By: Robert Mione, Meadow Master
In January, we co-hosted, with LLELA, a Bobwhite (BW) quail restoration workshop. The workshop was attended by about 45 people, including various local municipalities, nature areas and private land owners. The Heard graciously allowed us to use their large classroom. Other than education, one of our objectives was to add other organizations and people to the BW restoration effort and we did, with the City of Plano and the Blackland Prairie Raptor Ctr beginning their efforts in the Spring of 2020. Later in the year, we were able to add a private land owner to the mix and worked with three private land owners in the Bonham area to begin BW restoration.
In February and March, we continued our efforts to rescue native grasses from Beck’s Prairie in Richardson and move this grass to the Connemara Meadow. During this time frame, we began to work with a high school student at Plano Senior High and were able to bring native grasses from Beck’s and from the Connemara Meadow to start a native grass pocket prairie behind the softball complex at Plano Senior High.
The pandemic rolled in heavily with our volunteers in March and we lost over half of our “normal” crew. We also lost our access to the green house at Allen High School as the school grounds were locked down. This action forced us to move the native grasses we had been growing in the green house out of doors some 30 days early. The loss of volunteers, the heavy Spring rains and the early exit from the green house made it tough to get the grass seedlings into their Summer homes and we lost about half of them. Very expensive.
We were able to add two new volunteers from the 2020 BPMN class and one from the NTMN class, all three excellent volunteers and they made up for some of our COVID losses.
In April and May, we were able to take advantage of grants we received from the Seed Project Foundation and the local Audubon chapter and expand the number of irrigated native grass and wild flower plots for the 2020 growing season. We made a large commitment for a dedicated Little Bluestem plot but this proved unsuccessful and we had to start over mid-Summer, something we had not done before. We reseeded with Sideoats and were able to get a good crop going prior to the first freeze. Based on how this turned out, we will try to “double crop” in other plots in 2021. We had to largest and longest lasting crop of wild flowers ever at the Meadow in 2020. In a bonus situation, due to restoration work we completed earlier, 2015 thru 2020, we had the first multiple nestings of Painted and Indigo buntings in the Meadow. See attached photos of a male Painted and Indigo bunting taken at the Meadow in the Summer of 2020.
In early June, we had the first of our BW releases. We had hopes to duplicate or expand our successes in 2019 of having two nesting pairs, but we could find no evidence that we hit this target. We had other releases in late Summer and Fall with the objective of having the BW’s survive the Winter and be in the best possible shape for breeding season 2021.
During July and August, we began our 2020 efforts to eliminate Johnson grass in the Upper Meadow by using a selective herbicide. The results are promising and we will follow up in 2021. Our efforts to eliminate patches of Bermuda in the Upper Meadow with a selective herbicide were not as effective and we will have to find another alternative to solve that challenge.
During this same time period, we had to spend a great deal of time and effort removing “witch grass” that came with the tall grass seed in one of our new tall grass plots. Over a two week period we pulled out over 5000 clumps (you read that correctly) of witch grass from the plot. It is normal to have some witch grass in our plots, more typically a couple of hundred clumps. However, this year, the number we had to remove and the damage the witch grass did to our plot was extraordinary. We will no longer purchase seed from this vendor as we have too much to do without having to deal with “weedy” seed.
In late Summer and early Fall, we spent time getting our 2021 plots ready to go, a 15-month process dedicated to the removal of as much invasive grass as possible. In early September, Al Baume crossed the five-year mark volunteering at the Connemara Meadow. He has been a shining star!