Huh? The BOF of Ron’s Loop? What in the world is that all about. Read on, if you dare.
This morning dawned bright and chilly, just perfect for a tracking expedition with my friend, Joan, along Ron’s Loop at Back Pond Reserve in North Waterford/Stoneham. It’s a Greater Lovell Land Trust property that we love to visit. Then again, is there a GLLT property we don’t like? Uhuh.
The snow was crusty and we were able to snowshoe atop it for most of the way. The same was true for many of the mammals that traveled about–including the bobcat whose print was difficult to see, but that’s because of the conditions. We went off trail and followed it for quite a ways, hoping to find other signs it left behind, but no such luck today.
It did lead us to the stream that flows toward Five Kezar Ponds and we recognized the filled-in evidence that an otter had been this way. Based on the bobcat conditions, we assumed it had moved through recently, quite possibly last night or this morning. But the otter had visited after the last snowstorm, but before Tuesday’s ice storm, such were its offerings.
Eventually, we returned to the trail and continued on our merry way. But then we came upon a beech tree that begged noticing. In the reserve are a number of bear paw trees, though I have yet to find one along Ron’s Loop. And we didn’t today.
It was the fuzziness of a large clump of small white specks that drew our attention. Beech scale insect or more technically, Cryptococcus fagisuga, is a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only. In the summer, wingless larvae hatch and crawl (the only mobile stage of this insect) during their first instar stage of development. They search for suitable feeding spots such as cracks or crevices in the bark. What struck us today was the size of the colony.
A waxy substance secreted from its glands allows the insect to survive the winter months under a protective woolly-like coat.
Even the frullania liverwort showed a contrast with the white filaments. By spring, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking the sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.
At Ron’s Loop a sign refers to what happens to the beech trees once the scale insect has set up housekeeping.
They feed on trees that are at least thirty years old. Beech bark is typically smooth from a tender age to the end of its long life. But the scale insects puncture holes and . . . when two or more gather and withdraw fluids from the vascular tissues in close proximity with each other, those vascular cells collapse and cease to function.
Fissures form in the bark’s surface.
The stage is set for one or two Nectria fungal pathogens to take advantage of the wound sites. Their spores, transported by wind or insects, germinate, enter the wounds and their hyphae colonize the vascular tissues, eventually killing patches of inner bark.
The bark develops cankers that can expand and join together. Photosynthetic activity decreases and limbs die and break off.
Some trees survive for a while, but others, possibly due to environmental stresses, die within five to ten years, their crowns and upper trunks snapping off. We call that beech snap.
The scale insect is non-native to Maine, having arrived here via Nova Scotia and before that Europe. Consequently, except for a species of lady bugs, there is no known predator to reduce its number. Fortunately, some trees are resistant and the current thinking it is to leave those trees intact and hope that they disperse seeds that produce more resistant trees.
Another fortunate thing is that there is so much more to see at Ron’s Loop. We spied some hoar frost surrounding a small hole and imagined a vole or some other little brown thing snuggled below the snow’s surface.
In fact, we found other examples of the same; this particular mound featured not only the frost, but also served as the site of dining table–for a red squirrel.
All in all, the tracking was good. We found plenty of otter slides and knew where it bounded. We also saw evidence of snowshoe hare, deer, mice and possibly fisher, though that too was diluted by the ice storm.
Did I say plenty of otter sign? In fact, let’s make that otters with an s.
The mammal activity was prime because the property offers a mountain, ledges, streams and is located by five ponds.
Most often when we’ve traveled this way during the winter months, we cross the streams with little hesitation.
Today, we admired the ice formations and the flow, which we hope bodes well for all forms of life and puts an end to the drought.
Our finally crossing was the most difficult due to lack of ice. But the water is shallow in this spot for the most part and it’s not far from the end of the trail.
Truth be known, we didn’t actually cross here. Instead, we found some rocks a wee bit upstream and made our precarious way across, one of us almost falling in and the other climbing up the steep bank on hands and knees–not easy when donning snowshoes. BOF could have stood for big old fools. But we survived and highly recommend sticking with the trail crossing, even if your shoes get a wee bit wet.
Back in the parking area where we could not park, the trail sign provided an indication of the current snow depth.
As for Joan and me, we spent three hours examining the beech trees, exclaiming over the tracks we found, especially those of the bobcat and otter (we’d like to be reincarnated as otters–if we have a choice), and rejoicing in the flow of the water. The BOF of Ron’s Loop.