Twinings Pond Educational Walk Recap (12-5-2013)

300x225Allyson Stein
OCT AmeriCorps Cape Cod Individual Placement

On December 5, 2013, Kris Ramsay, Administrator of the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT), led a small group of hikers on a mile-long walk through the Twinings Pond Conservation Area in South Orleans. Also on the walk was Allyson Stein, an AmeriCorps Cape Cod member who serves as an Individual Placement with the Trust. Though the late-autumn sky was completely clouded over, suggesting the possibility of rain, the air temperature was not too cold as the walk began.

The Twinings Pond Conservation Area encompasses a total of 31 acres with a trail system that loops around most of the oblong-shaped kettle pond.  As Kris led the group along the curving trail, he pointed out numerous native tree species and briefly described their natural histories while also providing descriptive traits of each species so hikers could easily identify these trees in the future. These trees included pitch pine, red cedar, white cedar, black oak, white oak, red oak, and English (or barrel) oak, and two American chestnut trees, planted decades ago and survivors of the blight until recently.

A few yards off the main trail northwest of the pond is a small Atlantic white cedar swamp serving as an important but locally rare habitat for the small saw-whet owl as well as more commonly seen species such as deer, red fox, and numerous song birds. Kris indicated that the area had once served as a small cranberry bog, evident due to the ditch lines that are still visible. Kris also identified a number of the wetland shrub species found along the wetland edges, including high bush blueberry and sweet pepperbush, winter berry, wintergreen, and sheep laurel.

One focus of this guided walk was the gall wasp and how the Cape’s black oaks have recently been faced with an infestation of these destructive insects. In North America, there are nearly 800 species of gall wasp, in which mature individuals vary from 1mm to 8mm in size. A population of gall wasps has only females which reproduce asexually and deposit their eggs in burrow chambers of twigs. When the larvae hatch, they bore microscopic holes into the tree, causing interference with the oak’s natural growth cycle. Galls, not directly built by the insect, are abnormal plant swellings caused by a chemical the wasp uses to burrow in the wood which alters the tree’s cell development. Chambers and exit holes made by adult gall wasps cause twigs and limbs to become bumpy and deformed; splitting an infested branch will reveal a number of different shaped holes and swollen plant tissue.

Gall wasp-infested trees will not start showing die-off until 2 or 3 years after the wasps have invaded. The first signs of die-off are abnormal (not seasonal) discoloration of leaf tips that lack  foliage altogether. This reduces shade for wildlife and  food sources for animals that regularly eat acorns. Various chemicals can be used to treat an oak tree before it completely deteriorates, but if the tree looks three-quarters dead, then it is presumed too late to treat with anything. Past outbreaks in other states lasted less than a decade so it is hopeful that the gall wasp is not here to stay.

Join us for our next walk at the Mill Pond Conservation Area on Saturday, December 14th, 2013 from 9:00 – 10:15am. Hikers are asked to park along a small split rail fence located at 13 Champlain Road, Orleans.

In 1975 the Tovrov family placed this property, which is made up of an upland valley to coastal shore, with freshwater ponds and wetlands, into a private conservation restriction, in order to preserve wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, and a serene sense of place. To ensure its permanent protection, 21 years later in 1996 the Tovrovs donated the entire property outright to OCT, guaranteeing its permanent protection. This walk will traverse the full 12 acre parcel and will be a slow-paced walk, 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 to Hopkins Lane where you will take a slight right (.5 mi). Continue to Brick Hill Rd and bear left (1mi), take a slight right on Champlain Rd. and park along the split rail fence on the right. Look for orange traffic cones and a white Ford Ranger.