By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
What is the relationship between birds and prescribed burning? Well, if you were a Henslow’s sparrow, you would be found in your highest numbers in grassland areas which had experienced a fire event around three or four years ago. After that, your populations would decrease in these areas. The reduced frequency of the occurrence of fire in has been one factor that has contributed to the decline in this species of sparrow.
We are excited that coastal bird biologist Dr. Mark Woodrey from the MSU Coastal Research & Extension Center will be conducting a winter sparrow banding field walk this Saturday, December 1 from 9 to 11 a.m. His workshop will focus on mist netting winter sparrows – primarily the seldom seen Henslow's sparrow - and will provide participants with a rare opportunity to observe and handle wild birds.
The Henslow’s sparrow breeds in the northern United States, but overwinters in our coastal south. Their populations have been on the decline due to habitat loss. Dr. Woodrey will discuss the Arboretum's prescribed burn program and what it means for these ground-nesting birds, as well as the ecology of the longleaf pine habitat.
The Henslow’s sparrow was named by John James Audubon in honor of his good friend, botanist John Stevens Henslow. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website describes the Henslow’s sparrow as “an uncommon and famously inconspicuous bird.” You can view a range map and learn more about this bird on the Cornell Lab’s website (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Henslows_Sparrow/lifehistory).
Native plant communities benefit from burning, and The Crosby Arboretum has incorporated the practice of prescribed fire as a management tool. Our Savanna Exhibit displays species which have become adapted to this type of ecosystem. We burn selected portions of the Savanna Exhibit yearly, and this offers an outdoor classroom with a variety of “ages” of burned grasslands, some providing a more desirable habitat than others for certain species of birds.
Burn Manager Terry Johnson has been gearing up for another “fire season” at the Arboretum as well as our Hillside Bog natural area. If you would like to learn more about prescribed burning, you will have an excellent opportunity to learn more about fire management techniques by observing one of our prescribed burns this winter. Terry will monitor the environmental conditions for each Thursday and Friday in January and February, and if the weather is favorable he will carry out the prescribed fire.
Our burns usually take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you would like to observe, please call the arboretum office at the number below to register one hour prior to the event time and confirm that it will be proceeding. Wear old clothes and boots, dress for the weather, and bring a lunch. Admission is free. Persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service website at www.MSUcares has some outstanding publications on the use of prescribed fire. See Publication 2262, “When Will a Prescribed Burn Help my Fire Stand?” and Publication 2283, “Prescribed Burning in Southern Pine Forests.” Chapter 10 on Prescribed Fire in Publication 2470, “Managing the Family Forest in Mississippi” offers an excellent summary of this topic.
After Saturday’s sparrow banding workshop, we will have a children’s craft workshop on “Holiday Ornaments for Backyard Wildlife” from 1 to 2 p.m. Children will create ornaments such as tasty peanut butter pinecone feeders and popcorn-cranberry garlands to attract birds and other wildlife.
Although maintaining a feeder for local birds and setting out treats such as these backyard ornaments is great fun to do, consider planting native species offering food sources to local wildlife and also the year-round benefit of shelter and places to nest and raise their young. A great source of these plants is the Arboretum’s quarterly plant sales. Our Arbor Day plant sale is February 16, and will include species suited to our region, many which are tasty and useful to our local wildlife. Site admission is free on our plant sale days, so bring a friend.
To learn more about birding, which is fast-becoming the most popular sport in America, attend our “Introduction to Birding” program on January 12. Susan Epps, avid birder and writer, will discuss bird habits, feeding, and identification tips, as well as equipment, materials, and other birding resources.
Our updated program schedule is available on our website. You’ll find some fun opportunities for learning more about nature this winter, including a “Wild About Winter” teacher workshop on January 19 by the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. The workshop is focused on our native Mississippi wildlife and how to incorporate seasonal wildlife, such as migratory species and organisms' winter adaptations, into the classroom.
Follow an expert into the woods to explore our native Mississippi flora. On the morning of February 23, Heather Sullivan, botanist from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks, will lead an Arboretum winter botany field walk. Heather is great fun to be with outdoors because she is not only well-acquainted with our native plants, but willing to reveal the secrets of any plant you can point out to her.
Please join us for our annual Open House on Saturday, December 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Admission is free this day. Come enjoy light refreshments and browse our gift shop, which now features new work by many Mississippi artisans and craftspersons. For more information on the above programs, please see the program schedule on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu, or call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration: Plant some native plants for our local wildlife. A great resource is the MSU Extension Publication 2402, “Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat,” available at www.MSUcares.com.
Listen to the call of Henslow’s sparrow on the website of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Make a list of a dozen local birds and learn their songs with a child.