Monday, December 23, 2013

What Do Animals Do in the Winter? Grin and Bear It

Post contributed by David from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoor Crew 2:

 This week we'll continue not only with our winter weather theme, but with mammals as well. Last week's blog was about the adaptations deer have to brave the cold. But simply trading out summer fur for a much warmer winter coat or huddling together in a group is not always enough to keep an animal alive during the winter months. Some animals use these methods along with hibernation.

 Bears are a classic example of an animal that hibernates throughout the winter. They start the season by finding a place to make a den, such as a cave, rock crevice, or hollowed out tree. They will then spend the winter sleeping. Surprisingly, their dens do not provide much protection from the cold, but bears are able to keep their body temperature at about 88°F throughout the winter nonetheless. During this time, their metabolism drops by more than 50%. Bears will sleep for at least three whole months. Female bears sometimes wake up in January to give birth to a cub, which they will nurse and care for while continuing to sleep for most of the winter. 

Keep reading next week to see how our next animal stays alive during the winter. It may surprise you...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Do Animals Do in the Winter? Oh Deer...

Post contributed by David from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew2:

Winter is here and won’t be going away anytime soon. As humans, we have adapted a variety of ways to get us through these harsh winter months. We often put on more weight by consuming fatty comfort foods and plenty of holiday cookies. We sleep much more, because who would want to leave their nice warm bed when its 15 below outside. Some fly south to warmer climates, while many layer up and brave the cold (some even relish in it).  There are many ways that we handle the cold, and it might surprise you to learn that we share many adaptations for surviving the winter with animals.

Look at how thick their winter coats are!
Let's begin with the animals that we are more closely related too. Mammals have two main choices when preparing for winter: will they spend it huddled up somewhere safe asleep, or will they endure the cold and be active throughout the winter months? Deer are one example of mammals that stay active during the winter, and they have many adaptations to help them out. Like most animals, they began preparing long before the winter starts by eating protein and fat dense foods, bulking up to create an insulating fat layer and to provide an energy reserve to get them through when food is much more scarce. They will also trade their thinner summer coat for a much thicker layer of fur to keep them warm. A behavior strategy that they adopt is to form large social groups, which creates the advantage of being able to huddle together for warmth, and makes it easier for them to move around in the snow. 

Today's post kicks off a four-part blog about the many ways animals deal with the harsh Minnesota winters, so stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Not Just Ordinary Stairs

Post contributed by Anna Hersh, Saint Paul's Seasonal Natural Resources Technician: 

Adding the finishing touches to the stairs at Highwood.
 The Saint Paul Natural Resources Environmental Staff and the Conservation Corps crews were part of a very exciting project at the beginning of November: building a staircase out of wooden timbers at Highwood Nature Preserve. The stairs are part of a restoration project that is taking place at the park and are funded by grants from REI and the Xcel Energy Foundation. The entire project took a little over two weeks to complete and required a lot of digging, chainsawing, and sledge-hammering! We took pictures throughout the entire process so we could compile the photos into a timelapse video to really showcase the work that went into these stairs. You can see the finished video here.

Working hard to dig holes for the timbers at Como.
Several days after the Highwood stairs were completed, the Environmental Staff and Conservation Corps were joined by some dedicated volunteers to build another timber staircase at the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom in Como Regional Park. The staircase, which was also funded by a grant from REI, connects the classroom to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace. With snow looming in the forecast, this staircase was completed in just six days! We created a second timelapse video using still photos taken during the building process, which you can watch here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Seeding for Spring

 Post contributed by Anna Hersh, Saint Paul's Seasonal Natural Resources Technician:

Shannon seeding at the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom.
As winter weather sets in (we're seeing snow now, not just cold temperatures), the Natural Resources Team of the Saint Paul Parks & Recreation Department is scurrying around trying to get those last few outdoor projects crossed of their lists. One such project this week was frost seeding, which involves sowing seeds after a frost or before a big snow. The continual freezing and thawing of the ground throughout the winter allows the seeds to work their way into the soil. Once the snow settles on top of them, they are protected from hungry birds and other animals. Then, when spring arrives, the seeds will already be in the ground and ready to sprout.
Seeding at Eastside Heritage Park.

We set out yesterday morning with a truck load of native grass and forb seeds that were collected by volunteers and the Minnesota Conservation Corps earlier in the year. We had a long list to accomplish and a wide variety of seeds to sow, including Little Bluestem, Canada Wild Rye, and Blue Gramma. With the forecast showing a large winter storm coming that night, we wanted to get as much seeding done as possible. We spent the whole day outside and completed our entire list! Indian Mounds Park, the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom, Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, Upper Landing Park, Eastside Heritage Park, and Ames Lake all were seeded with a variety of native plants to help restore the local plant community. We finished up with a sense of accomplishment and snow in our hair. Can you really think of a better way to spend the day?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sowing the seeds of change...

Post contributed by Lily from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew 2:

Clearing the land for the Round Lake restoration.
Today, we spent our time around beautiful Como and Round Lakes spreading seeds that hopefully will grow into healthy grasses next year. One might find it odd to be planting seeds when it is getting colder and darker by the minute, but there are actually many advantages to planting in this way.

There were many pounds of seeds, and we spread them by simply tossing them into the wind in areas according to their sunlight needs. At Round Lake, some of the seeds had to be inoculated with a special bacteria in order to aid in early growth

It was our first day of snow of the season today as well. Even though winter is upon us, there are still many leaves continuing to fall. As this happens, it’s important to keep up with raking, because too many leaves in our watershed can cause serious problems.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Little house on what prairie?

Post contributed by Meredith from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew 1:

This week, two of the Conservation Corps, young adult crews have been enjoying some crisp and sunny fall days working at Highwood Nature Preserve located in south east Saint Paul. Highwood is a unique addition to the city’s outdoor recreation opportunities and is a favorite place of many of the crew members.  Perched on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and Twin Cities skylines, Highwood is home to a unique remnant prairie. This beautiful pocket of prairie serves as a reminder of what the southwestern third of the state looked like before European settlement.
On the job at Highwood.

Grasslands and other prairie ecosystems like the one found at Highwood are highly threatened both in Minnesota and worldwide.  In Minnesota nearly 18 million acres of prairie covered the state prior to European settlement.  Today, less that one percent of Minnesota's native prairies remain.  Prairie ecosystems have nutrient rich soil and fertile grasses that were readily plowed under and converted to agricultural use by European settlers in the mid-1800s.  Today fire suppression, invasive species, energy development and conversion to other land use threatens our remaining prairies.

They sure enjoy what they do!
For information on what actions are being taken in the state to preserve these ecosystems please visit the Nature Conservancy and the Northern Tallgrass Prairie project websites.  
For information on Prairie conservation on your own land please see the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' publication "Going Native, A prairie restoration handbook for Minnesota landowners".

Friday, October 11, 2013

These leaves, they are a'changin...

Post contributed by David from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew 2:

Crews hard at work.
This week, crews began donning sweaters as the fall chill sets in. Work continues with the Young Adult and Youth Outdoors Crews. Along with help from a crew from Iowa, we have returned to the Phalen Golf Course water hazards this week to supplement plants that may not have made it through the dry summer. The hot dry conditions, along with a large number of geese, had really taken their toll on the new plants. Although we installed fences to keep the geese from mucking up our projects, some mallards still come and go. At one of the ponds, there are at least two flocks of ducklings that we watched grow all summer. Now they are losing their fuzzy gray plumage to make way for bright green heads and brown spots. Soon these families will join others for their migration south.

Did you know that Saint Paul is an Urban Bird Treaty City?  In partnership with Minneapolis and Audubon Minnesota, the City of Saint Paul works to create and improve bird habitat, and increase awereness of the importance of migratory birds.

Other birds are also gathering to make the winter journey, including the flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers who swarmed Crosby Farm Regional Park this spring. They, like the young mallards, have also donned new fall colors. If you make your way to Crosby to catch a glimpse of the Warblers, you should also check out the new berm and drainage basin. This area will act like a rain garden, filtering the water run off from the parking lot before it reaches the river. 
Young plants at Phalen Golf Course.

In other news, we continue to fight the burdock at Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom. By cutting it all down, we hope to prevent the plants from dropping seeds and starting new growth all over again next year.  Also, we are sweeping the south edge of Como Lake to remove invasive plant species and volunteer trees that interfere with the shoreline prairie restoration. Volunteer trees are those that are seeded by the already existing trees in the area.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hidden Potential

 Post contributed by Katie from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoor Crew 1:

The Conservation Corps is back in action with St. Paul Parks! We have spent the last week working at one of our favorite parks in the city; a real hidden gem, Hidden Falls Regional Park. This park runs along the Mississippi River and is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Hidden Falls Park allows the visitor a beautiful view of the Mississippi River Gorge, which was carved through sandstone by the Mississippi River over thousands of years.

Getting the job done!

If you have visited Hidden Falls Park recently, you may have noticed some new views of the gorge. The Conservation Corps crews have been clearing out invasive plant species like buckthorn to open up views of the cliff along the path. The Dry Sandstone Cliffs that run along the gorge make up a very unique ecosystem. Hopefully by clearing some of the non-native species out of the way, the native species will be able to really develop and thrive. Our work is one of several restoration efforts in place to preserve the unique geology featured in the Mississippi River Gorge.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: September 19, 2013

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor,

Bluebird nesting season is over.  All boxes were removed September 8.

Totals for 2013:  29 bluebirds, 12 chickadees, 7 tree swallows, and two broods of wrens (perhaps 12?).

See graph for a comparison of numbers of birds fledged over the years. 

In 2008, there were 9 boxes.  In 2009-2011, there were 11.  And in 2012-2013, there were only 10.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: August 14, 2013

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor, 

Only two boxes are in use this week.  Wrens were peeping loudly in their box, and three almost two-week-old bluebirds rested in theirs.

Four bluebirds fledged last week, bringing totals for the trail so far this year to 26 bluebirds, 12 chickadees, and 7 tree swallows.  An unknown number of wrens fledged from the first brood—on average wrens lay 6-8 eggs per brood.
Last three chicks ready to fledge

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The mysteries of Highwood Nature Preserve

Post contributed by Tyler Polster, Saint Paul's Seasonal Natural Resource Technician:
Highwood Nature Preserve

While you are walking through a park, do you ever wonder what might be sharing the trail with you? Or what kind of secrets are happening that you can't even see? Recently, with the assistance and guidance of Carmen Martin from the Bell Museum, we completed a small mammal survey at Highwood Nature Preserve to help us understand the biodiversity of one of our more scenic parks.
Northern Short-tailed Shrew
        Highwood Nature Preserve is approximately 13 acres. It overlooks Pigs Eye Lake, and on a good winter day with no leaves on the trees, you can see the skylines of both Minneapolis and Saint Paul in the distance. Portions of the park are currently being restored to a native prairie, which it once was. Prairies historically are very diverse habitats that can host a wide range of creatures and our goal was to find out what lives here!
        To conduct our survey we used humane live traps baited with oatmeal and peanut butter. The smellier the bait is, the better! After four nights of trapping, our results didn't disappoint! We captured four species of mice, including a Meadow Jumping Mouse, which is not commonly caught in the area! Other species that we trapped include voles, moles, shrews, raccoons and gray squirrels. You can learn more about Minnesota's small rodents from the Department of Natural Resources. In addition to trapping, we observed a number of additional species. This list includes deer, three species of bats, signs of fox, and red squirrels. These results were amazing! It tells us that this particular area is home to a complex food chain which in turn lets us know that this is good habitat. The newly restored prairie flowers attract bugs which help pollinate and make more flowers, the new flowers and plants make more seeds and micro habitats for bugs, the mice, voles and squirrels eat the seeds, and the bats and shrews eat the bugs. All of these smaller animals allow the foxes, coyotes, and predatory birds to thrive.
        Next time you are in any park, take a couple minutes and look around and see what secrets you can uncover!

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: August 8th, 2013

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor

Three boxes are still in use this week.  Wrens occupy one.  I could hear them peeping inside.  Four or five bluebirds near to fledging occupy another, and three recently hatched bluebirds occupy the last.

I took down three empty hanging nest boxes and will clean and store them for next year, and will remove the rest after the last birds have fledged.
The last Bluebird hatchlings of the season

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: July 31st

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

Things are definitely winding down on the bluebird trail.  Seven nest boxes are now empty.
Wren pokes it head out to check its surroundings
      One box still has an empty new bluebird nest in it—as I approached a wren poked its head out of the entrance hole and flew away.  A second box has four bluebird eggs inside, and a third is occupied by at least four and possibly five week-old bluebirds.

      The wren is still using the box by the picnic grounds!
The seasons' last bluebird eggs

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


        Minnesota has more golfers per capita than any other state in the country! So we definitely want to make our golf courses look nice. Phalen Golf Course is no exception. As a course being in the middle of such a important and beautiful city, Phalen Golf Course provides a unique challenge in our mission to restore St.Paul. We can't add many trees, they would get in the way. We also can't remove some grass or paths, it would be hard to get to your ball. One solution that we did come up with however is to improve the three main bodies of water that most of us try to aim away from. In a collaborative effort between the natural resources team, the Phalen Golf Course maintenance crew and the Youth Job Corps we are in the process of "naturalizing" the ponds. Doing so helps integrate nature into what is generally looked at as an urban setting. As we complete the project and the sites develop, the newly created shoreline and wetland areas will provide habitat for insects, frogs and other creatures, help clarify the water and prevent erosion around the banks as well as create more natural barriers and boundaries.
        Our first step was to remove the standard grass that was around the edges. This was the easy part because we were able to use a basic herbicide to create a definitive line. This may not look the prettiest right now but we just have to give it time. For the next step, which is where we are now, we enlisted the help of the Youth Job Corps to assist us in planting around 1600 per pond. Thats more than 6000 plants! The plants themselves are divided into two groupings; the transitional plants which stay in or near the water and the upland plants, which require dry soil! The plants are  diverse mixture of native sedges, wildflowers and grasses. Over the winter, with the ground frozen, a backhoe will be contracted to help dredge or dig out the water basins to remove some of the muck and make the depths more uniform.
        With a couple years of hard work, dedication and a little luck, your tee shot on Hole 12 of Phalen Golf Course with fly over a beatiful shoreline of flowing grasses, vibrant wildflowers and maybe even a turtle on a log!

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: July 24th

July 24, 2013

 Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Blue Bird Trail monitor

      Eight bluebirds and two tree swallows fledged since my last update July 11.
   There are now three boxes occupied by bluebirds:  one with a newly-built nest, one with four blue eggs, and one with five newly-hatched bluebirds.  The parents of those five little bluebirds aggressively swooped and clicked their wings at me as I checked their box.
      I removed house sparrow nesting materials from three boxes, and four boxes are empty.
            The wren flew out of its box, so it is still in use.

Fierce adult Bluebird mid-swoop.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: July 11th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Blue Bird Trail monitor:

Three bluebirds, just over a week old,
and an unviable egg.

Eight chickadees fledged in the past week and their box now joins three others empty on the trail.  A fifth box is empty after I removed a house sparrow nest from it.
      Four bluebirds and two tree swallows will fledge sometime in the next week.
      One box has three just-over-a-week-old bluebirds inside (and one unviable egg), another has one nearly-two-week-old bluebird.  There are five bluebird eggs in the box by the downed ash tree.
      Wrens are still occupying the last hanging box.  It is possible they’ve begun a new brood, since they nest once or twice a season.  Anyway, they are not done with the box yet.
      So far this year the trail has fledged a total of 14 bluebirds, 12 chickadees, and 5 tree swallows.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update July 5th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

The park was in good condition after the July 4th holiday this morning.
      Five tree swallows fledged last week and I cleaned out their messy hanging box.
There are two nearly-two-week-old tree swallows in another box—both parents swooped at me as soon as they discovered me checking the box.

Three newly hatched bluebirds

      Four boxes are now occupied by bluebirds—one has four nearly-two-week-old youngsters; another has three newly-hatched bluebirds and one egg; another, one less-than-one-week-old bluebird and one most likely unviable egg; and the last, a newly built bluebird nest that marks the beginning of the second round of nesting this season.
      The wrens are still tending their nest of young, who should fledge soon.
      I did not open the box with the eight chickadees this week.  They should also fledge soon.
      Two boxes are now empty, and I removed a house sparrow nest from another.

One of four two week old bluebirds

Friday, June 28, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update June 28th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

A windy day on the trail this morning. After last Friday’s storm I checked all the nest boxes but one—today I found it had had a close call with an uprooted ash. The 5 young bluebirds inside fledged unscathed.
      A total of 14 bluebirds fledged in the past week and I cleared out those nest boxes so they are ready for Round Two. On top of one of the old nests, a house sparrow had already built a nest. I removed it, too. I also had to remove the begininings of a wasp’s nest from the underside of another box. Bluebirds nest two to three times per summer. Given the late start this year I wouldn’t expect any to nest three times.
      Now, there are three boxes with 10 young bluebirds and eggs in them. I was able to show two boxes to kids in the Audubon summer birding class on Wednesday, one with newly hatched bluebirds and one with bluebird eggs.
      Today I peeked into the chickadee box, but didn’t open it wide since the 8 young birds inside totally fill the flimsy nest and would have toppled out.
      Five tree swallows will likely fledge this coming week.  I was surprised when I opened the other tree swallow box (the one with all the feathers I’d never been able to see into properly)—I’d thought I might find the nest empty and the young fledged, but mom was sitting on the nest, on hatchlings that appeared to be less than a week old.
            I observed the wren nest box and heard peeping inside.  Soon enough, one parent flew in, while the other arrived with a juicy caterpillar in its beak.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: June 21st

 Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor: 

There are a total of 24 young bluebirds and eggs on the trail this week.  Fourteen young bluebirds in three boxes are ready to fledge, so I did not open their boxes in order to prevent premature fledging.  In one box that had five bluebird eggs last week, there are only four this week.  In the box where the three eggs disappeared last week, five more eggs were laid, but one of them was punctured and I found it rolled up onto the rim of the nest, and removed it.  It is possible a wren is damaging the eggs and that post may need to be moved to a better site.  In the box that had one egg last week, there are only two eggs this week, which is a little strange, considering bluebirds usually lay 3-5 eggs per nest and those eggs should all have been laid by now.
      Four tree swallows are ready to fledge this week so I didn’t open their box, but I did see a parent bird flying up to it with some food.  The other tree swallow box has at least four over-a-week-old young birds in it.
      Four chickadees fledged last week, so I cleaned out their box and removed the chickadee portal guard that reduced the hole size so larger predatory birds couldn’t enter and disturb the chickadees.  Eight chickadees hatched in another box.
            The wren nest is still a mystery, and I didn’t open it this week, in case those young birds are near fledging.  Generally house wrens lay between 6-8 eggs that take up to 16 days to hatch and between 15-19 days to fledge.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: June 14th

Male bluebird on top of
Schiller monument
Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Three eggs in one of the bluebird nests have disappeared, with very little trace left behind—only a few blue bits of shell on the outside of the nest.  This happened last year, too, at the same nest box.  The box is mounted on a post, and protected by a predator guard, but some unknown predator is eluding it somehow, perhaps coming down from the nearby trees?  If a new nest is started in this box I will attach an exterior wire mesh guard and see if that helps.
      There are five more boxes with bluebirds nesting inside.  Two have a total of six eggs; three have 14 healthy, growing bluebirds inside.  The male bluebird who last week was still looking for a mate evidently found one, as a beautiful nest has been built and one blue egg laid inside.  The male of that pair found an excellent perch atop Schiller’s head!
      In one tree swallow nest there were five pink newly hatched tree swallows.  Their mother flew out when I approached and did not dive bomb me as I checked, but waited patiently and quietly nearby.  In the other tree swallow nest, which I have never been able to see
Nest full of chickadee eggs

into very well due to the mass of feathers, I photographed either the parent bird on the nest, or a very large young bird nearly ready to fledge.

One week old bluebirds
      There are two active chickadee nests, one with eight eggs, and the other with young chickadees near to fledging age, so I did not open that box, in case I would scare the young into fledging too soon.  I heard a parent chickadee nearby, and young inside “dee-ing” in reply.
      I did not open the wren’s box, as I noticed more sticks and material up to the entrance hole and opening it might have pushed that material down onto the nest.  The mother flew out, so she is tending the eggs or young inside.
      All eleven boxes are now in use.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: June 7th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

5 new bluebirds

5 nearly week old bluebirds
There are five active bluebird nests this week.  One box has five new nestlings; another, four.  There are five nearly-a-week-old bluebirds already developing feathers in a third box.  The fourth nest has three blue eggs in it, and the fifth, just one so far.  A male bluebird has staked out another hanging box and is looking for a mate.
There are tree swallow
eggs behind those feathers!

Still can’t see into tree swallow nest number one, but it is possible some little ones have hatched beneath all those feathers.  The parent swallows swooped and circled as I checked.  Tree swallow nest number two has at least three and maybe five white eggs, just visible through the feathers.

View inside the wren's nest

 There are at least two week-old chickadees in one nest box, and eight chickadee eggs in another.  This is the one with the speckled egg on the edge of the nest, that I have now identified as belonging to a cowbird (they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, and have done so on the trail for the past few years).  It is speckled like the chickadee eggs, but much larger.  Since it is on the edge of the nest, and has been there for several weeks, it is not being incubated and will not hatch.

I was unable to see into the wren’s nest by any means.  The female flew out and chattered angrily at me.  Maybe next week her young will have hatched.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 31st

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

Newly hatched chickadees
Bluebirds are still incubating seventeen eggs in four nest boxes this week.  Three little chickadees recently hatched in one nest box; the other chickadee nest may contain a failed egg.  I was unable to see further into that nest to determine if there were other eggs or nestlings inside, due to the darkness and amount of fur covering the nest, but the parent chickadee flew out when I opened the box.
Tree swallow nest with
large feather!
I was also unable to see inside the two tree swallow nests due to the large amounts of feathers covering each nest! But tree swallows flew out of each box as I opened it, so I assume things are going well.
Continuing on this theme, I could not see into the wren’s nest either, due to the construction of the nest.  The box is piled high with sticks and the nest, if there is one, it
is behind all that material.
  If there is enough space at the top, perhaps next week I can see in using my telescoping mirror.  The wren flew out when I opened the box and began to scold me.
Two boxes still have only small amounts of nesting material inside, but a bluebird was checking out one of them as I passed by.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail update: May 25th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

Four tree swallow eggs
Three bluebird eggs
The four boxes occupied by bluebirds contain a total of seventeen eggs today.  Chickadees are in two boxes and have laid at least five eggs.  When I opened one box, an egg was so near the edge of the nest it almost toppled out.  Tree swallows have taken two boxes; one has four white eggs in it. Two boxes have small amounts of nesting material inside.  A house wren was singing by the last box, and had put a few sticks inside.  Wrens will put sticks into several nest options and the female will choose which one she likes best, then build a nest in it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Jug-what? Juglone!

Post contributed by David from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew 2:

Have you strolled along Como Lake recently and seen some black patches in the grass? Well fear not that wasn’t the work of some pyromaniac prankster, but rather a prescribed burn done for the benefit of the plants. Many of the plants found along the Como lake shoreline are native wildflowers and grasses that occur naturally in areas that experience burns every 3-5 years. Since it would be unsafe to allow fires to occur naturally in a city park, we get to come in and administer a prescribed burn to give those plants just what they need but in a safe, controlled environment. Burns are beneficial for many reasons; some of which being that they quickly return nutrients to the soil, remove dead plant matter that could choke out new growth, and kill back non-native plants that just can’t handle the heat.

While preparing for the burn we also ran into the DNR’s local non-game wildlife specialists. They were at Como Lake setting up turtle traps for a future educational activity. Animal traps are often set up by wildlife scientists to help them learn what animals live in the area. As they set up the traps they used sardines as bait and as soon the sardines hit the water we saw turtles peaking up on the surface.

We also have continued to plant more trees down along the Crosby Lake floodplain. This week we planted 500 black walnut and burr oak trees. Black walnuts are interesting trees because they produce a natural herbicide in their roots called juglone. Juglone is an example of an allelopathic compound that inhibits plant growth, meaning the black walnut tree has found its own natural way to beat back competition! Although black walnut is a native tree and in this case its allelopathic effect works in our favor, other less desirable plants, such as garlic mustard have shown to also create their own allelopathic compounds. This is one reason why when garlic mustard is introduced to an area it can quickly take over in huge mats. That’s where our strong arms come in to pull them out!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Plant a tree, burn a prairie...All in a day's work!

Post contributed by Katie from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoor Crew 1:

These last few weeks have been jam packed with activity for the Conservation Corps crews and the youth crews. With the snow falling into May a lot of the usual spring projects were pushed back later than normal. But now with all the snow melted and the ground thawed spring has sprung!

The crews have been hard at work planting bare root seedlings all over St. Paul Parks these past weeks, thousands of them in fact. Bare root seedlings are small trees that have been grown in a controlled environment where they can get all the water and nutrients they need. They are then harvested and distributed without any soil, which makes them fast and easy to plant. We have been scrambling to get them all into the ground on time this year! Not all of these trees are going to survive, but by planting so many we’ve increased our chances that a few will grow into strong, healthy trees and shrubs.

Volunteers planting seedlings at Crosby Farm Regional Park
Thank you to all of the Arbor Month volunteers!
On the floodplain at Crosby Farm Park the Youth Outdoors crews worked with about 100 volunteers from around the metro area at an Arbor Day event where over 200 seedlings were planted. Species including silver maple, sugar maple, chokecherry, black cherry and swamp white oak were planted. If you walk through Crosby today, you’ll see where they were all planted because many of these seedlings are protected with tree tubes to give the seedling a better chance at survival through protection from deer browsing and other dangers. The Youth Outdoors crews also helped to plant about 1,500 shrub and tree seedlings at Highwood Nature Preserve, including juneberry, hazelnut, chokecherry, white pine, gray dogwood, and elderberry.

More trees were planted at the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom in the oak savanna and conifer forest with volunteers from the Great River School. The students are running an experiment with Saint Paul Parks and Recreation testing out different styles of tree tubes with different species. In the conifer section, you may see white pine, jack pine and basswood seedlings planted with a Tubex tube, a Plantra tube or without a tube at all. The tubes will stay on the seedlings for the next few years and the students will track the seedlings’ progress.

Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary after
completing a prescribed fire
More recently the conditions have been right for the crews to get out and do some prescribed burning in Saint Paul Parks. Fire has been used as a management tool in some areas as it mimics a natural process that some ecosystems depend on. In many cases it improves natural conditions for plant growth as it help to warm the soil. Some plants are even fire dependent, where they can only begin to grow once fire has been through the area. There is a very short window of opportunity for doing a prescribed burn in Minnesota, especially after such a long winter. The snow needs to have melted, leaving the ground dry, but the burn needs to go through an area before everything gets too green. If you look outside, you’ll see things have certainly started to green up. In addition, temperature, humidity and wind speed and direction are critical in planning a prescribed burn, and can make or break a prescription. The Conservation Corps crew got to burn 7.1 acres of prairie at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary that is on a 2 year burn cycle to encourage growth of native plants and to also reduce the impact of some invasives that may not be very fire tolerant.

Youth Outdoors Crew 2 after a long day of burning at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary
 (Jason, Katie, Meredith, Riley)
You may still see plumes of smoke being guarded by these trained wildland firefighters around city parks as we try to squeeze in the last few prescribed burns for the season. This management tool has really helped to improve the quality of our natural resources around the Twin Cities. One great example can be found at Bruce Vento, which used to be covered in invasive species like crown vetch. Today, there is a great biodiversity of prairie plant species restored to its native state.