Saturday, September 28, 2013

September Bird Walk at Commons Ford

On August 25, the monthly Commons Ford Prairie bird walk was led by Sheila Hargis and Laurie Foss of the Travis Audubon Society. The walk occurred just 6 days after the prescribed burn (which occurred on August 19, 2013). Walk attendees and leaders were anxious to see what effect the burn had on the bird community.

August is not typically a very exciting month in the birding world. It is too soon for migrants, and many summer breeders have already started making their way south. So it was much to the birders delight to find that the Commons Ford Prairie was still rich in bird species diversity. Laurie and Sheila recorded 34 species, including a Green Kingfisher, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (a population which was found in the actual prairie and not in surrounding trees, as is more typical of the species), and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

Bird enthusiast and blogger Sherry Singson documented the walk on her blog. Check out her amazing photos here.

Here is a complete list of species seen during the walk:

Wood Duck 4
Great Blue Heron 1
Black Vulture 2
Turkey Vulture 3
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
White-winged Dove 20
Mourning Dove 4
Chimney Swift 17
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird 5
Green Kingfisher 1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Least Flycatcher 1
Eastern Phoebe 10
Western Kingbird 1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 10
White-eyed Vireo 6
Blue Jay 1
Purple Martin 1
Barn Swallow 5
Cliff/Cave Swallow 4
Carolina Chickadee 4
Tufted x Black-crested Titmouse (hybrid) 9
Bewick's Wren 1
Carolina Wren 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 10
Northern Mockingbird 14
Black-and-white Warbler 4
Nashville Warbler 1 In a feeding flock with BAWWs, white eye ring, grayish head, yellow body, top of sycamore tree
Lark Sparrow 6
Summer Tanager 3
Northern Cardinal 8
Dickcissel 2
Great-tailed Grackle 16
Orchard Oriole 1
Lesser Goldfinch 15

Friday, September 6, 2013

Commons Ford Prairie Prescribed Burn August 2013

For two years, the Common’s Ford Prairie Organization has been working on scheduling a prescribed burn for the prairie. Due to unusually hot and dry weather conditions during the summers of 2011 and 2012, it was not possible to schedule a burn. However, the much cooler and wetter (comparatively) weather conditions of August 2013 made it the ideal time to conduct a prescribed burn.

Fire has always played an important role in the health of maintenance of prairie ecology. Prairie grasses have evolved with fire, and thus fire plays an important role in their life cycle. Fire also keeps woody species at bay. Most of the biomass of grass lies underground, so they are not killed by fire. Woody and deciduous species, such as mesquite and juniper, are more vulnerable to fire. Thus, fire suppresses woody species allowing grasses to flourish.

A summer burn was planned due to recent research that has indicated that native species benefit more compared to exotic species by being burned in summer versus winter. Native species have been shown to regenerate faster during a summer burn compared to exotic species. A summer burn allows natives to regenerate quickly, giving them the opportunity to out compete exotic species.

On Friday August 9, 2013, a group of fire fighters from various local precincts gathered to conduct the prescribed burn on the 40 acre restored prairie at Common’s Ford. The day was hot with a slight breeze, perfect weather for a controlled burn. Once the burn was started, it spread quickly and was over in just after two hours.

Just hours after the burn, native bird species were already flocking back to the prairie to look for food (which they apparently found in abundance!) One week after the burn, native grasses were already shooting up. Over the next year, volunteer biologists will continue to monitor the growth of the prairie’s growth. Future burns will continue to be scheduled as they will be necessary in order to maintain the health and diversity of the prairie.