Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Invasives Dystopia

I've been asked to give the keynote address to a regional gathering of Garden Club of America clubs in October.  The theme that the organizers chose for the gathering is "invasive plants," which gives me a lot of leeway for my talk.  I'm going to focus on introduced ornamentals that have escaped and become invasive pests.

One of the organizers wants to create a poster board of "bad actors," and she wants to include Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) among the plants.  I needed to find images of knotweed for her, and on the way back from the grocery store yesterday I saw a perfect patch just begging for a photograph.  So, I parked and walked over to get some shots.

The area is on the floodplain of a small tributary to my creek just upstream of my preserve.  It is - to put it bluntly - an invasives hell.  An ecological nightmare.  A complete write-off.

The floodplain is an impenetrable thicket of Japanese knotweed.  It's 10-feet tall - the tallest knotweed I've ever seen.  But wait, there's more!  The knotweed is being over-topped by porcelain-berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata).  And, just outside the area where the knotweed is so thick, there's a thriving stand of purple loosestrife (Lythra salicaria).  About the only plant I didn't notice was mile-a-minute weed (Persicaria perfoliata), but it certainly could have been there amid the green chaos.

I will admit that bees were enjoying the scene - and not just non-native honeybees, but native bumblebees, too, so I guess the site is not a complete write-off.
Invasive Gulch
Knotweed in flower
Porecelain-berry is rapidly engulfing the trees in the background
The land is owned and managed by the municipal wastewater authority.  Although the site is at the intersection of two fairly significant roads, the wastewater authority doesn't do much to maintain the property.  They probably don't know what to do (repeated herbicide applications would be appropriate), but they do try to mow it down occasionally.  I've tried to talk to them about management, but they're in the wastewater treatment business, not invasive plant control, and I've gotten nowhere with them.
Knotweed (background) and purple loosestrife
Purple loosestrife (mostly) with a little porcelain-berry in the foreground
Of course, since the stream is a tributary to my creek and is upstream of my preserve, all of the propagules produced by these noxious weeds flow downstream and end up you-know-where.
The knotweed in the foreground is being over-topped by porcelain-berry

Thursday, August 14, 2014


The creek in the county park downstream of my preserve
Our land trust is partnering with the watershed association that champions the environmental quality of the stream that drains the land to our southwest.  Last evening, our two organizations convened a joint training session for prospective stream monitoring volunteers at the county park downstream of my preserve.
Classroom training
About 20 people showed up for the training, which began with a PowerPoint introduction to the monitoring protocol.
Choosing a monitoring site
Then the volunteers split up between the two watersheds to choose their monitoring sites.
Creekside fieldwork.  The prominent outcrop in the background is called Council Rock.
Finally, we moved to the bank of the creek to apply the concepts introduced in the PowerPoint presentation to the "real world."  By then, the sun had started to set.

The volunteers were asked to pledge to monitor their section of the creek once a month - a two-hour commitment.  Everyone who attended was enthusiastic and seemed willing to commit more than two hours each month.
A riffle at sunset

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Light in the Woods

I came across this image while I was perusing a Tumblr site and it brought back a vivid memory from four decades ago that I thought I'd share.

When I was a sophomore at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I lived in the Honors College dormitory.  This dorm (along with nine other newly constructed dormitories) had been completed just one year earlier, so they were highly prized places to live on campus.  Instead of sharing a room with a roommate in an old, brick dorm, the Honors College dorm rooms were singles arranged in modules, with six private rooms opening onto a central common living/socializing space with a shared bathroom.

Though the dorm's amenities were new and posh, the real draw for me was that the dormitories had been built on (what was then) the edge of campus.  Furthermore, they were located on the floodplain of the Hocking River, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had recently diverted into a deep, new rip-rapped channel designed to move floodwaters away from Athens as quickly as possible.  Nevertheless, the dorm builders recognized that the river inevitably would flood, so all of the dorms were on stilts, and were connected to one another by walkways raised 20 feet off the ground.
The new Hocking River channel
My dorm room faced the river channel and the dark, forested hills on the opposite bank.  Getting over to those hills to explore required either (1) driving a car (which I didn't have at the time) or my bike about two miles upstream, crossing a bridge, and then driving down the road at the base of the hills on the opposite side of the river, or (2) fording the newly completed river channel, which most of the time was shallow enough to wade, though the bottom was sucking mud - really great fun, actually!  I used to love to go exploring the woods on the opposite side of the river.

One night, I was in my dorm room looking out the window and thought I noticed a small, dim light in the woods across the river.  The light disappeared, then reappeared.  This sequence occurred several times. I was entranced and decided to investigate.  I couldn't wade the river in the dark (even I'm not that stupid), so I made the long trek across the bridge to the other side of the river, keeping my eye on the dim light all the while.  I finally got to a point where I could leave the road and head into the woods.

There, in a small clearing, was a scruffy young man with a ratty backpack huddled over a tiny fire.  He probably wasn't much younger than I (who was 20 years old at the time).   I'm certain that I must have surprised and startled him as I appeared out of the gloom.  To this day, I don't recall anything about this young man, though I'm sure he was either hitchhiking or homeless. In any case, I invited this kid to come back to my dorm room with me and to sleep on my floor for the night, and he assented.  When I woke up in the morning, he was gone - and he didn't take a single thing from my room.

Nowadays, I wouldn't even consider doing such a thing - and I probably shouldn't have back then, either.  At the very least, he could have robbed me (but how much money could a lower-middle-class student have to steal?) and or/beaten me up.  Foolish, naive, innocent youth.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Misty's Incomprehensibly Stupid Owner

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Perhaps this story properly begins last Saturday (July 26).  That morning, I walked up to fill the bird feeders and noticed a very wobbly skunk along the path.  Though it appeared to "rally" while I watched, the animal soon toppled over on its side and lay still, bedeviled by flies and wasps.  Within an hour it was stiff, and I moved the carcass to the compost pile so that visitors wouldn't encounter a dead animal.  (Incidentally, on Sunday morning, the carcass had disappeared from the compost pile, but that's not important for this story.)
Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
Last evening (July 29), our organization hosted a perennially popular beekeeping program.  We expected about 40 participants to arrive around 6:30.  As I was bustling about in preparation for the program, a walker told me that there was a yearling groundhog in our parking lot behaving very strangely, and that some program participants were afraid to get out of their cars.  Sure enough, the groundhog clearly was seriously ill.  It would walk ten or fifteen steps, and then it would topple over as if it had lost control of its legs.  Then it would get up and repeat the behavior over and over.  In addition, instead of running away from people, it ran toward people - sometimes surprising rapidly.  With the large group expected I had to do something, so I called the police and asked them to put the animal down.

While I was waiting for the police to arrive, a visitor drove into the parking lot with his passenger side window open.  His Australian shepherd's head stuck out of the window.  The driver slowed  when he saw the groundhog and he closed the passenger side window.  The driver and I spoke briefly about the sick groundhog, and I mentioned that the police were en route to euthanize the animal.  The visitor and his dog drove out of the parking lot and left the preserve.

The police took a long time to arrive.  I know that a sick groundhog is not on par with a bank robbery, but our preserve is located less than 10 minutes from the police station, so I expected the officer's arrival at any minute.  Meanwhile, I followed the groundhog so that (1) I would know where it was when the officer arrived and (2) I could warn people to steer clear of the animal.  All the while, mosquitoes feasted on my bare legs.

About 30 minutes after I called the police, the driver with the dog drove back into the parking lot.  I reiterated to the driver that the police were on their way and that I expected them very shortly.  The driver then parked his car.

I should mention that, although we don't allow dogs in most parts of our preserve, there are places where dogs on leashes are permitted and it is possible to walk from our parking lot on lightly-traveled public roads to get to the portion of the preserve where dog walking is permissible.  Furthermore, there is a 30-acre open field across the street from our headquarters where people routinely walk and train their dogs, and dog owners often park in our lot and walk over to this field.

So, when the driver with the dog parked his car and opened the door to allow his dog out, I wasn't surprised.  However, instead of walking toward the parking lot exit or toward the open field across the street, the driver and his dog (which was not leashed) began walking toward me and the groundhog.  At first, I couldn't figure out what the guy was doing, then I was momentarily stunned as he and his dog continued to approach me.  After a few seconds, I said to him, "You know, sir, dogs are not allowed on this property, and dogs must be leashed when you walk where dogs are allowed."  He replied, "Oh, okay," as he continued to walk toward me.  Just at that moment, the dog spotted the groundhog and tore off, hell bent for leather.  Also at that very moment, the police arrived in the driveway.

As you might imagine, pandemonium ensued.  The hapless and utterly disoriented groundhog attempted to escape by running under a car, pursued by the dog.  The dog owner kept screaming, "Misty! Get away from there! Get away from there!" all to no avail whatsoever.  This dog had its quarry and it was not going to give it up.  Eventually, Misty grabbed the groundhog and shook it, but didn't kill it.  The owner finally got physical control over Misty, loaded her in the car and sped out of the parking lot.  The police officer, incredulous after watching the whole scene, shot the groundhog with his pistol.

As I expected (and hoped), the officer told me that he would have to take the groundhog in for testing to determine if it was rabid.  I asked the officer to let me know if the test came back positive.  (There was a confirmed rabid bat in our neighborhood two weeks ago.)

For Misty's sake, I certainly hope that she had been vaccinated for rabies.  If not, and if the groundhog was rabid, she almost certainly will contract the disease.  I had never seen this irresponsible dog owner before - he wasn't one of our "regulars" - so I can't contact him if the groundhog tests positive.  A thoroughly upsetting and all around unpleasant experience.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Patterns and Textures: Chanticleer Redux

Kali doesn't have to work on summer Fridays (though she has to make up the time by working long hours Monday-Thursday).  Last Friday's weather was forecast to be tolerable for outdoor activities, with broken clouds, highs in the mid-80s, and low humidity.  So, I took a vacation day and Kali and I made our annual pilgrimage to Chanticleer Gardens outside Philadelphia.

I've posted images of Chanticleer before - and Kali chided me for taking more photographs on this trip ("Do you know many pictures you have of this place?"), so I tried to concentrate mostly on textures and patterns during this visit. 
"Chanticleer" adorning the former estate house
In the Courtyard Garden
In the Courtyard Garden

Pitcher plants in the Bog Garden (the hapless leafhopper was still alive)
In the Water Garden
These blooms were very fragrant, but Kali and I couldn't agree on what they smelled like.  I got a distinct odor of licorice or anise, but she disagreed.

Spring run
Bumblebee on teasel bloom

Walkway detail (stone and brick)
In the Ruins Garden
Kali on a whimsical bench in the Vegetable Garden
Chanticleer never fails to captivate us, and it was no different this time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

At the Headwaters

At the headwaters of my creek
My preserve is located in the center of the watershed drained by the creek flowing through the preserve.  Downstream of my preserve, the creek's floodplain and some of the adjacent steep slopes are pretty well protected in county and city parks.  But upstream of my preserve, the watershed has largely been built out in typical suburban style.

As a result, the biggest environmental problems with my creek are related to stormwater runoff from the impervious surfaces upstream of my preserve.  Stormwater generates problems like erosion, sedimentation, turbidity, flooding, and low stream baseflow between storms (because precipitation runs off impervious surfaces and does not have a chance to filter into the ground to recharge springs).

One of the largest Philadelphia-area philanthropic foundations recognizes these problems in my and my neighboring suburbanized watersheds, and the foundation has begun a multiyear, $37 million initiative to begin to address these problems.  On Tuesday, I learned that our organization had been awarded a $165,000 grant to create a stormwater detention wetland at the very headwaters of my creek.  The wetland basin will intercept the runoff from a 40-acre housing subdivision, infiltrate part of the water, and trap sediments, thereby improving water quality in the creek (we hope). 
Project manager (center) pointing out details of the project
Though my organization was awarded the grant, we will be building the wetland project on another non-profit's property: a summer camp for economically disadvantaged children.  The camp, which has a strong environmental education component, will use the wetland to teach children about the importance of stormwater management.  At 235 acres, the camp is the largest natural area upstream of my preserve, and it's located right at the headwaters of my creek.
A representative of the foundation (in pink, on right) explaining  the foundation's goals
On Wednesday, July 16, project engineers, university scientists, and a representative of the philanthropic foundation that is paying for the project visited the site - currently a wet swale in a meadow.  We'll be starting work on the project in the next few weeks.

I'm not overly excited by this project because (1) it's not in my preserve (where there's already plenty to do), (2) it's not going to make much of a difference in terms of water quality in a 56-square-mile watershed, and (3) there's almost no money in the tight budget for project administration.  However, it gives our organization good "press," receiving the grant makes me look good to my board of directors, and the project is a step in the right direction for the watershed, so I'll take it.
Departing the site.  There are worse places for a walk on a sunny summer afternoon.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

For Mark Paris (with apologies to everyone else)

Mark:  WordPress will not let me leave comments on CaniConfidimus.  When I write a comment and then press the Submit Comment button, the screen comes back as a blank Comment page, and the comment I had just written about your post does not appear attached to your post.  I don't know what's wrong.  I'm continuing to follow you and Leah diligently and didn't want you to think I had stopped, but I can't comment to you.  I didn't know any other way to get in touch, so I'm doing it "publicly;" when I've heard back from you, I'll delete this post.  Do you know what's wrong?