Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Commons Ford Prairie June 2013 Vegetation Survey

On the morning of Saturday, June 22, a small group of volunteers met out on the Commons Ford Prairie to conduct the annual vegetation survey.  The morning was bright and sunny and a nice cool breeze was blowing, making the survey a joy to conduct.

The prairie was in full bloom. An amazing, colorful array of native grasses and forbs have sprouted this year. While a few invasives were sighted - mainly KR bluestem, Johnson grass and Bermuda grass - the overwhelming majoprity of species were the natives that were planted a year and a half ago. Grass species included big, little and silver bluestem, eastern gamagrass, sideoats gramma, Canada and Virgina Rye. Native forb species included standing cypress, Illinois bundleflower and Maximillian sunflower.

Annual summer vegetation surveys will contniue to be conducted in the years to come as they are essential to monitoring the health of the prairie and for keeping the invasives at bay.

Photo Credit: Chris Coxwell

Friday, June 14, 2013

As you can see, the prairie is looking good in all her fine, summer splendor! Visitors this month are rewarded with a sea of vibrant colors! Plenty of birds are also enjoying the summer prairie. Pollinating insects are attracted to the flowers, and so are the flycatchers that eat them! Thistle loving orioles have also been abundant.

Here are some pictures of the prairie taken earlier this week by Ed Fair.

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Eastern Phoebe

Feeding Hummingbird

Hummingbird dining on Standing Cypress nectar

Thursday, June 13, 2013

June Bird Walk at Commons Ford Praire, June 9, 2013

The prairie has sprung to life this month, thanks to the plentiful spring showers and summer sun. The native grasses and forbs are providing ample forage for birds, and they are taking full advantage of it! On June 9, ten determined birders, led by Craig Rasmussen, braved the summer rain out at Commons Ford Park for the monthly bird walk.  37 species were sighted, with highlights including eastern bluebirds, summer tanagers, blue grosbeaks, ash-throated flycatchers, painted buntings, lesser goldfinches and northern parulas.

Here is a full list of species seen:

6 Wood Ducks
1 Northern Bobwhite
2 Wild Turkey
2 Great Blue Heron
2 Turkey Vulture
1 Red Tailed Hawk
5 White-winged Dove
3 Mourning Dove
3 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
1 Greater Roadrunner
3 Great Horned Owl
6 Chimney Swift
7 Black-chinned Hummingbird
4 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
10 Eastern Phoebe
3 Ash-throated flycatcher
2 Western Kingbird
6 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
5 White-eyed Vireo
1 Red-eyed Vireo
15 Barn Swallow
6 Carolina Chickadee
10 Black-crested Titmouse
2 Bewick's Wren
5 Carolina Wren
3 Eastern Bluebird
4 Northern Mockingbird
2 Northern Parula
8 Larksparrow
10 Northern Cardinal
2 Blue Grosbeak
7 Painted Bunting
18 Great-tailed Grackle
5 Brown Headed Cowbird
2 Orchard Oriole
2 House Finch
10 Lesser Goldfinch

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Vegetation Surveys at Commons Ford: Assessing the Success of Prairie Restoration

In order to quantify the success of a prairie restoration process, annual vegetation surveys must be conducted. Prior to the restoration process, Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization conducted a vegetation survey of the prairie. This information, which was gathered by volunteer biologists and enthusiast, allowed us to quantify the vegetational composition of the prairie prior to restoration.

Results of that original survey showed that the 40 acre prairie was dominated by just three invasive, exotic species – Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) and King Ranch bluestem (Andropogon ischaemum).  These species are often planted by ranchers as fodder for cattle. However, none of these species has much value for wildlife. In addition, they also tend to out compete native grass and forb species. Before the restoration, the Commons Ford Prairie was a desert of exotic grasses and offered little benefit for native birds and other wildlife.  

Our prairie restoration process was designed by wildlife ecologists in order to eliminate these target species so that native grasses could begin to regain control of the prairie. Our native seed mix included native, fast growing grass species that would quickly germinate and out-compete the invasive species. Our first post restoration vegetation survey was conducted in June of 2013. The results were incredible – a rich variety of grass and forb species had emerged. Along with the native grasses came the wildlife. 

Our first post-restoration bird survey showed a tenfold increase in bird species actively using the 40 acre prairie.However, surveyors also found a high re-emergence of the big three exotics that had been there before. The emergence of the exotics was not entirely unexpected; these aggressive grasses are hard to stop with just one treatment. Consistent monitoring of the prairie is needed in order to create effective management plants for maintaining the prairies health and vitality.

On June 22, volunteers will conduct a third vegetation survey. This survey is crucial to the restoration process. We need to find out what is emerging on the prairie this summer, especially the percentage of re-emerging exotics. This information will allow us to design a follow up treatment for the prairie, so that it will not be once again overtaken by the aggressive exotic grass species.

We could still use some volunteers for the vegetation survey on June 22, 2013. If you would like to volunteer for the survey, please email us at commonsfordpro@gmail.com.