Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Toad Pool Success - Part 2

Blue Jay Barrens is experiencing an influx of thousands of young Eastern American Toads emerging from the still under construction Toad Pool 2. This little guy has fully absorbed his tail and, looking every bit like the adult version of his species, is moving away from the pool towards the open fields.

The pool experienced no shortage of water this spring. Frequent rains provided above average rainfall totals causing the water to regularly be at a level higher than intended.

Toad eggs appeared in the pond on March 29 and began hatching on April 2. By April 5 the eggs had completed hatching, but the tadpoles were not yet mobile and their pattern on the bottom of the pool continued to match the strings of eggs that had been laid out a week before.

After exiting the egg membrane, the tadpoles remain stationary for several days as they absorb their yolk sacs and mature into a more traditional tadpole form. Their first food will be the algae seen growing on the empty jelly strings and pool bottom.

Once they become mobile, with tadpoles migrate upslope to shallower water where the generally warmer temperatures will aid in their growth and development. Their initial efforts cause them to congregate atop the slightly higher mounds on the pool bottom.

A few days later their improved swimming ability allows them to reach the shallow water at the edge of the pool.

The unfinished condition of the toad pool caused an unintended broad expanse of shallow water to become available to the tadpoles.

The shallow area, which had been left smooth when construction was halted last fall, had become pocked with depressions caused by deer visiting the pool.

As water levels receded during uncharacteristic hot periods between rainfalls, the depressions became isolated pockets that rapidly dried after their connection to the main body of water was severed. Tadpoles caught in these depressions quickly perished.

Fortunately, I still retained the mud puddle engineering skills that I had honed as a child and was able to make periodic adjustments in the way of dams and channels to ameliorate the desiccation threat to the tadpoles. If weather conditions allow me to complete my construction activities is fall, the hazard should not exist next year.

Transformation from tadpole to terrestrial toad form began a week ago and is now proceeding at a rapid pace.

Once all four legs appear, the tail quickly shrinks and the young toad pushes himself free of the water.

It spends a day or two near the water’s edge before heading off to begin a terrestrial lifestyle.

The little toads are so numerous in the vicinity of the pool but I can’t walk in that area without stepping on a few, so I’m waiting until they’ve had a chance to disperse before checking the pool again. I’m looking forward to encountering these little guys through the summer. It will be two or three years before this year’s hatch is mature enough to return here to breed. By that time Toad Pool 2 will be completed and, with any luck, there should also be a Toad Pool 3.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Storm Damaged Orchid

The lone Blue Jay Barrens Yellow Lady’s Slipper Orchid sent up two stalks this year and managed to produce three full blooms.

It’s hard to consider a population as being stable when there is just a single individual involved.  As in the past, I’ve been searching to discover another of this species somewhere on the property.  No luck so far.

This plant manages to send up at least one flowering stalk each year.  Unfortunately, it seems a normal occurrence for disaster to befall the plant before it can develop a seed pod.  The flowers and top of plant have been eaten on several occasions, a large limb fell and crushed the single flower that developed that year, a strange wilting disease shriveled up the flowers another year.  It always seems to be something.  This year it was a particularly violent wind storm.

This flower lost its slipper completely.

A neatly storm cleaved slipper makes it easy to view the interior pattern.

Only one of the three flowers was unscathed.  So far, the plants have only had to contend with a single disaster per year.  Though that doesn’t mean they are now really safe.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Number 544 - Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, has been added to the flora list as the 544th plant species known to reside within the borders of Blue Jay Barrens.  This is a rather common native species for this area that I knew was to be found growing in the floodplains downstream of my property.  Since the seeds of floodplain plants are generally moved by flood waters in a downstream direction, I thought it unlikely that Virginia Bluebells would show up here.  Four individual plants were discovered, but only one produced blooms this year.

The other three plants exist as only a few leaves.

To the West, Blue Jay Barrens tapers to a long narrow point which contains a short segment of Creek bounded on both sides by extremely steep slopes. I refer to this area as Farpoint because, at a distance of six tenths of a mile, it is the farthest point away from my back door. The length of the Creek from property line to property line is only about 160 feet. The thing that makes Farpoint interesting is the fact that the Creek is fed by a different watershed than that which maintains the Creek on the east side of the property. Several the plants on the Blue Jay Barrens flora list exist only at Farpoint and I credit the Farpoint watershed as being a major cause of that fact.

I would guess these plants to be two or three years old. If they survive, I would not be surprised to see them flowering next year or the year after.

All of the plants are growing in that precarious gravel bar area within the actual creek banks. A major flash flood event could easily remove both vegetation and gravel from the site. If I find that the flowering individual produces viable seed, I will probably take the liberty of scattering some of that seed in the more stable area about the creek bank. Perhaps in a few years, Farpoint will display a few nice clumps of Virginia Bluebells.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

End of Spring Invasive Shrub Treatment

There are two periods in the year when I aggressively attack the invasive shrubs at Blue Jay Barrens. First there is a spring season, which typically begins sometime in February and continues until about the end of April. Next comes the fall season, which begins sometime in August and runs through mid-November. These two periods are ideal for cutting and spraying shrubs because the shrubs are easy to locate and there is minimal chance of trampling nontarget species while searching out the invasive. Today is the last rain free day forecast for the near future, so I’m going to make good use of the dry weather and finish up my spring season cutting and spraying. The photo above shows the most common four invasive shrub species that I deal with. From the left we have Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, and Japanese Barberry. Those four specimens are also representative of the size that I’m currently treating.  The hand pruners on the right have a total length of 8 inches. At least 75% of the invasives I now find are less than 12 inches tall. I’ve finally run out of the big guys.

I’ve also found about a dozen plants of the European Privet. I don’t know where the seed source is for this invasive, but I do know that there are no mature shrubs of this species within the Blue Jay Barrens boundaries.

The source of seed for my four top invasive shrub species is no mystery. All I need to do is look across the property line fence in any direction and I will see mature specimens of each of the local invasive species. I get particularly depressed at this time of year when the fragrance of Autumn Olive blossoms is so heavy in the air it almost makes you choke.

Today I’ll be walking the Indian Grass fields looking for Multiflora Rose. It takes two or three years for the rose plant to grow large enough to be seen in the dead tallgrass stalks. A quick walk through the fields in the spring is all it takes to find the few roses that managed to take hold there. Fortunately, even though some of the plants get rather large, the roses don’t flower until they’ve pushed up out of the grass and into the sunlight. My annual field sweep insures that none of the plants mature enough to produce seed, and that is the key to control.

It’s a little bit discouraging at this time of year when you stop to think that seeds from invasive shrubs will be forever dropped onto Blue Jay Barrens.  It helps brighten my mood when I revisit cleared areas previously choked with invasives. A photo taken eight years ago from this location would have produced nothing but a close-up look of a solid screen of Multiflora Rose leaves. Now this site cycles through a variety of native species each year and has a growing population of native rose species moving in. By August I’ll be ready to tackle invasive shrubs again, but for the next few months it’ll be nice to do something different.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Draba Pollinators

The Draba cuneifolia have been in bloom for over six weeks now.  They went unscathed through a week long bout of cold weather that included single digit low temperatures, heavy frost and a covering of snow.  They baked through several sunny afternoons of temperatures above 80°F, stood beneath the pounding of two inch downpours, and some even spent a few hours submerged during an uncommon upland flooding event.  Despite all this, the plants have continued to produce blooms and in turn, seed pods have been forming.

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Draba cuneifolia is an annual species that depends on its seed crop to produce the next generation of plants.  The flowers are capable of self-fertilization, so seeds will be produced even without pollen being moved between flowers.  However, sharing pollen is essential for the maintenance of a genetically diverse plant population, and the number one mover of pollen for these little Drabas is insects.  I recently spent some time sitting in the Draba patch, photographing the many pollinators visiting the flowers.  The rapidity at which the insects moved from flower to flower, along with it being a typical windy March afternoon, made it difficult to get many clear photos. The video above shows what conditions were like, but even though I only captured a few good images, the variety of pollinator species that I saw was amazing.

Draba flowers are tiny, but they must be good nectar producers.  Most flower visitors behaved just like this small native bee, only stop moving when you are drinking.

Another small native bee.  Small bees were the most common insect found on the flowers.

A Paper Wasp.  

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Paper Wasps were the only insects large enough to move from plant to plant without flying.

Several species of flies were present.

Flower Flies were the most common of the fly species.

Plant Bugs were the only insects that spent any length of time at a single flower.  This one fed here for several minutes.  When it finally moved on, it went no further than the next open bloom.

I saw two of these day flying moths.

Not a pollinator, but this Carolina Wolf Spider is definitely interested in all of the activity only inches above its burrow.  Some of the flower visiting insects came by low to the ground, but none ever came within reach of the spider.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Toad Pool Success

Keeping the toad pools full of water has not been a problem this year.  Two or three rainfalls per week has kept them filled to the brim. 

This is the fourth spring for Toad Pool 1.  Vegetation was quick to fill in here, but amphibians were slow to arrive.

This is the second spring that water has been present in Toad Pool 2.  Last year the pool was still under construction and only had a depth of a few inches.  This year’s pool has a center portion with a depth of about one foot, and the soil was compacted during construction to minimize leakage. 

The pools were constructed with the primary goal of creating Toad breeding habitat.  This is the first year that toads have actually visited the pools.  During warmer nights, males move into the pools to call for mates.  I counted nine males ringing the shoreline of Toad Pool 2 on March 25.

It took a few nights before a female made it to the pool.  This couple, with female in front, is ready to begin the process of depositing and fertilizing eggs.

On the morning of March 29, I finally found strings of toad eggs in the pool.  The depressions in the bottom of the pool were made by deer hooves.  Whitetail Deer treat these pools as their private playgrounds.  I’m hoping that doesn’t cause a problem for developing tadpoles.

Eggs began to hatch on April 2.  By the next day, hatching was proceeding at a rapid pace.

This collection of egg strands is in deeper water and wasn’t noticeable until hatching began.  Everything seems to be going well.  Hopefully, the end result will be a mass of small toads leaving the pool.

There was one thing different about the toad pools this spring that may have contributed to the toad visitations.  Both pools were surrounded by a mass of Spring Peepers creating a loud chorus.  I’m wondering if the Peeper song alerted the toads to the fact that a suitable breeding pool was available.  The newly hatched Peeper tadpoles shown above are just two of dozens hanging in the algae around the edge of the pools.  This toad pool venture may just turn out to be a success.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Nesting Woodcock

I was doing some work around my barn this afternoon and scared up this American Woodcock from a small clump of grass and Japanese Honeysuckle vines.

The Woodcock only flew a distance of about 8 feet and then came down in the grass. It froze in place, and I did the same. It had jumped into the air what seem like mere inches from my feet. That, along with the fact that it seemed reluctant to leave the area, suggested that there was a Woodcock nest very close to where I was standing.

I didn’t dare to move my feet for fear of stepping on a nest. While pulling my camera from its belt pouch, I carefully scanned the ground in front of me. The nest was just 18 inches away. Not wishing to disturb the Woodcock anymore than I already had, I took a couple quick pictures of nest and bird, and then slowly backed away. I returned about an hour later and got close enough to see that the female had returned to her nest.

I don’t know if this is the full clutch or if the Woodcock will still add another egg or two. A clutch of four eggs is typical for the species. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to keep an eye on this nest. It’s located only 12 feet from my barn door and only 4 feet from the path I travel every day around the backside of the barn. For the next few weeks, I’ll limit my activities in that area, so the bird can tend to the job of incubating her eggs in relative peace.