Monday, August 17, 2015

Spencer Healey's Willife Introduction to the Moonlit Walk

Wintonbury Hills Golf Course:
A Certified Audubon Cooperative Golf Sanctuary
Good evening and welcome to Wintonbury Hills Golf Course. In this letter you will learn a little of what you might see and how we maintain and protect the habitat of our wildlife around the course. We are proud of both our maintained and native areas and make it a priority with our work, that our wild friends have a safe habitat for them and their families. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact Spencer Healey, Assistant Superintendent, with any questions.
To begin, the golf course industry is always under scrutiny for its use of pesticide and fertilizer and the impact that has on wildlife and water contamination. Here, we do things a little different. We operate our pesticide and spray program with extreme care and the use of low rates in shorter intervals. This allows the turf to get the necessary nutrients without penetrating deep into the soils or anywhere close to the water table. In addition, we use insecticides that are not harmful to pollinators and are applied on an as needed basis opposed to blanket ‘wish and hope sprays’. This is certainly a hot topic of discussion, however, I felt it important to convey that we believe that less is more when it comes to putting down product and healthy turf can be maintained with cultural practice and minimal pesticide or fertilizer use.
On to the fun stuff, wildlife! We closely monitor 18 nesting boxes for Bluebird and Tree Swallow. I will discuss the maintenance practices and monitoring efforts last, as well as provide to date numbers on new chicks and the amount that have fledged. As you begin your walk, however, here is some of the other wildlife to look out for. A rather large black bear is seen throughout the season, so be alert. There is also a bobcat that resides in front of the 2nd tee box, so I urge you to be alert! In all three bodies of water on the course, we have snapping turtles, painted turtles, carp, blue gill, small mouth bass and huge populations of various frog species. In the native areas by 17 green and 18 tee box, we have hundreds or praying mantis that hatch and mature. In past years we have had to close the cart path and detour play to avoid running over the massive numbers that have hatched! Skunks and raccoons roam freely throughout the night, and as the morning sun begins to rise deer and their fawns can be seen leaving the open course and into the wood lines. Turkey vultures and red tail hawks monitor the skies as our great blue herons (usually one on 17 and one on 14) are seen wading the banks of the water looking for food. One morning I was lucky enough to see a mother wood duck with 8 ducklings waddle across the 10th fairway in search of water. In the fescue killdeer nest and the parents and young chicks sprint all over the course. In early May we erected a nest by the irrigation pond and hope to attract an osprey as we have seen them passing by for a quick hunt as they move toward the Connecticut River.
It was not my intent to have this be such a long description of the wildlife on the course, so I will wrap it up with our nesting boxes. As earlier mentioned, we have 18 boxes throughout the course. We cut down the growth around those boxes to provide the homes a secure location that predators will not want to approach. On a weekly basis they are opened and counts are made of eggs or chicks. In addition to this weekly count, we remove any house sparrow nesting’s and destroy the nests as well as any eggs that have been laid. Unfortunately we have lost a bluebird and an entire tree swallow nest and family to this non-native bird. Despite what house sparrow population is around, with weekly check-ins (or as I like to call it, landlord visits) we are able to prevent more house sparrows from housing and killing bluebirds and tree swallows. To date, we have had 2 groups fledge almost every box. We are currently in the third nesting period for both bluebird and tree swallow. 32 tree swallows have been born and left the nest and 15 bluebirds are on their own as little adults. Currently, there are another 11 tree swallow chicks in the nesting boxes and also 11 bluebird chicks waiting to discover the world.
Thank you for stopping by and seeing our course and the efforts that we put in to ensuring that our wildlife feels just as happy and at home as we do here.

Spencer Healey

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