The Biodiversity Project
Mill Road Elementary School is most fortunate to have a patch of forest on school grounds. While it may appear to be a natural forest to the casual observer, it is in fact a secondary growth disturbed habitat. Invasive plants are spread throughout, thus limiting opportunities for native plants which may have more beneficial value to wildlife.
To promote biodiversity, we have taken steps to encourage the growth of native plants that offer food or shelter to wildlife, or aesthetic appeal to us.
· We have limited the spread of the non-native spruce trees which grow quickly, choke off light to other plants, and conduct chemical warfare through their root systems underground.
· We have pulled out by the roots Bell’s honeysuckle, another invasive bush that is spread by birds eating the berries. These were pulled from both sides of the trail out to about 10 feet in 2010. The brush piles that resulted by pulling these bushes create shelter for birds and animals. Other plants can now grow in these areas.
· We have planted more desirable shrubs along the path, such as Highbush Cranberry, Toringo Crabapple, and Mountain Ash (also planted in 2010).· We secured the cooperation of the groundskeeping staff to allow the hillside adjacent to the forest to grow in as a meadow. Native flowers were planted here as well in 2009 and 2010. This Meadow Area is mowed every three to five years to limit the spread of Multi-flora rose, bushes, and trees. This is done in late October after the growing season.
· Bluebird nest boxes were placed on the meadow slope in 2010. These boxes are specially designed to prevent non-native birds, such as English sparrows or European starlings from moving in. They can be cleaned out to limit parasitic pests from attacking nestlings. These were generously donated by the Red Hook Tree Commission, a community partner which has been most supportive.
Periodically, a motion sensor camera purchased through a grant from the PTA is placed in and around the area to see what is visiting. So far, it has captured images of opossum, gray squirrels, woodchucks, various birds, and pet dogs which owners allow to run free. Unfortunately, dogs also chase wildlife, and prevent interesting animals from getting comfortable here. A neighbor’s pet cat also frequents the area.
Other signs observed in the past ten years include coyote scat, fox tracks and scat, feathers from songbirds caught and killed by predatory hawks such as the sharp shinned or Coopers hawk, and the skin of a cotton tail rabbit hanging in a bush. This intriquing find was a mystery, but a guess might be that it was dropped by a more powerful winged predator, such as the awesome great horned owl or red tailed hawk.