Friday, May 28, 2010

Native Plant Landscaping talk wrap-up

Thanks to Liz Lodman and Barb Furlong of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) program for hosting last week's native plant gardening workshop. BOW is a wonderful program, and if you haven't taken a class you should. And if you have, let FWP know how much you liked it. Anyway, thanks to both for organizing such a wonderful Native Plant Gardening Workshop. It was a fantastic turnout.

Many of you had garden design questions and specific plant questions. I did not mention it at the talk, but my wife and I have a garden coaching and consultation business, Butterfly Properties, LLC, specializing in sustainable garden design- native plant landscapes and gardens for wildlife,
Click here to download the list of easy to grow versatile and diverse native plants.
And here is a link to download my list of deer resistant native plants.

Here are some past blog posts that might be helpful:

Below are some of the books and references I talked about in the class:
  • The Magic of Montana Native Plants: A Gardeners Guide to Growing over 150 Species from Seed- Sheila Morrison
  • Bringing Nature Home- Douglas Tallamy
  • Shrink Your Lawn- Evelyn Hadden
  • Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards- Sara Stein
  • Paradise by Design, Native Plants and the New American Landscape- Kathryn Phillips
  • The Forgotten Pollinators- Buchmann, Nabhan, and Mirocha
  • Landscaping Ideas of Jays- Judith Larner Lowry
  • Gardening with a Wild Heart -Judith Larner Lowry
Thanks again, and I hope you all enjoyed the workshop.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The flickers are not nesting in the garden...

The flickers are not nesting in the garden...and I couldn't be happier. A puzzling statement to be sure, so let me explain...

We began about 10 years ago with nest box for northern flickers. These common, primary cavity nesters are facing many problems from loss of nesting habitat to pressures from invasive species (see here). In order to address the first issue we set up a nest box. This was very successful and effective, and based on how quickly they found the box and occupied it, it is obvious they are looking for, and are limited by, places to nest.

In front of my neighbor's house are decadent silver maples (see above), that you'd think would offer great nesting habitat for flickers, and they do, but unfortunately the cavities get occupied by squirrels instead, and have been for the 10 years we've lived beside them.

But it appears that this year the flickers will finally be nesting in one of these decadent trees and I couldn't be happier.
They did excavate our nest box (see photo at the top of the post), and I thought they were going to nest in it. But at the same time, they also excavated a cavity about 30' up one of the silver maples (photo above, arrow acknowledgement: Bike Garden), perhaps our nest box was a back-up for what inevitably happened when flickers tried to nest in the maples- squirrels would occupy the cavity. But maybe not this year.

Unfortunately wildlife gardening in an urban- or sub-urban setting is not just about planting the right plants and putting up nest boxes, unfortunately it is really about introduced pest management. The primary exotic pests here are starlings, house sparrow and squirrels. Controlling pests is not the most glamorous part of having a wildlife garden, but it is perhaps the most important.

In order to combat these invasive species, we have done several things- making the garden less hospitable for them is the first step , but then there is also control, or killing (click here for more information). As far as making the garden less hospitable, that starts with feeders and nest boxes (click here for information about lessening bird feeders), and native plant landscaping (see virtually any post on my blog for this thought!). Both feeders and nest boxes need to be designed for native birds, so no perches, only food they eat, and really very few feeders, and only seasonal ones (click here and here for more information).

Since we stopped feeding with sunflower seeds, we have seen the number of pests decline dramatically in the garden - including US native, but not Montana native, house finches, which essentially disappeared from the yard. In the summer, spring and fall, there is so much natural food, much of which we have planted, feeding is not important and mainly attracts unwanted, or invasive birds and animals, and it also causes unnatural high congregations of birds, that make them susceptible to other pests, like cats (click here for my thoughts on this).

Secondly we only use nest boxes that are appropriate for native species that we are likely to attract, not bluebird boxes for example (read more here).

Third there is control or killing squirrels. In our garden we have a trap set up, and any squirrel I trap, I kill. This started several years ago, and I went from over 200 squirrels/ year down to fewer than 20 last year and this year will be even fewer. As a result, we have seen birds use the garden much more often and differently than when squirrels patrolled the grounds. And most importantly, birds like northern flickers might just nest in natural places now. Like I said, this is the first year that I am thrilled the flickers will not nest in our garden- perhaps the greatest accomplishment in our wildlife garden so far.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Native plant garden workshop wrap-up and plant sale announcement

Thanks to the Montana Natural History Center for hosting the native plant gardening workshop- I hope everyone was inspired to start gardening.
Here are links to blog posts of mine that we discussed:

You can search for any topic on the blog- make yourself at home on the blog and let me know if you have any questions.

Also, here is some exciting news: Native Plant Sale!

Fort Missoula Native Plant Garden's Annual Spring Spruce-up and Native Plant Sale!

Thursday May 13, 5:00-8:00 pm

  • Enjoy some refreshments and meet some good people
  • Learn about gardening for wildlife and sustainability while helping get the Teaching Gardens ready for summer programs
  • Bargain-priced native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs for sale; all proceeds directly benefit local restoration and education programs.
  • If you feel like volunteering we’ll be pulling some weeds and spreading mulch. Guided and self tours of the garden available.

Directions: Enter Fort Missoula via Old Fort Road and drive past Community Hospital.At the stop sign, go STRAIGHT.The road will make a T on Officer’s Row. Turn LEFT.Continue till the pavement ends. The garden is in front and to the left on the gravel drive-you'll see our white classroom.

RSVP to Leah Grunzke if you plan on attending or need more info. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nesting and Nest Box Camera Update

This was an exciting weekend for the nest box cameras. All three of our nest boxes have birds- northern flickers, black-capped chickadees, and red-breasted nuthatches. New this year, the flicker and chickadee boxes have nest cameras, including streaming the chickadee nest cam! The flicker cam will be streaming next. Here is the link to the streaming video of the chickadee box, though not much is going on during the day, but in the evenings and mornings a lot happens.

I installed the cameras and then packed the boxes with sawdust (click here for a description). This weekend, now that the boxes had been excavated, my wife and I focused the lenses and adjusted the camera angles, though based on the quality of the chickadee camera's video, we might need to do some more lens adjustments.

The photo above shows the chickadee nest box, camera, and the freshly excavated cavity filled with moss and squirrel fur. Based on the female's nest construction (see the video below), it looks like she will be laying eggs soon, then the real excitement begins.

Here is link a short video taken this evening of the female burrowing in to the nesting material to carefully create a pocket for the eggs.