Thursday, August 28, 2014

Commons Ford Priaire Organization - News and Updates for 2014

Within just a few short weeks the hot and humid days of summer will come to a close. Fall is right around the corner, which is exciting for us because Fall is the best time of year to work in the prairie. However, despite the summer heat, we did have a  very successful spring and summer. Our dedicated core of volunteers braved the July heat to conduct our annual vegetation survey. This was our fourth year conducting the survey, and it has allowed us understand how drastically the vegetation has improved, as well as identify problem areas where invasive species continue to emerge and vex our restoration efforts. However, you can see from the below photos that the prairie is in full recovery, blessing us each year with a striking array of color as well as attracting a broad diversity of wildlife.

We are also happy to report that we are back on track and will be immediately moving forward with the prairie work scheduled for 2014.  Special thanks to Brian Block at PARD and Jeff Larsen, our new Park Grounds Manager at Commons Ford, for their support and assistance in moving the project forward.  We expect to continue our great working relationship with Jeff, Brian and others at PARD.

The main portion of the prairie is in excellent shape and is setting up for an interesting winter with lots of prairie birds expected.  As most of you know, the 2014 work focuses on expanding the "good portion" of the prairie to the north and east.  This buffer zone includes roughly 8-10 acres although it is laid out in more of a strip that runs east-west and then north-south on its eastern edge.  The work includes mowing and shredding which took place on August 27, followed by assessments and limited herbicide treatment only as needed in the buffer zone, followed finally by planting of a modified native seed mix in this zone.  We also expect to smooth out the uneven ground which exists in a portion of the buffer zone to insure better seed contact.  All of this work will be performed by our good friend and project partner, George Cates and Native American Seed Company. George has continued to work with us throughout the summer to modify the plan as necessary.

Given the excellent native growth in the prairie this spring and summer, and with decent rain throughout the summer, we are anxious to see the resulting impact on birds and other wildlife in the prairie.  Wintering sparrows and other prairie species should begin to arrive in late-September with the pace picking up in October.  Of course, we will be conducting our winter prairie bird surveys later this winter, but you should come check it out for yourself either on your own or as part of our monthly bird/nature walks (see below).

 Our monthly walks are continuing with August's walk led by Laurie Foss and Shelia Hargis.  Laurie and Shelia came up with an interesting concept for their two summer walks which focused on examining bird behavior rather than just ticking off the species.  As always, both of their walks were full and successful.  Thanks to both of them for their continuing support.

Ed Fair will be leading the next walk on Saturday, September 27 followed by Diane Sherill's plant walk on Saturday, October 18.  You can register for the walks through Travis Audubon Society by clicking here.  All walks are free and, although we encourage everyone to join and support Travis Audubon Society, membership is not required to participate in the walks.

Now that we are again moving forward, we can refocus on our future plans which include our educational outreach program.  We will be looking for volunteers soon, so stay tuned.

We are also re-visiting the kiosk concept and considering other alternatives which would allow us to achieve the same result and more as the kiosk is extremely expensive.  We will be discussing with Jeff and PARD the possiblity of placing some educational signs along the southern edge of the prairie which would contain the same information as the kiosk.  Additionally, we will consider and discuss the possibility of placing one or more shaded benches along the trail encircling the prairie.  Finally, we will look at adding a picnic table near the one located northwest of the main house.  All of these items are up for discussion, so feel free to pass along your thoughts.

Thanks again to all of you who have helped sustain this important and worthwhile project.  Enjoy the fall!