I awoke early this morning, 5:00 a.m. Went to bed way too early, had a long lovely sleep, the consequence of which was to wake up way too soon. But the silver lining was to have a fully tuned ear when the birds began their morning singing at 5:45 a.m. Sitting on my screened porch sipping coffee I was serenaded by a Wood Thrush and Rufus-sided Towhee that were close by. Both have clear, tremulous tones that put my amateur flute-playing to shame. In the distance, I could hear a Scarlet Tanager and its rolling, buzzy song and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo with its gulping remarks that makes you think you are in a tropical jungle instead of a mixed hardwood forest in central Virginia. Soon the more common resident birds chimed in: American Goldfinches and the loudest, most persistent singer of all, a Carolina Wren. I listened to the gathering, growing chorus while gazing at the view from my house of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hazy with weak dawn light, the brightest feature in the view was a little bit of white cottony cloud caught between the layers of shadowy mountain ridges.
Today will be another day of visitors. My assigned steward with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, Ryan Klopf, has programmed two full days of work to remove harmful invasive plants on Naked Mountain. My property is the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve, the 49th of 60 natural area preserves currently designated in Virginia. Naked Mountain supports important native plants, birds and other animals. But they are under constant threat by invasive species. Today’s work will focus on Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius). This thorny berry plant produces some of the sweetest fruit in the forest. But it spreads uncontrollably in thick patches that crowd out native plant species. It gets its best start in sunny spots opened up after ridding an area of another invasive, Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Since 2005, my husband and I, along with various and sundry hired and volunteer help, have killed an estimated 10,000 mature Ailanthus trees growing in thickets across Naked Mountain.
The work today will involve pulling up the Wineberry plants, roots and all, and piling them into heaps to dry and die. The moist, rich and airy mountain soil makes hand pulling of the Wineberry more efficient than chemical options. When dealing with more compacted soil, just-cut stems can be painted, or sprayed, with glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Round-up. Ryan has implemented an interesting solution to the areas disturbed by the Wineberry pulling. Seeds from Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix), a native species that looks exactly likes its name and grows all over Naked Mountain, will be scattered in the disturbed soil. Delightful!