PINE NEEDLE drop was on the mind of one of our Barrington readers. The letter, slightly edited, follows: “I am a life-long resident of New Hampshire. I was born and raised in Manchester and about 40 years ago I moved to the Barrington/Strafford area, across from the Rochester Reservoir. We have lots of wildlife, deer, bear, birds of prey and lots of other creatures. I am an avid birder and have multiple feeders on my deck and in the yard. Right now (Sept. 29), except for a variety of woodpeckers, things have thinned down. A couple of weeks ago, I could not keep the feeders filled, but now there is very little activity. The geese are congregating at the reservoir, soon to be flying south. I saw a great gaggle, ‘V’ formation in the Epsom area — lovely sight, but reminds that snow is coming — Yuck!
“I am stumped this year by the pine trees, of which I have too many. It seems this year, perhaps due to the crazy winter we had, they are out of synch. They were losing their needles early, to the point that they looked like they were going to die. Then they lost their seed/needle casings late in July — they usually do that in June. They continued to drop an abundance of needles all summer long.
My car and porches were always covered. They seemed to come back with new needles, but now they are browning up as they usually do in the fall and the needle drop will start again. This year they are also dropping cones and they look fine — good size, good shape. I am just not sure what is going on.
Has anyone else had this problem or is it just happening in our area? I have been trying to have my driveway sealed all summer, but with all the things floating down, I did not dare to spend the money because it would have looked like a gooey, mottled mess. I would appreciate any suggestions/answers. Thanks and keep up the great column.”
In preparation for the current harvest of white pines on our forestland, my professional forester informed my that there are a couple of pathogens currently existing within our woodlot. Both have affected our pines. These pathogens have weakened my white pines and have caused a loss of needles in the crown area, causing a general decline. These pathogens are “Caliciopsis” and “Needle Cast.”
Both pathogens occur in overstocked pine stands with a dense canopy. They thrive on dampness, especially near streams and wetlands.
Thinning the crowns provides additional sunlight thereby producing additional heat that deters these pathogens.
In our forest, a small amount of mortality has occurred, mainly among pole diameter pine that lie below the main canopy. Unfortunately, in recent years, I have neglected to continue my former practice of pruning and thinning. I failed to remember the old adage that went something like this: “The most important part of a flock is the eye of the shepherd.” Thus, by my neglect of good forest practices, these pathogens set in.
A phone call to the Cheshire County Extension Service Office in Keene resulted in a conversation with Extension Forester Steven Roberge. I asked if his office had a bulletin covering these problems. He said yes, resulting in his kindly forwarding two sets of each, one entitled “Eastern White Pine Needle Damage” and the other “Caliciopsis Canker” (pine canker). I kept one set for my files. The other, I mailed to our Barrington reader.
I suspect that most of our “summer” birds have left for their winter climes by this date. During late fall and early spring migrations one frequently has the opportunity to see the fox sparrow, the largest of the sparrows.
Fox sparrows are interesting to watch when they are feeding. I have never seen them at bird feeders as they spend their short time here at the farm in leafy areas in our backyard. I always enjoy watching them as, when feeding, they scratch and kick backwards with both feet simultaneously. Fox sparrows come to us heading for or returning from their breeding grounds that range from Alaska, eastward to north Labrador.
Migrating white-crowned sparrows often can be seen traveling with fox sparrows and, occasionally, a few white-throated sparrows. Some white-throats spend the summer with us and nest nearby. How pleasant it is to hear their familiar “Old Sam Peabody” song, especially at eventide.
A reminder, I am unable to answer questions by mail or computer. Due to scheduling, each column must be written three weeks in advance of publication. For a quicker answer, include a telephone number (kept in strict confidence). Thanks.
Stacey Cole’s address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, NH 03446. “Stacey Cole’s New Hampshire: A Lyrical Landscape” is available at select bookstores or at www.NHbooksellers.com.