaves." Schmidt told Neureuther, that "he has seen trees draw up that much fluid in as little as two hours."

I had left long before the end of what turned out to be day one.

Why the interest in keeping King Elmer alive? King Elmer is part of our history. Lanesborough was officially incorporated on Jan. 21, 1765, quite possibly the year this magnificent tree germinated! Consider if it was a seed the size of a pea in 1765, it would have been sprouting the year Massachusetts colonists challenged British rule by an Elm (Liberty Tree). The Stamp Act went into effect in British colonies (we were still under British rule). Patrick Henry led the opposition to the Stamp Act 1765 and is best remembered for his "Give me liberty or give me death!" speech. Daniel Boone, famous for his explorations, was one of our first folk heroes.

Incidentally, the champion's name is the result of a naming contest held for the Lanesborough Elementary third-grade class in 2010.

American elm, (was) the most abundant elm species in New England and what is left are mostly still highly susceptible to the disease. The disease is transmitted by elm bark beetles, that carry the fungus and through roots between closely spaced infected elms — a reason we rarely see a healthy-appearing elm in proximity to another elm.

I remember when I began driving in the later part of the 1950s how exciting it was driving down city streets on a hot July afternoon in near-complete shade, provided by elm trees on either side of the roads. (Think Elm Street). My memory jumps to the 1960s and nearly all the elms along Pittsfield's primary streets were elm trunks with upper branches removed and waiting for removal. A sad time for residents and Baltimore orioles that commonly nested in these lovely trees.

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READERS' COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS

Q: Here I am again with both observation and question. I've been tracking the two finches that have been raising their family of three chicks under my deck and I'm learning so much.

Yesterday morning, the three chicks finally fledged. The one who had been the most active flapping its wings, fledged first. The other two followed a few hours later, but much more tentatively — perching on the edge of the nest — looking down at the height — and then backing off from flight.

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Eventually, the nest was emptied.

Observation: On the last day before the chicks fledged, the parents seemed to be holding back on immediately feeding them. Both the male and female would land on the ledge below the nest as though enticing their young to fly down. No more free meals were forthcoming.

Here's the strange part. By the end of the day, two of the chicks were back in the nest. Is this usual that after being out in the "cruel world" they would find refuge in the safety of their former home to spend the night. They were still there in the morning. Am I being too anthropomorphic in my thinking?

— Michael, Great Barrington

FOLLOWUP:

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Please disregard my last email. I spoke too soon. This morning revealed a whole new scenario at the nest. Not only were the three chicks back, but were joined by both parents — a flurry of activity and the feeding was still going on.

The difference is that the three chicks are in and out of the nest exploring the ledge beneath — a whole new world. Sorry for jumping the gun.

— Michael, Great Barrington

A: I am assuming that the finches you refer to are house finches. Both parents feed the young in the nest and, for a while, out of the nest. And during this time, especially before eggs hatch, the male will feed the female. And if I am not mistaken, unless they have multiple mates, males will feed any female that comes along, an observation I made at our sunflower hearts feeder.

I am reminded of the calls I used to get when at The Berkshire Museum every spring for baby robin information. My answer would be: If you know where the nest is, place the fledgling back into the nest, knowing full well it would hop out again. Some baby birds just cannot wait to get out into the bigger world! As for robin parents, they will keep an eye on their fledglings and continue to feed them until they are able to fly. They do not need our assistance.

For newer bird enthusiasts, this species (house finches), was not always in the eastern half of the country, but a common species on the West Coast. They were introduced to Long Island in 1940, having been brought there from the western U.S. Apparently, they were brought east as a caged bird as Hollywood finches, but were released as they did not sell very well. They began breeding at the rate we suppose house sparrows and starlings did. Now they occupy almost all of the eastern U.S and southern Canada.

As far as your being too anthropomorphic in your thinking, someone else should answer that question.


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