Mariton: Field Management

March 27, 2014

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

This week I mowed the fields at Mariton.  My management protocol is timed to optimize benefits for wildlife.  During the winter the standing vegetation provides food and shelter for wildlife, especially when there is snow cover like this past winter.  Many of the tree shoots showed gnawing by voles and other rodents.  Even though the gnawing was a 12 inches above the ground, these areas were below the surface of the snow for much of the winter.  These creatures had tunnels in the snow and at ground level that allowed them access to fallen seeds and other foods in the fields.  Meanwhile, birds and other animals were able to take advantage of the seed heads and vegetation that were left standing above the snow.

Cutting right now will speed the green up in the next couple weeks.  It doesn’t seem like a lot of shade is provided by the grasses and tree seedlings, but things will start sprouting more quickly where I have mowed.  This allows the shortest turn around for food sources for wildlife.  The fields look bare right now, but the transformation happens so quickly.

Even while I mowed, bluebirds were diving down into the cut grasses to grab insects.  They were also checking out the nest boxes in the fields.  Mowing has made it easier for them to gather grasses for building their nests.  Another bird that took advantage of the shorter vegetation was a Red-shouldered hawk that was catching voles.

What happens if I don’t mow the fields?  Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods) wants to be a forest.  In fact, these fields are quite literally forests that are managed to stay at a certain point in forest succession.  It will take a couple months, but visit the fields in the summer or fall and you will see just how many tree seedlings live in these fields (along with grasses, milkweed, bergamot, goldenrods, etc.).  By the time winter returns, many seedlings will be over five feet tall.  That is quite a bit of growth in a few short months.  These open areas are a boon for wildlife all year long.  Birds, butterflies, rodents, foxes; many species will take advantage of these forest openings to find food and raise young.