Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Backyard Birding, Bird Nesting and Garden Update

Do you ever take your laptop out to the back porch and use it to call in a ruby crowned kinglet, just to piss him off?  I do.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a moment to provide an update of what’s going on the in the garden.  It is a really busy time now- lots of stuff happening in the backyard (and elsewhere in life).  Spring is really here and birds are coming and going, plants are growing and flowering, and things are changing all around.

Garden update
Every year is different in the garden and that is what often makes it so much fun and interesting.  This year is shaping up to be another good year for arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)  in the garden (the last time I proclaimed this was in 2009, ironically on almost the same date – May 15).  By the way, 2010 sucked for balsamroot in our yard.  The exciting thing is so many of the volunteer balsamroots are still going strong, and in probably only 4 years our front yard will be awash in them (just as I predicted in 2009). 

2015, baby- lots of balsamroot.  Check back.

The other good news is that this year, volunteers from another one of our long-lived, slow to flower, plants, the silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus), is flowering!  This is the first time that has happened.  It takes about 5 years to flower and my wife started the originals from seeds in 2000.  So, a mere 11 years later we have flowers from the second generation.  This whole feat is probably worthy of a dedicated post (maybe I’ll try to convince her to write a guest spot).

Looking back on the pictures and the post about balsamroot in our garden from 2009, it shows how everything in the garden is on the same pace this year.  We had a slow spring, but now it seems like everything is suddenly caught up.

Speaking of getting caught up, I recently revisited my list of garden projects for 2011, and I am making some progress, and I’ve even added a few more projects.  The garden is never done, which is a good thing when you like to garden.
  • I planted some mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) in the decadent quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) stand.
  • I rearranged some plants in the front prairie, including getting rid of a green rabbit brush (Ericameria viscidiflora) and added some wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii), wax currant (Ribes cereum) and shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa- by the way, when was the genus changed?) close to the house.
  • I made a "cut-off" trail in front of the onion bed. The area near the grill shed is kind of a congested area in the garden and by adding this new trail/ path, people will be able to flow better.
  • While I was at it making new trails and installing urbanite, I moved our concrete path 3’ to the north to make the bed larger and for traffic to flow better.  I am really happy how this turned out, and with all these projects, when things settle down, I’ll devote some time to individual posts.
Flax management

My motto with blue flax (Linum lewisii) is “a little goes a long way”.  Sure, it is aggressive, but it is beautiful, and the blooms last for 6 weeks or more.  It is a great accent plant in the garden to provide almost electric blue flashes of color.  But too much flax looks really weedy.  So, I actively manage it in the garden.  My plan usually involves removing older individuals- they get woody, too big, and they produce a lot of seeds.  In the wild, flax you see are typically about 3 stems or so, and, to me flax this size these look like they are appropriate in the garden.  I usually wait until after a rain, and pull them out by their taproot. Plants I get all the roots out of I save for friends (or enemies- a gardeners joke!), and the other ones I compost (though they are very slow to breakdown) or put on the brush pile.

This bucket of flax is heading to Kathy at Blackfoot Native Plants Nursery, who is a friend, I assure you.  She asked for them. I swear.

Bird Nesting Update
  • Nuthatches
    • They laid their eggs around May 4, so the eggs should hatch around… May 18th- today!  I need to spend sometime this evening loitering around the box.   
  • Chickadee
    • The chickadees have 8 eggs in their box, and hatching should be around May 24 (incubation is around 12 days).   You can always look into their box and see what’s happening on the nest box camera.
  • Flicker
    • The flickers have been around and have excavated the box.  They also excavated two holes in my neighbor’s silver maple.  They tried this last year, and I was so happy for them, but ultimately they got displaced by squirrels and nested in our backyard nest box.   I suspect they will nest here again.
Backyard Birding
The backyard birding has been really good this year. Species are coming and going on their way north, and to nest.  White crowned sparrows and Townsend’s solitaires in particular have spent a lot of time in the garden this year.  Also, Varied thrushes, Chipping sparrows, Bohemian waxwings, Song sparrows, Ruby crowned kinglets (including the angry little guy at the top of this post) and other species arrived at the same time as past years; hummingbirds seem a little farther behind.  There have been reports of hummingbirds from all over town over the last week or more, so they are here, and any day they’ll come to our garden.

Locally, the feeling is that things are behind schedule- owing to the cool spring, but the fact that species arrivals are in sync with past years speaks to the larger spatial scale at which they travel and interact with the landscape as a whole.  It is like the difference between weather and climate. Interestingly, yellow warblers arrived in our garden three weeks ahead of past years.

Looking back on the pictures and the blog post on balsamroot from 2009, I referenced earlier, it shows how everything in the garden is on the same pace as last year.  So the gist is, a lot is going on and it is just about the same as it always is.  Or something like that.


  1. This is our first year for arrowroot balsam blooms in our front garden. We waited seven years after Kim spread seeds. We're hoping they spread, so far we have two plants.
    I have to admit I used to not like blue flax but it has won me over. I agree, use sparingly, but it definitely has it's place in the garden.

  2. Congrats on the balsamroot! It is a great year for them here- on the hills and in our garden. Just think about it, 2018 is just around the corner, and your garden will be full of them!
    Thanks for the comments!

  3. Hey David,
    I really enjoy following your blog and recently posted a series of 'snaps' of Spring in Missoula on my own blog about art and living, and I linked a recommendation to your blog.

    If you are curious to see my post, it's


  4. Hi Toni,
    Thanks so much for mentioning my blog in your post! I'm happy that you are enjoying my blog- thanks again!