Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Return of the Creek

The rain was enough to bring some flow back to the creek. The little riffles are once again active. It won’t be long before the aquatic organisms that spent the dry time deep in the creek gravel will make their way back to the open water.

Now the deer don’t have to concentrate at the isolated pools and the creek banks won’t suffer further damage.

Even though we had over three inches of rain, the creek did not experience any flooding or even a strong flow. The water that entered the creek came primarily from ground water that had been restored during the rain event. Severe flooding in these small tributaries is a man made phenomenon. Poor land management practices destroyed the natural structure of the soil and reduced the ability of the soil to allow water to infiltrate. When water can’t move into the ground, it quickly flows across the surface to the stream and causes flash flooding. As the soil structure improves at Blue Jay Barrens, a greater percentage of rainfall is able to travel through the soil to the ground water layer and the creek suffers less from high flows.

The leaves were hardly disturbed by the resurrection of the creek. Leaves are the primary source of energy for the stream ecosystem. A multitude of organisms will work to break down these leaves and utilize their stored energy before the leaves get moved further down stream.

Larger organisms will pull leaves beneath the stream bed rocks and consume them at a leisurely pace. As the leaves get broken into bits, smaller organisms will cache the bits for later use.

It’s nice to have the creek back. I love listening to the water fall over the rocks and watching tiny insects working their way across the gravel and seeing the reflection of sky and rocks in the calm water. The creek is quite cheery during the winter and is a strong reminder of life when all else appears dormant.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Change of Weather

We have survived a transition into more winter like weather. One day I’m mowing roses in 80 degree weather and four days later it’s 20 degrees with an inch of snow on the ground. Tall grass prairie can hide a lot of snow, so it’s really not noticeable in the Indian Grass areas.

The really amazing part of the transition was the three inches of rain that came over about a two day period. This was much needed relief from the drought. Everything that fell went straight into the ground. This shallow pool was formed entirely from water that fell into the bowl of the dry pond. The spring that normally supports the pool during the winter has not yet begun to flow, so this water will not last long.

The birds have already made extensive use of the newly created pool. They find the pond to be a more attractive place to drink and bath than the water garden. During the winter, the dogwoods and willows on the back side of the pond are normally filled with birds that have been attracted by the water.

Heavy rains are predicted for tomorrow, so the pond may soon be restored. The water level in our well is slowly rising which means the rains have restored the soil moisture levels and water is able to percolate through to the ground water level. Water from additional rains will quickly make its way down to restore the ground water. This means that the pond will fill, the spring will flow, the well will be restored and I will take a shower.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mowing More Multiflora Roses

Shaded roses have a different growth pattern than those in the open. Lack of sunlight causes them to reach upward and the canes can move almost vine like up into the trees. This can make things difficult when you cut the roses, but they will not fall.

The more open growth habit of the shaded bushes may make them appear less menacing, but the longer canes have a habit of lashing out at you from every direction. I used the same basic forward and backward pattern that was so effective in the field. This works, but it’s tougher to ride up and over cut bushes that try to hang in the trees.

One hazard is having canes fall back over you after they are cut. There were times when I felt that I would be trapped forever with rose canes laying over my head and back.

Once cut, the long canes tend to tangle around your leg. It’s especially disastrous to have them catch your pant leg and then whip up onto your back. Once snagged, you have to stop moving instantly or suffer some long scratches.

Many of the roses had to be physically pulled from the trees. I was able to add a nice layer on top of this brush pile. Many of the bushes held red berries. It was satisfying to know that this would be the last year Multiflora Rose seeds would be produced in this place.

The presence of the roses restricted sunlight and inhibited understory growth. I left all native trees and shrubs that I found hidden among the roses. There weren’t many.

The most common native tree is the Boxelder. I’ll let all of the trees grow for a year in order to evaluate their health and distribution. I’ll probably then cut a few to allow the others to develop without debilitating competition.

It’s interesting to be able to stand in the center of this area and see into the neighboring field. Being in the thick mass of roses made it impossible to see anything nearby and used to give me a feeling of isolation. It now seems possible that natives can exist here.

The transition between the mowed zone and the field contains very few roses. I’ll go in here later and remove some of the broken and misshapen trees.

The long shadows signal the close of another work day. There are a few more roses to cut, but the rose stronghold has fallen. Now when I walk through this area I’ll feel optimism instead of despair.

Now that the roses are gone, I can see all of the dead branches hanging in the trees. I’ll probably pull those branches down and add them to the brush pile. I don’t want there to be anything left that’s going to hinder the new growth that will soon claim this clearing.

At the end of each day, I like to stand at the place I began and see the change that has occurred. My satisfaction is always short lived. What I see in this picture are roses in the background being protected by fallen trees. Now I won’t be satisfied until the fallen trees are moved and the roses cut. I wonder what job I’ll be thinking about when I stand viewing the completion of my next task.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mowing Multiflora Roses

With rain in the forecast, I thought I had better begin cutting on the last big Multiflora Rose thicket. The roses grow in a low lying area that could actually get too wet for mowing if the rain should be heavy. I got JR all tuned up and we headed out.

Here I am at the gates of the last big rose stronghold. The walk out made it clear to me that the weather was too warm for even the light jacket I had hoped to use as protection from the thorns. Knowing what I was in for, I left the jacket behind and closed on the roses.

Where do you begin on a mess like this? Those rose canes are over my head. A small corner of my mind is hoping JR will die when I put him into gear, but I know that’s not going to happen. When attacking a monster, you go straight for the heart. I just aimed for the middle of the thicket and charged in. First blood, mine, was drawn when I was five feet in. I could tell it was going to be an interesting afternoon.

It doesn’t look quite so formidable now. Through a series of advances and retreats, I managed to carve out an opening in the middle of the patch. I think I’ve got the roses on the run.

JR discharges chewed up plant material to the right, so I adopted a counter clockwise attack pattern. I advanced to the point where rose canes to the left threatened to tear away part of my anatomy. Then I would back out, shift left and attack the next bunch.

Soon the roses looked less like a menace and more like a job that was going to get done.

Where once there were roses, we now have a dance floor. The roses grew so thickly in this area that I didn’t bother to mark the stumps with flags. When I return next spring to spray the sprouts, I’ll lay out a grid pattern so I’m sure all the roses get a taste of glyphosate.

The ground has been left with a thick covering of chopped rose canes. The canes decompose quickly. The thorns are more durable and seem to remain potent for a couple of years after the canes are gone. Dead thorns have a habit of breaking their points off below the skin and are more aggravating to deal with than living thorns.

I was able to remove some of the older, more decomposed fallen trees. I’ll have to come back with the saw to work on the others before I can get to the last of the roses.

That’s it for this day. I’m bleeding from both arms, right ear, back and left thigh, but I’m feeling good about the days effort. As I head back to the barn, I leave quite a different scene behind. As is normal after clearing, I’m anxious to see how well native plants respond to the removal of the exotic invasives. Tomorrow I’ll go to work on the roses in the more wooded section of the field.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Deerberry Decline

The blighted Deerberry bushes have dropped their leaves and it’s now possible to compare the number of live branches to dead. The living twigs show as red among the gray of the dead wood. I hope some of that top growth remains viable next spring. Deerberry flowers are a valuable nectar source on the barrens.

The twigs may be alive, but they appear to be a long way from healthy. The normal color for this time of year is bright red along the entire length of the stem. Dark sections sometimes appear late in the winter, but I normally don’t see that phenomenon this early in the year.

Some of these twigs were alive a few months ago. Now they are dead and brittle.

It’s hard to say why this species suffered so dramatically this year. Most people want to point a finger at a specific cause for the death of a plant. Sometimes you might be able to identify the final agent at work when the plant dies, even though that may have had no part in the actual decline of the plant. Plants are stressed by many environmental conditions. These stresses weaken the plant and make it susceptible to attack by a multitude of insects and diseases. The stress factors are difficult to identify and even harder to manage. I can’t control the quality of rain that falls on Blue Jay Barrens or the purity of the air or the types of particulates that settle as dust. The best I can do is to learn from the events that occur and hope to discover on site techniques that will help relieve the stress.

Next year’s Deerberry may all be in the form of new sprouts from ground level. I didn’t notice this Deerberry blight in any areas other than Blue Jay Barrens. Areas of prairies and barrens appear as isolated patches scattered across this region. While they all display some similarities in composition and behavior, each is unique and displays that uniqueness in events such as the Blue Jay Barrens Deerberry blight. An understanding of these events can provide insight into the historical factors that created the mix of plants and animals that exist on the site today.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Turkeys

These guys are having corn for their Thanksgiving feast. They seem unconcerned that Wild Turkey would be a welcome addition to most people’s meal on this holiday.

The males have joined together to form their winter flocks. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this many long beards traveling together.

Those beards would get even longer if they weren’t constantly trimmed back by foraging turkey feet.

Following the corn, comes the green salad and some feather fluffing. Some light showers have revived the lawn grass and the turkeys nibble the fresh blades.

They all appear plump and healthy. Probably the result of all of the cracked corn they’ve consumed over the summer.

This bird seems to be showing off its fine body.

Then it remembers what day it is and flees the premises. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Seed Heads

We’re past the season of flowers. The showy stamens have withered and disappeared. The colorful petals have lost their color and fallen away. What’s left is often passed over as an unattractive husk, but there is a beauty of texture and form in the spent bloom that is not revealed until the showy portions of the flower fade away. The winter form of the thistle blossom can be just as attractive as the bright purple blooms of summer.

On close inspection, the Monarda blossom always seems a bit lopsided. The winter seed head takes on a symmetry that the early flower lacked. It’s like a gangly youth finding poise and balance with maturity.

Boneset is still holding on to some seeds. The thread-like pappus appear as strands of electricity radiating from the seeds. Each strand has its own unique combination of bends and curves.

The Orange Coneflower seed head is like a dark fortress protecting its treasure of seeds. I guess it wouldn’t be a sound survival tactic to use bright colors to advertise the presence of nutritious seeds.

The pappus of the Gray Goldenrod make it appear as though the plant is already carrying a snow load. The white pappus bristles are almost showier than the small yellow flowers.

The bright blue petals of the Bluehearts disappear and leave behind dark urns of dust like seed. As the wind whips the stalk, the seeds exit through a small opening in the top of the pod.

Dried sepals and bracts of the composites form stars. When I was in seventh grade I used stars like this on an art project and was commended for my inventive use of plant materials. I remember the A I got on that project every time I see plant stars. It’s not like I got so many A’s that I can’t remember every one.

The Ironweed goes beyond making a star and creates a false bloom that is every bit as attractive as the purple bloom of summer. What sculptor wouldn’t be proud to take credit for this creation? There’s beauty in plants in any season. It’s a shame so many people fail to notice.