Things to do at this stop:
Standing at the visitor kiosk, look up at the largest tree just north of the trail. Much of the pleasure of observing nature is recognizing interrelationships. For example, this large tree is a male white ash. It is very tall, with a light gray, columnar trunk and a spreading crown. It is very old and has seen better days. Halfway up the trunk you'll see a large hole where an enormous branch broke off in 2005 during Hurricane Rita, exposing a pre-existing internal cavity.
Many of our older white ash trees contain such internal cavities interconnected by narrow vertical passages of wood infected by fungi and traversed by carpenter ants. Only the inert heartwood is affected: the living tissue of the inner bark is not attacked. The inner bark, in fact, continues working to close off a second, much older hole about ten feet up the east side of the tree. Years ago, that hole was home to a very sophisticated young raccoon that confidently watched passers-by from the opening. However, the gradual sealing has left an entry way so narrow that now nothing larger than a squirrel can use it.
Not only are most old ash trees in the sanctuary den trees, but the female trees also produce enormous quantities of single-winged seeds in late summer savored by birds and small mammals. Interrelationships are important here: food, water, and shelter are essential for all living creatures, and this tree provides both food and shelter. Most animals need a place to avoid foul weather, hide from enemies, raise a family, or just get a good night's sleep, yet a good den is hard to find. Ifyou observe a hole anywhere in the sanctuary, it is most likely a home. And with the exception of ants, bees, and wasps (who make up in numbers and armament for their lack of size), the hole is usually inhabited by the largest animal that can fit in it.
From this point onward, we will not dwell upon the interrelationships (although there are many). We have been demonstrating, of course, ecology-the science of how organisms relate to their environment and to each other. See how many other examples you can find as you continue the tour.
Directions to the next stop: