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. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 15th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:
Hanging nest box near
Como Woodland Outdoor
Classroom and Como Pool
Chickadee nest with eggs
Bluebird nest, note the
deep cup shape.

A beautiful morning on the trail today.  All eleven boxes are up and only three remain empty this week.  Four boxes are occupied by bluebirds; one nest already has two blue eggs in it.  Chickadees occupy two boxes and have laid four little speckled white eggs in one, and at least one in the other.  Tree swallows are beginning a nest in the newest box, which was donated to replace the hanging box stolen last year. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tree planting!

Post contributed by Meg from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew 2:
Planting trees at Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom.
The tubes surrounding each seedling will help
protect them from being browsed by deer and rabbits.
This week we did quite a bit of planting.  We planted at Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom (CWOC) on Wednesday We planted in the Oak Woodland area (Red Oak, Burr Oak, Dogwood, among others), the Coniferous Forest (White Pine, Jack Pine, and Basswoods), and the Transitional Forest (Aspens).   Check out the master plan for CWOC.  Some of us got to see two baby foxes while planting! It is great to see this restored habitat being used by wildlife!
We also planted at Crosby Farm Regional Park this week.  We planted swamp  white oak and silver maple near the water. These species are fairly flood tolerant and do well in this habitat.  We also planted sugar maple, dogwood, and a few flood plain tolerant shrub species.  The crew was able to check out the spring ephemeral site and look at the beautiful wildflowers that have been growing in the area. Spring ephemerals are short-lived wildflowers that emerge in early spring and are finished flowering by early summer. There is only a short window of time to enjoy them, so take some time in the next couple weeks to come to Crosby Farm and check them out!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 6th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Seven of the nest boxes remain empty, though I caught a male bluebird flying out of one this morning.  Chickadees have claimed two boxes—one has a completed nest inside, the other had some moss, the beginnings of a nest.  The trail will have a total of eleven boxes this year, as soon as two more posts are positioned in the park.