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.