Monday, September 1, 2014

High Summer in the Meadow

By Beth Sullivan
While the season is at its peak, everyone needs to spend some time in a high summer meadow. The woodlands are quieting, uniformly green now and drier. Spring wildflowers are long gone and most vernal pools have dried up. But the excitement can be found in the open fields, those not hayed or mowed, but allowed to grow naturally and wildly. Most fields that have been host to nesting grassland birds are more accessible now. The nestlings have fledged and it is less likely that anyone walking into a field will disturb young birds or mammals. From a distance the fields look flat and open, but walk closer-those plants can be shoulder height or more!
Monarch Butterflies seem content to share Joe-Pye Weed blossoms.

Fennerswood, on North Main Street, has several small fields that can be seen from the road but difficult to really access. You can see the haze of pink and yellow of wildflowers over the green grasses.
Knox Preserve’s fields continue to evolve. It was only four years ago that they were farmed for corn. Each year the grasses and flowering forbs increased in spread and variety. While there are still non-native flowers there, for instance Queen Anne’s Lace, even those provide nectar and food sources for numerous insects and seeds to follow and will be enjoyed by other animals and birds. Now there are Goldenrods, Asters, Fleabanes and Milkweeds among others. Swallows and Purple Martins cruise the fields for insects.
But, let me suggest a new exploration: the Preston Nature Preserve. Left off of 164, just north of the intersection with 165, is Krug Road. One half mile down Krug Rd, on the left, is a gateway and Avalonia sign. Parking is tricky, but you can get off the road. Enter the preserve and decide your course-clockwise or counter clock wise. It is 55 acres of mixed habitat. There are woodlands, some showy rock formations and glacial erratics, low wet areas and a couple of ponds that while low in volume, still host some turtles and frogs. But the real beauty of the preserve is to be found in the numerous meadows.
A shady bench provides an enjoyable meadow view.

The path runs through a meadow of Milkweed.

Avalonia has owned this land since 1989, but only in the last several years has there been an active plan to manage the successional growth and curb the spread of the invasives that seem to threaten every inch of available space. Efforts are ongoing to remove or at least control the invasives and promote native grasses and flowers in the restored areas.
The birding was good along the woodland paths.

Cedar posts, barbed wire and horse shoes hint at a farming past.

On a recent hot August day, we were thrilled to see good numbers of Monarchs floating above the masses of pink Joe-Pye-Weed. Monarchs have been scarce this year, yet here they have found nectar sources and acres of milkweed on which to lay their eggs. There were Fritillaries, Swallowtails, Skippers and hosts of other butterflies as well. Bees and wasps ignored me as I walked deeply into the tall flowers. Goldenrod, several species, at different stages of flowering, added the beautiful bright yellow to the scene. Birdlife was abundant as well with Flycatchers, Bluebirds and families of Chickadees along the edges and hawks soaring above the open areas.
Shoulder high pink and gold.

A family of Chickadees stayed along the meadow edges.

Queen Anne's Lace attracted this dragonfly.

The trails are not marked, but they are well mowed and woodland trails are hardened and easy. They all interconnect and loop together; you cannot get lost, except in the beauty of the mid-summer meadows. Enjoy.

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