Prairie Ridge News & Events
Homeschool Day Returns to Prairie Ridge
Prairie Ridge hosted the semi-annual NC Museum of Natural Sciences Homeschool Day on April 15, a day of nature-based learning geared toward homeschool families. Several Museum and Prairie Ridge educators worked together to offer a variety of lessons for homeschool students of all ages, such as looking for animals under logs, studying decomposers, going on a bird hike, or joining a ladybug hunt to collect data for the Lost Ladybug citizen science project. We had a great group of visitors this year, with over 50 children and teens participating in the lessons. Homeschool Day is always a fun day of nature learning, discovery, and activities, so consider joining us next year!
— posted 4/18/2013
Statewide Star Party a Huge Success!
Prairie Ridge participated in the kick-off event of the NC Science Festival, the Statewide Star Party, on Friday, April 5, 2013. Even though we were one of nearly 50 Star Party sites throughout the state, we still had a great turnout of over 200 people! Visitors were able to get an up-close look at the stars thanks to members of the Raleigh Astronomy Club who brought telescopes out for star and nebula gazing throughout the evening. Our wonderful volunteers taught visitors how to participate in sky- and space-themed citizen science projects, such as Globe at Night, and led several activities for kids in our outdoor classrooms. It looked like the weather wouldn’t cooperate, but things cleared up perfectly and we ended up having a beautiful evening of stargazing, learning, and star-themed fun!
Special thanks to the Raleigh Astronomy Club and the NC Science Festival for helping make this event possible!
— posted 4/10/2013
Fire on the Prairie
Prairies like that at Prairie Ridge depend on periodic wildfires to prevent the growth of trees in the fields. Fire kills small trees and saplings, clears the land, and fertilizes the soil, essentially wiping the slate clean so that the prairie plants can grow back strong from underground seeds and roots. To mimic what occurs in nature, our prairie is divided into three sections and one section is burned each year. Our latest burn took place on February 18 when the wind speed and direction, humidity, temperature, and prairie moisture were just right so that the section of the prairie closest to the entrance could be burned. The prescribed fire was led by our own Brian Hahn with help from the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources and the Western Wake Fire Department. About 30 onlookers watched the hour-long fire consume the grasses, saplings, and other vegetation on the prairie.
You’ll see blackened areas at Prairie Ridge over the next month or so, but the grasses will grow back come spring. Until then, look for increased bird activity over the burn area! The fire opens the prairie up, making the burn area an excellent place for birds to hunt.
— posted 2/20/2013
Bird Banding at Prairie Ridge
A team of ornithologists has been studying the birds of Prairie Ridge since 2006. Birds are safely trapped in mist nets on the grounds every two weeks, weighed and measured, and released. If the birds captured do not have leg bands, a sort of identification bracelet that harmlessly and permanently wraps around the leg of the bird, a band is added before the bird is released. By reading the bands on all the birds captured in the mist nets, scientists can learn many things about their biology. By comparing weights and measurements to previous captures, longevity and health can be assessed. We can also track migrations and territoriality through banding programs.
A number of species have been captured and banded at Prairie Ridge, including Northern Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, American Goldfinches, and White-throated Sparrows. Many of these birds have been recaptured on the grounds since, suggesting that some of these birds consider Prairie Ridge home and either remain on the grounds year round or return to the site after migrations. The most commonly recaptured birds are Northern Cardinals, hardly surprising considering they do not migrate like many other birds in the area. However, some remarkable recaptures have been made as well, each long after the initial banding date. For example, one Northern Mockingbird and one Eastern Tufted Titmouse were each recaptured on the grounds 4 years and 4 months after their initial banding. One Northern Cardinal reappeared on the grounds after a 5-year, 2-month absence!
While the Northern Cardinals are by far the most commonly recaptured bird at Prairie Ridge, several other species have been recaptured multiple times. These include several sparrows (White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Field Sparrow), Northern Mockingbirds, and Carolina Chickadees. Other birds have only rarely been captured on the grounds, such as the Loggerhead Shrike, the Swamp Sparrow, and the Yellow Palm Warbler. Oddly, Eastern Bluebirds are a common sight at Prairie Ridge during the summer and fall, yet recaptures are rarely made on site.
These data are being used to fuel a variety of studies by researchers at the Museum, but can also help other researchers with their work. By submitting our band and recapture data, researchers from around the country, and even around the globe, can learn more about the biology of birds. And perhaps you can learn something new about birds! Now is a great time to see winter birds at our feeders, so why not make a trip out and see what new things you can discover?
— posted 1/4/2013
Yesterday, we were lucky to have a team of our neighbors at the Division of Water Quality visit Prairie Ridge to do a service project. Alongside our weekly garden volunteers, we tackled the cattail problem in the upper pond. The cattails are too thick in that pond and were covering nearly the entire water surface, so we manually removed as many as we could over the course of a morning.
Cattails spread via rhizomes in the soil at the bottom of the pond, so it is hard work to remove them as the entire plant has to be pulled out to prevent their immediate return. We had a team in the water pulling cattails and another hauling them away to dry and decompose. The volunteers were amazing and worked for several hours nearly non-stop! By the time they left, we had removed about 20% of the cattails from the pond.
Invasive species removal and the control of weedy plant species are ongoing jobs at Prairie Ridge. With the help of groups like the Water Quality volunteers and our fabulous crew of weekly garden volunteers, we are able to help keep problematic plant species in check. Thank you to everyone who helped make Prairie Ridge such an amazing place in 2012!
— posted 12/20/2012
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