Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today ? December 21, 2018

by Forester Lisa Deaton


We expect to see Christmas trees at Christmas tree farms, but this decorated eastern red cedar is located on the edge of a 2-year old pine plantation.


On a recent rainy day, the bald eagle below appeared to be hunting in a clearcut.


One of my favorite things about this time of year on the Middle Peninsula is hearing the tundra swans fly overhead.   A bald eagle’s call is quite the contrast.  Listen here.

The bald eagle population has made a notable recovery since DDT was banned [Richmond Times article], and we see them quite often in the Chesapeake Bay region.  With 272 breeding pairs along the James River in 2017, that eagle population appears to be reaching carrying capacity.  The next time you hear that unique bird call, look up and you may see a bald eagle.

Several years ago, as I was driving along Route 30 towards West Point, I saw an eagle steal a dead opossum from a group of vultures on the side of the road.  Much to my surprise, it tried to make its getaway straight towards my car.  At the last minute, it dropped the opossum on the road directly in front of me in order to clear the roof of my car.  I was very relieved that I did not hit the eagle or the opossum.


Field Notes: Pine Yellows

by Senior Area Forester Joe Rosetti

Every year, about 4-8 weeks after the deciduous trees lose their leaves, the pines of Virginia display a condition we will call Pine Yellows.  Pine Yellows is characterized by about half of the needles on the seemingly healthy trees turning yellow, then after 1-2 weeks falling off.  The trees do not display any other signs of disease or insect damage, and except for the changing color, appear perfectly healthy.  Upon closer inspection, you will see the needles that are turning yellow are only on the interior of the tree. The needles at the ends of the branches are staying green.  The yellow needles come off easily when pulled or brushed.  If this describes pine trees near you, then fear not.  Pine Yellows is perfectly normal.

pine yellowtall

Pine trees, along with spruce and fir, are evergreen, so it’s generally thought they keep their needles forever.  However, the trees needles are their leaves and leaves don’t last forever.  The needles you see turning yellow and falling off now are the needles that grew in the spring of 2017.  Every spring, the trees grow their branches longer and grow new needles at the ends of the branches.  They keep the previous year’s needles and grow through the summer with the needles from this year and last year.  When fall comes, last year’s needles fall off (resulting in the condition Pine Yellows) and the trees go through winter with the needles that grew this spring.  So in our case, the needles turning yellow now are the needles that grew in 2017.  The needles staying green grew in 2018, and they will stay through the winter.  In spring of 2019, the branches will grow and grow new needles, and the 2018 needles will turn yellow and fall off in November of December of 2019.

So if your pine trees are displaying Pine Yellows, don’t worry.  You can rest assured it is perfectly normal.