Shrub Islands

The value of the FLCA’s pastures for wildlife depends upon the control of invasive plants and periodic mowing to maintain these areas as shrubland or early successional habitat. In 2005, we initiated an experiment aimed at enhancing the environment of the pastures by establishing small “islands” of native shrubs and small trees to provide food, shelter and nesting areas for indigenous birds, many of which are in decline in Massachusetts owing to the loss of appropriate habitat. Plants were selected mainly for the value of their fruit for shrubland birds, such as woodcock, ruffed grouse, whip-poor-will, black-billed cuckoo, brown thrasher, willow flycatcher, eastern kingbird, indigo bunting, eastern towhee, field sparrow, and chestnut-sided, blue-winged, and prairie warblers, many of which can be observed at the FLCA. A secondary objective of this program was esthetic as the plants we used produce attractive flowers in the spring as well as fruit later in the season. Shrub islands, each encompassing about 750 square feet, were introduced into Cooke’s Pasture in 2005, 2006 and 2007. A wide variety of plants–all New England natives–were tested for their ability to become established in this environment with little care except for occasional watering to supplement natural rainfall; they included red and black chokeberry, blueberry, winterberry, bayberry, spicebush, elderberry, serviceberry and several species of native dogwoods and viburnums. We have noted marked differences in the hardiness of the different species. Among those that have proved to be most robust are bayberry, winterberry, serviceberry, dogwoods and several species of viburnum. Owing to the encroachment of non-native invasive plant species in Cooke’s pasture, especially glossy buckthorn and spotted knapweed, we decided not to add further shrub islands at least until the invasives have been brought under control. We have, however, continued to maintain the three existing islands through annual pruning, removal of competitors, and limited replacement of plants that succumbed because of harsh weather or excessive browsing.

Maintenance of the Lake Fitzgerald Outflow Drain

Over the years, beavers have demonstrated enormous ingenuity in blocking the Fitzgerald Lake outflow drain, causing unacceptable rises in the lake level which sometimes left the canoe launch covered with several inches of water. In the summer of 2006, Mike Callahan of Beaver Solutions installed a wire fence around the drain to limit beaver access, but by the following spring, the beavers had completely plastered the fence with mud and vegetation, once more causing the lake level to rise. This time, Callahan installed a “pond leveler pipe” on the bottom of the lake that connects with the drain underwater. Happily, the beavers have not yet figured out how to block this pipe and the lake has remained at normal levels since that time. Nonetheless, the beavers have continued by pile up mud and debris on the surrounding fence. Though unsightly, Callahan recommends against removing this material as it diverts the beavers from engaging more destructive enterprises. In the meantime, Callahan checks the dam regularly to make sure that the beaver defense measures remain effective.