Raleigh Nature

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

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July 15, 2012

Flowering in 2012

Filed under: About & reflection, Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 7:14 pm

What a wild, wet and wonderful spring!  I retired from fulltime teaching and we had a fantastic gardening spring.  Here are a few goodies from the garden and my greenway walks.  The violets above are one of the first blooms you will see; they are pollinated by ants!

 The big meadow on New Bern Avenue was filled with buttercups.

a stand of purple vetch in Chapel Hill

Red clover, like all legumes, adds fixed nitrogen to the soil with microbial help.

An escaped spider flower on Buckeye with tornado damage in background.  We will be back soon with Buckeye tornado recovery and much more.  in my (early) retirement, I am seeking gigs with book arts, educational services, and of course appearances as the Raleigh Naturalist!  let me hear from you:  paperplantpress@yahoo.com

Enjoy your summer!  Best,  John

photo album of spring flowers

August 9, 2010

Marsh Creek Park – no relation to the creek!

My Google search hits revealed someone looking for Marsh Creek Park, and having featured the creek, I thought we should visit the recently expanded park on New Hope  Road.  The name of the park derives from Marsh Creek Road, which begins just across New Hope and goes straight down to Marsh Creek.  But New Hope Road is a ridge between the Crabtree and Neuse watersheds, and the waterways in the park itself- mostly out of sight without hiking – head north through a large woodlot visible from Southall Road toward the Neuse, just a mile distant.

All pictures click to enlarge

The hot new feature in the park is the skate park, which was featured in a several media articles and is quite popular.  The large recreational center is fairly nondescript, but was constructed with green principles, as described in detail (along with other park amenities) at Get To Know a Park.  Beside the center is a large Piedmont prairie, and the extensive parking areas are adjoined by interesting ecotone areas, though the stilt grass is spreading fast.  The terrain is typical of Piedmont farmland after 50-60 years – upland pines and chestnut oaks with a slope down to loblollies, shrubs, and water.

 

My favorite find at Marsh Creek Park was the rain garden just below the skate park, with a wonderful stand of Joe-Pye-weed, as seen below.  I’ve only seen this handsome plant in the mountains, but it is listed in the Piedmont.  Somebody did a great job with this rain garden.

 To make the park’s name issue a little stranger, there is a really nice marshy area below the lower field, which leads to a very pretty old farm pond. It appears to have a fishing shack on the edge.  The expansion doubled the usable space of the park, but most of the acreage is still heavily wooded and ripe for exploring.  Overall, a versatile park with something for everyone.

photo album of Marsh Creek Park

Google map of Marsh Creek Park

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This section of Raleigh – the ridge of New Hope with the valley of the Neuse to the northeast and Marsh Creek’s drainage to the southwest – is of geologic interest because it is one of the transitions between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.  If you take Buffalo Road off New Hope, for example, you immediately start seeing sandy soils.  Just down the road from Marsh Creek Park, Skycrest Drive heads down to good old Raleigh Swamp.  Before it gets there, at the intersection with Trawick, you can find this meadow of wildflowers.  It is being sorely threatened by kudzu vines.  We will keep a closer eye on invasive species in our future nature travels.

The kudzu is right behind the dandelions.

An impressive array of wildflowers fronts the dandelions by a slope.

These blackberry flowers are beside Skycrest. This was in May, but this summer I picked almost ten quarts of these things!  They are everywhere.

Kudzu making its way toward the wildflowers.

Kudzu go’ne eat us all!!

March 19, 2009

Look down, look closely, at Spring’s lovely weeds

Filed under: Central Raleigh, Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 2:17 am

 wildflowers-and-dandelion

   Weeds are just plants someone thinks are out of place.  As the season arrives, we can all get some pleasure from these signs of a diverse ecosystem  in your yard.  Take the time to look down and closely!

snowflakes, an early bulbous wildflower

snowdrops, an early bulbous wildflower

 

snowflake-patch_1_1

 

blue-wildflowers_1_1

February 22, 2009

News, Notes, and Promises

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

 Walnut Creek Wetland Park is approximately 59 acres in size and is located between Garner Road and South State Street and south of Peterson Street in Southeast Raleigh. This site contains extensive wetlands that are located near the downtown urban center and offer an opportunity for the public to easily explore and learn about the value and significance of wetlands for water quality and wildlife habitat.     Raleigh City website

      Construction has begun on  the  Walnut Creek Wetland Center, as reported in NandO on February 11.   The center is the culmination of efforts led by Norman Camp to rehabilitate and protect the wetlands of Raleigh’s Southeast.   This topo map shows the area. The new building, shown below, was designed by Frank Harmon, and will stand six feet above the ground and have a minimal ecological footprint.  An earlier post describes some amenities of this section of greenway.

                         walnut-center-side_1_1                         walnut-wetlands-center-front_1_1

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henbit-on-hodge-rd_1_1

    The groundhog definitely saw his shadow, but early signs of spring abound in Raleigh.  Above is henbit between Hodge Road and Crabtree.  Below are red maples blossoms in Oakwood.  There is some cold air coming, so there will be some casualties – though our well-mulched garden parsley and “spinach under glass” on the deck are doing great!

winter-maple-buds_1_1

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     One of the exciting things about Raleigh Nature is the wonderful reader input, and I need to follow up and post about more of it.  There’s always a tension between getting around to it and doing it justice.  Here are a few smoldering issues on my draft posts:

First and most behind: responding to the multiple inputs about Lassiter Mill and Raleigh mill history.  From David’s great pics of the upper water, to the amazing Lassiter mill drive wheel images sent by Jimmy, and the history and memories in the comments, we need to return to this subject soon!  I recently got a fascinating inquiry from Carol about the infilled Lake Boone, and the natural springs that fed it, and I want badly to follow that up.  I very much appreciated the mistletoe tips from Meredith, and dream of my “pecans and mistletoe” map of Raleigh!  Scott, a well-known author, my old friend Joe, and Tommy, a songwriter from my past, all greatly helped my still-unfinished exploration of the Pigeon House Branch system and the expensive new Fletcher Water Park that feeds into it.  We’ve been blessed with an explanation of Raleigh Swamp’s waters by Mark, who engineered it, and we’ve been sobered by the plea for resolution from Deborah concerning Ward Transformer’s lifetime of ecological crimes against our area.    I look forward to sharing Patti’s wonderful hawk story, and keeping Michiel in the Netherlands all caught up on Raleigh’s natural scene.  Mentioning these highlights, many thanks to all who have written or commented.  It really helps the work!

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Oakwood maple

Oakwood maple

     Chris Crew and Matthew Brown just wrote a wonderful article about Oakwood wildlife for our neighborhood newsletter.They are neighbors at the bottom of the slope at whose crest I reside. Between my house and theirs almost every inch is controlled by humans, and the water flowing downhill is piped or culverted.  Below their house, toward Brookside and Glascock, the land opens up just a bit and has some natural edges. As a matter of fact, Chris is uncovering  the section of Grassy Branch in his backyard, and that’s another topic on my to-do list.  Just across the road, though, is Oakwood Cemetery, a significant oasis for many living things.  According to their article, our neighborhood boasts a huge variety of species. Among many bird species they describe, the cedar waxwing invasion for berries and the long-standing nest of red-tail hawks stood out.  Foxes, possums, and a substantial population of raccoons are described.  There are excellent nature lore tips regarding the colors of 5-lined skinks and owl sounds.  I wish the newsletter were online, but if you have a friend that’s a resident, check it out.  Way to go, Matthew and Chris!

PS:  Hope ya’ll like the revised sidebar.

PPS: Matthew very kindly posted the article referred to above HERE.

September 14, 2008

Visual Thoughts

Filed under: About & reflection, Exotica, Nature Lore — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:59 pm

Heavy Skies

Heavy Skies by D L Ennis at Visual Thoughts

 Looks like a painting, right?  But it is a photograph – not mine, of course, but an example of the amazing stuff over at Visual Thoughts, a fellow blog which doesn’t easily mesh with the other resources on my side bar but still belongs and is cherished on my blogroll.  D L Ennis posts about life and art and very much whatever, but if you’re in the mood or have a need to drink in a direct connection with nature, go to this unique blog: nature is there, coming through loud and clear.  Through some very artistic human eyes.

Looking Up

     Here is another image from Visual Thoughts.  The flower had ole D L stumped. Later, when I showed it to Cara she knew exactly what it was and went to look it up.  Meantime, I saw a comment by Jan had identified it as lycoris radiata, or red spider lily.  Cara knew it as outdoor amaryllis, for the single stem’s dramatic (and leafless) emergence.  We didn’t get to have the fun of informing D L , but I found Jan’s blog, which is lovely.  Just one of the wonderful things you may find at D L Ennis’s Visual Thoughts. Check it out!

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