Almost imperative that I write a blog entry tonight, considering the Friend's Forward newsletter included a feature story on me and this blog in its fall edition (look for it on pg. 7, complete with photo. Thanks Kendall!) The entire issue is devoted to Friends groups and "New Media," i.e., Twitter, Facebooks, websites, blogs, etc.
So, today I find myself manning the Two Mile Visitor Contact Station for the first of a series of regular Tuesday morning bird walks offered by the New Jersey Audubon Society. It is cool, overcast but not raining and there are hawks about! Almost immediately we are greeted by Cooper's Hawks dive-bombing the bayberry shrubs in search of warblers or Catbirds or Brown Thrashers who may be hiding there, some of whom might just be exhausted by a long night's migration flight. Higher up, a steady flight of Sharp-shined Hawks, Merlins, and occasional Kestrels. Two or three Ospreys wander by, not our residents, but migratory birds following the coast south. A couple of Great Blue Herons join the parade, and all this while everyone is still standing in the parking lot!
I wait at the building while the group of birders heads for the beach and jetty. I have weeds to pull. Make that "invasive non-native forbs." Herbaceous flowering plants. There are no such things as weeds, you know. What I am after today is a plant I have known and despised since I can first remember sneezing and wheezing with allergies as a kid: Ragweed. I know it, I can smell it, I can pull it all out with no remorse. It's past its blooming time and the seeds have no doubt already been scattered to the four winds, but I want to pull out as much as I can find. Did I mention I hate ragweed?
The ground is soft from recent rains, so the plants pull up easily and soon I have a pretty good pile going. There are also a few invasive Autumn Olive trees starting to sprout, so I yank out what i can find. And I'm a little worried about all the Partridge Pea, a native plant with pretty yellow blooms, which is threatening to take over large chunks of the Meadow. So I thin out a few plants here and there, hoping that the millions of seeds that have already fallen on the ground don't sprout in the spring. Ha. We'll see.
I know that there are more invasives to be dealt with-- camphor weed, Queen Ann's Lace, and the still-green Bermuda grass continues to spread even after having been nuked with Roundup back in the spring. But when I stop focusing on the weeds, I see---- native wildflowers in bloom!
Most striking today are the yellow goldenrods against the blue and white asters. Gone are the reds and oranges of summer. "Aster" means "star," and there's an interesting myth about why asters and goldenrod always bloom together. Do you know it? And I always feel bad for goldenrod because many people believe that it causes allergies, but in reality it is the ragweed pollen that is far more of an irritant. I remember looking at pollen grains from both plants under a microscope: goldenrod pollen is smooth; ragweed pollen, rough and jagged. Obviously more irritating to the mucous linings of your nose.
I look closely at the Seaside Goldenrod blooms for signs of crab spiders and assassin bugs, but couldn't find any today. They are sneaky little critters that are so well-camouflaged and lie in wait for unsuspecting prey. So unlike the marauding shock-and-awe hawks and falcons that scream, "Death From Above!"