Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Nature News from Columbus Park: New Bird, New Flower, New Burns March 23, 2009

On my first day back from Circle Pines, I took an exercise walk to Columbus Park to monitor birds and other forms of nature.

The new bird of the day was a Belted Kingfisher patrolling the lagoon, flying back and forth and making its rattling call. Last year Kingfishers visited Columbus Park in early spring and later in the summer, but went elsewhere to nest. Some Kingfishers stick around Illinois all winter if there’s open water to dive and catch their fish, but last year they left the Park in late October. (Our other bird sightings from the Park are summarized on this page.)

The new flower is a cultivated plant in the shaded garden by Refectory pool. The flowers lent a bluish cast to the green carpet of leaves:

The deep green leaves and blue flowers carpeted the garden near the Refectory pool.

The deep green leaves and blue flowers carpeted a garden near the Refectory pool.

A closer look revealed droopy flowers that looked a bit like a Snowdrops but were intensely blue. Also the leaves were broader and darker green than Snowdrops:

Up close, the flowers where shaped a bit like Snowdrops, but were intensely blue in color.

Up close the flowers were shaped a bit like Snowdrops, but were intensely blue.

I’m no expert on cultivated plants, so I Googled a preliminary identification. My best guess is Siberian Squill — not as poetic as “Snowdrops,” but that seems to be its name. (If you know your flowers, please comment below to correct or confirm my identification.)

Two areas of the Park had prescribed burns this year. The burns were intentionally set fires designed to improve habitats for native plants and animals. The fires must have been set after my visit to the Park on Friday morning and were closely monitored so they didn’t spread too far. One burn was in the restored prairie on the large peninsula, between the arms of the lagoon. The other burn was in the woodland just west of the lagoon. Here’s what the burned prairie looked like:

The blackened area in "peninsula prairie" was burned by land managers to maintain the native grasses and wildflowers.

The blackened area was burned by land managers to protect native grasses and wildflowers from invading shrubs and trees.

Looking closer, patches of prairie grass and dried wildflowers remained:

Some patches of unburned grass remain. The box on a pole is a shelter for bats, recently installed.

The prescribed burn on the "peninsula prairie" left some patches of unburned grass. (The box on a pole is a shelter for bats, recently installed.)

This field, which we call “peninsula prairie,” grows native grasses, sedges, and summer wildflowers. It attracts migrating birds rare elsewhere in our neighborhood, like Lincoln’s and Clay-colored Sparrows. (Obscure sparrows like these both delight and frustrate beginning birders.) Without periodic burning, willows and other woody plants might overwhelm the prairie, and we’d lose the native plants and birds. So far, so good with this round of burning. I heard a male Song Sparrow singing, claiming the blackened ground. An Eastern Phoebe searched for flying insects above the burn, and Dark-eyed Juncos foraged on the edges. We’ll watch the prairie through spring and summer to see how plants and other birds respond.

The second burn was something new. The “lagoon woodland,” as we call it, has lots of oaks and other trees, an understory of shrubs, but few native wildflowers. Without plants covering the ground, fallen leaves blow away, leaving bare soil to erode. The burn seems designed to “open up” the woods, so sun-loving native grass and flowers can flourish:

In the woodland west of the lagoon, the groundcover and shrubs were burned, but the trees were not.

In the woodland west of the lagoon, the ground cover and bases of the shrubs were burned, but the trees were not harmed.

Again, so far so good. Today I saw and heard Cardinals, Juncos, and Phoebes in the woods, and a Swamp Sparrow at the water’s edge. I’m excited to see what happens to the plants — we’ll watch this growing season and next to see how things change. Ethan will record the changing plants, birds, butterflies, and bugs with his new camera.

So, that’s the news from Columbus Park. Tomorrow we’ll update you on spring in south Oak Park.

 

2 Responses to “Nature News from Columbus Park: New Bird, New Flower, New Burns”

  1. Ari RIce Says:

    Hmm…I’m no botanist, but those blue flowers do look awfully familiar. I think i’ve seen them growing on people’s lawns at this time of year. They may be invasive, but at least they’re pretty. I’m glad that I now finally know what they’re called!

  2. wmp Says:

    Yes, these are indeed Siberian squill (latin name: Scillia siberica). They are early spring bloomers, and yes, invasive to Ohio.


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