June 23, 2017

A Soft Spot for the Animals

It’s surprising what one might run across in a tree.  Last summer, while removing a Red Oak tree approaching 250 years old, the Downey crew found a possum living a high-rise lifestyle about 45 feet up.   Fortunately for the soon-to-be homeless marsupial, the removal was done with a crane and the animal was gently lowered to the ground, condominium hollow and all.  Needless to say, that was one angry possum!  (See our Nov. 2016 Newsletter, Issue 10).  When the crews at the Destin, Florida branch of Downey Trees prune long-neglected Palm trees, they have to be watchful for all types of critters that might call a tangle of palm fronds home: birds, squirrels, rats, even snakes!  As if pruning fronds off at 30 feet doesn’t require enough attention, imagine the surprise of a high-elevation encounter with a 4-foot reptile!

All manner of tree species make fine homes for many species of animals.  Often the relationship is a direct one, such as the affinity of the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker for Longleaf Pines (Pinus palustris) that are 80-120 years old, from which the birds are able to establish nesting cavities high in the trees.  In other instances, the relationship is mutually beneficial, such as that between a squirrel and an Oak tree: the tree gives the squirrel a home, protection from certain predators, and an environment in which to move around, and the tree benefits from the squirrel’s ability to distribute its seeds over a wide area.  Such is the stuff of complex and diverse ecosystems.

Remembering the old adage of the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, when a tree housing an animal falls in a forest, it’s almost as if the displaced animal didn’t make a sound- no one the wiser, and the animal (assuming it survived the fall!) moves along to find another home.   When the balance of nature is upset on a property in the urban forest, however, a tidal wave of human activity is often unleashed: calls to the Extension Service, Humane Society, Nature Centers, and yes- even Downey Trees!  Recently three calls to our staff resulted in aerial rescue operations for animals.

Recipient of the first such call was Nick LeCroy, one of our sales associates who is also a talented tree climber.  Known to staffers of such organizations as the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell and Aware (Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort) Wildlife Center in Lithonia, Nick was asked to rescue a baby Barred Owl that had fallen from its nest.  Vigilantly watching the rescue process was Mama Owl, while Nick kept a watchful eye her way as well.  In addition to the protection from a dive-bombing run afforded him by his safety helmet, Nick’s specialized “raptor repellent” includes an umbrella, which will scare off an angry Hawk or Owl when rapidly open and closed.   The owl was safely placed back in its home (see the photo here, originally published in our Spring, 2017 Newsletter, Issue 11).  Note the mouse in the foreground, obviously lunch left for baby by mom!

Another call this spring came to Zach Parker, another of Downey’s sales associates and talented climber and tree care provider in his own right.  Zach’s hapless victims were a nest full of baby woodpeckers, displaced when a dead section was removed from a large White Oak tree in Decatur.  The dead stem was 15-20 feet long and hanging over the property owner’s home.  The nest was discovered when the piece containing it was lowered to the ground.  In this instance, AWARE was unable to take the birds as the facility was filled to capacity.  They instead recommended that Zach place the birds in a basket and re-locate it in the tree, which he did as you can see in the photograph. Not all of our animal stories have a happy ending:  within a week, 2 or 3 of the birds perished.

Nick’s second call tasked him with re-nesting a woodpecker in a Willow tree.  Unfortunately, the tree was so unstable that he was unable to complete the task, but in this case the AWARE Wildlife Center was able to take the animal to rear.

The adventures of Downey Trees in the animal kingdom don’t end in the wide-open urban forest.  As the exclusive tree care provider for Zoo Atlanta, there always seems to be an interesting project relating the flora of the Zoo’s grounds with the fauna of its inhabitants.  A perfect example occurred in the summer of 2016, when a hazardous tree overhanging Atlanta Ave. had to be removed.  It so happened that the tree was in close proximity to the Panda enclosure, at the time when Mama Panda was pregnant with twins.  While difficult to be silent with chain saws, our crews made every effort to work as meticulously and quietly as possible so as to keep the disturbance of the pregnant bear to a minimum.  The story played out with a happy ending for everyone: the hazardous tree was eliminated as a threat to the cars, people, and neighboring homes, while the Panda later gave birth to healthy twins!

There once was a time when a special project at the Zoo involved work by OUR climbers so that other animals could climb!  As you can see in the photos the Orangutan is having a playful time negotiating the ropes and climbing apparatus that were set up for them by Downey staff.  Zach and Kaleb seemed to enjoy prepping the climbing apparatus as much as the primates enjoy playing on it!

Our most recent animal challenge at Zoo Atlanta involved an anti-escape plan for some youthful Lemurs.  Lemurs are plant-eating, tree-climbing animals native to Madagascar.  The “troop” at Zoo Atlanta recently had a brood of young animals, and there was a fear that the smaller animals might be able to escape the enclosure where it joined an Elm tree, the largest tree in their domain.  Lemurs are nimble climbers, and while the cage hardware was adequate to contain the adults, there were places that may have been large enough for a young Lemur to slip through.  Our Chief Engineer, Gregg Puckett, was called in to design and install an effective filler to close the gap between the wire support for the enclosure netting around the tree, and the tree itself.  The cage re-enforcement was woven out of aircraft wire and met the approval of the Lemur caregivers on the Zoo staff.  Assisting in the design and installation of the “stop gap” was our Senior Arborist, Lukas Ball, who also provided a resistograph test on the tree to determine its soundness.

Whether working in the wilds of the urban forest or the confines of Zoo Atlanta, encounters with trees by the Downey staff often become stories about the animals that call them home.


June 23, 2017