Nippy today. Overcast. A cold wind out of the west, occasionally pitted with pellets of icy snow. Perfect for a volunteer day in the field.
After months of cleaning seed, it is time to sow some of it. My first assignment is to scatter buttonbush seed around the perimeter of the pond named in its honor. The seed looks like tiny arrow heads, about 20 of which would fit on the face of a dime.
Buttonbush Pond is one of my favorite places at Midewin. It’s where I’ll be spending several evenings in the coming weeks counting calling frogs.
For my second seeding assignment, I join about a dozen other volunteers at South Patrol Road Prairie. Each of us load up with a bucket of wetland seed mixes, which we spread by hand among a patchwork quilt of wet areas.
Last week, these areas were teeming with ducks and geese. Today, there isn’t an aquatic waterfowl to be seen other than a few mallards winging high over head toward some distant pond. But I do rustle up my first meadowlark of the season. Just the sight of that one bird – populations of which have declined 72 percent from 24 to 9 million over the past 40 years – is enough to take the chill off the day.
After we spread all the wetland seed, we move on to porcupine grass, which comes by its name honestly – the tips of its seed are as sharp as pins. Even more astonishing, however, is the fact that they twist in response to moisture changes driving their sharp points into the ground. Many volunteers learn this lesson first hand as a wayward seed works its way through jeans and wool socks.
One by one – on hands and knees – we stab the porcupine grass seed into the ground in an upland area recently cleared of a hedgerow. Removing the hedgerow opens up the landscape, creating more of the kind of open prairie habitat that grassland birds like eastern meadowlarks require. Planting porcupine grass is one of several steps to be taken to heal the hedgerow scars.