As you walk through this part of the forest, you will see that pines and spruces planted in rows are dominant. These pines were planted in the 1960’s during widespread reforestation efforts in New England. There are three plantations on the Bennington College campus. This one has red pines (Pinus resinosa) on the uphill side of the trail and white pines (Pinus strobus) to the downhill side; both are native species. They are easily distinguishable from each other by their bark and needles. Red pines have reddish bark in irregular plates, whereas white pines have grayish bark that’s smooth when they are young. White pine needles grow in clusters of 5, while red Pine needles grow in pairs. White pine needles are also more flexible and softer-looking than the longer, rigid red pine needles. Natural stands of red pine are fire-dependent for regeneration — occasional burning prepares the seed bed and opens up the canopy to encourage new growth. White pines are also moderately fire resistant and will readily colonize burned areas if a seed source is nearby.
White pines were highly valued by the early European settlers because they grow very tall and straight and are somewhat flexible, making them ideal for ship masts. In the colonial era, England declared all mast-sized white pines to be the property of the Crown. Opposition to this decree was one of the factors contributing to the American Revolution.
When you are strolling through the plantation, listen for the tell-tale “chick-dee-dee” sound of the small yet spunky and inquisitive black-capped chickadees. One of the most common bird species in the Northeast, chickadees are social birds with highly complex calls that can communicate with flock-mates regarding neighboring flocks and approaching predators. Many other bird species will join chickadee flocks, including woodpeckers, nuthatches, kinglets, warblers, and vireos. These birds will respond to chickadee warning calls, an effective surveillance technique in mixed-flock foraging.