Thursday, August 10, 2017

Those times when you 'discover' the obvious

Beaked hazel
While deer hunting in the Nolalu area many years ago I made an amazing discovery. I was sitting on a stump waiting for a deer to come walking along when I casually peered into the hollow stump next to me. It was absolutely filled with hazelnuts! It was the first time I had ever seen a nut in Northwestern Ontario. Where did they come from?
Obviously, this was a squirrel cache but where were the nut trees, I wondered? I looked all around the spot and could only see the usual Boreal Forest trees such as birch, poplar and spruce. But there were a lot of shrubs in the area. These had already lost their leaves for the season. Eventually the idea that the nuts must have come from the shrubs permeated my thick skull.
I didn't have the nature reference books in those days that I do now but somewhere I finally found that Beaked Hazel is a common shrub in the Boreal Forest. The next fall I had my eye out for hazel bushes with their little striped trunks so I could gather some hazelnuts for myself. I found the bushes around all the clearings and fields on our property but there wasn't a single nut anywhere.
Then I noticed they also grew right along the lakeshore at camp in Red Lake and finally saw the nuts in the making in the spring. By mid-summer, however, they were gone. I never saw what took them but I knew from the hollow stump experience that red squirrels were the likely culprits.
Now here in Nolalu I am getting to see the pickers in action. The nuts are still in their beaked husks and squirrels are working overtime hauling them away. They are joined in the harvest by blue jays. Remember the blog about blue jays spreading oaks northward by flying away with their acorns. Well, they do the same thing with hazelnuts. I would expect chipmunks like hazelnuts as well.
It is mind-boggling that a person could live his entire life here and never find a hazelnut, just because wild animals always get them first.
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