Thursday, May 31, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 31st

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

Parent blue bird watches from a nearby tree

Round 2 of nesting is underway!  Bluebirds built two new nests in the past week; one has 4 blue eggs, the other, 3.  Another nest has 4 bluebird eggs in it.  At least 8 young bluebirds occupy three other nestboxes.

Tree swallows built a new nest in a hanging nestbox formerly occupied by chickadees and laid 1 egg in it so far.  The other tree swallow nest still has some eggs in it, but the parent bird was not incubating them and they did not swoop at me this morning.  I am not sure these eggs will hatch.  Usually by this point, the parent tree swallow is incubating the eggs and often refuses to budge from them when I open the box.

As I approached the box with 8 chickadees in it, I could hear loud peeping and a parent chickadee soon flew out to find more food.  All is well in this box and the chickadees should fledge sometime in the next two weeks.

Week-old bluebirds (left) and
one cowbird (right)

A male house sparrow exited the hanging box that last week had been emptied of tree swallow eggs and plastic wrappers.  Nothing had changed in the nest; it was still just a platform of grassy material, so I removed it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: May 24th-26th

Post contributed by Conservation Corps, Youth Outdoors Crew 2:

We're getting towards the end of spring and all of the projects that go with it. We've spent months managing some of Saint Paul's nicest sites, like Crosby Farm Park and the Mississippi River bluffs, and continuing restoration efforts at sites like the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom and Hamline Avenue. Natural resource restoration and management efforts are based on the life cycle of plants. Accordingly, we've spent the spring managing invasive species before they begin to seed out, and planting native species in their place so they can become established over the summer.

Corps member, Katie, torching first year
garlin mustard at Crosby Farm Park

After planting thousands of trees and managing many acres of invasive species, we spent Wednesday doing a final sweep for second year garlic mustard plants and torching first year plants to protect a lot of native species at Crosby Farm Park. Torching is a technique we tested out a few weeks ago that worked really well. It kills the invasive species really effectively without disturbing the soil. The site was looking really good and our efforts are definitely paying off.

On Thursday, we worked with our youth crews to spread mulch over the Mounds Park overlook, where native trees and shrubs were recently planted by volunteer groups. The mulch helps keep soil moist and prevents invasive species from sprouting and out-competing the new natives. It was a rainy day, but the site looked great when we finished. We finished the day out by spiking burdock and clipping seed heads at Mounds Park.

Youth Outdoors crews spreading
mulch at Mounds overlook

As it gets warmer and the seasons change, we are starting to really see progress in our work.  Don’t forget to get out there and check it out for yourself!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 23rd

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

      Eight chickadees from one nest and 7 bluebirds from two nests fledged in the past week.  Sadly, when I opened the other chickadee nest box, expecting to find it empty and the birds fledged, I discovered 7 tiny skeletons.  They must have died soon after I checked them two weeks ago; either some tragedy befell both parents, or the parents abandoned the nest.
      There were no signs of the two cowbirds eggs that had been in one of the bluebird nests, nor were there any remains of hatched cowbirds.  Perhaps the parent bluebirds removed the unhatched eggs or smothered hatchlings.  The bluebird parents in the other now empty nest had already built a new nest over the old one, which contained one unviable old egg (probably that extra small one I noted in an earlier post).  I removed the old nest material and unhatched egg from underneath the new nest.
      After removing all the old nesting materials and chickadee guards, there are now three empty boxes available for Round Two of bluebird nesting.  Bluebirds usually nest two or sometimes three times in a season.
Newly hatched bluebirds
Chickadees, about a week old

      Two bluebirds had just hatched in another nest, with one more egg to go.  Another box contains 4 bluebird eggs and 1 cowbird egg—the parent bluebirds defend this nest by divebombing me, a less usual behavior for bluebirds, but very common in tree swallows.  Most bluebird parents exit the nest box as I approach and scold me from a nearby tree.  A third box contains three bluebird eggs.
      There are 8 nearly one-week-old chickadees in another box.
      The tree swallow nest with white feathers in it has about 6 white eggs in it, and aggressive parents defending it, swooping and chattering as I checked.  The other tree swallow nest that last week had 4 white eggs and many plastic wrappers in it, now is empty of eggs and all plastic is gone, but the grassy nesting material remains.  No tree swallows were nearby, but I did hear a house sparrow, and perhaps there is a battle going on that the tree swallows have lost.

To view a live bluebird nestcam visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: May 16-19th

Post contributed by Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew 2:

Crew member, Noah, protecting native plants
(shown are columbine on top left, common
milkweed on right center, and prairie
smoke on bottom left) by removing invasive
species around Lake Como

This last week the YO2 crew focused mainly on invasive species management. Many species are beginning to flower and it is crucial to take the plants out before they can disperse their seeds.

Wednesday, the crew spent the morning at the Hamline-Midway rain garden cleaning debris, cutting volunteer trees, and taking out invasives such as burdock, pennycress, thistle, and curly dock. Invasives aren’t the only thing blossoming though!  The highbush cranberry is in full bloom competing with the columbine's showy beauty.

Wednesday afternoon the crew relocated to Como Lake continuing in their effort to control invasives. The crew spent time working on identification of different species of plants around the lake and were amazed at the diversity that exists in such a small area.

The quest against invasives continued Thursday with the Youth Outdoors crews. They worked at Mounds Park pulling garlic mustard to prevent it from seeding out and distributing seed in great quantity. Each plant produces hundreds of seeds which are spread by water, the fur of animals, and by humans.

Newly hatched snapping turtle
Saturday, the crew was back at Como Lake working the shoreline for invasives. They focused mainly on pennycress, shepard’s purse, and curly dock for the day and pulled out most of it. While working, the crew saw a variety of wildlife, ranging from a baby snapping turtle to a nest of newly hatched red winged black birds. A reminder to keep your eyes peeled when you’re out and about, you never what you may come across!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 16th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

Tree swallow nest with feathers
This week, I did not open four nestboxes, two occupied by bluebirds and two, by chickadees, since the young birds are near to fledging, but perhaps not quite ready.  If I opened the box I might surprise them into jumping (or tumbling) out of the nest too early.
      Three more boxes have a total of 10 bluebird eggs and 1 cowbird egg.  This cowbird egg might successfully hatch as it was laid at approximately the same time as the bluebird eggs.
      One box has 8 chickadee eggs, which should hatch soon.

Tree swallow nest with plastic

      The final two boxes are occupied by tree swallows.  One nest covered in white feathers has some eggs in it, but I couldn’t count how many due to all the feathers.  The other tree swallow nest doesn’t have feathers in it at all, but has many clear plastic wrappers!  This is unusual for tree swallows, and confused me into thinking the nest belonged to house sparrows, who often use trash in their nests.  But last week I suspected the nest might indeed belong to tree swallows since I’d seen one emerge from the box earlier, and the grassy nest material was not messily built up the sides as much as a house sparrow’s would be, so I did not remove the nesting material.  Sure enough, this week there are four white tree swallow eggs in it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: May 9th-12th

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

Wednesday May 9th- planting at Hamline
Another wonderful day of planting native trees and shrubs at Hamline Avenue near Como Park. With beautiful weather, spirits were high as worked hard to get the plants in the ground so they can begin taking root at their new home.
Thursday May 10th- planting with youth
Youth Outdoors crew memebers planting trees at Hamline Ave
Phalen Recreation Center and Hazel Recreation Center Youth Outdoors crews teamed up to continue planting trees and shrubs at Hamline Avenue. The youth from Hazel started their work day out by working out some details for their youth led service project, working closely with a local library. Each youth crew is responsible for identifying an environmental issue in their community, researching about it, planning a service project to address the issue, and executing the service project. This is the culmination of their service term with the Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors program. It is a fun and exciting way for the youth to positively impact their community and learn valuable leadership and planning skills. Once they arrived at Hamline Avenue, they were ready to work. The two crews worked together to plant many trees.
Friday May 11th- Planting at Hamline
Youth Outdoors Crew 2 participated in one final day of planting trees at Hamline Aveune. As members of the Saint Paul Parks environmental team did a final sweep to remove all of the remaining buckthorn from the site, we followed behind using dibble bars to plant some small saplings in the newly cleared areas. Mulch was placed around all of the new trees and shrubs to help them maintain moisture and discourage weed growth.  We also put tree cages around some of the smaller "tastier" sapling to guard against small animals who enjoy consuming the newly planted trees. It is hard to believe that we are done planting along Hamline Avenue, but the transformation has been fun to watch and be a part of. It looks great! We've greatly increased the plant diversity, diminished the presence of invasive species, and created a more beautiful natural area for community members to enjoy!

Saturday May 12th- volunteer event Lilydale and Swede Hollow clean-up
Saturday began with a volunteer event with Great River Greening. Alongside this non-profit, in Cherokee Heights Regional Park, we removed many buckthorn trees and saplings. In certain areas of this removal project, there was buckthorn that was pre-cut and just had to be hauled out. In other areas, there were still buckthorn plants that were removed using a weed wrench. Many large buckthorn were removed to create a very large brush pile. This event lasted until lunch, which we enjoyed at the nearby Harriet Island Park. After lunch we went to Swede Hollow Park to remove invasive species. Burdock stalks and garlic mustard were removed as we begin to prepare this site to be planted in the near future.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 10th, 2012

Post contribued by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

Three young bluebirds, about a week old, in the nest that had two cowbird eggs in it.
All of the boxes are now occupied.  Bluebirds completed three new nests since last week (one has 3 eggs; another, 1; and the third has none yet).  There are at least three young bluebirds in each of the other two bluebird boxes.  I was unable to see any cowbird eggs or young in the bluebird nest with the two cowbirds eggs.  It is possible the growing bluebirds are sitting on them, or the eggs hatched and the young cowbirds, who would have been considerably smaller than the young bluebirds, may have been smothered underneath.
      About 15 young chickadees are growing in two nest boxes.  It is impossible to count individuals when they lie sleeping in a heap!  Finally, I was able to see into the third chickadee nest that had been all covered in fur:  it has 8 speckled little eggs.

A young bluebird, about two weeks old,
sleeping against the corner of the box.

A heap of sleeping young chickadees.

      The empty nest with one cowbird egg has been taken over by tree swallows, who’ve built their nest over it and lined the cup with white feathers.  House sparrows began another nest, a platform of grass with a topping of plastic wrappers, in the last box.
(Sorry the quality of my photos is not always so good....  It is very difficult to get a good photo in those tiny, dark boxes when I totally rely on the camera to focus since my head won't fit!  Also, I try to be quick, and not upset the parent birds too much by lingering too long.)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: May 1st-5th

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

Youth Outdoors crews getting mulch for the newly planted trees and shrubs along Hamline Avenue.
Mulch helps these plants maintain moisture and it also reduces the growth of unwanted plants that would compete with our new trees and shrubs for water and nutrients.

It has been another busy week for the Conservation Corps crew.  We started off the week on Wednesday battling more garlic mustard in the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom (CWOC).  Volunteers from Great River School joined us for an afternoon of hand pulling in the ephemeral wetland zone.  They were able to knock out a big portion of the remainin garlic mustard, what a great help! 

Thank you to the volunteers who came out to
Hamline Avenue on Saturday! We hope you had a great time!

The rest of the week, we focused on planting trees in areas where we have recently done a significant amount of invasive removal--along the Mississippi River Boulevard (MRB), part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.  We have been working steadily to plant 5,000 saplings along a 2 mile stretch of the river to restore an oak woodland landscape along the edges of the Mississippi River.  The trees that we have been planting this week include bur oak, red oak, bitternut hickory, and other species native to the area.  We had help from some wonderful volunteer groups including seventh graders from Hill-Murray School who planted over 900 trees, and a seven person team from US Bank who joined us on Friday.  Wednesday and Saturday we worked with our Youth Outdoors crews at both MRB, and behind the Como Zoo along Hamline Avenue, planting and mulching before the thunderstorms came late in our workday on Saturday.  Before the rain came, we had over 50 community volunteers helping out with planting the trees and shrubs along Hamline Avenue.  All the rain this week was helpful though, making the soil a bit easier to dig into and providing nice moist ground for all of our young plants. 

The Conservation Corps busy trimming roots of
the saplings before planting them at MRB.

Volunteering is fun for the whole family!
Look for more volunteer opportunites
with Saint Paul Parks here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 3rd, 2012

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

This is the bluebird nest with the cowbird eggs and
was taken on May 5, when two more bluebirds had hatched. 
You can see 4 bluebirds and the 2 unhatched cowbird eggs.

Some happy news on the trail this week.  The bluebird nest I thought had failed, had not!  Inside were at least four bluebird nestlings; the parent birds monitored me from nearby.  I am glad I was wrong, and very glad I was abundantly cautious and did not remove the nest last week.  It is unusual for a nest to contain five eggs for three weeks, as incubation usually lasts about 12-14 days, tops.  Incubation begins after the last egg is laid, and bluebirds generally lay 3-5 eggs, so it must be that incubation began right after I checked three weeks ago, and the eggs hatched right after I checked last week.  Two tiny pinkish bluebirds had just hatched in the other bluebird nest on the trail.  Two blue eggs, and two speckled cowbirds eggs remain.  A third new bluebird nest has been built in a box in an area with lots of tree swallow activity.
      Chickadees in two boxes have hatched and when I opened their boxes, they lifted their tiny heads and gaped, making soft, nearly inaudible peeping noises, as their parents scolded me from nearby branches.  The third chickadee nest is still totally covered in fur.
      A cowbird egg remains in an abandoned nest.  If it has not hatched in two weeks, I will remove both the nest and egg so another pair of birds can move in.  Two nestboxes contain small amounts of nesting materials.  From the last box I removed the beginnings of a house sparrow nest.  House sparrows often add non-organic materials like plastic wrappers and trash to their nests while other birds do not.  They are a non-native species and can be aggressively destructive to bluebirds and their eggs, so their nests are removed to discourage them from the trail and to prevent future problems.

This photo was taken in the woodland May 3,
it is of the parent great-horned owl (right) and a juvenile (left)

      While on the trail, I came across a family of great-horned owls in the woodland, a parent and two large fluffy owlets perched in an oak.