Spring Awakening: Tapping a Maple and Listening to Birds

By Dave Kretzschmar, KLT Education Director

There is still snow on the ground, but all around me the signs of spring are slowly making themselves felt.  Water is changing from its solid state of ice and snow to drips off the eaves and little streams and rivulets are running everywhere.  Across the road, a grassy meadow is once again flooded and playing host to its yearly gathering of Canadian geese and mallards.  Small green buds are making their first tentative forays in to the light and my 21-year-old cat, Captain Krunkles, is once again lazing in the sunshine outside.

My internal alarm clock had been nudging me for a few days but I kept subconsciously hitting the snooze button.  Suddenly, as if sitting bolt upright in bed already ten minutes late, I realized it was time to tap the maple tree.  A hundred years ago, the owner of our farmhouse planted a maple tree at the northwest corner of the house.  Today she is towering beauty, majestic in every season.  Forty-eight inches around in girth and spreading into a graceful crown.  I often climb and sit up in her to think and breathe.

Tapping maple trees is a spring ritual that many practice back in New England, but that few are familiar with here in the west.  My wife and I started experimenting with tapping our tree several years ago when a friend gave us two taps and encouraged us to try it.  There is often only a narrow window in which to tap maple trees, the ideal conditions being nighttime temps of 20 F and daytime temps of 40 F.  A big tree like ours can handle 3-4 taps, but smaller trees should only have one or two.  I run clear tubing from the tap to five gallon glass carboys on the ground and empty them every day.  In a good year, we harvest 40 gallons of sap from the tree, which yields about 1 gallon of finished syrup.   There is something magical about tapping the tree, I walk slowly around it and thank it every year before I begin and then continue to thank it all through the harvest.  To see the lifeblood of the tree dripping out in steady streams (it tastes refreshing straight from the tree) and to wonder at the sheer volume moving from the roots up to the crown is awe inspiring.  Any tree in the Acer family can be tapped and syrup made from its sap, a friend of mine even taps Box Elder.  Done correctly, no harm is done to the tree and the holes heal up quickly. So next time you think about tapping your maple just get out there and give it a try, you will thank yourself later as you eat homemade maple syrup, there’s nothing sweeter.

For more technical information on tapping tree, check out: https://tapmytrees.com/tap-tree/

In this week’s educational activity, you can find your own spring awakenings by looking and listening for returning birds, and trying to identify as many of them as possible. This activity can be completed in your back yard, the park, or on a walk, depending on what is best for your family.

Great resources to help identify birds can be found at:

https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/

https://www.audubon.org/news/how-identify-birds/

You can download the printable sheet here: Spring Bird Scavenger Hunt. This activity is recommended for ages 8 and older.

For younger children, ages 4 – 7, you can download a color-based scavenger hunt here: Color Scavenger Hunt