Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Having A Walk About (and barking dogs?)

Mid June forbs at the native pasture here -
(from the left - clockwise)
Echinacea angustifolia (Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower),
Silphium lancinatum (Compass Plant)
and Ratibida columnifera (Prairie Coneflower)
Photos © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

I've tried to keep track of what is going on in our native pasture here, doing some thistle eradication and clearing some brome seed heads before they mature...I know that's like chasing your tail but its mental therapy for me.  

I followed up on an idea I had a year or two back and bought a battery powered hedge trimmer to cut seed  heads.  I originally thought of it for the brome but last summer got it specifically for the Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) seed heads.  The S. rigida has gone rampant down the gravel esker hillside in our north pasture...this hillside was predominantly Western Wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithi) when we first arrived and ever since we've been encouraging the forbs, certain bad players are becoming dominant - in this case the S. rigida.  I'd say 35-40% of the NE slope is now dominated by it...I hate seeing the Western Wheatgrass get choked out, plus there are a couple very nice clumps of Prairie Muhly (Muhlenbergia cuspidata) there as well and I definitely want it to keep a healthy foothold.  

The only thing I accomplished with the trimmer was cutting off the S. rigida flower heads after their blossoms transitioned - before going to seed.  I still have a formidable issue with removing/thinning the S. rigida "plants" that are there now.  I usually sit down in a spot and just pull after a good rain.  What I need is a "bunch" of people to help but I'm "it" I guess.

 Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed)
Photo © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

The pasture is still incredibly ahead of itself.  All the plants illustrated above are in full bloom now and they shouldn't be for at least 3 more weeks.  But it's great to see any time...I won't bicker about it!

This has also been a banner year for Dickcissels everywhere I go.  There was a reference made about them on the Iowa bird list serv recently and it made me laugh; it was a colorful reference to the Dickcissel numbers that others in the state are finding.  One birder referred to the Dickcissel's calling as "like barking dogs"; I suppose if you fixate on their constant calling they could drive a person crazy! 

I had to laugh because I see and understand the reference!  I still love hearing and seeing them each day, but we do have 2-3 times the numbers here than I usually record.  We have at least 3 nesting pairs in our east ditch alone!

I'm sure most everyone who is into prairies is familiar with Dickcissels, but if you're not you can watch the very short (just under a minute) video below as a reference to "call" and "plumage".  This male was singing from a fence post on our east ditch just a few days ago.  (If you subscribe to this blog via email, you can access the video directly from today's blog page.)

 (Dickcissel male in song - video)

I really enjoy the sounds on the prairie and have been trying, over the past 3 years, to record an Upland Sandpiper's "wolf whistle call"...at least that is one person's description of it.  I was on a state preserve 3 years back and was serenaded for over an hour by one.  Now I'd heard the call before but never at such close range and clarity, nor for so long!  I loved it!  Kind of like many people return from the northwoods with the cry of the Common Loon in their heads!

I've returned to the preserve each summer since but have yet to get the same performance.  I did get an awful lot of "Dickcissel" calling!  Or "barking dogs" as that birder put it :)  But the Upland Sandpiper only did its "flutter call" (my description) over head...the long trilling (wolf whistle) call was always a quarter to a half mile away.

 (Music of the Prairie audio file)

I'm going to post an audio file here for you of my latest attempt...you'll start out listening to the Upland Sandpiper's "flutter" call as it flutters 75 to 100 feet overhead, then you'll hear Sedge Wrens, Dickcissels...then Bobolinks, but the file is always resonant with the Dickcissels in and out of the background (those barking dogs again!).  An ocassional distant rooster pheasant will crow, and if you listen carefully, you may hear one or two "flutters" and then "wolf whistles" of the Upland Sandpiper a quarter of a mile away.  Enjoy it :)

Hope to see you on the Tallgrass this summer!