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

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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

August 31, 2012

Buckeye’s Intermittent Closings Remind Us of Its Value

Buckeye Trail, which tracks Crabtree Creek through the largest natural area inside the beltline, runs 3 miles from due east of Raleigh at Milburnie and New Bern to Raleigh Boulevard in Northeast Raleigh. There it meets Raleigh Swamp, the neighborly name for the large shallow body of open water bisected by Raleigh Boulevard just north of Crabtree Boulevard.

But this section will be slightly iffy for the next 12 months as crews work on renovating the sewer lines that also track the creek, usually right next to the greenway. I was startled to see the sign, then realized the closings were going to be based on immediate project need, and that people were utilizing the trail as usual that very morning.  I thoughtfully and slowly biked the entire length, stopping to check on some late summer blooms and the condition of the Rocky Overhang, my sentimental favorite spot from childhood jaunts to Crabtree from Gatewood, my east Raleigh neighborhood.  Raleigh Nature has looked several times at this oldest leg of the Raleigh greenway, but a brief catalog of its wonders seems in order.

First, the old landfill meadow at the Milburnie entrance is apparently not going to get mowed anymore – there are trees of several years age filling up the back third.  The rest is filled with microstegium, stilt grass or bamboo grass: by any name, as nefarious an invasive species as kudzu ever was.  Perhaps the landfill monitoring period is over, perhaps they will bushwack these trees eventually.  Minus the stiltgrass, it was a rich meadow. Two pairs of comparison pictures below (click to enlarge).

                                    

Just past this meadow is a large stand of young beeches standing in a floodplain.  As you leave them and approach Crabtree, the sewer line cuts under the greenway on its way to Milburnie Road.  This is where the work is starting.  Necessary work, plus they are protecting the terrain by mulching with what they grind – at least for now. I actually like the new openings and hiking possibilities created by these cuts. Until the poison ivy gets established.

Sewer work at eastern end of Buckeye Trail

I can understand the need for the work.  Above is a section of sewer line inundated by winter floods, seen from the elevated greenway by the pump station at the dead end of Crabtree Boulevard.  This flooding is natural and used to happen with more regularity before the construction of flood controls upstream.

My first nature stop on the bike found me stumped.  I knew I had encountered the triangular, papery fruits and their name, but couldn’t put the two together.  A field guide finally revealed it as American Bladdernut.  Right beside it, pictured below, was a plant I did remember – nettle, whose thin hairy needles inject a stinging but mild toxin that can serve as relief from arthritis, a fact I learned from long-time NC Wildlife photographer Ted Dossett, who used to walk Buckeye almost daily.

Further upstream, the creek takes a big turn, away from Yonkers and toward Milburnie, creating The Point, a triangular beach looking across at the eastern edge of the Marsh Creek marsh.  This broad wetland stretches for about a mile below Yonkers Road and the Beltline. This is a great spot to see the larger birds.  Buckeye is “the birdiest greenway trail” according to the Wake birders’ guide.   As I headed upstream toward Rollingwood, I stopped at a very special place where a big beech uses a rock formation to hang right over the water.  Its roots create undercaves that we used for caching supplies back in grade school – toilet paper, BBs, and matches.  If we left anything long, it would wash away in high water.  The spot beside the beech is pictured below in very low water.

Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

I continued my ride, briefly surveying the Rocky Overhang, still draped by a large fallen Sycamore that came down across the creek after Floyd in 1999.  Fallen trees are a big part of changes in the creek bed, and the sycamores are notorious for taking up doomed positions on the creek bank.  Sometimes they lean precariously for years, and I will never forget the Buckeye walk when a really large, vine encrusted hickory decided to slowly but powerfully lay itself down into the creek as I walked past.  It was an amazing sound – non-violent but death-dealing forces of gravity and release.

Glimpse of the rocky overhang on Buckeye

Halfway up the trail is the park at the bottom of Rollingwood, where the greenway leaves the creekside and edges the neighborhood. The creek formerly split, creating an “island” which edged the greenway, but that streambed is dry now.  Shrubs and young trees cover the large sandy beach that existed at the head of this island in my childhood.  Unforgettable memories of camping on that beach (even then the water flow was seasonable), drawing a large square in the sand, and boxing with gloves!  It was my first and only experience with that.  The stalwart group of boys with whom I had ingratiated myself screamed and exhorted like we were Lords of the Flies.  We walked the creekside ( no greenway on those days) all the way up to Downtown (Capital) Boulevard to go get milkshakes late that night.  Fun times.

Now the creek goes straight past the former island, and the sand piles up just short of the former split.  Above is Sandy Beach, a favorite spot of my own children (though I never allowed them to camp there).  From here up to Raleigh Boulevard is a straight stretch that is close but not connected to my old gatewood neighborhood at the ends of King Charles and Marlborough.  Those streets took major damage from our April tornado disaster, and the damage shows from and includes the greenway.

                     

This stretch is now VERY sunny and the flowers will make use of that.  A selection is below.  Be sure to visit Buckeye soon!

Jerusalem Artichoke, which has an edible root

August 21, 2012

Crabtree Canoe

Filed under: About & reflection, Central Raleigh, Crabtree Creek, Nature Lore, waterways — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 5:23 pm

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (click to enlarge)

One of my favorite ways to really plunge into nature inside the Beltline is putting a boat in above Lassiter Mill.  We took my Mad River solo and our blue tub of a kayak and made it up to North Hills Drive in reasonably high water.  That’s just about the first place it’s an issue: the water below Yadkin Drive is always as high as the dam and presents a long narrow lake-like stretch for easy canoeing.  Upstream, just below Glenwood Avenue, the creek is banked with a slate outcrop, hinting at the graphite, or plumbago lead, which is found higher up the slope.  The trip from the Lassiter Mill dam to Crabtree Valley Mall is possible in high enough water; round trip is less than 3 easy hours.

Spanish Moss on Crabtree Creek at Marlowe Drive

rock outcrop on Crabtree Creek at North Hills Drive

Blue heron in flight on Crabtree Creek

Cara spotted the blue heron standing on the side downstream on our return trip.  I was able to get my camera ready as i drifted into his view.  It was a pretty lucky shot, but you can see i was tracking him with the camera at least a little.  The butterfly was sipping from the mud on a small pebble beach where we rested.

***********************

Having retired from fulltime teaching, I am developing my free-lance activities and hope that gigs as the Raleigh Naturalist will be a part of that!  I have taught Environmental Ed with emphasis on local ecology for the last ten years, and presented to the Bain Project artists group and the Wakefield Middle School Ecology Club.  If you know a way to keep me busy sharing about local waterways and nature lore, let me know.  Thanks

John Dancy-Jones  email: paperplantpressATyahoo.com

February 27, 2011

Triangle’s Art for the Birds

Crabtree Creek from greenway deck just west of Capital Boulevard

Art is gaining ground here on Raleigh Nature, as perhaps it well should.  Last summer, I posted about art shows related to Raleigh nature, and now I’m really enjoying participating in a piece of correspondence art, or at least communication art, by Julie Thomson, an artist and a scholar I met at the Black Mountain College conference last October.  Still haven’t written about that event over at Raleigh Rambles, but I had to share this wonderful project.

Julie’s installation consists of a poster about her piece inviting people to chalk “Do You Hear Birds?” in places they heard them, with a large pile of beautifully printed and wrapped chalks for people to pick up. Her blog documents responses.   The piece is part of a show called “Local Histories.”    Saturday, March 5, Julie is conducting a bird walk in association with her installation.

Edna Metz Wells Park, an excellent central raleigh birding spot

Julie Thomson’s project blog: http://www.doyouhearbirds.blogspot.com/

Her upcoming bird walk:

Saturday, March 5 at 8 am
Do You Hear Birds Bird Walk
Artist Julie Thomson and Biology graduate students from North Carolina
State University will lead a walk around Chapel Hill listening for,
and identifying, bird calls. Participants are encouraged to bring
binoculars if they have them for bird watching. Dress for the weather
and meet in front of the Local Histories exhibition building entrance,
523 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.

Closer to home, Lee Moore’s show about birds opens Friday, March 4 at the Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Art Gallery.  Lee is a dear friend, a Bain artist who got me involved in that project, and a wonderful artist whose bird art was shown in the last couple of years at the Cameron Village Library.  She’s also the person who first informed me of the presence of coyotes inside Raleigh – Boylan Heights, specifically.

Lee Moore’s show:

Attracting Birds: Sounds and Skies,”  is part of an ongoing series that
partners bibliographic inspirations with the artist’s expressions of
personal bird encounters in collage paintings, photography and recordings.
This most recent rendition is a collection of visual poems about the bird
encounters in residential landscapes of two historic neighborhoods in
Raleigh and Durham.  Also included are soundscapes, skyscapes and
treescapes that create an environment for Attracting Birds. 

Lee’s show blog: http://www.leeattractingbirds.blogspot.com

As if these shows weren’t enough synergistic art for Triangle birds, Adam Peele has a show entitled Raleigh Is For The Birds at Design Box.

  I also have to add this lovely image from an older bird show – Susan Toplikar’s show in 2008, based on notebooks of bird sketches she created while medically homebound.  Birds have a presence that enters our lives: we take them for granted and yet we do observe and react to them, and they frame the audial background of our day in ways we hardly realize.  Do you hear birds?

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