Knowing that inclement weather was in the forecast this weekend, I wanted to take advantage of the morning sun on Friday to see if the prairie had greened up at all. It had been sunny much of the week, but it hadn’t gotten up to more than about 45*F. Plus, it has been dry. I was hopeful, but not holding my breath. I wasn’t alone in my quest, though – our stewardship coordinator, who had scheduled the burn, came along as well.
As I had suspected, the burn remained pretty brown still.
Closer inspection, however, showed that some greenery was sprouting. We think this is yarrow, a non-native species that has been around for, oh, a couple centuries at least – a favorite medicinal plant of the early settlers.
The grey band you see in this next photo is a patch of spotted knapweed. Another invasive, it isn’t looked upon anywhere near as fondly as yarrow. About the only audience who seems to like it are beekeepers – they say it makes a lovely honey. Keeping in mind that honeybees are not native either, this isn’t too surprising. For land ecologists, however, knapweed is a bane on the landscape. Once established, it takes over, not only by being an aggressive grower, but by also putting chemicals into the soil that prevent other plants from growth. This is called allelopathy. Garlic mustard is another invasive that does this. But don’t think that only non-native plants are guilty – many natives also produce these biochemicals – black walnut is a classic example.
We continued along the burn and went to check out the coyote dens. This particular set is about a hundred (a hundred-fifty?) feet from the ones I photographed last week. The opening pictured below is quite large, but the grasses placed upon it over a week ago remain undisturbed. Perhaps the coyotes have abandoned it now that the grassy cover that hid their den is gone. No more hiding from food and foes.
Right by this set of holes was a set of bones. Raccoon. Folks around these parts don’t seem to be too fond of raccoons, so knowing that coyotes have them on their menu might make people look a little more kindly upon this wild canine.
As we left the burn and toured the unburned part of the prairie, Gary pointed out a colony of earthstars to me. These are funny little fungi that apparently like the dry, sandy soils of this particular bit of landscape. I’ve only ever seen them once before, in a patch of woods in central New York, where I grew up. I’m looking forward to getting photos of this colony later in the season when they are growing.
There are about 38 bluebird nestboxes on the Dahlem property. Some actually house bluebirds, but many are nurseries for the bird you see just right-of-center in the photo below: tree swallows. Tree swallows are known to evict bluebirds from potential nest sites, and will not suffer other tree swallows to nest nearby. So, pairing bluebird boxes is the way to go: the swallows will prevent other swallows from moving into the second box, thus allowing the bluebirds to move in and raise their own family in relative peace.
All in all, not a bad morning’s walk. Rumor has it that next week temperatures will top 50 degrees, so perhaps in another week’s time we will see a green haze across the burn.