Old fields can become havens for wildlife

They’re all over Georgia — old agricultural fields where lush crops once grew and old pastures where cows once peacefully grazed. Now, for one reason or another, they lie abandoned — but not useless.

Old fields and pastures can become prime habitat for a variety of wildflowers, birds, butterflies and other wildlife that live and thrive in sunny, grassy natural areas — such as open pine forests, open shrublands, prairies and savannas. Old fields can mimic many of the conditions of such places.

For instance, abandoned, overgrown fields have become prime habitats for grassland-loving birds such as field sparrows, grasshopper sparrows, bobwhite quail, loggerhead shrikes and eastern meadowlarks — all of which are facing declining numbers.

I love to roam through old fields, as several of us Georgia Botanical Society members did last weekend in Banks County in the heart of Georgia’s Piedmont. I especially love old fields this time of year, when the seedheads of native grasses, such as bluestems, Indian grass and purple-top, are ripe and late fall blooming wildflowers, especially asters, add bright color to the browning landscape.

The seed stalks of the grasses and wildflowers last through winter and provide food for over-wintering songbirds.

The Banks County fields that we explored last weekend harbored a particular natural treasure — the deep purple blooms of the rare Georgia aster. Earlier this year, the wildflower was slated for the federal Endangered Species List, but that action was avoided when numerous public, corporate and private landowners pledged to protect the plant.

The Banks County landowner told us that, after she discovered the aster on her property, she permanently changed her mowing schedule to make sure that the aster has time to bloom and go to seed each year.

In general, old fields need to be mowed, burned or bush-hogged every one to three years to prevent conversion to forest.

In the sky: The South Taurid meteor shower reaches a peak of about 10 meteors per hour Tuesday night, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Look to the east from about midnight until dawn.

The moon will be full Thursday — the “Trading Moon,” as the Cherokee peoples called this month‘s full moon. Mercury is low in the east just before dawn. Mars is low in the southwest at sunset and sets about an hour later. Jupiter rises out of the east just before midnight.

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