Saturday, April 4, 2015

April 3, 2015: Erv's Field Notes #78

Muskrat. 4/1/15 (LaDan Omidvar)

Thursday, April 2, 2015, sunny, breeze from northwest, 63 degrees F.

I parked at the Harrison Street lot and walked the path around the west arm of the south lake. Signs of spring are everywhere. The grass is greening up along the path after a nice shower of rain last night and Robins were looking for earthworms there. The wetlands are beginning to dry up from a lack of rainfall this spring. Wolf Oesterreich saw the first dragonflies of the season yesterday, the migratory Common Green Darner.

Although I remembered to bring my binoculars, I did not have my spotting scope. I could see a large mixed- species flock of ducks in the middle of the south lake. The wetland that we call Pond G had a few ducks on it. I identified Northern Shoveller, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Pintail, and Gadwall. Pairs of Canada Geese were seen on all of the ponds visible from the path, including the south lake. A flock of ten Redhead ducks flew in and landed on the west arm of the lake and then immediately began swimming toward the larger flock in the middle of the lake. A grebe was also swimming in the middle of the west arm of the lake. It looked slightly larger than a Pied-bill Grebe, possibly an Eared Grebe, but I could not identify if for certain. A pair of Common Grackles and a Yellow-shafted Flicker flew over.

A crew from Iowa Conservation Corps will begin working on the savanna restoration next Monday, April 6. The following week they will be removing ash and Siberian elm trees from an area along the path to the west of the savannah. Our management plan says to not remove eastern red cedar, black willow, and a few other native trees. When making the decision to remove or not to remove a tree, I am reminded of Aldo Leopold’s essay “With Axe in Hand.” In this essay, Leopold struggles in his own mind whether to remove a birch tree that is growing too close to a pine tree that he planted. He weighs the benefits of the birch against those of the pine. He admits that he loves pine trees. The pine is one of 40,000 pines that he planted on his little farm but he muses that the birch got there on its own and it provides food for Ruffed Grouse, a bird that he likes to hunt. He does not say which tree he removed; I’ll guess it was the birch.

Eastern red cedar, provides good cover and berries for wildlife; a Long-eared Owl wintered in the cedars in 2013. Cedars will often invade native prairie areas and can become dominant if not controlled by fire. Cedars cannot tolerate shade. When crowded by other trees, they lose their lower branches and become spindly and less valuable as habitat. In northern Missouri and southern Iowa, the locals refer to cedars as the “green glacier” because they slowly take over the landscape. The next time you drive I-35 between Ames and Des Moines take notice of how the eastern red cedar is taking over several marginal areas that aren’t farmed. Cedars have expanded in the loess hills in western Iowa and the hills are much different today than when Lewis and Clark saw them. I hope the city will be able to manage the restored prairies at Hayden Park with prescribed burns and keep the cedars under control.

Erv Klaas

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