Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cormorant spreads its wings

Yesterday afternoon as the dust settled from another exciting field trip with fourth grade students, ACEC Teacher Naturalist Carol Ward spotted a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) on one of the floating islands in Deep Mill Pond. The cormorant was holding its wings out in spread-eagle fashion. This behavior is fairly unique to cormorants and is believed to help them dry their feathers. However, many birds dive underwater and don't exhibit this trait. One possible explanation is that cormorants don't have waterproof feathers the way that ducks do and must spread their wings out to dry in the sun and wind. If they had waterproof feathers they would be too buoyant to dive to great depths while hunting for fish. Recently there has been some debate as to whether the cormorants are holding their wings out in order to generate muscle heat in order to compensate for the chilling effect of cold fish in their bellies. See the Bird Forum discussion page HERE for more information on this debate.

Montana is the summer habitat for cormorants. This individual is on its way to wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico, anywhere from Florida to Texas. Usually the fall peak for cormorant migration is around September 6th, so this bird is on the tail-end of the migration period.

The cormorant earns its name "double crested" because of the double crest of feathers that are fully developed for only a short time early in the year. It is a black or dark-brown bird with a dull greenish or bronze gloss. It has orange-yellow skin on its face and throat that is distinctive throughout the year. They are fairly large birds (typical length of 70 - 90 cm with a body mass of 1.2 - 2.5 kg) with males that are slightly larger than the females.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Weed Be Gone

On October 9th we hosted our first annual weed pull
contest in partnership with Montana Conservation Corps. Over 30 folks braved the cold and rain to help eradicate canada thistle, spotted knapweed, and houndstongue. After a brief overview of the why, how, and what of weed eradication, the volunteers split into teams and headed to the field. The race was on as teams competed to see who could pull the most weeds by weight before eleven AM. We had a very successful morning. The rain actually made the weeds much easier to pull, though we ended up quite muddy in the process. Combined, the volunteers pulled 1,142 pounds of weeds! We also gave out two special prizes to individuals that pulled the longest intact root out of the ground. These went to a 28" first place root, and a 15" second place root. Thanks to all who braved the cold and rain to help us clean up the ACEC!

Our history as a gravel mine has resulted in a number of invasive weeds on the property, not just the three that we attacked on Saturday. They are considered noxious, invasive weeds because they are able to outcompete native plants and take over a landscape. In a short period of time they can replace native grasses and other vegetation. We are beginning an aggressive weed management plan that will combine mechanical methods such as hand pulling with chemical methods for some of the more difficult plants. It is also possible to remove weeds by burning them, grazing sheep/goats in infected areas, or mowing. We are unable to employ these methods at our site due to the large number of natives that have already been planted and the extensive irrigation system on our property.

Saturday was so much fun that we plan to continue the tradition of weed pull contests in the spring, and will make it a bi-annual event! Join us next time for some friendly competition and great prizes, not the least of which is the sense of satisfaction for doing something to help the natural world that surrounds and sustains us.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 TogetherGreen Fellows

ACEC Education Director Heather Ristow has been recognized as a TogetherGreen Fellow. This program is an initiative launched by Audubon and Toyota to build the promise of a greener, healthier future through innovation, leadership and volunteerism.
Learn more about the program and Heather's plans for the fellowship here:
Profile of TogetherGreen.org Fellow Heather Ristow