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

December 8, 2009

Lassiter Mill Shows Crabtree at Strength

 

 The previous post talked about Crabtree Creek’s tendency to flood – last week again brought heavy rains over the Crabtree watershed that brought the creek up to the edge of  its large channels.  This also sends an impressive load of water over Lassiter Mill Dam, as seen above.  I shot a video clip of the rushing water from below the tailrace, as linked below.

video- Lassiter Mill dam at high water

What happens at Lassiter Mill vividily and intensely demonstrates what happens lots of places more gradually – the deposition of new soil by spreading flood waters.  This is an essential part of the natural systems of the Piedmont, and our flood control measures prevent the process from periodically enriching the soil with a layer of mud and silt – though the process continues to work just fine in the “waste” lowlands that remain in Raleigh.  An astounding number of these lowlands have become major thoroughfares – roads built relatively later in Raleigh’s long history, on land left undeveloped due to the floodplain.  The Beltline follows the low contours of Walnut Creek, House Creek, Crabtree Creek, Big Branch, Marsh Creek and then Walnut Creek quite precisely as it curves from Cary’s Buck Jones to Glenwood, over the crest of North Hills, and around southeast to Poole Rd and then Lake Wheeler Road.  The water is piped and rushed away from underneath these elevated roadways, carrying its minerals with it.

The suburbs and businesses near these roads certainly don’t need the sediments!  But the stuff has to go somewhere, and these days there is a lot of stuff.  When streams are buffered by a healthy band of water-loving trees and shrubs, erosion material is reduced greatly. In central Raleigh, Crabtree is clogged with lots of dislodged soil, construction materials and unnaturally exposed red clay.   But the deposition process is a vital one, and it gets exaggerated at Lassiter Mill, where the water brings its load of suspended minerals hurtling over the dam and then slows and spreads its course below.  As it slows, it drops much of its sediment load.  The area below Lassiter Mill changes yearly as the creek alternately erodes and builds up materials.  Check out the new load of sand deposited by the recent high waters.

There are several caveats and complications to consider.  This is a large load of sand!  Eight or nine inches at a dose, and not the silt and mud that the plants would prefer. But nature adapts, and the Lassiter “beach” is fun to browse, with a wide variety of weeds incubated from the loads of  soil and debris.  The silt and sand that currently washes down Crabtree is terribly unhealthy for the filtering mussels and other delicate aquatic life.  The red clay that paints Crabtree brown is such a strong pigment that Crabtree often changes the color of the Neuse where it conjoins.

Crabtree builds itself “shoulders”  as it repeatedly overflows, dropping the heaviest particles first as the water disperse into the floodplain.  This is why Crabtree presents such a tall ditched appearance as above at Hodge Road.  The plants arrange themselves in an orderly sequence beside or on top of these embankments according to their tolerance for flooding.

The next time Crabtree rises over it’s banks, put on your rubber boots and check out the glistening mica-rich silt that covers the greenways before the city sends its scrapers to clear it off to the side, where it enriches the plants as well as any landscaper’s mulch.  You are walking in the stuff that makes our floodplain soils, a rich muck delivered by the yearly floods.

Nature.org floodplain info

BBC floodplain story

 

October 4, 2009

Walnut Creek Wetland Center opening

Walnut Creek Wetland Center_1_1

Numerous city and parks officials joined a large crowd of citizens for the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of  The Walnut Creek Wetland Center.

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Dr. Norman Camp listened to Mayor Charles Meeker, city councilman James West and park officials speak about the new center.  Then the founder of Partners for Environmental Justice , and the man who sheperded this project into being, got up and spoke of the center as a shining new gem in Raleigh’s crown,” as quoted on Raleigh Eco News.

Walnut Creek crowd_1_1

The crowd listened attentively as the benefits for Southeast Raleigh as well as the ecosystem were described and the many supporters and participants were thanked.  Then they were rewarded with a magnificent poem written for the occasion, by Christopher Rowland, a Southeast Raleigh native who wows the crowds at Artspace’s Stammer under the name Langston Fuze.

Chris Rollins reads_1_1

Click here for a 1 minute video clip of the poem 

for the full text of the poem, see the post at

Raleigh Eco News

wetland musicians_1_1

Musicians entertained on the “longest back porch in the Southeast,” and Erin Sterling, architect of record for the project from Frank Harmon Architecture, explained the details of the green design.  The building is 230 feet long and narrow so that all rooms get light from two sides and often three.  It is sloped up to the north and shelters its southern exposure with the long low porch roof.  Raleigh’s final budget did not allow for the planned rainwater cisterns, but they can come later and the gutters now direct into bioretention areas – long rain gardens that surround the space.  The building is on stilts and allows natural water flow under it – important in this floodplain.  Recycled lumber and building materials were used when possible, and native plantings surround the site.

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

On the other hand, several of us gazed from the wonderful porch at a huge stand of Microstegia (bamboo or stilt grass) just at the edge of the construction clearing and bemoaned a bit the vast future work entailed in continued future protection of this site and may others in Raleigh.  The educational center will raise awareness of those issues, and provide a much needed amenity and attraction in this part of Raleigh.

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

The longest porch in the Southeast

The longest porch in the Southeast

Walnut Creek  sign_1_1

September 28, 2009

Walnut Creek Center opens Tuesday

Filed under: green initiatives, Greenways & Parks, Southeast Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 1:20 am
Walnut Creek Center under construction in February

Walnut Creek Center under construction in February

Walnut greenway entrance_1_1

Sue Sturgis at Raleigh Eco News has an excellent post about the new Walnut Creek Wetland Center, which has a grand opening at 5:30 this Tuesday, Sept. 29th.  Raleigh Nature featured the center back in February, describing Frank Harmon’s green design, which Sue explains in detail.

Walnut Creek wetland_1_1

 This stretch of greenway presents some interesting wetland areas, but the largest has suffered from lack of water for the last few years.  I haven’t seen the scene above that wet for a long time – the spot is at the edge of the marsh just below Women’s Prison.  Below is a typical stretch of the creek, which continues to be sand-washed and silt laden.  The new  center is just the focal point of multiple efforts to improve the watershed.

Sandy beach on Walnut Creek east of State Street

Sandy beach on Walnut Creek east of State Street

Info from the center’s website:

Walnut Creek Wetland Center

950 Peterson Street Raleigh, NC 27610

You are invited to come enjoy the center at your leisure, explore our educational displays, wander the greenway trails, relax in a rocking chair on the expansive deck overlooking the floodplain, or ask our knowledgable center staff any questions you may have about the wetlands and wildlife you encounter.

Visitors who want to explore the wetlands more can register for low cost instructional programs. Fun activities for all ages will be offered year-round encouraging the sense of wonder all people feel in their favorite woods, park or local greenspace. Using the variety of natural habitats surrounding the state of the art Wetland Center, park staff will guide visitors in programs that engage students on both a scientific and experiential level. Wetland activities will begin inside the comfort of the center, or on the spacious deck, where visitors will be introduced to the concept of wetlands. The real fun begins when classes take the next step and venture into the wetland to experience nature with their own hands.

Hours of Operation
Tuesday – Saturday 10:00am – Sunset
Sunday 1:00pm – Sunset
Admission: Free

You are invited
Walnut Creek Wetland Center’s Dedication & Open House
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
5:30-7:30pm
Ribbon-cutting begins at 5:30 pm.
Tours and program demonstrations will follow.

Walnut Creek Wetland Center offers a wilderness experience without leaving the Capital City. Located on 59 acres of undeveloped floodplain near downtown, this new City of Raleigh facility will be the first of its kind.

Sunset at Old Garner Road

Sunset at Old Garner Road

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Raleigh Eco News also posted some important info recently:

Keep those pizza boxes out of Raleigh’s recycling bins

An important reminder from the City of Raleigh:

So you’ve been putting yogurt cups, pizza boxes, and ceramic cups in your recycling bin. Guess what? The City of Raleigh cannot recycle these products.

The top three containers that residents are putting into their recycling bins which the City cannot recycle are:

* Non-bottle shaped plastic items, such as yogurt cups, bags, utensils, and margarine tubs. The City also is urging residents not to put acceptable items into plastic bags when their recycling bin is full. Instead use a box or other container;

* Pizza boxes; and,

* Non-food glass products such as ceramic cups, vases, dishes, plate glass, mirrors and light bulbs.

This is a great reminder, on a local and general level.  If we really want to change our habits relative to recyclable materials, we have to be a bit saavy about consistent appropriate use of the system.  Just as we can’t take disposal and landfill space for granted, we have to understand the basic processes of recycling and help the process work efficiently and cost-effectively.  Great work and thanks, Sue!

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Walnut greenway sign_1_1

Walnut Creek greenway sign

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.

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