Sylvia Pincott’s 2005 Pender Post articles

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Feeders and Perches
January Naturescape Notes

Winter bird feeder activity is in full force now!  We compare the feeder birds on Pender to those at our previous Abbotsford property.  While we miss the Steller’s jays, black-capped chickadees, and tiny bushtits, we delight in the “tree huggers” whose numbers had sadly declined in our former urban community - the nuthatches, hairy and downy woodpeckers, and flickers who regularly visit our suet and peanut feeders here.

In urban areas it is often only with feeder opportunities that certain birds will be seen. Natural habitat is scarce, and manicured urban gardens offer little winter sustenance.  The diversity of a Naturescaped garden, in contrast, will provide leafy mulches under which ground-feeding species such as towhees and song sparrows will find favoured insect fare. Juncos will glean from the untrimmed seed heads of flowers such as rudbekia and echinacea, and robins will feast on winter berries such as pyracantha.

On Pender, with habitat generally less disturbed, there is more opportunity for observations of birds in their natural setting.  Feeders are perhaps more of a “people indulgence”, offering us a lovely, closer connection with some of our bird species.  That being said, however, once we establish a winter feeding routine, it is important to continue with it, or to wean the birds slowly, rather than to remove suddenly a source of food upon which many birds have come to rely.

Other responsibilities come with bird feeding – cleanliness being paramount!  Feeders should be washed regularly.  To prevent contamination and/or visits from rodents, also ensure that seed does not accumulate on the ground.  Seed-catching screens or trays help a lot.

Our preference is to not use a seed mixture, for much of it, unsuited to local birds, will be scratched aside.  Individual species eat particular seeds, and getting to know the birds and their requirements is helpful.  Black oil sunflower seeds or sunflower chips are the most widely accepted, but junco’s prefer yellow millet, while siskins relish nyger seed.  Unroasted, unsalted peanuts are a total indulgence for almost all species!

Or, you may prefer to offer only suet cakes – a tidy way to welcome a wide variety of species, including the tree huggers!  Preference seems to be suet/sunflower/peanut combinations.

When arranging your feeding station, dense shrubbery nearby will provide shelter from predators.  But, if there are skulking cats in the vicinity, it would be best not to feed at all.  It is estimated that domestic cats in BC kill over 6 million songbirds each year.  I am sure none of us would want to deliberately lure birds to their doom at our feeding stations.

A simple and helpful idea is to offer perching places near feeders.  Our feeders extend from a high balcony and “floating brush piles” of twisted arbutus branches are in constant use as a place to “wait in line”!

The more natural diversity our properties provide, the more opportunities we will have to enjoy a special connection with nature.  If you are interested in more Naturescaping ideas, please join us at the Thursday, January 13 meeting of the Garden Club – 1:00 p.m., Parish Hall, where I will be giving a slide presentation with a focus on native and pollinator friendly plants and their important connections with animal species.

Sylvia Pincott


Varied Thrush and Hummer
February Naturescape Notes

As I write, the winter storms appear to have abated, and bird feeder pressures have eased.

A particularly lovely bird sometimes seen during such times of stress is the Varied Thrush, a relative of our more familiar American Robin. It is much more elaborately clothed than the robin - slate gray on back and head, with a tawny orange breast, chin and eye stripe, and with a dark necklace its distinguishing feature.  The female is a paler version.

Usually a bird of the forest (particularly mossy old growth), the Varied Thrush makes its living on small invertebrates such as sow bugs, snails, worms, assorted larvae, the berries of salal, huckleberry, and arbutus, and the acorns of Garry oak.  Harsh winter conditions may bring it closer to civilization, where it will scuffle around house foundations and rustle and scratch in leafy mulches to secure the hidden larvae of insects.  It may even seek out suet and seeds offered at feeders – “a pensioner on man’s bounty” (to quote J. A. Munro in his Department of Education elementary school text book published in 1931).

Their haunting, ethereal calls will soon be heard, resonating through the woodlands until early spring when most of their kind depart for more secluded nesting areas.  I like to think of it as the “loon of the woods”.  Munro describes its note as having “a distinctive, resonant quality that is unique; a long, penetrating call in various keys that aptly has been likened to the sound of a policeman’s whistle”.

Winter storms may make life very difficult for many of the birds.  In our former eastern Fraser Valley home we despaired during storms of freezing rain that often followed Arctic outflow winds.  Everything became encased with ice and literally no food was accessible – for thrushes, and all others.  I recall one fierce storm with many desperate robins (whose diet cannot handle feeder fare).  We eventually had 35 of them finding shelter on our porches, eating dried blueberries, chopped apples and raisins.  The wicker furniture needed quite a scrubbing when they were at last able to depart!

We are thankful that our latest Pender storms have eased, and life can get back to normal – particularly for two tiny Anna’s Hummingbirds, kept going at feeders carefully tended and kept free of ice by Jane Hammond on Razor Point Road.  The wee birds would come through the falling snow and drink deeply first thing each morning, once or twice during the day, and last thing before dark.  Perhaps they were able to find small insect protein between times. Their nights would be spent in a state of torpor, conserving heat and energy.

The Anna’s Hummingbird is a non-migratory species that has pushed its range north from California and Oregon over recent years.  Freezing weather and blizzards can be a life-or-death challenge to these tiny creatures and it often may be feeders that save the day. These little survivors were probably pushed close to their limit, and we are thankful for Jane’s careful ministrations.

Sylvia Pincott


Small Wonders
March Naturescape Notes

Living on Pender, we are blessed with opportunities to observe natural wonders, large and small.  We cannot help being moved by the magnificence of a passing pod of Orca’s, or the soaring majesty of an eagle.  Our attention may not be as readily drawn to the many small wonders surrounding us – each special in its own way.

Warming days bring arousal from a dormant “sleep” of many tiny creatures.  The mason bees, for instance, will soon be flying, with the earliest emerging to pollinate arbutus and maple blossoms.  It is not certain how many species of mason bees are found here, but they emerge sequentially throughout the spring and summer, each specializing in pollination of particular blossoms, including our fruit trees.

Only a short time in the life of a mason bee is as a flying adult (four to six weeks for the female). The rest of its single year is spent in metamorphosis within a tunnel-like cell, usually in an old tree or hollow stem.  Unable to create its own cavity, the mason bee depends upon the excavation of a suitable site by a woodpecker or beetle.  Its chosen tunnel will be approximately seven millimeters in diameter, and ten or more centimeters deep.

When the flying adult emerges from its natal chambers in early spring (any day now), mating is the first order of business.  The male does not live long after his duty is done, but the female is soon busy preparing for her offspring.

Her first challenge is to find a suitable nesting cell, which she will then provision with a “pudding” of pollen and nectar to feed her larvae.  She is a very efficient pollinator, visiting upwards of 1000 blossoms in a day of foraging.  She is entirely non-aggressive.

Once a suitable supply of her nutritious pudding is in place, she will lay a single egg upon it, and seal the cell with a wall of mud or leaf pulp. Our busy bee will continue with a series of cells (each approximately 15 millimeters deep) until the tunnel is full and its entry carefully sealed with a strong mud wall. Making countless trips to bring pollen and nectar for her pudding, and mud to seal her chambers, she may eventually furnish up to 35 cells.

Usually female eggs will be deposited in the inner cells and males in the outer.  We may speculate as to why.  One theory is that the males in the outer cells will emerge first, to await the emerging females and facilitate mating.  Another is that if a woodpecker were to probe the nesting chamber it would reach only the outer males – they being more dispensable than the females!

Within the nest the bee goes through the cycle of metamorphosis.  The egg will transform to a larva that will feed on the pudding.  When the stores are consumed the larva will spin a cocoon and transform to a pupa, and then to the mature adult, which will spend several months dormant and encased in the chamber before emerging at exactly the right time for its species.

Mason bees are among the estimated 4000 beneficial bee species of North America – each, in its unique way, a fascinating small wonder.

Sylvia Pincott


Bats - Controlling Insects Naturally
May Naturescape Notes

Last month’s Naturescape Notes welcomed the return of the tiny wonders of the avian world, the hummingbirds.  While not to quite the same fanfare, this past month has seen the return of another small wonder (of the mammalian world this time) – the bats!

It is not certain where the various bat species spend their winters.  Some migrate short distances to hibernate, while others may travel as far south as California.  The Little Brown Myotis, one of the more commonly seen species of our area, likely hibernates in caves in uncertain locations.  Their return ensures a nightly patrol in search of mosquito’s and moths (including those of tent caterpillars ) – with each bat consuming up to 500 insects an hour!

Much unfortunate folklore surrounds bats.  Even though their list of contributions to our well being is long, their history is one of relentless persecution and misunderstanding.  The folklore has been easily accepted for a creature we can barely see in the dark, and know little about.  Research and photography are now removing the mystery and revealing marvelous little creatures with much to be appreciated.

Bats are not aggressive, and they will not deliberately entangle themselves in hair!  They are not “blind as a bat” and, in fact, have excellent eyesight.  For their nocturnal aerial maneuvers, however, they rely on an incredibly accurate sonar navigation system that enables them to hunt accurately and to avoid all obstacles in darkness.  There are no vampire bats in Canada.  They are not more frequently rabid than other mammals, but any bat found on the ground may be sick or injured, and it is best not to handle it.

While bats are mammals, they are not rodents.  They usually bear only one young per year, and often do not reproduce until they are two or more years old.  Some British Columbia bat species mate in the fall, with fertilization being delayed until spring when the females emerge from hibernation.  

Their wingspan ranges from 20 to 42 centimeters, with body weight in the 6 gram range, They are known to live up to thirty years in the wild.

The 16 species of bats in British Columbia rank as our most important predators of night-flying insects.  Of these 16 species, it is sad to note that eight are listed as endangered or at risk.  Even though they are protected under the Provincial Wildlife Act, they are literally disappearing before we have the opportunity to get to know much about them.

Pesticide use is a serious threat.  If bats consume insects containing pesticide residues, poisons can build up in their systems to levels toxic to the individuals or their young.  The spraying of pesticides can also reduce or eliminate many of the flying insects on which bats feed.

Extermination of roosting bats is illegal, but removal of roosting sites is, nonetheless, a major problem.  It is unfortunate that bats are often assumed to be “pests” and are not tolerated.  During the few months that they are active they need secluded nursery roosts and daytime “hang-outs”.  The occasional attic, rock crevices, hollow trees and loose bark provide important shelter, but as old trees are removed so goes essential habitat.

As we gain understanding about the needs and plight of bats, and the role that they play in our environment, it is hoped that their presence will be not merely tolerated but encouraged!

Welcome back Little Brown Bats!

Sylvia Pincott


Galls
July Naturescape Notes

The fun of the unexpected is one of the joys of caring for wildlife habitat at home!  Mysteries, too, are there when we look closely.

Something I find of particular interest is the mystery of galls – strange growths appearing on certain plant species.  Beautiful examples are the moss-like balls, 3-4 cm in diameter, that sometimes appear on the stems of roses – wild roses, or perhaps shrub roses in the garden. These are mossy bedeguar galls - the remarkable homes for the larvae of tiny Cynipid wasps, Diplolepsis rosae, as they go through the cycle of metamorphosis.

The unusual plant cell development of these galls is initiated through the stimulus of the eggs of the tiny wasp being deposited into the plant tissue.  As the gall forms, the eggs hatch and each resultant larva is provided with a separate chamber within the gall, where it will feed on the unique plant tissue thus provided.

These galls may house not only the original gall-making species, but also possibly a sequence of other insect species. For example, the larvae of other gall wasps, referred to as inquilines, may also be found in the same gall.  These “guests” do not cause their own galls, but must find one ready-made.

Also in this communal chamber may be the larvae of parasitic wasps that will feed on the developing gall-makers or the inquilines – either externally or from within!  And then, to make it even more interesting, other intruders frequently feed on them!

The British Plant Gall Society suspects that there could be as many as 25 species living in the bedeguar gall insect community.  It could turn out that the insect eventually emerging may not be the original gall-maker at all.  It started the process but its larvae may have provided sustenance to many others and long since disappeared!

Depending on the species of plant and insect, intriguing swellings of many configurations may occur on various parts of plants.  I have recently been delighted by tiny spiny spheres, rosy pink, four or five cupped in the leaves of native baldhip roses - exquisite little formations, few and far between, and only on the one rose species that I have observed thus far.

Our native thimbleberry, also a member of the rose family,  is another host of interesting galls, commonly seen.  These take the form of woody swellings creating larval chambers on the upper stems.  The galls don’t harm the plant and the larvae housed within often provide food for woodpeckers and chickadees!

It is estimated that almost 1500 North American insect species cause galls - many of them tiny wasps.  Sixty percent of known galls occur in the oak family, and 30 percent in the rose, willow and daisy families.

Galls are one of the many mysteries of nature to be appreciated and pondered in your own backyard, front yard, or on the trail!

Sylvia D. Pincott


Native Plants
August Naturescape Notes

I was lured to our Pender property by its driveway!  Two tracks disappearing into an arbutus/Douglas fir woodland through thick salal.  An open slope extends to touch the lane at mid-point, with a moss-covered rocky outcrop that gleams in the sunlight with rich shades of green.  It is a property that has been minimally imposed upon by people activity (albeit that most of it is maturing forest, recovering from the logging activities that levelled much of the Penders early in the last century).

The undisturbed habitat spoke to me through burbling winter wrens and honking nuthatches – bird species that had all but disappeared from our former community with growth and development.  Through the Naturescape British Columbia program I had been sharing the message of caring for wildlife habitat at home – mostly through attempting to restore something of what has been lost.  Here was habitat relatively undisturbed, and caring for itself.

At the time of my driveway discovery, it was also time for us to retire from our large Naturescape demonstration property in Abbotsford.  But what could take its treasured place?  Here the driveway beckoned, and we have come to treasure this small piece of Pender as a special gift.  We left our former property protected by conservation covenants so that it will remain as a woodland home (a green island in suburbia) for the many creatures living there.  Without abandoning them to the fate of bulldozers, we could thus make a new beginning here; letting Nature do most of the gardening for us, while bringing her pleasures to our doorstep.

We have since learned that our mossy outcrops (mossy balds) are tongues of the endangered Garry oak ecosystem with its unique vegetation and animal life.  We did have some tasks to begin with in that these openings had been invaded by Scotch broom.  Its removal two years ago has since unveiled lovely plant surprises previously hidden or dormant beneath that overwhelming cover.

This spring I carefully crept over the slopes, almost with a fine-toothed comb, removing other invasive species and revealing tiny pockets of many Pender treasures.  On my discovery area of less than 4000 square feet, I counted 30 species of native wildflowers, ferns, shrubs and trees (and 12 species of invaders!).  There were delicate golden-backed ferns, harvest brodiaea, woodland stars, blue-eyed Mary, monkeyflower, rein orchid, montia, two camas species, along with two yet to be identified mysteries!  Junco’s nested, hidden beneath a moss-covered shelf, and alligator lizards basked in the sun.

My project turned out to be one of the most satisfying of many years of gardening experiences!  The message was certainly underlined that before we rush to transform the land to our own garden dreams there may be tiny gems awaiting discovery and asking for our care and respect.

If you would like to identify some of our unique wildflowers, Pender Islands Conservancy has available laminated poster/placemats, one showing Garry oak meadow plants and the other those of Douglas fir woodlands.  Check the PICA booth at the Farmers’ Market.

While these plants may not be as colourful and exuberant as horticultural varieties that we might introduce, their simplicity and special beauty is part of Pender’s unique ecosystem, functioning in harmony – a community of indigenous plants, invertebrates, animals, birds – and alligator lizards!

Sylvia Pincott


Looking Closely
September Naturescape Notes

Exploring the so-called “simple” aspects of the natural world can reveal amazing complexities, far beyond our imagining.  So often our view of nature and, indeed, of our own gardens, is superficial.  We look at the big picture and admire the overall effect.  Excitement generally is viewed on the larger scale in this fast-moving world.  How often do we look closely, and wonder at the amazing configurations of the small world?

The Pender Islands Conservancy Association has available at its Farmers’ Market booth the exquisite posters – “Butterfly Alphabet”, and “Nature Alphabet”.  Photographer Kjell Sandved, working with the entomological collections at the Smithsonian Institute, noticed that distinct letters of the alphabet appeared on the wings of certain species of butterfly.  Intrigued, he then spent the next 25 years travelling to more than 30 countries, observing the wings of countless species to complete the alphabet.  What remarkable powers of observation he has – and how wonder-full to consider that each butterfly of each particular species has such detailed markings faithfully reproduced, generation after generation, in the microscopic scales of their wings.

Continuing to observe, Sandved went on to photograph the alphabet in other forms of nature, and produced his second poster.  I can see that searching for the alphabet could become quite a pastime.  What a lovely way to explore with children!

I constantly marvel at the intricacies of the insect world in general, in the endlessly varied ways in which they feed, find shelter, and reproduce.  Throughout the natural world there seems always something new and fascinating to discover.

Fibonacci numbers in nature are an example.  These are a sequence of numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, etc., where each number after the second is the sum of the previous two numbers.  These number sequences are exhibited in an estimated 90% of all plant patterns – petals, leaves, seeds.  They also appear elsewhere in nature – in sea shells, for instance.

Fibonacci numbers regularly appear in the number of petals of a flower.  For example, iris and lilies have 3 petals, wild roses, buttercups and columbine have 5 petals, marigolds 13, brown-eyed Susans 21, and other daisies may have 13, 21, 34, 55 or 89!

These number patterns are also found in the spiral arrangements of seeds.  Echinacea purpurea, for example, typically has 55 spirals that rotate outwards and clockwise.  Closer to the centre are 34 spirals.  Sunflowers provide beautiful examples of double spirals – usually 21 or 34 clockwise and 34 or 55 counter-clockwise.  Pinecones, observed at the base, often have 5 clockwise and 8 counter-clockwise spirals.  And then you might also check pineapple, cauliflower, and broccoli spirals, apple and banana cross-sections, and so on.  For more info and clear illustrations, “Google” Fibonacci numbers, and select the lengthy website name that begins with msc.surrey 

Between looking for nature’s alphabet, and counting patterns, there is much that we can explore beyond the obvious in the natural world!

 Sylvia Pincott


Galls
September Naturescape Notes

The fun of the unexpected is one of the joys of caring for wildlife habitat at home!  Mysteries, too, are there when we look closely.

Something I find of particular interest is the mystery of galls – strange growths appearing on certain plant species.  Beautiful examples are the moss-like balls, 3-4 cm in diameter, that sometimes appear on the stems of roses – wild roses, or perhaps shrub roses in the garden. These are mossy bedeguar galls - the remarkable homes for the larvae of tiny Cynipid wasps, Diplolepsis rosae, as they go through the cycle of metamorphosis.

The unusual plant cell development of these galls is initiated through the stimulus of the eggs of the tiny wasp being deposited into the plant tissue.  As the gall forms, the eggs hatch and each resultant larva is provided with a separate chamber within the gall, where it will feed on the unique plant tissue thus provided.

These galls may house not only the original gall-making species, but also possibly a sequence of other insect species. For example, the larvae of other gall wasps, referred to as inquilines, may also be found in the same gall.  These inquiline “guests” do not cause their own galls, but must find one ready-made.

Also in this communal chamber may be the larvae of parasitic wasps that will feed on the developing gall-makers or the inquilines – either externally or from within!  And then, to make it even more interesting, other intruders frequently feed on them!

The British Plant Gall Society suspects that there could be as many as 25 species living in the bedeguar gall insect community.  It could turn out that the insect eventually emerging may not be the original gall-maker at all.  It started the process but its larvae may have provided sustenance to many others and long since disappeared!

Depending on the species of plant and insect, intriguing swellings of many configurations may occur on various parts of plants.  Early this past summer I was delighted by tiny spiny spheres, rosy pink, four or five cupped in the leaves of native baldhip roses - exquisite little formations, few and far between, and only on the one rose species that I have observed thus far.

Thimbleberry, also a member of the rose family,  is another host of interesting galls, commonly seen in the Fraser Valley.  (I haven’t seen any on Pender yet).  These take the form of woody swellings creating larval chambers on the upper stems.  The galls don’t harm the plant and the larvae housed within often provide food for woodpeckers and chickadees!

It is estimated that almost 1500 North American insect species cause galls - many of them tiny wasps.  Sixty percent of known galls occur in the oak family, and 30 percent in the rose, willow and daisy families.

Galls are one of the many mysteries of nature to be appreciated and pondered in your own backyard, front yard, or on the trail!

Sylvia D. Pincott
CVN member from afar – Reporting from Pender Island!


Fairies in the Garden
October Naturescape Notes

Could it be that there really are fairies at the bottom of the garden?  When we think about it, there is a lot happening for us that we take for granted.  Waste disposal is one of Nature’s amazing services that we seldom consider – but waste doesn’t just “go away”.  Indeed, it is only by the services of a multitude of small organisms that we are not buried deep in excrement, corpses, and debris!

Consider, for a start, our septic tanks and sewage disposal systems.  What a lot of abuse we throw at them!  It isn’t the “normal waste” that is the problem.  The countless aerobic and anaerobic bacteria residing there are designed to thrive and multiply as they digest the waste that we provide.  It is unfortunate when chemicals far beyond their coping capacity are included in our offerings – “anti-life” ingredients such as anti-bacterial soap, for instance, when it is bacteria that we are depending upon to do this work for us – or Drain-O, bleach, harsh detergents, caustic cleaners, unused drugs, etc.  Perhaps it’s time for us to give a thought to those tiny workers who are at the receiving end of our waste stream and ensure that they have a healthy environment in which to do their work!

Uncountable numbers of terrestrial organisms die each year, and their remains are consumed by organisms in the soil.  In the process, soils render harmless any potential human pathogens in waste and in the remains of dead organisms.  While human waste is generally discharged into disposal systems of some sort, the waste of all other animal and plant life is returned to the soil.

How much waste and dead organic matter is produced and processed each year?  In “Nature’s Services – Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems”, editor Gretchen Daily references an estimate that the amount of live organic matter produced each year (net primary production by plants and animals) totals about 132 billion metric tons (dry weight) of organic matter (give or take a few billion tons!).

Not only must this amount of organic matter be processed, it must also be recycled back into the land in a form that will sustain the soil and the subsequent life thereon.  “Nature’s Services” continues  “…. In the space of the period at the end of this sentence, diverse microbial species process the particular compounds whose chemical bonds they can cleave and pass along to other species, in assembly-line fashion, end-products and by-products of their specialized reactions.”

When we think about it, how often do we come across a dead animal, bird – or even an insect?  Remarkable processes are at work – from the microscopic to the more apparent.  When we look closely, even the wasps that are so often lured into ghastly bottle traps are important processors, quickly gathering and consuming the least of lifeless protein.

In a month that includes a time of thanksgiving, perhaps we should be sparing a thought and giving thanks for the tiny “fairies at the bottom of the garden” that do the dirty work for us!

Sylvia Pincott


Hedgerows
November Naturescape Notes

Calendar Listings: 

November 4 Fri 7:30 pm “Naturescape” presentation with Sylvia Pincott, Library

Advance Notice for December 2 Fri 7:30 pm "Landscaping with Native Plants - Let Nature be Your Guide", Library

If there is truth in the traditional lore that an unusual abundance of autumn berries produced by native trees and shrubs is an indication of a harsh winter to come, it might be time to stock up on firewood!  This will definitely be a winter to put that adage to the test, for there is a remarkable bounty of fruit in thickets and hedgerows around the islands this year!

The spring started with an unprecedented bloom on the arbutus trees, and those berries are brilliant now.  Perhaps we will be visited by flocks of the lovely band-tailed pigeons, who welcome a such a feast.  Garry oak acorns are favoured by them as well. 

Wild roses are rich with orange hips.  Many of the Nootka roses are also dressed with mossy bedeguar galls - the beautiful homes provided by the roses for the larvae of tiny Cynipid wasps (not the stinging kind!), as they go through the cycle of metamorphosis.

The red berries of native honeysuckle vines are decorating the trees that provide their support.  Among the non-natives, pyracantha berries along Victoria roadways are solidly covering their branches, and English Hawthorns are weighted down with their profusion of berries.  Cedar waxwings will welcome these!  While waxwings are mainly fruit eaters, we had the interesting opportunity to observe them in September as they captured, in flight, many dampwood termites that were streaming to the skies after emerging from their underground colony.

Hedgerows and thickets with densely planted layers of vegetation, from lower shrubs to trees, are not only a source of fruit and insect sustenance for many species of birds, but shelter is provided from harsh weather and predators, along with a safe place to rear their young.  An old log or two on the ground will provide additional diversity, as would a woodpecker snag erected in the midst of the thicket.

The Naturescape message of “all you need is a little space” was underlined to us this summer as we visited friends with a small thicket near their front yard.  Less than 50 square metres, with a mixture of native vegetation, this dense and undisturbed area provides habitat for an amazing number of songbirds.  Dense, undisturbed places such as this in residential areas are a delight to observe.  As well, they encourage an ecological balance, with insect populations managed by the birds who find shelter there.  I will write more about this particular little thicket next month.  Hedgerows and thickets are a lovely part of a Naturescaped property!

Just a reminder that I will be giving a Naturescape presentation on Friday, November 4, 7:30 pm, at the Library.  I look forward to sharing more about biodiversity at our Pender doorstep, and ways in which we can share in its care.

As a followup on December 2, Willie MacGillivray, Site Manager (for 24 years!) of the Swan Lake/Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Saanich, will bring a presentation “Landscaping with Native Plants – Let Nature be Your Guide”.

Sylvia Pincott


Thickets
December Naturescape Notes

Calendar Listings:

December 2 Fri 7:30 pm “Landscaping with Native Plants – Let Nature be Your Guide” with Willie MacGillivray, Library

Advance Notice for January 13 Fri 7:30 pm "The Earth’s Blanket” with Dr. Nancy Turner, Library

Throughout the year songbirds offer lovely gifts as they enhance our outdoor space, bringing a special richness into our lives.  At this season of giving, perhaps we can do a gift exchange by enhancing their space in return! 

If we have undisturbed natural areas on our land, we are giving already!  Perhaps these spaces can be further enhanced for wildlife, and other more open spaces can be given back to nature, enhanced in special ways that will be the “gift that keeps on giving”, with further blessings in return!

I wrote last month about the benefits of hedgerows and thickets.  Perhaps there is a way that you can plan for a small thicket on your property.  A thickety space near our friends’ front garden in Magic Lake is a perfect example of how successful thickets can be.  The space of native vegetation, a mere 50 square metres, consists of a central Douglas fir tree, surrounded by two small maples, Scouler’s willow, and a cover of salal, native trailing blackberry and black raspberry.  There is a downed log lying within that adds additional diversity for mosses and interesting fungi.  Hairy honeysuckle climbs through and upwards, and large clumps of sword fern and bracken find openings too.  Song sparrows made their nest within a sword fern clump last year! 

Our friends have observed 36 species of birds in this small area – resident, nesting and/or migrating.  This includes five woodpecker species – pileated, flickers, hairy, downy, and sapsuckers!  Their garden offers a bubbling birdbath, and a couple of bird feeders – one with black oil sunflower seeds, and the other with millet for the junco’s.  The water source continually dances with birds attracted particularly to the sound of moving water.

Further habitat enhancements could include a wildlife snag (existing, or created with a well-secured vertical log), a rock pile or outcrop, and, on a sunny side, a safe shelter border of wild roses. Red flowering currant for the hummingbirds would be another delightful addition.  Depending upon sun or shade conditions a variety of  herbaceous native plants could be tucked in here and there.  A leafy mulch will ideally enrich the soil surface each autumn.  A chickadee nesting box (designed with appropriate dimensions for entry hole (3 cm diameter – 18 cm above floor) and cavity size (10 x 10 cm x 24 cm deep), preferably unfinished rough cedar - would be a lovely final touch!

Detailed nest box plans suitable for each of our cavity nesting species are found in the Naturescape British Columbia Guidebook.  Please call me at 6797 if you would like to purchase  ($20) this wealth of information on the many ways that we can care for wildlife habitat at home.

And, for more ideas about gardening with native plants, be sure to attend the PICA/PITPS presentation on December 2, 7:30 pm at the Library, when Willie MacGillivray, Site Manager (for 24 years!) of the Swan Lake/Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Saanich, will bring a presentation “Landscaping with Native Plants – Let Nature be Your Guide”.  Please join us!

Looking ahead to your 2006 calendar, on January 13, we will have another very special speaker.  Dr. Nancy Turner, one of BC’s foremost botanists, will speak to us on her latest book, “The Earth’s Blanket”. 

Sylvia Pincott


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