Monmouth Meadows meadow

A bumble bee, right, makes its way over a thistle flower in a large patch of thistles and grasses behind homes on Galloway Place in the Monmouth Meadows subdivision in Abingdon. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF / July 4, 2013)

Abingdon resident Margie Wingfield can look out her window each afternoon and see the bright yellow and black of goldfinches flitting back and forth between the trees and the expanse of grass and thistles that abuts her back yard.

"As the afternoon goes, there will be more and more goldfinches going over there," she said of the wild grasses, which cover a slope that leads to a stream.

The plants serve as a buffer between homes on Galloway Place in the Monmouth Meadows subdivision and a stream on the property.

Wingfield, who has lived in Monmouth Meadows since May, said the plants are a habitat for not only the goldfinches, who eat the seeds from the dried thistles and grasses, but also for other birds, insects and amphibians.

She fears the habitat could disappear if Monmouth Meadows community leaders follow through with a plan to mow the grass to maintain the area.

"They're taking away this food source of the birds and the wildlife," Wingfield said.

The male American goldfinch is bright yellow with black and white accents on its feathers; the female has a duller yellow plumage, according to the goldfinch guide on http://www.allaboutbirds.org.

Wingfield said that when the males are in the trees at the bottom of the slope, they look "like yellow Christmas ornaments because they show up so well against the green."

"The bright yellow ones, I had never seen anything like it in my life," Wingfield, a federal retiree, who moved to Harford from Baltimore County, said. "It's so beautiful."

She brought a visitor to the meadow Tuesday afternoon. The gathering goldfinches could be seen as bright yellow spots among the green tree leaves.

They sat on the branches and then suddenly dive-bombed the plants in the meadow, then flew back to their perches.

A variety of forms of insect life could also be seen among the grasses and thistles, including white butterflies and bumble bees; the white fluffy seeds of the thistles floated above the field as the breeze blew them away from the dried flowers.

"One of the reasons why I picked this particular location was the stream behind us," Wingfield said.

Monmouth Meadows is a development of more than 1,000 units on nearly 250 acres west of South Tollgate Road, being built in phases since the mid-1990s.

Ben Lloyd, deputy chief of staff for the Harford County government, wrote in an e-mail that the area along the stream makes up a Natural Resources District on the property.

"Meadow or pasture areas within an NRD can be maintained by the property owners," Lloyd wrote. "Filling or grading would be prohibited, but they are allowed to mow and maintain grass areas."

Lloyd noted the area has also been set aside as a "reforestation area and must be planted in accordance with the approved Forest Conservation Plan for Monmouth Meadows," once the development is complete, and then maintained for at least two years.

Representatives for Monmouth Meadows' community association could not be immediately reached for comment, but Frank Marsden, program director at the Eden Mill Nature Center in Pylesville, says mowing is an important part of maintaining meadow areas.

Traditionally, meadows are made up of flowers and native grasses, can be found on slopes or prairie areas, and "are only a transitional stage, and will be replaced by shrubs and trees. Long-term management is important to maintain a meadow over time," according to an article posted on http://www.wildflower.org.

Staff at Eden Mill, which is run by the county and the Eden Mill Nature Committee Inc., operate a four-to-five-acre meadow on the Nature Center grounds.

The meadow is mowed every two to three years to maintain it; Marsden said the mowing keeps away invasive plants such as multiflora rose and tearthumb, as well as native trees which would turn the field into a forest, if left unchecked.

"Mother Nature will destroy it if we don't attempt to maintain [the meadow], and sometimes that means mowing it," he explained.

Meadows are maintained in nature by grazing animals or wildfires.

Marsden said if the meadow behind Wingfield's home is not maintained, then the habitat she is used to seeing every afternoon will eventually disappear.

He said the trees along the stream help regulate the temperature of the water for aquatic life, and prevent the meadow behind it from eroding away.

"If man doesn't assist, Mother Nature will take it over eventually, anyway," Marsden said.