On November 5th, Kris Ramsay, Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) Administrator, led an educational walk along the trails within the Ice House Pond and Reuben’s Pond Conservation land. As outlined by Kris during his introduction, this area includes four gifts, made up of five parcels of land totaling just over 25 acres. The first of these gifts was given in 1973 and the last in 1996, both donations by the Moore family. The conservation area features 1.5 miles of walking trails, with frontage on Ice House and Reuben’s Pond. Once cleared for farming, the land has now re-vegetated, with a wide variety of habitat types.
Arriving just before 9:00am, ten hikers parked at one of the two trailhead parking areas – this one along the road at 245 Tonset Road, marked by an OCT sign and bulletin board. Kris began the walk by explaining that while the leaves are falling and the majority of the shrubs are no longer producing berries, the fall is a great time to differentiate the native plant species from the invasive plants. Part of their invasive nature, beyond the fact that they are not native species, is the way that non-native plants can both produce more seedlings from spring to the fall. Kris noted that the removal of these invasive plants is one of OCT’s top land management priorities.
According to the American Bird Conservancy, “It is estimated that invasive plants in all 50 states occupy more than 100 million acres, and are spreading at the alarming rate of 14 million acres/year, and 4,300 acres/day on public lands alone. This “biological pollution” may cause $130 billion worth of damage/year. Invasive species are considered the #1 threat to the nation’s National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) system– affecting at least 540 NWRs and 3,000 waterfowl areas on 95 million acres in the U.S. & territories managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
World-wide, invasive plants and animals have entirely or partially caused the majority of all bird extinctions since 1800. More than one third of the birds on American Bird Conservancy’s “Watchlist” are threatened by invasive species. Monocultures formed by exotic plants are particularly unfit for bird habitat. Birds require habitat containing a variety of plant species, variation in horizontal canopy cover, and complexity in vertical structure. In contrast, invasive exotic infestations are comprised of one species, mostly uniform in height and structure, and form a canopy coverage that is too dense. All across Orleans you can see dense thickets of invasive vines and shrubs, non-native to Cape Cod.
Moving on, the group stopped off at the Ice House Pond overlook, located on the southern end of the pond. Jack Shine, the OCT Land Steward who helps care for these properties and who participated in Tuesday’s walk, used his binoculars to identify two duck species, both of which were using the pond as one of their winter migratory stop-off areas. Jack identified both Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) and Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) .
The Ruddy Duck is a duck from North America and the Andes Mountains of South America, one of the stiff-tailed ducks. Adult males have a rust-red body, a blue bill, and a white face with a black cap. Adult females have a grey-brown body with a greyish face and a darker bill and cap and a cheek stripe. They are migratory ducks and winter in coastal bays and unfrozen lakes and ponds, such as Ice House Pond. These birds dive and swim underwater. They mainly eat seeds and roots of aquatic plants, aquatic insects and crustaceans.
The Hooded Merganser is a small duck that has a crest at the back of its head which can be expanded or contracted. In adult males, this crest has a large white patch, the head is black and the sides of the duck are reddish-brown. The adult female has a reddish crest, with much of the rest of the head and body a greyish-brown. They prefer to nest in tree cavities near water, but will use Wood Duck nesting boxes if available and unoccupied. Hooded Mergansers are short-distance migrants, and winter in the United States wherever winter temperatures allow for ice-free conditions on ponds, lakes and rivers. These ducks feed by diving and swimming under water to collect small fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects. They find their prey underwater by sight.
Farther along, we made our way to the loop around Reuben’s Pond, which is much shallower than Ice House Pond. The end of the season’s water willow reeds, found in the southern end of the pond, indicate a depth of no more than 4 feet. Reuben’s Pond is an example of a eutrophic pond, in part a result of its small size and very shallow water. This generally indicates poorer water quality and an abundance of plant life. In contrast to this lack of aquatic animals, this pond is an excellent place to go birding, hosting a good variety of species.
This conservation area and the trails located within it are a fantastic example of a natural habitat on Cape Cod that has been preserved to preclude future development. With an expanse of trails and wildlife, it is a great place to take a short walk in the woods.
Join us for our next walk at the Woods Cove Conservation Area on Saturday, November 16th, 2013 from 9:00am – 10:00am. Hikers are asked to park at the Town Landing at the far northern end of Tonset Road. This walk will traverse 12 acres of OCT-owned conservation land. While only a short .5 mile trail exists on the property, the parcel contains upland, wetland, and salt-marsh ecosystems. There are many animal runs that lead into the trails from the surrounding wetlands and marshlands. Among other things, walk participants will learn about how the numerous parcels of land were acquired and about the native tree and animal species that can be found on the property. This will be a slow-paced walk that is appropriate for all ages
Directions: From the intersection of Rt. 28 and Main Street in Orleans, drive east on Main Street (.4 mi) towards Nauset Beach. Turn left on Tonset Rd. at the lights and follow for 2.3 miles to Town Landing on right. The trail head is only a few yards away from the landing itself.