Monday, August 24, 2009

A Walk on the Trail - Part 1

All management activities at Blue Jay Barrens are part of a plan designed to improve the native ecosystems found here. The plan is updated every five years and 2010 is an update year. I thought you might like to join me on a walk down the major loop trail while I evaluate some past management activities and identify future needs. We begin at the corner of the yard where the trail is flanked by Wingstem and Ironweed.

The beginning portion of this trail is mowed on the same schedule as the lawn. It gives a place where you can walk for a few minutes without getting loaded down with burs, ticks and chiggers. It’s perfect for when you have a few minutes and just want to pop out to see what’s going on. This little section poses problems in the winter during times of snow and ice. There’s a strong slope from left to right and it’s easy to lose your footing when conditions are slippery.

We enter an area where scattered Walnut trees provide partial shade. This is a tiny valley that receives runoff water during rain events. During the late winter and spring this section of trail is often covered by a couple inches of water. The vegetation here is a mix of species that can tolerate partial shade as well as the juglones produced by the Walnuts.

Growing along this section of the trail are many of these Small-flowered Agrimony, Agrimonia parviflora. The plant produces long spikes of these pretty little yellow flowers.

The problem is that those yellow flowers produce these little fruits with many hooked bristles that latch onto your clothes at the slightest touch.

A standard rule of ecosystem management says that if you make a hole, something will try to fill it. A trail is a type of hole and vegetation along the trail is always trying to occupy that open space. The Agrimony, which normally grows upright when surrounded by other plants, leans out into the trail. This is a good strategy for dispersing seeds since any animal walking on the trail brushes by and takes a few seeds along. I’ll trim these plants back when I take my next trip along this trail. I’ve found it takes less time to cut all these plants back than it does to remove burs from my clothes one time.

A female Southern Golden Skipper taking advantage of the still air on the trail. The host plant for this skipper is grasses. No shortage of grass species here.

The Showy Tick Trefoil, Desmodium canadense, is another of those plants that crowds into the open area of the trail. Like the Agrimony, it has an abundance of the attractive little flowers.

Also like the Agrimony, Tick Trefoils produce seed pods with sticky hairs that quickly plaster themselves on your clothing. The plants don’t lean far enough into the trail to require trimming, but you should watch for them if you get too near the trail’s edge.

The partial shade is perfect for growth of Bottlebrush Grass, Elymus hystrix. The name comes from the way the spikelets on the inflorescense stick straight out to form a brush shaped seedhead. The seeds are now mature and will soon begin dropping.

A Robber Fly. This individual was zipping out to grab gnats moving up the trail. A trail such as this provides an easy travel corridor for many types of animals. Predators go where prey is easy to find. Many other Robber Flies were doing this same thing.

Tomorrow, we’ll follow the trail out of the trees and see what’s happening in the prairie.


  1. interesting. Have you done the modifications yourself?

  2. Kelly - I'm the entire work force. I've done everything myself.

  3. ...that's a lot of work, but so valuable!!