HABITATS

a forest of trees

Although the majority of Hale Reservation consists of mixed hardwood upland forests, a variety of other vegetative communities are also present. In addition, the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) has identified a variety of regions on Hale Reservation on their “BioMap”. The “BioMap” is designed to identify areas most in need of protection. Additional community types and habitat features found at Hale Reservation are further described below.

Uplands

The upland portions of Hale can be generally described as xeric forests dominated by the mixed hardwood community described below that transition to mesic forests with a greater abundance of birch and aspens present, before encountering the hydric forested wetlands in the lower elevations of the site. Xeric forests occur on poor, dry, soils, while mesic forests are present on well-drained, usually loamy, soils.

For more information on the communities at Hale Reservation click here. Upland Communities of Hale Reservation: Mixed Hardwood, Mixed Hardwood with Prevalent Coniferous Trees, Eastern White Pine, Meadow/Apple Orchard, Field/Lawn, Utility Easements, Ledge Outcroppings)

Wetlands

water lilies

Wetlands provide important wildlife habitat functions. In addition to increasing overall habitat diversity, they can provide an excellent source of food as well as thick cover. They also offer a respite from hot summer temperatures, as their microclimate tends to be cooler than surrounding uplands due to the understory foliage that the hydric soils of the wetlands support.

For more information on the following wetland communities at Hale Reservation click here. Wetland communities at Hale Reservation: Vernal Pools, Forested, Scrub-Shrub, Emergent Marsh, Open Water).

(Portions of the above come from a Natural Resources study conducted by Beals & Thomas)

Uplands

The following is a more detailed list of Upland Communities found at Hale Reservation.

trees in a forest

Mixed Hardwood

Mixed hardwood forest represents the most common community type at Hale Reservation. Generally, these communities are dominated by hardwoods, although scattered white and pitch pines are also present in the canopy and sapling layers. Representative hardwoods include oaks (white, red, black, scarlet), hickories (shagbark, pignut), and sassafras, with huckleberry and witch hazel prevalent in the shrub layer. Greenbrier thickets are common, although not extensive.

Mixed Hardwood with Prevalent Coniferous Trees

Although the majority of the site consists of mixed hardwood forests with scattered white pine, portions of the Reservation exhibit a greater prevalence of coniferous species, mainly white pine but also hemlock, spruces, pitch pine, and red pine. Such areas have been delineated as somewhat of a sub-group within the mixed hardwoods category.

Eastern White Pine

One nearly homogenous stand of white pine is present on Hale Reservation adjacent to the power line easement in the southern portion of the property. Understory vegetation within this stand is minimal, and the shading effect of the white pine creates a cooler microclimate. This stand is fairly even-aged, which is common with white pine, and indicates an earlier disturbance after which the seedlings took root. Given the history of this area, it is likely that many portions of the property were in agricultural use, and that this pine stand became established after that use was abandoned.

Meadow/Apple Orchard

flowering plant

The meadow/orchard complex proximate to the Cuchiarra Learning Center diversifies the habitat at the Reservation. The area contains wildflower gardens, which attract butterflies, and a large stump pile, which provides excellent cover for reptiles, especially snakes. Bird boxes located here have been successful in attracting swallows, and a female painted turtle was observed gestating in this area, as well. Vegetation within this portion of Hale includes various grasses, ragweed, goldenrod, asters, with staghorn sumac and willows growing along the edge of the open area. Ash is also present in the southeastern interface between the open and forested areas. Although not observed during the present study, ash within Hale Reservation should be monitored for ash yellows, a microbe that invades ash via its phloem, and causes a general decrease in growth as well as cracks in the bark, and wilting/translucent leaves, among other things. The formation of witches’ brooms on the lower trunk is the only definitive symptom of ash yellows, however. Despite its benefits, the open areas here also offer an opportunity for invasive species, which excel at colonizing early successional habitats. Autumn olive is prevalent at the interface of the meadow and woods, with buckthorn, multiflora rose, and bittersweet also present.

Field/Lawn

Several areas of mown field/lawn are present; these are generally adjacent to parking lots. From a Natural Resources standpoint, such maintained areas provide little habitat value and segment forested areas, facilitating the incursion of species such as the brown-headed cowbird, which is a nest parasite.

Utility Easements

Two utility easements cross the property; a power line easement oriented generally north/south, and a gas line easement running east/west. These easements add habitat diversity to the Reservation, similar to the meadow proximate to the Cuchiarra Learning Center. Both easements exhibit variable characteristics, ranging from low pockets with emergent marsh, to areas with significant shrubby vegetation, to sparsely vegetated areas where lichens and grasses dominate, or where no vegetation is present and the ground is sandy or consists of exposed bedrock. Where shrubs/saplings are present, sweet fern, white pine, and scrub oak tend to dominate, while bracken fern and lycopodium are also common in the herbaceous layer. Generally, the topographic relief within these easements is significantly rich as well.

ferns

The open nature of the majority of the easements juxtaposed with areas of scrubby vegetation and grassland species provides appropriate habitat for a variety of birds that rely on open areas. Additionally, bluebirds (observed at Powissett Farm in 2006) and other species with similar habitat requirements may also be present, although not observed yet on the Hale Reservation. The more exposed and sandy portions of the easements, especially those proximate to wetlands, may provide turtle nesting habitat. Due to the human induced character of these easements and their generally disturbed nature they have been grouped as a single habitat community, except where wetlands are present.

Ledge Outcroppings

Exposed bedrock is prevalent throughout the property. Scrub oaks and red cedar are common where the ledge is vegetated, however there are many outcroppings that contain minimal vegetation (lichens, grasses). The most significant ledge outcroppings are Cat Rock in the northeastern portion of the Reservation, and Nimrod’s Rock and Powissett Peak in the southwestern portion. Ledge outcroppings provide ideal basking habitat for reptiles, and it would not be surprising if timber rattlesnake are present on the property in such areas, especially where fewer visitors venture, such as the southern extent of Hale.

(Portions of the above come from a Natural Resources study conducted by Beals & Thomas)

Wetland Types

The following is a list of Wetland Types found at Hale Reservation.

a frog sitting on leaves

Vernal Pools

Vernal pools are unique wetlands that provide specialized breeding habitat for a variety of organisms. The pools are typically ephemeral in nature, with water ponded through the spring but drying by the middle to end of summer, although some pools do contain water year-round. Such intermittent drying precludes fish from establishing permanent populations within these wetlands; many amphibian and invertebrate species rely on breeding habitat that is free of fish predators.

Forested

Three types of forested wetland occur at Hale: red maple swamp, white cedar swamp, and mixed red maple/white cedar swamp. Red maple is the more common wetland type in Massachusetts, whereas white cedar is far less widespread due to its suitability for pole timber, and historic clear cutting that occurred because of that characteristic. Additionally, in areas where both red maple and white cedar occur, the former sometimes out competes the latter, eventually forming red maple dominated swamps.

Red Maple Swamp

The red maple swamps at Hale can be generally characterized as red maple/high bush blueberry complexes. Other common vegetation includes tupelo, ironwood, and sweet pepperbush, as well as sphagnum moss and cinnamon fern in the herbaceous layer.

White Cedar Swamp

One of the forested wetlands at Hale is a “pure” white cedar swamp; this wetland is located in the south-central portion of the property and is bisected by both the power line and gas line easements. Some of the cedar within this wetland appears to be several hundred years old. Other vegetation present within the white cedar swamp includes yellow birch, eastern hemlock (with one significantly sized tree observed), winterberry, and high bush blueberry.

Mixed Red maple/White Cedar Swamp

Finally, there are several areas of mixed red maple/white cedar complexes; two occur adjacent to the white cedar swamp, while nine others are present in other portions of the property. Generally, red maple is dominant in these areas, and anecdotal evidence suggests that red maple has become more dominant within recent history (the last 20-years).

Scrub-Shrub

Scrub-shrub wetlands are scattered throughout Hale Reservation, and many are associated with vernal pools Generally, dominant vegetation within scrub-shrub wetlands includes sweet pepperbush and/or high bush blueberry, with buttonbush also prevalent in some of the more flooded wetlands (e.g. adjacent to Powissett Street in the western part of the property). Northern arrowwood, winterberry, and sphagnum moss are other common species in the scrub-shrub wetlands at Hale Reservation. The berries associated with many of the shrubs growing within these wetlands provides an important food source for birds and small mammals, and the typical dense growth found in the scrub-shrub wetlands also offers significant cover for a variety of species.

Emergent Marsh

Both deep and shallow emergent marshes occur on the property. The deep marshes are associated with the ponds on-site, with small areas adjacent to Powissett and Noanet Ponds and the entirety of Wildflower Pond classified as such. These deep emergent marshes contain variable vegetation, including both herbaceous species, such as cattail, and even woody shrubs (notably buttonbush, high bush blueberry and sweet pepperbush) along their fringes. Additionally, portions of the deep emergent marshes also exhibit open water. Shallow marshes contain some similar species as the deep, however plants that are less tolerant of constant inundation, such as sedges, rushes, woolgrass, and in some cases the invasive common reed, are more common. Marshes provide excellent habitat for amphibians and insects due to the presence of standing water and their common location in less shaded areas.

Open Water

view across a pond

There are three main open water bodies at Hale Reservation: Noanet Pond in the center of the property, Powissett Pond in the western half of the property, and Storrow Pond in the northern part of the property. The acreages of these ponds are 50±, 9±, and 3±, respectively. Several streams, including Powissett Brook, which is shown on the USGS Map as perennial, also flow through the site, and in fact, the ponds on the property were created by impounding these streams.

(Portions of the above come from a Natural Resources study conducted by Beals & Thomas)