Monday, August 29, 2016

Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary Small Mammal Survey

Post contributed by Erin Carter, volunteer Restoration Supervisor with Saint Paul Natural Resources:

Natural Resources Technician,
Emily Dunlap, displays a baited trap.
If you were out walking through Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary during the last weekend of July, you may have noticed some small metallic boxes to the side of the path. These are Sherman Traps and are used for capturing live small mammals. 2016 is the third year that Saint Paul Natural Resources has used a grant from REI to conduct a small mammal survey in Trout Brook. For decades, trains ran through what is now Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary. Over the last few years there has been an effort to clean up and restore the natural habitat of the park. One measure of determining the health of the ecosystem is by surveying the animals in the area and seeing whether each year has brought changes to the number or diversity of small mammals in the park.
Volunteers set live mammal
traps on the prairie transect.

On Friday evening, the Natural Resources staff and volunteers gathered at Trout Brook to learn how to set the Sherman Traps. We also set out a few larger traps and track plates. The track plates are baited with peanut butter in the center and the edges are painted with a graphite mixture. Contact paper is placed on the track plate, sticky-side-up, so when an animal walks through the graphite and across the plate you can see the tracks they leave behind. We set the small traps in three different transects of the park: woodland, prairie, and riparian and then baited these small traps with peanut butter and oats. This process was then repeated Saturday, Sunday, and Monday evenings. In the morning, a mammologist from the University of Minnesota, along with several staff and volunteers would open the traps to see what animals we had caught. One year, we unexpectedly caught a flying squirrel! I showed up on Sunday morning with my camera, eager to see what we would find this year.

Dakota Rowsey holds up a white-footed mouse.
As Dakota Rowsey from the University of Minnesota opened up trap after trap, I quickly became familiar with the white-footed mouse. Seven of our traps contained these critters which are common throughout much of the state. Two of our traps contained short-tailed shrews, the largest shrew species found in Minnesota. One of our track plates showed evidence that a raccoon and skunk had walked across it, as well as another animal that wasnt as easily identifiable. Perhaps a mink? Im thrilled to have been a part of monitoring the health of this new park and am looking forward to continuing to watch Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary evolve into a welcoming habitat for native plant and animal species as well as Saint Pauls human residents.

Determining which animals crossed the track plate.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail: Final Update 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Nesting season is done and the last box has been removed for winter storage. This year, a total of 55 birds fledged from 11 boxes: 33 bluebirds, 10 tree swallows, 9 chickadees, and 3 cowbirds. Of the 50 bluebird eggs laid on the trail, 66% successfully hatched and fledged. In the nine years this trail has existed a total of 273 bluebirds have fledged.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: August 8th, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Eight bluebirds fledged from this box in the woodland!
Only two boxes remain active on the trail—one has 3 soon-to-fledge bluebirds and the other has 2 just-over-a-week-old bluebirds. I removed the other nine empty boxes for cleaning and winter storage. In the past two weeks 10 more bluebirds fledged, bringing season totals so far to 29 bluebirds, 10 tree swallows, 9 chickadees, and 3 cowbirds.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: July 25th, 2016

Male bluebird feeds nestlings
Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

This week, there are active bluebird nests in five boxes. One has 3 eggs in it; four have a total of 15 bluebirds of various ages in them. Fortunately, the extreme heat of the past week seems not to have harmed any eggs or young. Two more cowbirds fledged from two bluebird nest boxes, but sadly none of their 7 bluebird nestmates survived. The cowbird nestlings either smothered the smaller bluebirds or outcompeted them for food. Six boxes are now empty.
Fawn and mother in the woodland

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: July 13th, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

In the past two weeks, 10 tree swallows and 1 cowbird fledged. Eight nest boxes are still active. In those boxes there are 14 bluebird eggs, 8 recently-hatched bluebirds, 2 young cowbirds, and 2 bluebird nests without eggs.
Hungry bluebirds and cowbird
(cowbird's mouth is pink)

Fast-developing cowbird with pin feathers
and two bluebird siblings

Monday, June 27, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: June 27th, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:
Bluebird and cowbird eggs

So far this nesting season 19 bluebirds and 9 chickadees have fledged from the 11 boxes on the trail. In round number two of nesting, there are currently 8 bluebird eggs and 3 cowbird eggs in 5 bluebird nests. Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, usually one or two eggs per nest. The cowbird eggs hatch sooner and the young birds grow faster, giving them an advantage over their host birds. Up to 11 tree swallows will fledge in the next week. Four boxes are now empty.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 23rd, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Newly hatched chickadees
This week, no more bluebirds have yet hatched, but 4 out of 6 chickadees in one nest did. The first 4 bluebirds to hatch are now a week old and doing well. In three boxes there are 15 bluebird eggs: 6 white ones and 9 blue ones (these should hatch very soon, if all is going well). Another chickadee box has 7 eggs. There is one tree swallow nest that probably contains eggs under all the feathers and three partially made not-yet-identifiable nests in three other boxes. One box is still empty.

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, May 10, 2016

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 10th, 2016

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:
Chickadee eggs
Nodding trillium in the Park

It promises to be a cool and rainy week on the trail, so it will be very important for parent birds to keep their eggs warm. Nesting season is well underway and there are many eggs this week. Three bluebird nests have a total of at least 13 blue eggs (one female stayed on her nest so I was unable to count her eggs—there were 4 last week). One chickadee nest has 6 brown-speckled white eggs, the other may have 1 egg, but with so much fur inside and a blurry photo, it was difficult to tell. Nine of eleven nest boxes are now up, and only one is still empty. There are three with nest beginnings inside—one of them includes feathers and may belong to tree swallows. Two more newly-installed posts await the attachment of the last two nest boxes.

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!