Saturday, May 21, 2016

Como Park Sakura Cherry Trees: Enjoy Hanami in Saint Paul!

Post contributed by Kaitlin Ostlie, volunteer Restoration Supervisor:

Como Park cherry trees
Move over Washington, DC! You’re not the only American city where citizens can enjoy the Japanese spring tradition of Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. Saint Paul Parks and Recreation has its own grove of cherry trees, also known as Sakura, ready for you and your family to discover.

The original 20 trees were a gift from the Japanese government in 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry trees to Washington, DC. In 2015, the Sakura cherry trees were named Landmark Trees in Saint Paul for their outstanding quality, historical value, and significance. The Sakura trees are special for more than just their beauty.  They were specially selected to withstand Minnesota’s harsh winters by the Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota. The specialized tree, the Sargeant Cherry Spring Wonder Hokkaido Normandale, was grown from seeds taken from the northern-most island of Japan that has a similar climate to Minnesota.

Children planting Como Park cherry trees in 2012
Phenological research on the tree is still on-going with Department of Forest Resources working to answer the most important question of all – when will the tree bloom each spring? You can follow their prediction at their Sakura tree webpage or post your own predictions at Saint Paul – Nagasaki Sister City Committee Cherry Tree Celebration Facebook page!

The Sakura cherry trees can be found at the Mannheimer Memorial in Como Park near the Butterfly Lot and Global Harmony Labyrinth. Join Saint Paul Parks and Recreation and local Japanese culture organizations on Saturday, June 4, at the Mannheimer Memorial for the annual Cherry TreeCelebration featuring taiko drumming, crafts, Sakura theme treats, and the planting of two additional trees. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 18th, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

First bluebird hatchlings of 2016!
The first bluebirds have hatched! There are 4 young birds in one nest, and 12 more bluebird eggs in three other boxes. Three of those eggs are white rather than blue—it is thought to be a genetic trait of the mother—and last year the trail also had a female who laid white eggs.

White bluebird eggs
There are 13 chickadee eggs in two boxes. One box has a feathery tree swallow nest and another has a nest topped with some knobby sticks from pine trees, possibly the work of a house wren, but maybe only partially finished, as they tend to fill the whole box with sticks. Three nest boxes are empty.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: April 26th, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Jacob's ladder

A cold damp day on the trail. Bluebirds completed nests in two boxes. One box has a partial grassy nest, another, a few bits of grass, and a third, some moss placed by chickadees. The sixth box is still empty. In the woodland, Jacob’s ladders and Jack-in-the-pulpits were in bloom. In the park I came upon a raptor (perhaps a broad-winged hawk) being heckled by a crow high up in a pine tree.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: April 18th, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Bluebird nest beginning
Male bluebird guarding his box
Six of eleven bluebird nest boxes are up and ready for action. Bluebirds have already begun building nests in two of them, and two more had a few pine needles and bits of grass in them. Pennsylvania sedge and corydalis were in bloom in the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom. City employees were just about to burn the shortgrass prairie in the woodland, since wind conditions were right. They promised to protect the empty nest box located in the middle of that prairie. 
Corydalis blooming in the park

Friday, January 29, 2016

It's nesting season for Great Horned Owls!

Post contributed by Maggie, seasonal Natural Resources Technician:

It’s my favorite time of the year!  It’s the time of year that you can expect to hear Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) beginning their nesting season.  Great Horned Owls (GHO) are one of the most common owls in North America, and can coexist very closely with humans in the city.  They are not only one of the earliest nesting birds in Minnesota, but also in the Americas.  Usually by this time of the year (January-February), the male owl has established his territory and found his mate.   

GHOs have great camouflage!
Male and females begin their mating rituals by calling to one another once they have found a nesting location.  If you listen closely to their calls, you can easily distinguish between the male and female: the male has a much lower pitched voice than the female does.  It’s also thought that female Great Horned Owls only call during the mating and nesting seasons.   

Adult & Juvenile in nest
Great horned owl pairs keep the same territories year-to-year, and mate for life.  Great Horned Owls are found in so many different habitats that their nests can be very diverse.  They don’t usually make their own – instead, they adopt other large birds’ nests, nest in live tree cavities, snags, or in human-constructed nest boxes.  Great Horned Owls have even been known to make their nests on the ground in parts of the prairies of Canada and the Western US.           

The female owl will usually lay 3 eggs, but can lay up to 5 depending on the year and prevalence of food.  She lays one per day and begins incubating the eggs as soon as they’re laid.  The female doesn’t leave the nest for long periods of time due to the cold weather during the incubation period, and is brought food by the male. Eggs are incubated for a period of 30-37 days.  Similar to other raptors, the owlets often hatch on different days and there is usually a noticeable size difference amongst them.  Typical broods of Great Horneds in our area include 1 to 2 fledglings, but I’ve seen up to 3 survive during a good food year!  Once the owlets have hatched, the female and male take turns catching prey for their young.  The female owl usually stays in the nest when she’s not hunting, and the male can often be seen perched nearby.    

The owlets begin branching (leaving the nest and testing their wing feathers) within 6-9 weeks.  During this period, the adults will still bring food to the fledglings, but after a few months, the new owls are on their own!  They will stick around their parents’ territory for the summer, but then need to find their own territory.  When they reach 2 years of age, they will begin mating. 

Keep watch for signs of this common, yet well camouflaged and hard to spot bird in our parks!  Common signs of an owl nearby are very vocal groups of crows, whitewash on trees (the droppings often left behind on favorite perches of raptors) and agitated songbirds -- maybe if you’re lucky you’ll hear them calling and be able to spot one!

Check out this page for more owl vocalizations and other info about GHOs!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

On the Search for North American River Otters

Post contributed by Samantha, seasonal Natural Resources Technician:

Our department was able to purchase two trail cameras funded by an REI grant we received through the Saint Paul Park Conservancy in 2014. These trail cameras are being used to document the illusive wildlife found within the City of Saint Paul. Recently, our department decided to install one of the trail cameras in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in hopes of capturing photos of North American river otters (Lontra canadensis). To help with this endeavor, I contacted Ranger Allie with the National Park service who has been tracking river otters along the Mississippi River for a few years. Lucky for me, Ranger Allie was willing to meet me out in the field for a guided otter tracking lesson.

A land bridge used by otters.
 On a humid Tuesday morning, Ranger Allie, Emily, and I hopped into a canoe to begin tracking otters. As we canoed along the river, Ranger Allie discussed the tracking process including the living preferences and habits of river otters. Ranger Allie taught us that otters and beavers commonly cohabitate in the same areas. The reason behind this seemingly odd relationship is that beavers alter the landscape around their lodge, which benefits other semi-aquatic mammals. Also, beavers are able to break through the thick ice in the winter, which provides river otters with access to water and food. Another key point to consider when tracking river otters is that they prefer land bridges that quickly transfer them from one water body to the next.

Otter scat contains mostly fish scales.
Upon docking near a beaver lodge, we immediately came across an otter latrine with scat. The older the otter latrine, the more white in color the scat will appear due to the amount of crayfish that otters consume. In general, the makeup of otter scat is mostly fish scales. Another sign to look for when tracking otters is an area resembling a deer bed of padded down brush and grass near the shoreline. Otters tend to lay and play in these soft areas leaving behind evidence of their activity.

After surveying a couple of beaver lodges, we finally found a promising location to set up the trail camera. The area we chose was a land bridge between two water bodies. Not only was there a worn, muddy path between the bodies of water, but also semi-fresh scat containing fish scales.

Please check back to see photos of the river otters as well as learn more about the fun projects our department undertakes!

Below is a link to Ranger Allie’s trail camera footage from years past:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Como Park Bluebird Trail: 2015 Results!

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

The last three bluebirds fledged bringing this year’s season to a close. A total of 60 birds fledged on the trail from May through August—34 bluebirds, 20 tree swallows, and 6 chickadees. Of the 49 bluebird eggs laid on the trail, 69% hatched and successfully fledged. A very successful year on the Como Park Bluebird Trail!