Ecology of Rice Creek Field Station

 

ecol1height= The Rice Creek Field Station is located near the eastern end of the Lake Ontario coastal plain close to the western edge of the City of Oswego in the Town of Oswego, Oswego County, New York. The main building at the field station is approximately 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from the SUNY Oswego campus and the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario. Local weather conditions are strongly influenced by Lake Ontario with cool to warm summers and cold winters. The average annual temperature is 8-9 degrees C (45 degrees F) and the average annual precipitation is about 90 cm (36 in). Typical manifestations of the influence of the lake on local climate are late autumns, late springs, and lake-effect snowfall. The field station occupies approximately 130 ha (300 acres) of varied habitats, including open fields, mature forests, shrub lands, and woods representing several stages of succession.  Rice Creek Field Station is nestled within a north to south oriented drumlin landscape typical to Central New York.  Rice Creek and Rice Pond bisect two drumlins that can be identified by the roads along their ridges:  Thompson Road to the east of the Rice Creek and Cemetery Road to the west.  The drumlin situated along the eastern edge of the properties reaches an elevation of approximately 123 m (405 ft) above sea level.   A 10.4 ha (26 acre) pond at 82 m (270 ft) was formed by the construction of a dam on Rice Creek at the time the field station was established. Marshes and floodplain forests surround much of the pond and extend upstream and downstream along Rice Creek.

RC woods The mature upland forest of the Oswego area includes maple-basswood forests which are most common on the Lake Ontario coastal plain and beech-maple communities which are widespread in New York State. Well drained soils may also support stands of Appalachian oak-hickory forest. Red maple-hardwood swamp is the most common wetland forest type. The landscape in the vicinity of the City of Oswego contains small patches of mature woods and wetlands intermixed with successional woodlands, shrub lands, fields, agricultural properties, and rural and suburban residential areas. Oswego itself is a port city located on Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Oswego River. The Oswego River drains one of the largest watersheds in New York State. A unique area of drumlin topography extends west from Oswego through neighboring Cayuga, Wayne, and Seneca Counties. Along the shore of Lake Ontario this topography has eroded to form bluffs alternating with a series of interdrumlin wetlands consisting of bays, lagoons, marshes, swamps, and fens. Eastern and northern Oswego County contains one of the largest collections of wetland habitats in New York State. The county also includes transitional habitats marking the outer reaches of the Tug Hill Plateau. A unique area of coastal sand dunes extends along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario from Oswego County north into Jefferson County.

RC stone wall Most of the field station properties were in pastures, hay fields, or orchards when SUNY Oswego acquired them in the early 1960's. As late as the mid 1950's, cows grazed where the pond, lawns and buildings are now located.  An area of old growth hardwood forest, probably maintained as a farm woodlot, remained on the western flank of the drumlin in the northern part of the properties. Conifer plantations were established as the field station was being developed. Other areas were allowed to proceed through the initial stages of secondary succession characteristic of the region, augmented by the introduction of certain European and Asian trees and shrubs as was the common theme of wildlife management at the time. Most of the second growth vegetation on the property is now at least fifty years old.  Abandoned orchards as well as numerous stonewalls and hedgerows from the land's former agricultural uses dot the property.  

RC meadow By 1983, it was apparent that maintenance of open habitat, with its associated plants and animals, would not be possible without occasional mowing to control the development of trees and shrubs. Necessary clearing was done and three fields were established, one on the outlet channel of Rice Pond (the "Lower Field"), one on level land near the top of the drumlin (the "Upper Field"), and one on the slopes of the western flank of the drumlin (the "Middle Field"). These areas, along with a few smaller clearings, are maintained by mowing with a brush hog on a four year rotation. A system of foot trails is maintained to provide access to different areas of the property for research, education, recreation, and management. Current management practices are aimed at the maintenance of maximum habitat diversity and, to the extent possible, management and control of non-native invasive species.  An Herb Garden located near the pavilion and plantings adjacent to the building attract and support wildlife.  Rice Creek's habitats and features support a diverse number of plants and animals.