Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Did you know that -- different sea gulls inland at Lake Spring Park

    The other week we explored "Lake Spring Park" in Salem (VA) and found the newspaper article we read about it to be somewhat correct -- it is at least partly overrun with birds in its two in town ponds, and there are bird droppings you'll want to avoid on part of the paved walkway around the water at Lake Spring. But I don't think the droppings are mostly from Canada geese. It was overwhelmingly populated with sea gulls, hundreds of miles from the ocean!
    Why were they there? Good question. And they seemed to be everywhere, overwhelming the geese and mallards in the water when we decided to toss our cheddar flavored popcorn at them. They really annoyed the heck out of the other birds with their high pitched screeching and aggressive dive bombing around the ducks to catch even a sliver of food. There must have been at least 50 gulls and man, were they pushy!
     And they weren't the usual ones we see migrate this way this time of year. They were ring-billed sea gulls. These gulls are a little smaller than the typical herring gull you see at the beach. It looks like they had someone paint a thin black stripe near the tip of their slightly smaller beaks. Though they did have gray on their backs, there were also some with speckled heads and backs, and legs and feet that were pinkish or grayish, instead of yellow. My Audubon guides says the speckled one are immature; there must have been as many "youngsters" as mature ring-billed sea gulls.
      A few years ago we camped near the bottom of North Carolina, and took a ferry toward South Carolina and Myrtle Beach. On land we spied these black-headed sea gulls scurrying about us for food. It seems nature wants to always provide some type of variety in species. After all, variety is the spice of life.
    We ran out of popcorn and found the walk around Lake Spring Park rather short, so we drove a bit more and picnicked at Longwood Park. This was before our recent snow, and I hope we get back to springlike weather real soon!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Winter Walks and helping at Stadium Woods at Virginia Tech


                                     Cars are parked on the root systems of these old oaks-- a no no.
Woooo --- it wasn't half as cold as I thought it would be on Saturday, the day we had our first "cleanup" of the year at Stadium Woods. Stadium Woods is (there may be some grammatical debate on whether the verb should be "is" or "are", but with an expanse of wood/forest we Americans tend to use the verb "is") located behind Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium, and been the site of controversy and back and forth arguing and contesting of decisions concerning its future. After all, when you're talking about 300 to 400 year old oaks in the middle of town, a rare occurrence on the populated East coast, then maybe something should be done to help this woods thrive and survive.
     In the past the university has talked about cutting up this 14 acre forest to create an exercise facility for the football players. Considering the fact that there is actually a forestry major at Virginia Tech, you would think they would want to keep the woods intact, especially when studying all these white oaks, (which most of them are) and what ecosystem is unique to white oaks. But they didn't seem to care about this. So the "Friends of Stadium Woods" and the local Master Naturalists have had to be the advocate for the woods. Tsk, tsk.
     But a group of students came out on this sunny day to help pull up alien invasives like Privet, Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy, and Oriental bittersweet. These are plants that once they get foothold  in an area, they overrun the native plants and can kill them off and change the ecosystem. We had some students actually using shovels, like the two guys working under me, to totally, "totally" get rid of multi-flora rose. This woods already has a good share of brambles from black raspberries and wine berries, so the "sticker bushes" of multi-flora aren't too welcome. It is really an overgrown mess in some places, so we worked in our winter coats, hats and work gloves to pull out and pile up invasives taking over the woods for a few hours. 
     Even if it's not been decided by the university president at Virginia Tech whether or not  to fully keep this forest intact, we will continue to strive to clean up the invasives. There are trails locals and visitors can take, bringing them close to trees you need two to three people to reach all the way around. And that's big, let me tell you!