Monday, April 30, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: Mississippi River Boulevard

Post contributed by Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Youth Outdoors Crew 1:
Before buckthorn removal at
Mississippi River Boulevard
(Fall 2011)
A week full of planting. Last year, a Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors adult crew spent a few weeks cutting buckthorn along the top portion of the bluff along the Mississippi River Boulevard from Desnoyer Park to Hidden Falls. This portion of the Mississippi River Valley is known as the gorge, defined by its steep slopes, sandstone, and limestone. With the chainsaw work finished, Youth Outdoors crews removed the cut brush in the spring to make room for the nearly 5,000 trees we will be planting by May 4th, 2012!

After buckthorn removal at
Mississippi River Boulevard
(Spring 2012)

Conservation Corps member using
a dibble bar to plant saplings

On Wednesday morning, Youth Outdoors Crew 1, with the help of a Youth Outdoors crew from Minneapolis, grabbed their dibble bars and planted close to 500 saplings.  We were planting Bur Oak, Red Oak, Nannyberry, Plum, Red Osier Dogwood, and Bitternut Hickory.  Using the dibble bars, a tool designed to make a narrow hole in the ground ideal for planting saplings, we started at Shadow Falls and worked north from there.  It is important to follow up buckthorn removal with planting native species, because if an area is left alone, exotic species can re-establish. 

Mallard hen duck sitting on her eggs
Needing to get a lot of trees in the ground along the bluff, Youth Outdoors Crew 1 spent Friday and Saturday along MRB with their dibble  bars in hand.  On Saturday, a group of alumni from Macalester College braved the rainy weather to help plant.  We planted Bur Oak, Red Oak, and some Dogwood along the Hidden Falls Overlook.  Following the volunteer event, we continued to plant saplings and were lucky enough to stumble upon a few morel mushrooms and a mother duck keeping her eggs warm. 
-Youth Outdoors Crew 1 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: April 25-28

Post contributed by Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Youth Outdoors Crew 2:

Sometimes garlic mustard can be overwhelming!
Without the help of volunteers like you,
it would be much more difficult for us to manage it.
This was the week of garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is an edible invasive species in Minnesota that natural resources managers across the state battle every spring. We spent the week making a big push at both Crosby Farm Park and the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom (CWOC) to knock back the garlic mustard before it could seed.  We used many techniques as part of a comprehensive garlic mustard management plan.

We worked at Crosby Farm Park on Wednesday, hand pulling garlic mustard in order to protect what is one of the best ephemeral plant sites in the city. We chose this method because it protects the diverse native plants that grow here.

On Thursday, we worked with our youth and Saint Paul Parks, hauling buckthorn and hand pulling garlic mustard along Hamline Avenue in the Como Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. This site is looking really great after eliminating most of the buckthorn and garlic mustard, and we're seeing a lot of native species thriving. Saint Paul Parks is hosting a large volunteer event here on Saturday, May 5th from 9am-11am to plant many small native trees and shrubs in this area. It's not too late to register--sign up here!

We were joined by about 40 volunteers from Murray Junior High School on Friday at the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom. With the garlic mustard beginning to flower, we only have a short window left before seeds started to spread, so volunteers this week were crucial. We led the students in hand pulling garlic mustard in a small area of CWOC that had a good population of native plants. We even found a morel mushroom and spotted a great horned owl, right here in the city. These are good indicators that our efforts are helping, and native plants and animals are returning to the site. We continued on Friday afternoon by weed-whipping flowering garlic mustard so that it couldn't seed. Our goal was to do this to all of CWOC so that the seed base was greatly diminished for the coming years. This is part of a management plan for CWOC that will require frequent visits for some time but is very effective.

FedEx volunteers with bags of garlic mustard that they
pulled from the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom
On Saturday, we kicked off a rainy morning with around 40 volunteers, once again hand-pulling garlic mustard at CWOC. A HUGE thank you to the volunteers who braved the weather. There was a group from FedEx, some Peace Corps alumni volunteers, and of course a few dedicated community volunteers. Together we were able to pull out 3 truckbeds FULL of garlic mustard. We got a lot done and had a good time. In the afternoon, we finished off weed-whipping at CWOC, and found two more morel mushrooms! We all finished the week feeling really good about what we had accomplished. There was a noticeable difference in the amount of garlic mustard at the sites we were managing, and we saw many signs that the overall health of these sites was improving.

If you want more information about Crosby Farm or the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom, check them out here:


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: April 26th

Post contributed by Sharon--Volunteer Como Park Bluebird Trail monitor:

Cowbird eggf in Eastern Bluebird nest. Photo by Lara Hampton
Example of a cowbird egg that was laid in a bluebird nest.
To learn more about cowbirds check out this web article.
April 26, 2012: The bluebird nest with 5 eggs, one smaller than the rest, is likely a failed attempt and out of an abundance of caution I will wait until next week to remove it.  Then I can be certain the nest has failed as by then those eggs, if viable, should have hatched.  One chickadee nest has 8 eggs, another, 7 eggs, and a third is covered completely in fur.  Another box has a carpet of moss, a chickadee nest in progress.  A medium-sized speckled egg has been deposited in an unoccupied nest, probably made by bluebirds but abandoned.  House sparrows and cowbirds lay speckled eggs of that size.  I believe it is a cowbird egg, because the next box on the trail, one containing a thriving bluebird nest, now also has two speckled eggs in it, in addition to the 5 blue eggs.  Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.  They are a protected native species so I may not interfere, though it may make it difficult for the bluebird parents.  A tree swallow emerged from one nest box, but hasn't yet begun to build a nest in it.  A nearby box had one feather, one long pine needle, and one empty gum wrapper inside.  The gum wrapper points to a house sparrow, the feather could mean a tree swallow.  I removed the wrapper and will check again next week.  The final box has only a small amount of grass inside.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: April 19th, 2012

Post contributed by Sharon--Volunteer Como Park Bluebird Trail monitor:
Here's the latest news and photos:
Bluebird nest with one possible dwarf egg

Chickadee nest
 April 19, 2012:  A cold morning on the trail.  Three boxes have bluebird nests.  One has no eggs yet, another still has five blue eggs, but I've seen no signs of parents and the eggs seemed cold to the touch, so this nest may have failed.  I will leave it for another week or so to make sure it has failed before I empty it.  Another interesting thing about this nest is that one of the eggs is quite a bit smaller than the others (see photo), though I am not sure if it is small enough to be a dwarf egg, which would be unfertile and very rare.  The third bluebird nest has five blue eggs, and the mother bluebird flew out as I approached. Four boxes have chickadee nests.  One has 8 speckled eggs in it, two are so covered with fur that I do not know how many eggs have been laid, and one is half-built, with a good amount of moss but no fur yet.  Two more boxes are empty, and one has a small amount of grass and thicker plant material.

For more information on the Como Park Bluebird Trail click here!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail update:

Post contributed by Sharon--Volunteer Como Park Bluebird Trail monitor:

What is the Como Park Bluebird Trail?

Como Park is a great place to raise a bluebird family!  It has the wide, open, grassy fields that bluebirds need to find insects to feed their young.  Bluebirds are cavity nesters and search for holes in dead trees or old fence posts in which to make their nests.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these around.

Many people want to help bluebirds find nesting places and successfully raise their young, so they put up nest boxes and make bluebird “trails” in parks, cemeteries, golf courses or fields (with permission, of course).  Then a volunteer trail monitor checks the boxes at least once a week during the nesting season to make sure no problems have cropped up.

When bluebirds find an acceptable nest box, they make their nests from brown grass or long pine needles and weave the materials skillfully into a cup inside the box.  They lay up to five pale blue eggs twice a year, beginning in late April and continuing through August.  The eggs hatch after about two weeks and the young birds are ready to fledge about 16-21 days after hatching.

The Como Park Bluebird Trail began in 2008 with nine nest boxes mounted on telephone poles around the park.  From these boxes, 12 young bluebirds were fledged.

In 2009, a new trail was developed with boxes placed in more suitable locations.  Six post-mounted boxes were made by students in a stewardship class at Great River School, in partnership with Eco Education, and donated to the park.  Six experimental hanging nest boxes were tested in 2009, too.

The Como Golf Course has had a its own bluebird trail since 2005.   The trail now has 14 boxes.  From 2005-2008, a total of 125 young bluebirds have been successfully raised on the golf course! Look for these beautiful birds when you’re at the park.  Listen for their soft, lovely song.

Here is what has happened so far with the Como Park Bluebird Trail, check back here or on the webpage for weekly updates!

April 12, 2012: One box has a bluebird nest with five blue eggs in it. Another has a completed bluebird nest. Three boxes have chickadee nests made out of moss and fur. On those, I installed chickadee guards over the entrance holes to make the entrance smaller so only chickadees can get in. It protects them from larger competition. Another box has a small amount of moss in it and has likely been claimed by chickadees. Four boxes are still empty or have only small amounts of nesting material inside. Tree swallows have returned to the park. 

April 6, 2012:  Two bluebird nests and two chickadee nests on the trail so far.  No eggs yet.

March 31, 2012:  A hanging nestbox was stolen from the park in the past week, so the trail is down to 10 boxes.  Thankfully no birds had yet begun to nest in that box, though bluebirds had been checking it out.  I moved another hanging box to that position.  Still only one completed bluebird nest on the trail.  A chickadee has deposited some moss in one of the boxes and scolded me while I checked, two boxes have grassy unfinished nests that quite possibly belong to bluebirds, and two more 
have small amounts of dried grass in them.  Four are still empty.

March 24, 2012:  One nestbox contains a finely-crafted, deeply-cupped bluebird nest made out of pine needles.  Two others have some grassy nesting material inside, but it is too early to tell if they are the work of bluebirds or house sparrows.
March 11, 2012:  The boxes are up and the bluebirds are here!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: April 10th to April 14th

Post contributed by Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Youth Outdoors Crew 2:
The Youth Outdoors 2 crew has been very busy this last week.  One of our major projects was to work at Indian Mounds Park to prepare for a large volunteer event which will be hosted by Great River Greening, City of Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department,and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area- National Park Service that will be taking place on Saturday, April 21st. This preparation involved cutting down large amounts of buckthorn which will be hauled out of the park during the volunteer event. Indian Mounds Park contains one of the few surviving remnants of native oak savanna in the river valley, as well as oak forest and a skunk cabbage seepage swamp. Once home to 16 burial mounds, the park is a reminder of Minnesota's history for future generations. This hauling event will cap a huge buckthorn removal effort that has transformed this into a nearly buckthorn-free park.
Hauling litter and dead plant debris
out of Hamline-Midway raingarden
   Another project that we worked on last week was cleaning up the Hamline-Midway Raingarden near Como Park. Throughout the past winter, litter had infiltrated the site.  We spent a good amount of time removing the trash as well as the plant debris from the previous year.  Raingardens receive a rush of polluted stormwater from hard surfaces (such as sidewalks, driveways, roofs, and streets), hold the water for a short period of time, and allow it to naturally infiltrate into the ground to remove pollutants and recharge groundwater rather than running off into a storm drain. For more information on raingardens, check out this great article from Capital Region Watershed District.

Citywide Spring Clean-up kickoff at Lake Phalen

On Saturday, our youth crews assisted with the 26th Annual Citywide Clean-Up of Saint Paul. Each crew was designated to a different kick-off location where they ran the registration table and performed other essential tasks. After the kick-off, we all went off to various parks such as Bruce Vento trail and Linwood Recreation Center to remove litter from the area.
The Conservation Corps crew is growing as a productive unit and the efficiency of the team is improving. We are getting to work faster, teach better, and work harder! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thank You, Target Volunteers!

We would like to give a HUGE thank you to the 50+ Saint Paul area Target employees who spent Friday afternoon with us at Highwood Preserve hauling brush. These volunteers were an absolutely fantastic group with great attitudes and an amazing work ethic. Without volunteers like them, we couldn't keep Saint Paul's Parks looking as beautiful as they do! Thanks!!!

Would you like to help care for Saint Paul's parks and natural areas?  We have a variety of volunteer opportunities in gardening, habitat restoration, environmental education, and park maintenance.

Volunteers greatly enhance our ability to improve Saint Paul's natural environment, educate the community, and keep our park system beautiful and safe.  Volunteers compliment the abilities and work of Parks staff by significantly expanding the reach and impact of our programs.

Volunteer with Saint Paul Parks!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

End of March

Post contributed by: Youth Outdoors Crew 2, Minnesota Conservation Corps

Conducting a prescribed burn on the shore of Lake Phalen
This week temperatures dipped down to more normal temperatures for March, although without all the snow melt we are sort of skipping the mud season.  Perfect for outdoor work.  The awakenings of spring are continually exciting as we traipse through the woods.  Trees are budding out and the ephemerals continue to pop.
(Prunus virginiana)
We spent some time managing buckthorn, a highly aggressive invasive species, and we are in a narrow window of time when it is especially easy to tell buckthorn and cherry apart, making for easier work.  This early in the spring, cherry leaves have a red tint to them while the buckthorn is a bright green. 

One of the major highlights of the week was conducting our first prescribed burn as a crew at Lake Phalen.  Along much of the shoreline, native grasses have been restored and it is important to manage them with fire every few years.  Check out this video of Lake Phalen being burned in 2011!

Saturday, we worked with our youth program in Taylor Park and Highwood Preserve hauling previously cut buckthorn to the road so that it can be picked up and taken downtown to the District Energy building where it will be converted into energy for the city of Saint Paul.  While we were at Highwood Preserve, we were able to see a few purple twayblades (Liparis liliifolia), a rare native orchid. Purple twayblades are not a particularly showy orchid, but it is neat to see them nonetheless. Wildflowers may not be dug up without permission of the landowners, and it is illegal to sell wildflowers without the appropriate permits. In addition, orchids do not take particularly well to transplanting. For these reasons, we request that any visitors to Highwood Preserve simply admire the orchid and refrain from disturbing them, or their growing area, in any way. For more information on Minnesota's wildflower laws please visit this link from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.