Sunday, October 09, 2016

Laying Out the Welcome Mat

Last week, on my walk to the gym, I heard over 20 American goldfinches twittering their dizzy call on a busy street in my neighborhood. Several neighbors have converted their front lawns into wide swaths of native plant gardens interspersed with big stands of charismatic sunflowers and zinnias. The goldfinches were mobbing the dying sunflower stalks, stripping the enormous seedheads of all available food. My neighborhood has been transformed in the past 8 years with more and more yards converting to wild gardens that are habitable by wildlife. Members of my neighborhood association are busy posting photos of the red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks that we hear over the backyard, and more native plants including purple coneflowers and Rudbeckias are filling flower gardens. I have too much shade for a full-on wildflower garden, and I seldom see goldfinches at my feeders, but the native plants in my yard must be good for our birds and all of the pollinators that we have documented through the years.

There's not much blooming in the yard right now, but the black-capped chickadees have honed in on all of the available seed from the bumper crop of Silphium perfoliatum, a North Missouri ditch weed but pretty composite that grows like gangbusters in my yard. The Northern cardinals really enjoy the shrub layer of redbuds and dying stalks of Silphium, and the Carolina wrens are quite vocal around my brushpile and fire pit. Many months ago, my local Audubon Society chapter sponsored a showing of a grim documentary about declining songbird populations. Titled The Messenger, not to be confused with some violent crime film by the same name and with Hollywood actors, this documentary should be required viewing for anyone dubious about the state of biodiversity and the onslaught of threats our natural world is facing. Climate change, homogenization, development, they all impact bird life and the rest of the natural world. Most folks reading this weblog are well aware of threats to biodiversity and bird life, and probably many readers feed birds and care about the natural world. This documentary does not end on a happy note, much like all of my Bill McKibben books and anything written about European birds (re: Jonathan Franzen, et al.). I realize that I, personally, cannot make much of an impact on the world, but I try my hardest in the areas I can influence which includes my urban yard.

So, it was fun to read the latest weblog from the National Wildlife Federation this morning touting the importance of allowing boneset, Eupatorium serotinum, to bloom. This white flower is blooming profusely in my yard right now; it's a plant not loyal to high quality areas, but along with the asters, goldenrods, virgin's bower, ageratum and the bristly sunflower hanging on, my yard has been a buffet to wasps (especially ichneumon wasps), bees, flies, butterflies, and spiders. The NWF article promoted the importance of small patch habitat such as yards to all suites of wildlife, especially pollinators. This late in the season, but still with warm temperatures, it's important to wildlife to keep one's wild garden wild. The goldfinches found my Echinacea seeds and all of the other birds who frequent my yard have found a veritable buffet, which is just as I had intended. I keep the birdbath filled and clean--with the pokeweed berries now in their prime, the birdbath often turns into water tinged with purple dye. I'm not taking down my pokeweed, nor my wildflowers going to seed, but keeping the birdbath clean and full.

In recent years, especially with the popularity of NWF's Backyard Habitat program, some research is underway measuring the direct impacts of naturalized habitat versus traditional yards with lawns and boxwood. I have seen at least one study, but it doesn't take any research to let me know that I have many birds, butterflies and other insects visiting my yard on a regular basis. The time is coming for my regular purchases of 40 lbs. of seed, blocks of suet, regular warming of the birdbath water, but for now, I'm enjoying the native display and hoping the wildlife I enjoy viewing in my yard are at least finding a habitable place to spend a few hours.

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