Category Archives: April 11

‘Keep it native, not invasive’

Ingrid Mroz

Wiley’s Corner resident Ingrid Mroz heads up the St. George Conservation Commission’s new Invasive Plant Initiative, but she seems a little apologetic about it. “I’m a gardener, but not a master gardener. And with respect to invasive plants I am a novice at best,” she admits, despite the thick stack of notes and printouts about the impact of “alien” plants that sits on the coffee table in front of her, ready for easy reference. Now retired from the faculty of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where she specialized in adult critical care, Mroz knows how to research a topic in depth. But her understanding of what’s at stake in the battle against these problem plant species comes as much from personal experience as from the research she’s been conducting on the topic since heading up the commission’s invasives initiative.

“I didn’t even know what an invasive plant was, truly—it wasn’t anywhere on my radar until we moved to St. George and bought this property seven years ago. Once here, we began to see how certain plants were taking over our property in ways that we weren’t wanting because we had other things we wanted to do with the grounds.”

One of the first of those “other things” was to rescue and expand a raspberry bed inherited from a previous owner. “My husband Bill and I wanted to have a very nice berry patch and there was a large rectangular bed that had fall raspberries in it that we decided to develop. But in amongst all of that were Multiflora Rose, Oriental Bittersweet and Himalayan Balsam. It took us one solid month to clean that rectangle out.” Mroz and her husband then also planted early season raspberries and native blueberry bushes in the bed. “The only thing we’re still battling is the bittersweet,” Mroz now says with satisfaction.

Surveying the rest of their six-acre property, the Mroz’ were also disappointed by how much Himalayan Balsam there was. Eager to begin “farming” in earnest, they began beating the balsam back to clear a space for vegetable beds. Eventually they enlisted the aid of a Kubota tractor and a bush hog to establish a vast kitchen garden that encompasses 3,000 square feet of ground and provides most all of the vegetables the couple consumes each year.

Growing vegetables at this scale made the couple even more conscious of their need for pollinators. Bill built pollinator boxes, but they also began assessing what invasive plants were doing to limit the diversity of vegetation on their property and, thereby, the diversity of insects. A love of birds, too, sharpened their awareness.

“I’m a birder,” says Mroz, “and a lot of these invasive bushes are not good for birds, they are not so nutritious for them as native plants tend to be. As part of the planting plan we have for this property, I think especially about the plants the birds and pollinators are interested in.” This will involve, for example, choosing native plants for new foundation plantings around their home now that exterior renovations have been completed. Previously those plantings had been of invasive species—plants that previous owners found desirable largely for aesthetic reasons. That’s the irony, Mroz says, about the invasives problem.

“A lot of the invasive species we have were planted,” she explains. “The Knox/Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District actually sold some of these plants. And it was only in 2018 that the State of Maine identified 33 invasive plants that nurseries could no longer legally sell because these plants have been spreading voraciously across the land and overtaking native plants that are far more beneficial for birds and animals and bees and so on.” So expecting property owners to suddenly get rid of these plants is unrealistic, Mroz notes, although incrementally progress can be made. “At our property, there are some invasives that we’ll be able to get rid of completely and others that we won’t be able to eradicate completely, but we may be able to limit their spread.”

More difficult might be convincing people who love the look of a mown lawn that these areas are, ecologically speaking, negatives.

Providing educational materials that can support St. George property owners who want to make their own environments as ecologically hospitable to insects and wildlife as possible is one aspect of her invasives work for the Conservation Commission, but at this point Mroz and her colleagues are giving even greater attention to St. George’s public lands. Apart from the new Meadowbrook preserve and High Island, which have no invasives, most of the rest of these lands have thriving populations of invasive plants. Last year the commission co-sponsored with the Georges River Land Trust an “Invasives Walk and Talk” on the Fort Point Trail. This year there will be a program at Blueberry Cove Camp on June 8, “Invasive Plants of St. George: Hands-on Management and Methods,” that will involve identifying invasives on the property and demonstrations of how best to remove some of them.

Meanwhile, St. George students, with the assistance of faculty, Alison England and Amy Palmer, have been studying invasive plants and their impact, identifying and mapping invasive plants located on school property and along Ripley Creek. The students also brainstormed slogans to raise public consciousness about the threat invasives pose to ecological health. The commission chose to adopt one of these, “Keep it native, not invasive,” in some of its future publicity materials. —JW

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

On the importance of encouraging insect life—and why native plants are key

University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens (Timber Press), points out that insect populations have declined 45 percent globally since 1974. “A world without insects,” his website declares, “is a world without humans!” In other words, if you remove insects from an ecosystem, the ecosystem will collapse because so many other creatures, directly or indirectly, depend on insects for food. And insects depend on plants native to where they live.

To illustrate, Tallamy notes that about 96 percent of all terrestrial birds rear their young on insects. And about 90 percent of all insects that eat plants require native plants to complete their development. That is because plants protect their leaves from being eaten by random creatures with toxic chemicals. Insects can survive after eating those chemicals only after they have evolved physiological mechanisms for detoxifying them. This requires a long evolutionary history between insects and their host plants. Native insects only have such histories with native plants. They have not been exposed to plants that evolved in Europe or Asia—what we call aliens—long enough to be able to use them as host plants successfully.

The conclusion? That every time we plant an alien plant, we are reducing the local insect population and thus depriving the birds and wildlife of the food they need to survive and reproduce. Tallamy and others cite studies that have shown that areas overrun with alien plants produce 35 times less caterpillar biomass, the most popular insect food with birds. Alien plants used in the traditional ornamental trade (think many nurseries) support 29 times fewer species of caterpillars than native ornamental plants. —JW

Invasive plants of St. George: hands-on management and methods

Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), also known as Touch-me-not.

On June 8 the St. George Conservation Commission, in collaboration with Blueberry Cove Camp, will host a program on identifying invasive plant species and removing them led by BCC director Ryan LeShane and Amanda Devine of Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Mark your calendar, but look for specific information about start time on the Town of St. George website and in The Dragon and other midcoast publications closer to the date.

St. George’s Conservation Commission launched its Invasive Plants Initiative in 2018. One of the initiative’s first goals was to consult with Maine experts to identify the 12 top invasive plants in St. George. This “dirty dozen” includes Autumn Olive, Barberry (Common & Japanese), Black Swallowwort, Burning Bush, Glossy Buckthorn, Himalayan Balsam, Honeysuckle, Japanese Knotweed. Multiflora Rose, Norway Maple, and Oriental Bittersweet.

PHOTO: Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration,

Woodpeckers and the displays of early spring

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Pileated Woodpecker

By late-winter, the days are noticeably longer and the warmth from the sun intensifies as it rises higher and higher in the sky. Routine winter walks whose main distractions had been animal tracks and “winter stroll silence” (aka wind) are suddenly interrupted with the sounds of avian life and activity. This is a time before the blackbirds, grackles, sparrows, woodcocks and other “early tweeter returners” have returned to turn up the volume as territories and pecking orders are established. No, those early warm(ish) days were for the woodpeckers and corvids (Raven, Crows and Blue Jays). And since I am not the biggest fan of corvids (just being honest here) this column will focus on the increased woodpecker activity as seasons transition from cold and into the somewhat warmishness.

There are six species of Picidae (the woodpecker family) that are regularly found in St. George each year. Northern Flickers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are typically three-season visitors, while Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been increasing in numbers over time but still unpredictable as to the “when, where, and how many.” The Downy, the Hairy and the Pileated Woodpecker species, however, are year-rounders on the St. George peninsula. These species spend the winter months banging their bills into frozen wood in search of nourishment. When those first warmish winter days start to roll around, these woodpeckers are already on their territories and start in almost immediately with displays of courtship and defense—the love and hate of breeding, if you will.

The first sign of changing woodpecker activity I heard this year was “drumming.” In the classic art of non-vocal communication, a drumming woodpecker finds a hollow branch or trunk that resonates and echoes loudly when rapidly pecked—loud enough to be heard from distances. A woodpecker will repeat short drumming bursts in an effort to announce a territory, attract a new mate, or to call a mate over. All woodpeckers drum, but the drumming from (the larger) Pileated Woodpeckers echoed all around the Tenants Harbor marsh–stating their presence with authority!

As winter slides into early spring, an eye kept on woodpeckers can lead to observing some great interactions and behaviors. While it may be their vocalizations that draws your attention, woodpecker battling is mostly done with chases and visual displays. The “bill-wave” is a somewhat comical display were two woodpeckers face each other on a branch and shake their heads repeatedly back and forth with a “oh no you don’t” kind of attitude. This display is usually performed between members of the same gender as woodpecker territories are defended by gender—males deal with male challengers and females with female challengers. A few other classic, non-vocal woodpecker displays are the “crest raise,” where a woodpecker raises its crest in excitement, be it territorial or courtship. Or the “V-wing,” where a perched bird raises its wings high above its back, spreads its tail and finishes the action with a lunge or attack at its rival. Finally, the “Still-pose” is where two woodpeckers stop all movement and remain perfectly still for up to 20 minutes. No fooling. Motionlessness is an actual battle strategy for woodpeckers and an easily observable one at that.

With its large size and loud presence, the Pileated Woodpecker is the most recognizable woodpecker on the peninsula. The rectangular cavities that Pileateds have excavated low on trees along the Nature Trail and Town Forest Loops are recognizable as well.

Downy Woodpecker. Note the black bars on the tailfeathers.

Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, on the other hand, can be confusing to tell apart. There is a considerable size difference between the two species—Downies are 6.25 in., Hairies 9.25 in.—but size can be tricky to judge at times. Downy Woodpeckers usually have a much smaller bill when compared to Hairies, but there can be variation in Downy Woodpecker bill size and perspectives on size can be skewed. A clear view of a woodpecker’s white outer tail feathers, however, can be used to definitively identify a species. Downy woodpeckers have black barring, one to three black dots on their outer tail feathers. This can be especially helpful when the woodpecker is directly above you in a tree.

We look forward to seeing the migratory woodpeckers return and, of course, welcome the random, oddball Picidae that may turn up on the peninsula (there is always space for a Red-headed Woodpecker in my yard!). The Downy, the Hairy and the Pileated are special breeds, though. They are hardcores that live off the woods (and suet) all winter, have first dibs on the best cavity trees, and celebrate the warmth of a 20-degree day. Those are my kind of birds.
See you out there!
PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

The early days of St. George baseball

The Ripley Creek ball field

The first official documentation of the game of baseball dates back to the 1830s, although the mention of it can be found in the late 1700s. The first pro baseball team–the Cincinnati Red Stockings–was formed in 1869 and baseball soon became the national pastime. When the game first appeared in St. George is not known, but the local newspapers of the 1890s contain stories about games between the villages of Port Clyde, Tenants Harbor, Smalleyburg (now known as Smalleytown), and Elmore. Baseball was the main event at many of the Fourth of July and Labor Day festivities.

An 1890s photograph shows a baseball field in the area of Ripley Creek in Tenants Harbor. Across the creek can be seen the buildings along Main Street and the field up on the hill in the back is where the St. George School now sits. The date of this picture is probably in the mid-1890s.

In the October 5, 1894, issue of the “Traveler,” a Tenants Harbor newspaper of that era, there is a news item about a recent game between the Port Clyde and Smalleyburg teams. Smalleyburg beat Port Clyde with a score of 20-3, but the game was not without controversy. It was reported that the team from Port Clyde was made up of all Port Clyders, while the Smalleyburg team had a Boston pitcher and a Rockland catcher. “We would like to see the Smalleyburgs have their own team and try the Ports” opines the reporter, implying the Smalleyburgs brought in some ringers. The Smalleyburg team included Smalleys and Piersons, while the Port Clyde team had names such as Teel, Skinner, Hopkins, Dunbar, Wilson, Pierson, Thompson, Marshall and Tupper. The “Traveler” said the game was held “here”–meaning Tenants Harbor–and was probably played in the Ripley Creek field.

We have two photos of teams from the same era—one with StG uniforms and the other is of a Port Clyde Baseball team, taken around 1895. From the buildings in the background, it appears the StG team photo was taken at the Ripley Creek field.

This photo of a StG team appears to have been taken at the Ripley Creek field.

In 1924 the Port Clyde Athletic Association purchased property from Franklin Trussell, the land being what is known in Port Clyde village as the ball field and is located on Ballfield Road. Four years later a mortgage for $149 was given on the field–probably to make field improvements. This mortgage was foreclosed on in 1943 and a few years later the ball field property was later added back to the abutting property at the end of Ball Field Road.

A Port Clyde team, photographed around 1895.

Between the late 1890s to 1930 it appears that the Tenants Harbor ball games were played at the field down behind the Sail Loft. In 1931 Ernest Rawley, as trustee of the St. George Baseball Association, Inc., purchased another piece of land from the heirs of Dodge Hall. This is the location of the current field and tennis courts on Port Clyde Road. The old Hall residence was torn down, the field was built (along with the grandstand), and in 1948 the property was turned over to the Town. A series of photos taken from Barter Hill Road showing the progression of the development of the property in the early 1930s can be found at the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum.

The ball field behind the Sail Loft

The Knox County Twilight League was active from 1924 to 1964, and the St. George Torpedoes were prominent in this baseball league. The St. George Historical Society was given a scrapbook kept by Alice Wheeler in the 1930s with many newspaper clippings of the activities of the Twilight League, especially the Torpedoes. This scrapbook has been copied and can be seen at the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum. It also appears that sometime in the early years, there was a baseball team in the Twilight League from the village of Clark Island. The team had a ball field out behind the Union Hall. —John M. Falla

Pi Skylines and Pi-ku Poems

—Ella Wirkala, Grade 8

π   3.14159265359…

To celebrate Pi Day, we graphed the first several digits of pi, and turned our graphs into skylines and other artwork. We also wrote “pi” poems, with the number of words in each line corresponding to each digit in Pi. Students were encouraged to use the decimal point in their poems also (period, dot, spot, point, etc.).

What’s pi?
Pi is a magical number! It’s the number you get when you divide the circumference of any circle by its diameter—any circle in the entire world! We need pi to do any math that involves circles or curves—like calculating the orbit of a planet, the area of a circle or the frequency of sound waves.

Pi is an irrational number, which means the digits never end or repeat, but we only had time to graph the first few digits!

Swishy, sticky slimy
Changing colors all around
This is a pi poem
I need to find some words that describe octopi.
Found some
Lots of tentacles coming at me
Slinking along the ocean floor
They’re sometimes orange, sometimes green
They’re underwater chameleons
Fishing for little tiny fishes
When they catch one, they slurp it down
But be careful, because they can get you too
Now it’s changing, swimming in the sea
I like pi and lots of little tiny octopi.
—Leilani Myers, Grade 7

Right On The
Smashes The Bobber Down
The Line Tightens And Tightens
The Fish Is Strong It Pulls Tightening The Line
I Pull
When Then Fish Pulls I Pull
I Get It To Shore
It’s A Bass
A Super Good Largemouth Bass
I Got The Hook Then I Released It
It Swam Away I Got My Pole And Casted
After I Caught Three More I Left
—Chase Jansen, Grade 7

—Willow McConochie, Grade 8

The Pi Day project was a collaboration between St. George School grades 6-8 classes in math (Ms. Bartke) and English Language Arts (Ms. Schmanska).