|Between a pasture and a crop circle|
Well, it turns out we didn't do everything right. Grassland managers all along the East Coast have come to realize that the birds are seeking diversity - diversity in height and diversity in plant composition. To the birds, our grasslands are too dense, too tall, and too monotonous, and they don't provide food (i.e., insects) in sufficient quantities for nestlings.
So, you might recommend that we diversify the grasslands, and you'd be right. However, we also have a terrible problem with invasive plants. The grasses can be treated with special herbicides that kill all invasive plants except the grasses, but there's no such "magic bullet" for diverse combinations of plants. Once invasive plants colonize a mixed-vegetation meadow, control becomes much more time consuming and costly because the invasive plants have to be removed "surgically" without disturbing the desirable plants. We've resisted trying to diversify our grasslands for that reason.
But, we've finally come to the realization that (1) we're not going to attract meadow-nesting birds if we don't do something different, and (2) if we can't attract meadow-nesting birds, why have the grasses at all because our landscape really wants to be a forest and we have to fight Mother Nature (i.e., natural succession) to keep it in grassland.
Fortuitously, I invited a respected field ecologist to speak to my restoration ecology class a few weeks ago about native grasslands. This ecologist and I are good friends, and he has visited my preserve to consult on several occasions. He also serves on the board of directors of another land trust in the region. He told me that "his" land trust had had Eastern Meadowlarks nesting in native grasslands this summer, and he suggested that I talk to his land manager for some guidance. So, I rounded-up my senior stewardship staff for a field trip and we paid a visit to the other land trust on October 30.
|Edge of the "crop circle" (darker foreground), native grassland (tawny center) and pasture (green, far left)|
|Diverse crop circle vegetation (foreground)|
|Crop circle (foreground), native grasslands (mid-ground), and woodland (background)|
|Crop circle (right) and native grassland (left)|
|Autumn color in the grasslands|