Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Planting the Road Field! March 19-22, 2017

Al is the best!  

It was a windy day when he planted the Road Field for us.   

Given the hardened furrows, planting had to be done north-south.  Every return trip meant a gale-force wind in his face, with a barrage of debris.  

But he persisted until the entire field was planted with 11 species of native forbs and 1 native grass.  

Al used his special native-seed drills so the seeds wouldn't be pushed too far down.  

Ron rakes in some native seed.  Deci stands by, ready
to help.  March 22, 2017

For the next several days, Ron and I planted some species by hand, raking the surface, then stamping the seeds into good contact with the soil.

The seed of wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota),
planted March 22, 2017.  The seeds were
hand-collected by Iralee Barnard.

Here's a wild licorice seed pressed into the ground.  

Licorice seeds were hand-collected by Iralee Barnard.

The 30-acre Road Field has been in crops for 150 years.  

That was a long time to be constricted by humans and their insistence that fields should not be anything but monocultures of annual crops.  

Last year the Road Field was allowed to go fallow, and so it began its journey back toward self-expression.    We gave it a headstart with the seeds of native species that could well have lived in the bottomground before the settlers came. 

As we did with the Creek Field, we used a forbs-first strategy.  Because grasses can push out forbs in restorations, we want the forbs to get established before native grasses come in.  We made one exception for Eastern Gamagrass, as a concession to the need to have at least a small grass-defense against weeds--and also a concession to the sheer beauty and magnificence of Eastern Gamagrass.   

This is what we planted on March 19-22, 2017:

Bee Balm  Monarda fistulosa
Black Eyed Susan  Rudbekia hirta
Canada Milkvetch  Astragalus canadensis
Compass Plant Silphium laciniatum
Eastern Gamagrass  Tripsacum dactyloides
False Sunflower  Heliopsis helianthoides
Foxglove Penstemon Penstemon digitalis
Golden Alexanders Zizia aurea
Indian Blanket  Gaillardia pulchella
Plains Coreopsis  Coreopsis tinctoria
Purple Coneflower  Echinacea purpurea
Wild Licorice Glycyrrhiza lepidota

But if our experience with the Creek Field is any indicator, many other species will volunteer.   

Who knows what will grow and prosper?  Who knows what the Road Field will make of itself?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Burning the Bottomground: Feb. 21, 2017

  We burned the Creek Field and the Road Field on Feb. 21, 2017.   
     Al and Jeff took charge and did an expert job, as always.

 Before the smoke had cleared, hawks and eagles lined the field.  

These carnivorous birds have stayed around or revisited every day for the two weeks following the burn.   Here are some of the raptors that came to dine:

Birds aren't the only predators that visited:

A coyote is cousin to smoke itself.

Attracting the raptors and the coyotes were the rodents that are normally hidden in the thatch. 

Here is a clip of some of the rodent runs which the burn laid bare:

The superb mammologist Drew Ricketts tells me that golf-ball sized holes are made by voles; bigger ones are made by cotton rats.  
Runs smaller than 2" wide are vole-runs; bigger runs are made by cotton rats.

Songbirds also find the newly burned field a wonderful smorgasbord!  Here are some of the little birds that did some serious eating:

Right after the burn, seeds and insects were unusually accessible.

I had been so worried that a February burn would be hard on birds.  So many winter residents spend the cold nights in the bottomground thatch.  But the cool burn left lots of thatch.  And as the clips above show, the burned fields turned into giant bird feeders, and a coyote feeder, too.  

Fire--and then feast.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Creek Field Animal Homes

Yesterday I asked if anyone could help me identify the residents of the animal homes shown in the video, all located in the wooded areas between the Creek Field and McDowell Creek.  Also, I wanted to know about the little white circles scattered just outside a hollow tree.  Animal?  Vegetable? Mineral?

Today I was thrilled to receive an answer from one of the most knowledgeable mammalogists in Kansas.   KSU's Andrew Ricketts wrote as follows:

The first animal home (the hollow tree) in your video has a lot going on, and, likely, a long history.  The secret is the little white circles, which are the pits from hackberry fruits.  Many animals eat hackberry fruits, but most only digest the outer part of the fruit, and then pass the little white pits in their feces.  Raccoons often consume the fruits in very large quantities in the winter.  They also defecate repeatedly at latrine sites to mark their territories.  This results in a buildup of many hackberry pits in a small location (often at the base of a den tree that has a hollow area large enough for a raccoon to enter).  Mice, usually white-footed mice around here, are able to bite through the hard shell that forms the pit of the hackberry fruit, which allows them to eat the seed that is contained within the pit.  They will eat fruits and seeds that are scattered on the ground, but will also mine seeds from raccoon latrines because they are large deposits of easily accessible food.  The little white circles are hackberry pits that mice have opened in order to eat the seed.  From what I can see in the video, I think that white-footed mice have lived in the hollow portion of the tree and have been depositing seed remains in there for a very long time.  Recently, the wood near the ground in the hollow part of the tree has become rotten enough that a larger animal (probably a raccoon or a skunk) was able to dig into the hollow area, in order to get inside and use it for a den.  The red substrate is rotten wood that the larger animal scattered as they were opening the hollow, and the seed remains came along with it.

As for the hollow log on the ground, it looks like either a mouse or an eastern woodrat (aka packrat), or both are living in there.  If it is a mouse home, they would likely be white-footed mice, given that it is located in a wooded area.

It is hard to be sure about the holes in the ground near the pocket gopher mounds that are featured near the end of the video.  As I hinted at, the mounds of dirt are from pocket gophers cleaning out their burrow system that is below ground.  They almost never leave holes in the ground that would allow a predator, such as a snake, easy access to the burrow system, though.  In my work with small mammals at Konza, I regularly observed deer mice, prairie voles, and cotton rats escaping into similar holes that they had made, which gave them access to the pocket gopher tunnels.  So, my best guess is that similar species of rodents have made the holes near the pocket gopher burrow system, to make their home.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I think it is really neat that you are sharing so much natural history from your property with others.

Thank you so much for this information, Drew.  You're the best!
I am so grateful for your expertise and your kind & generous willingness to share it.
All best,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Big Bluestem Rapid Responders Visit Senators' Offices: No to Jeff Sessions!

Betsy Roe delivers statements
opposing Jeff Sessions  to the Topeka office 
of Senator Pat Roberts.
(The statement from the group follows 
Carl Reed's letter below).

The Big Blue-stem Rapid Responders are a group of 38 Kansans from 7 zip codes who have banded together to speak up for human rights in response to the election of Donald Trump.

On Jan. 24, they visited the offices of Kansas senators to urge that the senators vote No on the nomination of Jeff Sessions.
Carl Reed delivers his letter to the Manhattan office of
Senator Jerry Moran
(Letter below)

January 23, 2017
Senator Moran:

You have an opportunity to show integrity and honesty. You do not have to be swept up in the wave of bigotry and anti-democracy that is the Trump agenda. The men and women who founded Kansas stood against Jeff Davis and would have stood just as strongly against Jeff Sessions. You do not have to continue to produce a voting record identical to senators from the states that blocked Kansas from the union. You can make us proud!

I am sure you are familiar with the letter that President Abraham Lincoln sent to a friend in Springfield, Illinois in March of 1865.

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Within a month the president was killed. His prayer, however, was answered for one hundred and fifty-one years. Then, on November 8, 2016, Lincoln’s fears were realized. On January 20, 2017, the United States government passed from a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” to a government of the rich and white for the rich and white. President grab’embythepussy has selected Jeff Sessions to enforce that change. Refuse to be a party to the destruction of your democracy.

Carl Reed
1418 Leavenworth

Manhattan, Kansas

January 24, 2017
Dear Senator Roberts:

Please protect ALL Kansans—vote NO on Jeff Sessions!  

There is so much evidence of Mr. Session’s bias! 

But today we would like to present to you just two documents: 

1)      A letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., opposing Jeff Sessions’ confirmation to the federal bench in 1986; and
2)      A letter from Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming by anti-gay attackers, opposing Jeff Sessions’ confirmation now. 

Mrs. King writes,  “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.”   She is referring to Session’s prosecutions of black organizers in Alabama, during which rural African-American first-time voters were repeatedly interrogated, threatened, and harassed.  (For more, see Lift Every Voice and Sing, pp. 183-219.)  She goes on,  “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”   She concludes that in trying to suppress the black vote, Sessions attempted to achieve “with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.”  We could add, with truth, that suppressing the black vote is what the KKK did for 100 years with beatings, torture, and murder.

We Kansans do not want our senator to elevate a practitioner of racist voter suppression to be attorney general!

Mrs. Shepard writes that Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but that Senator Sessions was not among them.  Instead, she writes, “Senator Sessions strongly opposed the hate crimes bill—characterizing hate crimes as mere “thought crimes.”   “My son was not killed by ‘thoughts’ or because his murderers said hateful things,” she says.  “My son was brutally beaten with the butt of a .357 magnum pistol, tied to a fence, and left to die in freezing temperatures because he was gay.”  She concludes, “Senator Sessions’ very public record of hostility towards the LGBTQ community and federal legislation designed to protect vulnerable Americans, including the Voting Rights Act [and the Violence against Women Act], makes it nearly impossible to believe that he will vigorously enforce statutes and ideas that he worked so hard to defeat.”

We Kansans do not want our senator to elevate to the position of chief law enforcement officer of the US someone who is hostile to the  LGBTQ community and unwilling to protect vulnerable Americans.       

We are a group of 38 Kansans from 7 different zip codes.    

We expect our senator to protect ALL Kansans.   We expect you to refuse to vote for someone who would make some Kansans more vulnerable and leave them without the equal protection of the law.

Please let us know one way or the other whether or not you can fulfill our expectations. 

Thank you for your consideration!

Big Bluestem Rapid Responders
Margy Stewart, Coordinator
11003 Lower McDowell Rd.
Junction City, Kansas  66441

Monday, January 16, 2017

Deci, Mac, Betsy, & Margy on the Beaver Dam: New Year's Eve, 2016!

Can this be only 2 weeks+ in the past?

On New Year's Eve Day, Betsy and I took our dogs and went hiking along McDowell Creek.

We found a beaver dam that had been constructed around a chunk of earth that had broken loose from the bank and somehow migrated to the middle of the creek.     The beavers then connected it to both banks with sticks and rocks.

Betsy and I walked on those sticks and rocks, teetering precariously, until we reached that chunk of earth.  There we sat in the sun and listened to the creek ripple as it broke through tiny breaks in the dam on either side of us.   Little Mac sat between Betsy's feet and looked at everything wide-eyed.  Deci was sure we were in Fun Land.   So many sticks! and so close together!  And right by the creek!!  

We delighted in Deci's delight!   

Sitting by a splashing creek in the sun is akin to sitting by a camp fire in the dark.  You can't help but speculate and wonder and probe the mysteries all around.

Our thoughts and talk flowed just like the creek.

Happy, happy new year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: The Importance of Late, Late Bloomers

Late-blooming Tall Thistle [Cirsium altissimum] is incredibly important to pollinators toward the end of the growing season--from mid-July to mid-September.  (See earlier posts: & )
Sweat Bee
Family Halictidae, Tribe Halictini
on Hairy Aster
Creek Field, Oct. 2016

But with the extended and oddly warm fall, pollinators kept going even after the Tall Thistle had gone to seed.  

Then, late, late bloomers became important!  
Sweat Bees (Halictidae, Tribe Halictini) on Hairy Aster
October 2016
Creek Field

Especially beneficial was Hairy Aster (Symphiotricum pilosum), a total volunteer in the Creek Field.  This perennial bloomed in late September and continued blooming throughout October.  

Sweat Bees (pictured above & in the video below) loved the  Hairy Asters!

Among insects, bees are the most important pollinators. 

However, Black Blister Beetles (Epicauta pennsylvanicus) were also all over the Hairy Asters.  Here they are in the October Creek Field, munching on the petals of Hairy Aster, grooming themselves, and tapping each other in puzzling but suggestive ways.  

The role of beetles in pollination is not as well known as the role of bees.   But we can see that these beetles certainly move from flower to flower.  And is that pollen we see glistening on their bodies?

Moths and flies are also important pollinators. 

Here are two moths I found on the Hairy Asters in October:  The Two-Spotted Herpetogramma, also known as the Southern Beet Webworm, is on the left, and the Beet Webworm Moth is on the right.  
Herpetogramma bipunctalis on Hairy Aster
Southern Beet Webworm Moth or
Two-Spotted Herpetogramma
Creek Field, October 2016

Spoladea recurvalis
Beet Webworm Moth on Hairy Aster
Creek Field, October 2017

The two are in the same family (Crambid Snout Moths, Crambidae), but are in different genera.  However, their similar common names suggest they are both obnoxious to beet-growers! 

Fly on Hairy Asters
Creek Field
October 2016
Flies also go for the carbohydrates in nectar and the protein in pollen, pollinating along the way.

This gorgeously iridescent fly is either a member of the Calliphoridae family (blow flies) or the Muscidae family, genus Neomyia (Neomyia larvae live in dung).  

A gorgeously iridescent fly (family
Calliphoridae [blow-flies] or
family Muscidae, genus Neomyia [larvae live in dung)
feeding on Hairy Aster
Creek Field, October 2016 
Note the pollen caught on this fly's hairs!

In the video below a Tachinid fly visits Hairy Asters while Halictini Sweat Bees try to get some of the goodies, too.    

Tachinid flies lay eggs on caterpillars.  The fly larvae are parasitoids--meaning they develop inside the living body of a host, ultimately killing it.

Also valuable as a late, late bloomer is Gaillardia pulchella, Indian Blanket or simply Gaillardia.   Gaillardia is a native annual that blooms early in the season and then sets seeds. But if the season goes on long enough, those seeds germinate, and Gaillardia blooms again.  

Some Gaillardia bloomed in October!  Here on the left is a delightful little Grass Skipper (Lerodea eufala) nectaring on a late-blooming Gaillardia.   

A grass skipper
Lerodea eufala
nectars on
Gaillardia pulchella.
Creek Field, October 2016
Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
crossed with Clouded Sulphur
(Colias philodice) creates this hybrid.   The
Sweat Bee to the left of the Sulphur is in the
genus Agapostemon--Metallic Green Bees

On  the right is a hybrid butterly --a cross between an Orange Sulphur and a Clouded Sulphur--nectaring on a late-blooming Gaillardia.  That's a Sweat Bee--what else--to the left of the Sulphur!

Thank you so much, Hairy Asters and Gaillardia! 

You were late, late bloomers, just like some pollinators.

You gave the pollinators somewhere to go.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Coyote Spirits

Coyotes were originally creatures of the grasslands.  They responded to over a century of eradication campaigns by adapting to many new environments. 

But it's a special thrill to see them as they are here, in their original habitat.  

This video is from a trail cam at a prairie opening at the end of our Oak Road.