Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: August 28, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Ten more bluebirds fledged in August. The season is now over and all the boxes have been removed for cleaning and winter storage. A total of 53 birds fledged from the trail this year: 33 bluebirds, 11 chickadees, and 9 tree swallows. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: July 27, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

In the past two weeks, 4 bluebirds and 7 tree swallows fledged. Eight nest boxes are now empty as the
Damaged bluebird eggs
nesting season winds down. There are 12 bluebirds in the remaining three occupied boxes, 8 likely to fledge soon. Vandalism is unfortunately a recurring problem on the trail—two weeks ago a pinecone put into a box prevented bluebirds from laying eggs. Those bluebirds moved to another box, built another nest, and laid 5 eggs, only to have another pinecone put into their box—this time two eggs were destroyed, the rest could not be incubated, and the pair gave up for the season. A predator guard in the same area of the trail was also broken.
The last four bluebirds of the season

Friday, July 14, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: July 12, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Male bluebird on a sultry morning in
 the park
The bluebird trail is still very active. Five boxes are occupied by bluebirds—two have a total of 9 bluebird eggs in them and three have 12 nestlings (4 each) both newly hatched and almost ready to fledge. Two boxes have at least 7 tree swallow nestlings in them. In the past two weeks 6 chickadees and 2 tree swallows fledged. Four boxes are now empty, including the one that had a pinecone stuffed into it. The bluebirds who used that box quickly moved to another one, built a nest, and laid five white eggs.
Newly hatched bluebirds
Female with her week old tree swallows in the nest

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: June 26, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Ten more bluebirds fledged in the past two weeks, bringing the total for the first round of bluebird nesting to 19. Round 2 has begun with 9 bluebird eggs in three boxes. A fourth box has a bluebird nest in it that probably would have had eggs in it, if not for a thoughtless person stuffing a pine cone through the entrance hole and blocking the nest. With the pine cone removed we shall see if the birds return to use that nest, or find another box to use.

    A tree swallow nest with at least four week-old chicks in it failed—the chicks were dead and covered with flies. It may be that this pair of tree swallows began another nest right away on top of an old bluebird nest in another nearby box—the new tree swallow nest has four eggs in it. Another two boxes have at least 5 tree swallows at various stages of development.

Three bluebird eggs from round 2 of nesting.

    There are 6 healthy chickadees approaching two weeks old in another box. Two weeks ago mom was on that nest, and a week ago, she was also on the nest along with her nearly week-old chicks! Next time I checked, the 6 youngsters had feathered out and filled up the nest and mom would have been hard put to find room to fit on the nest with them.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: June 14, 2017

Can you find the mother tree swallow's tail
in this picture?

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Fourteen birds fledged in the past week—nine bluebirds and five chickadees. There are ten more bluebirds ready to fledge in the next week or so, and three new bluebird eggs laid. Two boxes have at least six young tree swallows in them, and one more box has tree swallows in it, but mom was sitting on the nest and didn’t allow any observations. A chickadee mom is also hunkered down on her nest, staying put no matter what—she probably learned this was necessary when fending off the encroachments of persistent tree swallows two weeks ago. If she’s still on the nest next week, though, it could mean her eggs are not viable and won’t hatch.

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 31, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Recently hatched bluebirds.
The cool weather in the past two weeks hasn’t stopped the bluebirds, chickadees, and tree swallows from progressing with their nesting activities at Como Park. Four nest boxes contain 19 bluebirds—9 over a week old and 10 more recently hatched. Two boxes have chickadees inside—one has 5 over-a-week-old chickadees and the other has eggs. The chickadees with eggs in their nest are being challenged by a pair of tree swallows who sit on top of the box and claim it as their own. I installed a smaller 1-1/4” entrance hole guard so only the chickadees could enter the box, and maybe that will encourage those tree swallows to look elsewhere for a box of their own. Two nest boxes have at least 8 tree swallow eggs inside, and three nest boxes contain partial nests that may have been abandoned.
A nest full of chickadees, over a week old.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 15, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Bluebirds usually lay between 3-5 blue
  eggs,but for the last few years we've
had a pair that lays 6 or 7
pale white eggs.
Nesting season is well underway this week—things can happen fast once they get going. Now there are 20 bluebird eggs in four nest boxes, six chickadee eggs in one box, and four tree swallow nests built. Two other boxes have some nesting materials inside but not enough to identify the creators. 

Chickadee eggs are smaller and speckled.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 2, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

The first bluebird eggs of the season.

On the trail today there are two bluebird nests, one with three eggs and the other with one. Tree swallows seem interested in several boxes, but haven’t yet started building any nests. Chickadees started a nest in one box, but may have been stopped from finishing it by tree swallows, even though last week I installed a chickadee entrance hole guard (at 1-1/4” the opening is too small for other birds like tree swallows). Things are off to a slow start this year.
Tree swallows seem to have claimed this box.

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: April 17, 2017

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

No nests yet. Some years nest building begins earlier than others. In the past few years, the first nesting activities began as early as April 8 and as late as May 5. No doubt the bluebirds know what they are doing. Signs of spring are everywhere, and I heard squabbling bluebirds in two areas of the park.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: April 3, 2017

Waiting for occupants
Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

All 11 Como Park Bluebird Trail nest boxes have been up since March 22 and are awaiting occupants. No nesting activity yet, but a bluebird was singing softly in the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom, where three of the boxes are located. Bluebirds and chickadees will start building their nests soon, and tree swallows will arrive a little later.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Restoring the Floodplain

Post contributed by Brett Stolpestad and Brad Chatfield, Conservation Corps of Minnesota:

Great Horned Owls are one of the many species that use Saint
Paul's floodplain parks to raise their young.
The Mississippi River floodplain is Minnesota’s centerpiece. A patchwork of cottonwood, maple, boxelder, hackberry, and ash make up the forest ecosystem, providing critical habitat for migratory birds and other river-dependent wildlife. The City of  Saint Paul is home to a beautiful winding chain of parks along the Mississippi and uses a variety of management practices to augment the health of the floodplain ecosystem. One particularly useful and beneficial technique is shelterwood harvesting, the process of gradually removing mature trees in a given area with the goal of establishing the next generation of desirable tree species. This process has the potential to increase biodiversity, improve wildlife habitat, and eliminate invasive species.

How does shelterwood harvesting work?

Step one: Land managers begin by surveying forest transects using satellite images, GPS units, and GIS software. At this stage, typically called a forest composition survey, surveyors attempt to create a map that clearly illustrates the distribution of tree species, the total canopy cover, the average size of the trees and perhaps their age.  

Step two: Surveyors identify potential shelterwood harvest sites by analyzing sections of forest that may lack diversity or contain undesirable species like buckthorn, white mulberry, or Siberian elm.  

Step three: Through several gradual stages, foresters begin removing trees that lie within the designated shelterwood harvest area. Removing these trees helps to open the canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor where the next generation of saplings can become established.

Step four: Native tree species can then be planted in the newly created pockets, adding to the biodiversity of the ecosystem and improving wildlife habitat. Trees or shrubs such as cottonwood, silver maple, sugar maple, black willow, elderberry, and red osier dogwood might be selected!

A Conservation Corps member completing a canopy survey at Hidden Falls
Regional Park.
In recent years, prominent Saint Paul Parks including Hiddens Falls, Lilydale, and Crosby Farm Regional Parks have all been selected as sites for shelterwood harvest. The decision to focus on these parks has been, in part, a response to ecological threats including the encroachment of emerald ash borer. The threat of emerald ash borer has led to the preemptive removal of ash tree throughout the floodplain, followed by several large-scale volunteer planting events. Over the past few years, volunteers have helped plant hundreds of trees and shrubs throughout Crosby, Lilydale, and Hidden Falls. If you visit these parks today, you will undoubtedly see dozens of young maple, cottonwood, and black willow standing straight in their “tree-tubes,” along with an understory smattering of black willow, dogwood, and elderberry.
Shelterwood harvest areas are replanted with native tree
species. These young trees are protected with tree tubes, which
facilitate growth and protect the saplings from hungry animals.
The Mississippi River floodplain remains a gorgeous and dynamic landscape in the heart of our state. The floodplain parks of the Twin Cities offer the opportunity for city-dwellers to walk the long winding paths through towering floodplain giants, and to become immersed in the wildlife sanctuary that the floodplain provides. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lake Como Restoration

Post contributed by Liam Krause and Dennis Walsh, Conservation Corps of Minnesota:

Who doesn’t enjoy a refreshing jaunt around Como Lake?  With almost two miles of walking and biking paths, paddleboats available for rent, and refreshments waiting at Como Dockside, there is something to do for everyone.  For over 100 years, Como Lake’s proximity to Saint Paul has been a welcome respite for from urban life for residents, but Como's proximity to the city is beginning to take a toll on the health of our lake. 

The Problem

Have you ever noticed the greenish hue on Como Lake during the summer months? That coloration is indicative of a process called nutrient loading. This phenomenon occurs when too much of one or more nutrients makes its way into a body of water. This can happen when runoff draws sediment off the roads or fertilizers off our lawns as it drains into a lake, pond, or river. When a body of water takes in excessive nutrients, it promotes disproportionate algae growth. The algae soon dies, leaving decaying organic matter. The decomposition process consumes dissolved oxygen in the water, oxygen that other living things in the lake depend on. This could potentially create a "dead zone." This is happening to Como Lake. For a more detailed outline of contributing factors and findings specific to Como Lake, visit the report published by the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD).

What We've Done

Huge brush pile of invasive species created by volunteers.
With the help of a CRWD cost-share grant program, and the efforts of the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa, the City of Saint Paul has taken big steps in reducing the sedimentation and runoff going directly into our lake. The North Lake Como Restoration project has targeted 4.25 acres of disturbed land in order to enhance and restore important oak savanna and woodland habitats. When completed, the changes to the target areas will help recharge groundwater, improve the water quality of the lake, and provide a diverse environment for wildlife.

First, the target areas were swept for invasive species such as buckthorn, black locust, mulberry, and honeysuckle. These species disrupt natural biodiversity and choke out herbaceous ground cover, which can result in increased erosion. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers, all of the cut material was hauled offsite. The site was then prepared for seeding. Along East Como Lake Drive, all of the leaf litter was removed in preparation for a process called hydromulching. Hydromulching is the application of seed and mulch to reestablish vegetation, often used to control erosion and retain soil moisture. A cover crop, and a native grass seed mix was broadcast throughout the project area and erosion control materials have been laid. With any luck, Saint Paul residents will start to see healthy shoots of little bluestem, canada wild rye, and indian grass popping up as they walk around Como Lake this spring.

East Como Lake Drive before invasive species removal and hydromulching (left) and after (right).

What You Can Do

Nutrient loading is the effect of too much moving from our lawns to our lakes. In order to counteract the process, it will take the sustained combined effort of everyone in the area to restore Como Lake to a healthy state. Some of the things you can do to help are limiting the use of lawn fertilizer, install buffer strips or rain gardens, and keep your eye out for volunteer events with the City of Saint Paul. If you are interested in making greater changes to combat the effects of nutrient loading, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a list of steps you can take. Together we can protect this popular Saint Paul destination.