David and Melissa Smith and their children Otto, Clyde, and Asa spent a weekend managing grassy balds habitat at Grassy Ridge and camping under the stars together. It’s become something of a family tradition. Otto has been helping with the Grassy Balds Mow-Off since he was 5 years old and understands the importance of habitat management; now in high school, he asks about it every year before it’s even on the calendar. Read more
Students from Mars Hill University and Warren Wilson College joined us this spring for a Golden-winged Warbler habitat management workday and camping trip along the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan.
The energetic volunteers cleared downed tree limbs and lopped saplings to create ideal breeding ground for this threatened species of neo-tropical migratory songbirds. Read more
Grassland birds are in trouble. As the grassland habitat needed for nesting and rearing their young continues to disappear, birds such as the Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, and Bobolink found here in the Southeast are declining in numbers. So what can we do to help? Well, the good news is that the agricultural grasslands found throughout this region, such as hayfields, can provide the habitat these birds need to thrive with some simple management practices..
Ideally, hayfields should be mowed outside of the nesting season, which generally occurs from April to August. This prevents nests from being destroyed and ensures fledged young are developed enough to fly away. However, for economic reasons mowing often needs to occur during this period. If this is the case for you, consider implementing some or all of the following practices to contribute to the protection of birds and other wildlife who utilize this grassland habitat:
Practice rotational mowing. Maintain unmowed patches for wildlife habitat between areas being mowed and rotate which sections are mowed and unmowed each year. The size of mowed/unmowed sections should be determined based on your needs and field size, but remember that larger unmowed areas provide more wildlife habitat! For more info check out page 5 of this USDA leaflet:
Aim high! Set your mower as high as possible. However, even 4-8” off the ground can help save the lives of many grassland birds and other wildlife.
Leave uncut border fields. To allow for sufficient bird and wildlife cover allow a 10+ foot strip of hay to remain on the border of the field. This provides food along with nesting, escape, and brood cover. A wider border leads to less predation of nests.
Mow from the inside out. By mowing from the field center outward you can provide cover for birds as they escape to the edges of the field and prevent them from getting trapped in the center of the field during mowing.
Reduce mowing speed. This practice aids in giving birds the time to react and escape during a hay harvest.
Avoid night mowing. Birds are less likely to try to escape from the area being mowed during the night.
Use a flushing bar. This horizontal bar, attached in front of the blades of harvesting equipment, has chains that hang down and drag through the field to scare wildlife away from danger. This primarily helps to protect adult birds.
It takes a village to care for our mountains, and SAHC, our partners, and volunteers certainly made that happen this summer. In less than four days of work, more than 25 volunteers cut blackberry from about seven acres of grassy and shrub bald habitat during our annual Grassy Ridge Mow-Off and Roany Boyz stewardship events. A big thank you to all the folks who came out to mow, to rake, to cook, and to photograph these events. They simply wouldn’t happen without you!
“After expecting rainy weather the weekend of the mow off, it was a pleasant surprise to have sunny skies and great views for much of the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off,” said Sarah Sanford, Duke Stanback Intern. “I really enjoyed meeting and working with such a wide variety of people, from folks who were there for the very first Grassy Ridge Mow-Off to brand new SAHC members. My favorite part was the views from our campsite on Grassy Ridge. Being part of the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off gave me a better perspective on the large scope of work that SAHC and its volunteers do to maintain the Roan Highlands.”
We would like to give a special thanks to the NC BRIDGE crew this year. In addition to hauling equipment to Grassy Ridge and Engine Gap for our volunteer events, they cleared 3.5 acres of grassy bald habitat and maintained 1.76 acres of early successional habitat on our Roan Mountain Gateway preserve. The BRIDGE (Building, Rehabilitating, Instructing, Developing, Growing, Employing) Program is a cooperative effort between the NC Forest Service and the NC Division of Prisons based out of Western Youth Institution in Morganton, NC. The primary goal of the program is to provide well-trained and equipped forest fire fighting crews ready at a moment’s notice. A secondary, but important, goal is to develop a strong work ethic and work skills so inmates will be able to secure a job when they are released. For more than 20 years, BRIDGE has been crucial to our habitat management work. Every year, we are always privileged to witness the hard work, dedication, and professionalism exhibited by this crew.
Thank you all!
Poem below contributed by Bill Ryan, Roany Boyz Volunteer 2015-2017
once a year
in one gap on the AT
in high summer
to lay down ever wearier bodies to camp
no campfire out of respect for the land
drinks just cool enough from the spring
work measured in tanks
dream images of blackberry and alder leaves interlacing
coming back to the same places
still trying to figure out why the balds were bald before them
eating a few early blueberries and seeking the elusive Gray’s lily
Near the end of their Spring semester, a group of dedicated Mars Hill University (MHU) students spent a Saturday volunteering for “the good of a bird that can fit in the palm of your hand,” according to workday organizer Travis Bordley, SAHC’s Roan AmeriCorps member.
Led by Professor Laura Boggess, the thirteen student volunteers helped manage habitat for Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA) along the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan. The workday was supported with a license plate grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
“With the support from Laura and the ATC, the volunteer engagement for this workday was at an all time high,” said Travis. “Now THAT is the kind of hustle we like to see from the future leaders of conservation in our landscape.” Read more
On December 19, we assisted the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) with the purchase of 82 acres at Sorrells Meadow, to be added to the Cold Mountain Game Lands in Haywood County. With a remarkable mix of high elevation open meadow, forest communities, and pristine water sources, the property provides excellent wildlife habitat as well as opportunities for public recreation. It adjoins existing Cold Mountain Game Lands to the north and the Shining Rock Wilderness of Pisgah National Forest at its southern tip, within a quarter mile of the Art Loeb National Recreational Trail.
“Sorrells Meadow will be a crown jewel for the Cold Mountain Game Lands,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. “The open meadow atop this 82-acre addition to the public game lands is one-of-a-kind in this area. If it had been developed, you would have been looking down on houses or condos from popular public trails. Now, that won’t happen.” Read more
For college students during the exam season, late November and early December can be riddled with stress, anxiety and wary nerves. Many students find that breaking from long hours in the library to spend time outside, for a breath of fresh air and a pause from the stress, can actually boost effectiveness when they do return to their books.
The Environmental Science majors who came out to volunteer with us this month believed in this strategy. In the midst of stressful finals, ten students went up to our Bird House cabin at Grassy Ridge in the Highlands of Roan for a volunteer workday. Lead by Travis Bordley, our new AmeriCorps Roan Highlands Outreach and Volunteer Member, the group worked to improve Golden-winged Warbler habitat. Read more
31 volunteers and staff rallied to help the Smokies on Saturday, July 28. In a partnership with Nature Valley (the granola bar company) and the National Parks Conservation Association, several SAHC projects are underway at the protected Cataloochee Ranch (directly adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) to improve animal habitat, plant life and water quality.
On Saturday under a clear sky with beautiful views of the Plott Balsams, Mt. Pisgah, and the Smokies, volunteers improved an eroded section of popular trail mere meters from the border of Great Smoky Mountains Park. Fueled by camaraderie and an endless supply of Nature Valley granola bars, volunteers used shovels and trail tools to reshape a badly incised section of trail into a good slope to efficiently shed water instead of catching sediment and carrying it to the streams. Read more
A message from Roan Stewardship Director Judy Murray:
“I am happy to report that Grassy Mow-off 2012 was a rousing success! What the 23 volunteers and our Field Ecologist Chris Coxen were able to accomplish far exceeded my expectations! They re-treated three large areas, and were able to track their progress over time.
A true labor of love for this treasured resource, and one that continues to go down in the record books and the grassy balds database. Read more
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