On Saturday, June 1st, Bob Prescott, OCT Trustee and Executive Director of the MA Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, led a walk at the Mill Pond Valley Conservation Area. A good crowd came to walk the one mile long trail and to listen to all Bob had to say about the plants and many of the birds in the area.
The Mill Pond Valley Trail, which begins at 13 Champlain Road in East Orleans, is on a 12 acre property that was donated to OCT by the Tovrov family in 1996. In 2000, a trail was established and since then, AmeriCorps has helped to maintain the trail on a yearly basis. The property has one of the Cape’s rare vernal pools, which are officially recognized by the state as critical habitat for their importance to species such as woodland amphibians and fairy shrimp.
The walk started with a general background about invasive species on the Cape. Bob explained that the first environmentalists really saw no need to preserve natural lands, because there was so much of this land in their lifetimes. Instead, many of them planted non-native species to create special gardens and arboretums. In time, as unaltered natural lands began rapidly disappearing, it became clear that some of the non-native plants that were introduced in earlier years were out-competing some of the native species, and they were beginning to transform landscapes.
One of the points that Bob emphasized was that these invasive species are not entirely bad, because they do provide habitat and food for birds and other animals. For example, some of the dense ground cover and thickets that are created by plants like oriental bittersweet (an invasive species native to East Asia) provide premium nesting habitat for birds such as cardinals, catbirds, song sparrows, and rufous-sided towhees. Many of the invasives were planted to serve a purpose, such as preventing erosion. The impact of these invasives was completely unforeseen, as little research was done to assess how they might adapt in a completely new environment. For example, Bob stated that the ivy we saw covering many trees was actually introduced to provide ground cover, and people were surprised when they noted that the ivy had started to climb trees.
With all these new plant species, animals in the area were forced to adapt and occupy the new niches created. Many birds, especially Baltimore orioles, have recently begun to include the highly invasive and prevalent winter moth caterpillars in their diets, just as they did years ago with gypsy moth caterpillars. We can increasingly observe that, with time, natural checks on invasive species do exist, but they may take some time to become impactful, and this process is not always on a time scale that is favorable to humans.
The walk concluded with some great views of Mill Pond, the surrounding salt marsh area, and a snowy egret and osprey feeding in the area. Bob explained that Nauset Estuary (of which Mill Pond is a part) used to be connected to Pleasant Bay and Cape Cod Bay, but both of these connections were cut off by construction and development.
Join us for our next walk on Saturday, June 15, at the Paw Wah Point Conservation Area off Nameqoit Road in South Orleans. Todd Kelley, Native Naturalist and creator of Kelleytrailblaizers.com will be leading this walk through the site of medicine man Paw Wah Pompmo, and he will educate those who join us on the legend and legacy of Paw Wah and the historical significance of Portanimicut.
Directions: From the intersection of Rt. 28 and Main Street in Orleans, head south on Rt. 28 towards Chatham (1.7 miles). Take a left onto Namequoit Road and follow for 1 mile to trail head parking on right. Look for a white Ford Ranger pickup.