Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A marsh with a view

Yesterday, whilst on my way to the Mennonite grocery store down the road, Em and I decided to take a quick sidetrip to see what was happening on the marsh behind our house. Unfortunately, one of the big things happening is a full-bore purple loosestrife invasion:

It's as high as six and seven feet in some places, completely obscuring the habitat and choking out a lot of the native grasses. The marsh owners, Greg and Mary Kay Williams, told me they'd started a three-year plan to attack the loosestrife with some sort of beetle that will, over the course of three years, get it under control. We're all hoping these beetles turn out to be safe predators and not become a problem in and of themselves. We shall see....

The beetles have their work cut out for them.

Thanks to our hot and dry summer, the water level has been really low this year, making the long pond the only real water source here, and that only in spots. Note the complete cover of algae here, nicely contrasting with the purple loosestrife:

On a positive note, some early migrants have started arriving, among them some sort of sandpiper which I didn't get a photo of, thanks to the loosestrife. Roana told me that shorebirds migrate pretty early, so she wasn't surprised that I saw a sandpiper. He was small--maybe 5-6 inches. Solitary sandpiper? Wish I'd gotten a photo for a better ID, though thanks to Birdchick's recent Shorebird Immersion Course photos, I at least knew a shorebird when I saw one.

We found lots of tracks on a small stretch of the long pond that indicate birds of all sizes are visiting; here's a sample:

Note that giant one; here it is with my hand for scale:

That must be an adult blue heron, no? Or else it's a pteradactyl or something, because that footprint is BIG.

I also saw a non-bird track:

Is that a possum, maybe? Feet prints and dragged tail? Or maybe a muskrat? Can someone Science-Chimp me, please?

The Canada geese were flying over; their mournful honks are one of my favorite sounds in nature:


Look at this tiny little flower (and my unfiled thumbnail):

What kind of flower is this?

In the deeper-water sections (probably a foot deep or so), we saw several muskrats, including this guy who decided to charge us:

I like the way his little head cut a vee in the water, darkened by the setting sun's fading light.

Also hard at work was this little bee, who was completely oblivious to the camera less than a couple of inches away from him:


He was concentrating on that pollen, I guess.

Finally, I decided to scout a good location for later this week, so I could go back, maybe set up a photo blind I'm working on, and take photos of the migrants and residents who'd left their tracks in the muddy flats of the long pond. This looks like a good vantage point:

I think Roana and some other people, including a guy who's really good at IDing shorebirds, are coming out tomorrow to see what's hanging around the marsh. Hard to believe that the fall migration has already started for some birds; I keep mentioning it to Kat and she keeps telling me to "stop talking dirty!" -- she hates the cold weather, preferring the heat of summer to the chill of fall and winter, so she's refusing to look at the signs of the coming seasonal change and doesn't appreciate my pointing them out.

Oh, one more exciting thing: I got a new bird book, The Bird Almanac: A Guide to Essential Facts and Figures of the World's Birds by (interestingly enough) David M. Bird. This edition was released around 2003, so the sections on "world record lists" and stuff like that are out of date, but there's a lot of material on nesting, breeding, behavior, etc. and I can't wait to dig into it. Of course, I went and left it at my friend Matthew's house so I've only given it a cursory look, but I'm getting it back tomorrow when we go to Matthew's for dinner. I'll fill you in on its usefulness. Does anyone else have this book?

I'm hoping my next blog entry will document some great photos of birds. Wish me luck!

22 comments:

Susan Gets Native said...

Isn't it a shame that purple loosestrife is so PRETTY?

I don't know about the bird tracks, but I think maybe the hole and drag tracks are from a turtle.

Lynne said...

I like the shot of the jillions of little bird feet in the mud. That tiny flower is sure beautiful. I think I'm about at your level for shorebird id. Maybe we'll be the fast learners at Cape May! Have you reserved your flight yet?

dguzman said...

Susan: I have always thought that it was a beautiful plant, and then I read a post on the Stokes blog about how invasive it is. That's when I read up on it and freaked out because it was taking over the marsh. I hope the beetle plan works.... Turtle? I never thought about that. Could be.

Lynne: there were small, medium, and large tracks everywhere in the little gully, so I can't wait to get in there and take some photos of actual BIRDS. I hope we are the fast learners at Cape May--I'm driving; it's not too far from me. I'm still awaiting my packet of info from Birdchick.

Mary said...

Beautiful views, Delia! Science Chimp could ID all of those tracks. My goodness, one the size of your hand...

The only marsh near me is bone dry - where I spotted the heron every day.

Shorebirds? I'll be the dumb cluck. I'll study beforehand.

dguzman said...

Mary: I'll take every field guide and help-book I can find! I happened to follow Birdchick's link back to last year's festival when she saw all the yellow-rumps, and I remembered how I practically hurt some inner organ, yearning so hard to be at Cape May. I can't wait to go this year!

Rick said...

Boy Howdy, PurpleLoosestrife is aa primary noxious weed in North Dakota and other place too probably now one can see why. I am guessing three years is not a very realistic estimate. The plant is a a very good seed producer--that is one of the reasons it is on the noxious weed list.

LauraHinNJ said...

Yep - that loosestrife sure is pretty!

I don't know what your little flower is, but the one with the honeybee is a boneset or snakeroot. I have it growing like crazy here, but it's not blooming yet... so yours must be a different boneset.

I can't wait for Cape May either. I'm deciding on a day to visit soon, just as a tease for the rest of you!

Splotchy said...

I'm sorry about the purple loosestrife invasion, but you took some really wonderful pictures of it.

I'm curious how many intentional introductions of foreign species to an ecosystem actually work. You normally only hear about the utter disasters (kudzu and the like).

dguzman said...

Rick, I read that the seeds have a 100% germination rate. Wow. I wonder if there would be any way to quicken the "control" of it, like going in there and just yanking it up by the roots everywhere. But I don't know when the plant sets seed (like is it flowering AND seeding now?), and I would think you would scatter more seeds that way. Still--it's a big marsh, but I wonder if that would help. Believe me, I wanted to start pulling it up when I was out there, but the plants were taller than I am!

Laura, I envy your living close enough to Cape May to just go anytime. I hope the rest of the Flock can rely on your familiarity with the place, so we can be sure not to miss any good stuff!

Splotchy, yes it's a beautiful flower; foggy mornings are so beautiful back there with that pinkish-purple and green. But dang its invasive! it's taken over in the three years since we moved here. I too wonder about whether any of these intentional introductions ever work, whether it be plant or bug or anything. I'm reminded of chaos theory as explored in Jurassic Park; catastrophic and unforeable outcomes from tiny changes, and yet man is never afraid to make those changes, it seems.

nina said...

I vote turtle tracks,too. We had many leaving the pond to lay eggs.

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