White ibis

White ibis
Ibis

Monday, March 14, 2011

Busman's Holiday

I took this past Friday and Saturday off to volunteer at other places. A friend and I wanted to learn more about the operation run by volunteers at Armand Bayou to restore the native prairie there. They raise thousands of grasses and forbs and then plant them out in the prairie.  They also have to wage a running battle against the invasive tallow trees that are trying their best to build a forest of nothing but themselves.

We lucked out and found that a busload of high school students had given up a day of their spring break to come out and plant. So we learned how the planting process works.

The plants had been thoroughly watered and loaded on a big trailer pulled by a tractor. Most of them were big bluestem, Indian Grass or switchgrass but a few of them were wildflowers.  Holes had already been drilled in eight rows eight feet apart.  Then the area was divided into block of  fifteen holes by eight holes.


Kids planting one gallon pots of grasses and forbs at Armand Bayou Nature Center

 The kids were divided into two groups.  The first group were shown and told how to plant, especially to first be sure the hold was the correct depth and fix it if is wasn't so the plant would end up level with the ground. Then they got their plants and started planting. Then the second group got their instructions and started planting in a different section.

The soil was damp and rain is expected this week so they didn't have to water the plants. (Normally they have to pour in one gallon of water, plant, and then water with a second gallon of water. The kids mostly planted with their bare hands, but called for a shovel if they could not move dried clay soil or needed to dig the hole deeper. In two hours, they planted  around 1000 grasses and forbs. I think the current ratio is ninety percent grasses and ten percent forbs.

We also got to bump up some plants and weed the tiny big bluestem growing in gallon pots. We found it takes at least three months to get grass from seed to planting size. And we got to see some young plants, still in the potting sheets and discuss the mix used for starting seeds and the soil used for bumping up into one gallon pots. We felt we had gotten a lot of good information that will help us start up a much smaller program.

Then, on Saturday, I went to the last workday that Audubon will hold at High Island for the season.  The purpose was to get the trails cleared out, take invasives out, and get the place ready for the influx of visitors that will come to see spring migration. Be sure you check out the area just past and around the kiosk when you visit.  I did that.  Another couple completely cleaned out the banks of Perky's Pond.  Another lady cleaned out the kiosk and stocked it for the season. It seemed that there were very few of us until I saw the pile of brush waiting to be burned and then went to lunch and saw a whole lot of people eating.  I think we must have had around forty volunteers. We had really delicious grilled hamburgers.


Cleaning out  the edge of Perky's Pond


Gary, the designated wheelbarrow driver,  hauled most of three huge piles by himself

Our cook who spent a long time grilling hamburgers for us
The migrants are starting to come in.  Northern waterthrush, northern parula, palm warbler, and eastern towee were all seen on Saturday. The rookery in Smith Woods is also hoping with hundreds of birds hanging out there and some of the great egrets already sitting on eggs. A couple of friends and I enjoyed them as well as the birds on Bolivar Jetty.  Currently the south winds are causing most of them to hang out off the jetty, rather than on Bolivar Flats.


Marbled Godwit at Bolivar Jetty


A few great egrets at the rookery
 After all that fun, I woke up Monday with sore hands and a discombobulated mind from having to switch to daylight savings. But I did finally make it out to the butterfly garden where I murdered more thousands of fire ants, freed twenty or so plants from weeds, and got three sites ready for trees.