Raleigh Nature

August 7, 2014

Piedmont Prairies in Raleigh

Filed under: Gems & Surprises, green initiatives, Nature Lore, West Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 3:17 pm

Museum Field (1)

Fire, hurricanes, and Native American land management all created prairies, or tall grass meadows, across the area in prehistoric times. Almost no original prairies still exist, but Raleigh boasts two right down the road from each other off Blue Ridge Road. The best place to experience and learn about prairies is Prairie Ridge Ecostation, managed by The Museum of Natural Sciences on Reedy Creek Road. Below is the entrance map for this rich and complex facility, which covers 45 acres.

Prairie Ridge sign

 The top right shows the entrance and parking area, right next to the National Guard Armory. There are forest and prairie trails and at the bottom is a tributary of Reedy Creek, heading west to cross under Edwards Mill Road.  A large solar panel array provides power for a Frank Harmon-designed outdoor classroom built with green features. A residential center is in the works. There is a new Nature Play Space for young children with learning stations, a prairie maze, and logs and boulders for climbing.

Prairie Ridge

Trail heads at Prairie Ridge Ecostation

The highly diverse profusion of grasses, herbs and accompanying hordes of insects are riven with well-mowed paths to allow easy access. On each side, this mid-summer stroll revealed masses of seed heads, arching, competing green blades, and the occasional intrusion of pokeweed. Numerous butterflies, hunting spiders and other bugs roam the vegetation.

Prairie Trail

Zooming insects planed down onto the mowed surface every few seconds. Here is a grasshopper taking a short rest.

Prairie Ridge grasshopper

You can see clover enjoys the clear-cutting of the mower.

Prairie Ridge garden

Prairie Ridge flower garden on right, classroom building down slope on left. Note the black-eyed Susans on the roof of the garden shelter.

Fun fact: the Wet Lab, seen below, contains jarred biological specimens contained in over a hunded thousand gallons of alcohol. This huge collection, constantly growing as smaller facilities pass on their own holdings, was originally planned for downtown as part of the new science museum – but legislators decided that such a volatile stash needed a more remote location than across the street from them!

Wet Lab

Just a few hundred yards down the road is the campus of the NC Museum of Art, which maintains slopes of prairie meadows along with wooded trails and large lawns with outdoor sculptures. These prairie spaces are usually maintain by controlled burns, which reduce invading tree species and provide readily used nutrients. Mowing every two or three years works nearly as well.

Museum Field (1)

Museum slope

A slice of Piedmont prairie is no farther away then the nearest power line cut, where tall grasses are allowed to mature and flower but mowing is conducted every few years. To see something close to the original, visit the Horton Grove Preserve, managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy, which is part of the historical Stagville Plantation north of Durham. Another remnant of Piedmont praire is at Temple Flat Rock in Wake County, also managed by the TLC.

 

March 25, 2014

Raleigh Weather

Filed under: Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore, Raleigh History — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:44 pm
Black cherry blossoms announce spring

Backyard blossoms announce spring

Raleigh enjoys a temperate climate that can surprise with ease. Hailstorms, blizzards, damaging thunderstorms, and sustained droughts have all played havoc with Raleigh. The Great Blizzard of 1899 brought 17.7 inches, which record was not broken until 1927. In this century, late January 2000 brought 18 inches of snow that closed school for about 3 weeks.  Perhaps the most infamous weather event in Raleigh history was an ice storm in 2005 that lay a mere half inch of slick ice on every surface but created an Armageddon of gridlock across the town, stranding hundreds and keeping dozens of schoolchildren camped at school overnight . Historically we average about 6 inches of snow a year; in the last decade that dropped to under 5 inches. Our diverse seasons provide the outdoor naturalist with challenges and pleasures alike – within two months in fall, one can get short of breath in a stagnant sauna of hot air, then have a sinking cold air mass flow as a discernible fluid over your hat brim and down your cheeks. Each season provides unique natural experiences.

Hurricanes pound North Carolina on a regular basis, and many of these have affected Raleigh.  Hurricane Hazel, which came ashore in October 1954 and was nicknamed “the Bulldozer,” was at full strength when it hit Raleigh and flattened everything in its path. Hurricane Fran in 1996 changed the face of Raleigh dramatically by shearing hundreds of trees across the city. North Carolina, for the first time in history, declared all 100 counties a disaster zone, and 24 deaths were reported statewide.  The most destructive hurricane to ever hit Raleigh made water, not wind, its weapon.  Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was preceded by a tropical storm that saturated the ground and filled the waterways. When Floyd hit Wilmington and slowly moved across the state, some areas in eastern North Carolina had rain for 60 straight hours. The result was a deluge that claimed 52 lives, mostly from flooding, and totaled over 6 billion dollars in damages. The Neuse River reached 500 year flood levels and flooding continued for weeks after the storm.  These storms perform a natural role in opening the canopy of tree cover and letting sunlight promote young trees and diverse ground cover, even when the losses are painful.  Edna Metz Wells Park by Cameron Village presents a good microcosm of Fran damage and the slow fitful succession that occurs in an urban natural setting after such a tree loss. Out at Umstead Park, the same storm’s ravages are being used in a long term study of such recovery processes in a pine forest.

Normal rain in Raleigh follows seasonal patterns, with spring and fall slightly drier, but our generous rainfall of 42 inches or so is relatively evenly spread across the year. Our specific climate classification is humid sub-tropical, with the mountains shielding the Piedmont from Midwestern air masses. Raleigh’s average temperature in January is 40 degrees, in August it is 77 degrees. Summer popcorn storms punctuate the hot dry summer days with occasional quick deluges. Droughts are typical for the area but affect man-made landscapes far more than natural ones, which are adapted to survive them.

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

Raleigh could experience an earthquake, but that chances of a direct hit in the next 50 years are less than 1%. We do sometimes feel earthquakes, such as the 5.8 tremor that struck Virginia in August of 2011 and rattled homes and businesses across the Triangle. Tornadoes threaten on a regular basis: the April 2011 tornado that created much damage and destroyed almost 1500 trees in Raleigh was part of a massive outbreak of tornadoes across the South. The tree loss in downtown cemeteries was particularly distressing: in Raleigh City Cemetery and Mount Hope Cemetery in south Raleigh, beautiful old cedar trees were torn down or truncated by the winds.

The 2014 year has been unusual, to say the least, with snow flurries late in March and general delays/risks with spring blossoms. But  being in the borderline area between northern cold and southern warm has always been Raleigh’s fate. We can thank that factor for our amazing diversity of trees – and resign ourselves to enjoying the elements of surprise.

March 3, 2014

Buckeye Connecting to the Neuse

Filed under: Crabtree Creek, East Raleigh, Greenways & Parks — Tags: , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 8:58 pm

Milburnie greenway entrance

The trail head of Buckeye, the oldest and the beginning of the longest stretch of Raleigh Greenway, is being extended down Crabtree Creek to Anderson Point, the creek’s intersection with the Neuse River. Much progress has been made with grading and a layer of crush-n-run, but a break remains just south of New Bern Avenue, where a freshet ditch needs a bridge or culvert before paving can begin. With an easy hop over that, a hiker or biker can travel from Milburnie down the creek beside Sunnybrook road, toward the pump stations under 440 and the huge off ramp for the 64 Bypass. Here the creek, and eventually the greenway, will travel beside the railroad track through a large undeveloped area as it crossed New Hope Road and heads toward Anderson Point.

Buckeye toward Milburnie

Looking at Milburnie and Longview Creek from Buckeye

The trail head of Buckeye will not connect directly. Here is a view of Longview Creek from Buckeye, where I thought a bridge might be built, but instead there is a short jog down Milburnie Road from the current entrance to the extension, which runs right behind the old Swain’s Steakhouse and then under New Bern Avenue.

New Bern Ave greenway crossing

Past New Bern is the freshet ditch, then a long stretch parallel to Sunnybrook and Wakefield Village.

greenway extension beside Sunnybrook

Crabtree is at full strength as it makes its last swing toward the Neuse.  Across the creek, the railroad cut is terraced into some impressive slopes, and the hardwood bottomland trees along the creek are impressive.

Crabtree past New Bern Ave

This will be an exciting connection and make possible some amazing round trips on bicycle.

future greenway bridge south of New Bern Ave

Now they just need to build this crossing!

November 16, 2013

Great Blue Heron Rookery Exposed, As Are Buckeye’s Beaches

Blue Heron or hawk nest

Google map of rookery

The sewer work beside Crabtree Creek in East Raleigh has provided temporary easy access to a favorite, mostly secret feature of Raleigh Swamp: a small permanent marsh fed by Pigeon House Branch which provides a yearly haven for breeding great blue herons and red-shouldered hawks.  The site, seen below, is not pretty but has water all year and a wide variety of cover, and so provides a perfect nursery for the babies of large predatory water-loving birds.

Blue Heron rookery at Raleigh Swamp

The site can be seen by walking a short way down the new sewer cut off of Crabtree Boulevard. After crossing a nifty and temporary metal bridge over Pigeon House Branch, just before it reaches Crabtree, Crabtree Creek is on your right and the small marsh is on the left.  It makes me think of gator country for very small gators, though the “gators” that startle one here are furry and have criss-crossed tails.

gator country for very small gators

Between sewer cuts the best access to this site, which is currently low, is from the railroad line parallel to Capital Boulevard.  The greenway is just across the creek, and  you can often see the activity of the breeding birds on Raleigh Swamp walks, while looking SW across the creek.

low water at Blue Heron marshedge of small marshmarshy area off Crabtree Boulevard

Across Raleigh Boulevard, the sewer project swallows the greenway and makes it appear impassable. But I was slightly amazed to see a jogger and biker come right through the construction. A very friendly construction crew, which was hard at work this Saturday morning.

construction sign on Buckeye

Buckeye jogger approaches bulldozer

Buckeye jogger approaches bulldozer

Buckeye jogger heads into construction site

beach at hackberry grove by Crabtree

Walking Buckeye eastward toward Rollingwood and Milburnie, I could see very well here in late fall the sandy beaches, old and new, that ring the inner banks of Crabtree’s curves.  Beaches also form just downstream of large obstacles, typically fallen trees.  Just such a beach has newly formed across the greenway from the first stretch of this walk.

new Buckeye beach off Ral blvd

pebbly beach on Crabtree off Yonkers

pebbly beach on Crabtree

One of my favorite Buckeye beaches is Goose Beach, which is no longer a beach but has become a vegetated  bank.  This happened when Crabtree changed its course, right after Hurricane Floyd in 1999.  My children, ten and nine at the time, watched our sandy gosling playpen (thus the name) slowly change as it swallowed the previous turning path of the creek and divert it back to the more ancient path it had abandoned for several decades.

former Goose beach

former Goose Beach at Crabtree’s turn, which was abandoned in 1999

What could make such a change?  Besides a hurricane flood to carve the new path, there needs to be a blockage in the old path.  Below is just such a near blockage right below Goose beach.  Who knows when Crabtree will turn again?

Crabtree Creek constricted at turn

Crabtree Creek constricted at turn

Bonus pics

hackberry grove on Buckeye just east of Raleigh Boulevard

hackberry grove on Buckeye just east of Raleigh Boulevard

lower rockfall on Crabtree below Raleigh Boulevard

lower rockfall on Crabtree below Raleigh Boulevard

spiky herb at Raleigh swamp

November Mistletoe

November Mistletoe

September 16, 2013

Excavating East Raleigh

Filed under: East Raleigh, Greenways & Parks, waterways — Tags: , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:17 pm

excavating Longview

The massive sewer work that stretches across east Raleigh is accompanied by a different kind of excavation.  Above is upper Longview Lake from Bertie Drive below Enloe High School.  For years silt from construction on the hill behind it has steadily filled this section.  Now they are dredging the silt out and restoring the pond.  The lower section is larger and much more healthy.  All our our lakes and ponds gradually fill in with plant matter and eroded soil, but this happened too fast and I am glad they are fixing it. Now if they would just re-allow fishing!  More pics below – click to enlarge.

Longview low spotupper Longview Lake

Just down the road from this, where Milburnie hits the extension of Sunnybrook across New Bern, the old beginning of the Raleigh Greenway, Buckeye Trail,  will soon be extended all the way down to Anderson Point, where Crabtree hits the Neuse River.  Very exciting! Right now the spot is part of the huge sewer work alluded to in the first sentence.  The first picture below is looking toward Milburnie and is actually the path of the new extension.  The new greenway should be in place this spring.

future greenway to the Neuse

sewer runs under greenway at rocky overhang

Up the trail toward Raleigh Swamp, a fallen tree has created a dump of sand that makes quite a beach.  All the sand and silt seen in this post is terrible for the mussels and microfauna that inhabit the creek’s bottom.

fallen tree creates sandbank

Bonus pic: deer tracks where  I climbed down to view the sandbank.

deer prints at Crabtree

all posts on Buckeye Trail

April 9, 2013

Raleigh Swamp Shifts with Sewer Project

sewer project meets Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The huge sewer project – seen above at Crabtree Boulevard looking toward the Mouth of Pigeon House Branch – has introduced a new geography to Raleigh Swamp, my name for the body of water off Raleigh Boulevard just north of its intersection with Crabtree Boulevard.  The large wooden causeway and gazebo were wonderful additions to the meeting of Buckeye trail and Middle Crabtree Trail.  Now the sewer project has dictated a large dam and concrete bridge section that bisects the “swamp.”  I know a real swamp is moving water with trees, but this lowland was dotted with dying trees for years after its establishment, and the snags of many remain as resting spots for herons, cormorants, and the occasional wood duck.  Canada geese and mallards breed here, while the turtle population has grown to a staggering level.  It is all thanks to the beavers.

Raleigh Swamp_1_1

When I first returned to Raleigh from Greensboro in 1980, they were starting to build the Raleigh Boulevard bridge over Crabtree Creek.  The caissons they used to sink the bridge piers were impressive, and Dulci, my black lab and I kept a close watch on the process.  At this time, the “Raleigh Swamp” area was a sometime wetland dotted with scrub trees and ribboned with the paths of homeless campers. Like many floodplains in the area, it got wet in the winter but stayed dry most summers.  The Boulevard project changed that, with a little help from the local beavers.  The transition was clarified for me by a city engineer years later through a comment on this blog in 2009.  I quote it in full below:

Was reading through your website after getting the link from the Fletcher Park Watergarden and noted that the “pond” off Raleigh Blvd was one of your favorite places. I thought I’d mention that this was actually a City of Raleigh mitigation project I designed many years ago to offset the environmental impacts from the construction of Raleigh Blvd. It was supposed to be a wetland but the beavers in the area had a different idea as they immediately blocked the culverts under the roadway causing the water to back up and form a permanent pond. Can’t say I object to the result of their efforts. It’s a beautiful spot and the addition of the greenway has made it accessible to the masses.

Mark Senior, PE, Senior Project Engineer, Water Quality Section, Stormwater Divsion of the City of Raleigh Public Works Department

The beavers have indeed made great use of the spot with several different lodges in different spots.  New generations of beavers tend to build their own lodge. Until I got the info from Mark, I assumed the construction of the road bed dammed up the water.  The water on the east side of Raleigh Boulevard acts more normally – rising and falling with rains and seasons.  I know the beavers play over there as well, because you can see their slides into Crabtree Creek as you walk down Buckeye toward Rollingwood.

Raleigh Swamp sewer dam_1_1

sewer pipe dam looking toward Crabtree_1_1

sewer dam bridge on causeway_1_1

Getting back to the sewer project, you can see above the large dam across the wetland.  This, along with the upgraded line in general, has changed the location and depth of water around the edges of the marsh (which is technically what it is).  Some areas are now totally dry – at least for now – and some are substantially deeper.  No real harm done, since nature and time effect these kinds of changes all the time anyway.  but the newly dry areas, which were beaver playgrounds until now, will undergo an interesting and specialized kind of succession – new plants adapted to the new conditions will take over.   It should be a fascinating transition and Raleigh Nature will keep an eye on it.  Below are shots of the stranded areas.

dry area behind sewer dam_1_1dry wetland near stairs of causeway_1_1new dry area at Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The beavers had a lodge at the very spot pictured below years ago but abandoned it during the drought of the early 2000s.  Perhaps they will rebuild now that the water situation is restored!

former beaver lodge water restored!_1_1

All posts on Raleigh Swamp

previous post on this sewer project

Older Posts »

The WordPress Classic Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.