Tuesday, March 15, 2011

After the Burn is Over, After the Flames are Gone....

(You can sing the title to the tune of "After the Dance Is Over, After the Music's Done....")

Sunday, the day after we did the burn in the back 5 acres, I took The Boys for a walk and looked it over a little more closely. It's always fun to see what's revealed after a fire....

For the past week or so, there's been an elusive deer skull taunting the dogs as we walked out back. I first saw it in the neighbor's field when Becker and Blue just HAD to go over there to inspect it. There was a companion leg associated with it, which was almost more fascinating to the dogs than the skull. Perhaps that because the skull was covered with soil and looked like it had been partially buried. Both looked pretty "ripe", like they'd been aged quite thoroughly.

The next day when we walked, the skull and leg were magically in OUR field, about 50' from where they'd been lying the day before. There they stayed for 2 more days, then magically they moved again. This time the skull went south and the leg went east, instead of staying together. My dogs faithfully found them each time they moved. (I'm attributing this "magic movement" to coyotes, of course.) I don't mind if my local coyotes want to munch on decayed deer flesh, but I'm really not too keen on my dogs doing so; therefore, this daily deer skull hunt had really begun to get on my nerves.

After the burn, the deer skull stood out boldly. The leg was much less visible. I'm curious to see what happens to them now that they've been "purified" by fire, so I'm continuing to just let them be.

Another sight that I always look forward to seeing after a fire are the prairie vole colonies and their associated runways.

I don't know why these fascinate me so much - maybe because it reminds me of playing with Matchbox cars during childhood! The little roads run from vole town to vole town and I can just imagine the self important little beasts scurrying back and forth, visiting their neighbors, gossiping about the good vegetation finds they've made recently.

This winter I've noticed fairly large holes turning up occasionally in the back 5. A couple have been as big as 18" X 12" and up to 12" deep.

At first I thought that some animal must be beginning to dig itself a burrow, but they never got deepened after the first time I saw them. Finally I decided it was coyotes (again), digging out the prairie vole colonies for a late night snack.

Boy, do those scars show up boldly against the burn. (The cell phone in the hole is to give you a sense of scale.)

Greg wants to fill in the coyote digs because he (correctly) notes that they will be real ankle-turners otherwise. While I know he's right, there's the curious part of me that wants to watch them and see how they change over the upcoming months and years. What's going to grow on the mounds of soil thrown up? Will the holes fill back in by themselves? Will they become used by some other animal in some other way? (Maybe I'll leave just one or two...and flag them, so we don't injure ourselves....)

Do I get upset about all of these disruptions to my slowly thickening grasses and wildflowers? Heck, no. The prairie vole colonies bring water and air down into the soil...and probably a fair amount of vegetation and fertilizer too. Other animals, from insects to other mammals to snakes, will utilize the vole tunnels for shelter. The coyote digs provide a small area of open soil for seeds to colonize, where new plants can gain a foothold. It's all part of the natural prairie cycle, and I love seeing it play itself out in my big back yard.


~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I think the skull adds a certain something to the wild prarie look. Can you flag the holes with something "nice" so it won't detract from the natural look but will be obvious to you?

Gaia Gardener: said...

That's a great idea! I'd been planning on just using a regular orange flag, but now I'll put my thinking cap on and be a bit more creative!

ProfessorRoush said...

I had seen those holes and hadn't thought about coyotes as being responsible; but of course it makes sense.

Thankfully, looks like those cedar trees got well-singed in the burn. Good work.

Gaia Gardener: said...

We had to work a little extra to get the cedars to burn, interestingly enough. Sid started raking up grass clippings from the firebreak edge and putting them directly under the cedars, and that did the trick!

All the (visible) cedars out there had already survived a fire 3 years ago.