Raleigh Nature

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

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

September 7, 2009

Brookhaven Offers “Old Raleigh” Nature

heron profile_1_1

I finally got around to finding Brookhaven Nature Park, which is truly hidden away in one of Raleigh’s oldest suburban subdivisions.  Come to find out Scott Reston’s excellent new blog,  Get to Know a Park, covered the spot in July with a nice pictorial post.  With a respectful nod to Scott, here is my own quick take on the park.

Brookhaven Trail_1_1

It’s hard to find! The entrance is located is off Rembert Road, off Glenwood.  Brookhaven was begun in 1958 and contains many fairly regal residences with large yards and woodlots surrounding the numerous small waterways.  Scott mentions that the park is maintained by the Junior Woman’s Club of Raleigh, and the few reviews I find online describe it as decidedly low-key as a nature adventure.  But the small pond with a nifty zig-zag deck and the additional decks over wetland area make it a perfectly lovely site, in my humble opinion.  I had fun snapping shots of the heron.

pond at Brookhaven Park

pond at Brookhaven Park

heron at pond's edge

heron at pond's edge

Great Blue Heron at Brookhaven Nature Park

Great Blue Heron at Brookhaven Nature Park

wetland deck at Brookhaven

wetland deck at Brookhaven

The post at Get To Know a Park has some nice photos (and an excellent map!).  It’s good to have some friendly, high quality competition in providing online coverage of Raleigh’s natural amenities.  Those features are more valuable and unique than most people realize.  Brookhaven Nature Park established that tradition well before the greenway system was begun.

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Bonus Shot

harassed hawk_1_1

This hawk was being harassed by crows.

August 9, 2009

David Spain, steward of moss

David Spain tends the Urquhart moss garden

David Spain tends the Urquhart moss garden

I recently had an opportunity to document the Southern Living photo shoot of one of Raleigh’s most interesting residential landscapes.  The Southern Living article about the moss garden at the Urquhart residence on Marlowe Drive will come out in about a year – we’ll return to that incredible piece of landscaping, and promote the article, closer to the publication date.  In the meantime, I wanted to introduce Raleigh Nature readers to David Spain, Richard Urquhart’s son-in-law, who has cared for the property since Urquhart’s passing in 2008.  David follows Raleigh Nature and has been very encouraging of my efforts to portray the Lassiter Mill section of Crabtree Creek, which adjoins the Urquhart property.  This post shares some of his photography and offers a sneak peek at the moss garden, which senior writer Steve Bender at Southern Living describes as the finest he’s ever seen.

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

The landscape of the Urquhart residence is unique in several respects, and David Spain is keenly aware of the ecological and geological wonders of the place.  The property slopes down steeply to the deep stretch of Crabtree Creek just northwest of the dam.  There is a rich stand of mountain laurel on the slope, and above the moss garden and water park of large pools, waterfalls, and huge rocks.  The rocks were unearthed by creek erosion out of the slope, and the Urquhart family has pried them out, hauled them up the hill, and used them to create a magnificent setting for the plants and water.

Urquhart backyard area with landscape boulder

David's newest addition with landscape boulder

David puts into Crabtree in his canoe about as often as I THINK about doing it – which is pretty often- and gets some great pictures, which he has shared and consented to have on the site.  Enjoy some great sights of Raleigh Nature courtesy of David Spain, whose hard work and dedication is maintaining one of the most interesting and valuable residential natural areas in central Raleigh.

 

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

duck by D.S._1_1

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

creekside poplar by D.S._1_1

photograph by David Spain

What a brave poplar tree!  David can walk the creekside and offer endless lore and history about the area.  His contributions and friendship have been a big reward for my work on Raleigh Nature.  Below is his picture of the Urquhart front yard.  I’ll share my own photography of the site when it’s time to celebrate the Southern Living shoot, which was arranged by local super-gardener Helen Yoest, whose acquaintance I made at the shoot.  Her Metro feature on the Urquhart garden is a great introduction to the site, and it will be fun to see how Southern Living shows off the garden and David’s meticulous work with the moss.

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

 

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A related fun tidbit:  I received a while back the photo below, which depicts what the senders states are gears from Lassiter Mill.  He asked for advice about who might be interested or what might be done with them.  I thought I would post the picture and give my contacts at the Raleigh History Museum and Yates Mill Park a heads-up.  Any ideas?

mill equipment- photo by Jimmy Gordon

mill equipment- photo by Jimmy Gordon

 

February 6, 2009

Pigeon House Branch Part 2

heron-on-rock-outcrop_1_1

     In our previous post, we began with the hidden headwaters of Pigeon House under Cameron Village, and followed it through the the Park Avenue  neighborhood and down West Johnson Street to Peace Street, with a reach-out to Capital at Wake Forest, where the heron above (remember all pictures should click to enlarge) found a rocky spot of wilderness.  This post backs up to Devereux Meadows and follows Pigeon House Branch down to its intersection with Crabtree Creek. An unhappy course, for the most part. The city is trying to rehabilitate it, one tributary at a time. Below is the map of their plan.

pigeon-house-plan-map_1_1

     Pigeon House Branch drains the northwestern quadrant of downtown, gathering water east of the Oberlin Road ridge, bringing it through a series of open stone culverts through the Park Drive neighborhood.  At St. Mary’s Street it enters the Glenwood South business district and is piped under the roads and railroads tracks and down to Devereux Meadows.   The dark blue line is where they want to uncover the creek, and the brown area is where the city wants to create a “Riverwalk”  at Devereux Meadows.  Below we see the creek as it begins its path through this area.

     Pigeon House Branch is under there somewhere!  The creek escapes out a large pipe and continues down between West Street and Capital Boulevard.  About here is where the 42 inch pipe pictured below delivers all the water collected from Fletcher Park and its $700,000 water park!

     Pigeon House crosses back and forth across Capital Boulevard, traveling through wide manmade ditches covered with kudzu.  The water passes over the heron’s rock outcrop and turns northeast.  It dives under Capital yet again and emerges at Watkin’s Grill, a venerable blue-collar breakfast joint at Old Louisburg Road and Atlantic Ave.  Traveling between the north and southbound lanes of Capital, it accepts the water from off the Blount St. ridge (Mordecai to Oakwood), and makes its way through successive parking lots, including Johnny’s Motel, Dunkin’ Donuts, The Foxy Lady and the bowling alley for over a mile, before turning east at Crabtree Boulevard.  Here Pigeon House lends its seepage to a small marsh between it and Crabtree Creek.  It feeds into Crabtree at Raleigh Boulevard, its mouth visible from its bridge over Crabtree as well as the nearby greenway deck.

Pigeon House Branch enters Crabtree Creek

     Pigeon House is decidedly urban and yet makes its way through former waste lowlands turned into thoroughfares, so its riparian buffer is actually less stressed for space than many other creeks in Raleigh.  Thus the heron, thus the opportunity for a high-end greenway at the site where I watched many a minor league baseball game.  Much hope can be found for success with the city’s project to rehabilitate Pigeon House Branch.

pdf. Pigeon House Plan

Pigeon House Part 2 photo album

This is a thorough sequence from Devereux Meadows to Crabtree Creek.

November 22, 2008

Pigeon House Branch

     A great blue heron browses Pigeon House Branch where it crosses over a granite outcrop.  The scene is tucked away in a very industrial part of central Raleigh – Capital Boulevard’s warehouse district, where the creek flows through huge kudzu-covered ditches on alternating sides of the thoroughfare.  Pigeon House is the most prominent waterway in central Raleigh, but also its most abused. (last text link is info, all others are pictures).

sw-tributary_1_1The streamwatch station denotes a creek under these storm sewers at the SE edge of Cameron Village.

Transportation Plan map of Pigeon House creek

  It gathers its headwaters in Edna Metz Park  just off Cameron Village, and this upper part of the creek was shifted and ditched in order to build Cameron Village.  From Edna Metz, concrete culverts carry it through Cameron Park and east down Johnson Street, where it crosses under Peace Street to be culverted again through the former Devereux Meadows, which is now a city facility for trash trucks and a salt barn.

    Flowing north beside Capital Boulevard, the creek drains two railroad lines as well as a massive entertwining of concrete roadways.  A highlight of this stretch is the Light+Time art tower, which presides over the union of Pigeon House with the waters from Fred Fletcher Park. As it borders the service road for the warehouse strip, it finds the rock outcrop frequented by the heron. It dives under Capital to emerge almost underneath the venerable Watkins Grill on Louisburg Road, then criss-crosses Capital back and forth again before heading east toward Crabtree Creek. We will pick it up at The Foxy Lady and follow it down to Raleigh Swamp another post soon.

The heron has found a beautiful spot in unlikely territory.  As the city makes efforts to rehabilitate its tributaries, Pigeon House Creek continues to flow as naturally as it can through northwest downtown.  We should notice it and help it out anyway we can.

Pigeon House Creek photo sequence

(from Cameron Village to Dennis Ave and Capital)

 

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