It’s no Serengeti, but…

Last year, my mom visited me in the Serengeti. We explored the jungle-like Manyara national park, held our breaths as elephants sauntered within reach of the Land Rover, and woke up at 3am to lions roaring next to our campsite in the middle of the Serengeti plains.

This week, I’m visiting my mom in her own little piece of North American grassland. I made a brief escape from the oncoming Minnesota winter to the normally balmy state of Virginia (it’s getting surprisingly cold at night here!) to help my mom with the little piece of paradise she recently purchased. This past spring she sold her home in the DC ‘burbs and moved out to the countryside, somewhere in between fancy horse country and cattle farms. It’s kind of perfect.

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Indian grass, broomsedge bluestem and little bluestem, with autumn olive encroaching in the distance.

It might not be as otherworldly as the Serengeti, and there might not be any giraffes browsing by our deck, but my mom is working hard to maintain a piece of native mid-atlantic grassland on her property. Walking the meadow with the state’s conservation officer, we admired at the Indian grass and bluestem and scowled at the thick carpet of green fescue that made the yard inhabitable for the quail we hoped would recolonize. Grassland restoration is currently a major conservation initiative across the United States. Across the country, most native grasslands have been converted for agriculture; the suppression of natural fires has further allowed trees to grow up in meadows and shade out the sun-hungry grass. Ground nesting prairie birds (such as our bobwhite quail) tend to be the biggest losers in this game, because they need just the right amount of cover to be able to thrive. Fescue grass is too thick for baby quail to waddle through; the relentless olive trees grow fast and thick and threaten to turn our meadow into woods. I had no idea that maintaining native prairie was such a battle.

Spending so much time out in the east African bush, I sometimes forget how amazing our own backyards can be. My mom now has foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and black bears, and a fat, happy family of 8 baby wild turkeys that wobbly by at sunset.  As much as I miss the Serengeti, the wildlands here are magical in their own way, and I suspect when I leave, I will feel a little homesick.

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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

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