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In 2006 I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Kate Evans at Seba Camp in Botswana, where they have succesfully reintroduced captive elephants (from America) into the wild. The picture above is one such elephant I snapped a photo of myself while there.
With my own eyes I have seen elephants chasing one another, cavorting in the streams. I dreamed there would be some sense of fairness that zookeepers would work to return these huge animals to the wild where they belong. Here you can read first hand about valuable research straight from the bush describing these wondrous creatures and how we can help.
I had the honor of presenting “Sustainable Lawn Alternatives: From Native Meadows to No-Mow Lawns” at the Philadelphia Flower Show on March 8, 2013. My lecture focused on ecologically and economically sensible solutions to standard, resource-draining landscapes. Biodiversity, native meadows, and the application of our no-mow FlightTurf® for one-acre minimum residential properties was discussed. A large and attentive audience attended, later following-up with questions on how FlightTurf® could be used for their lawns.
I left with the understanding that many people recognize the need to move on from cookie cutter lawns. These lawns consume too much time and energy, not to mention thousands of dollars in maintenance costs. The environmental effects are equally as devastating – increased emissions, wasted water, stormwater pollution, and the ruin of wildlife habitat. Yet, for generations now, it has been standard practice to fertilize, water, edge, weed, cut, then repeat. It is time to change these practices.
Native meadows are beautiful and easy to maintain, while creating habitat for wildlife. If you are not ready for the jump, FlightTurf® is the more manicured solution. FlightTurf® turfgrass requires no mowing, minimal chemicals and fertilizer, and safely keeps animals and their droppings away, if this is your preference. I believe in these environmental solutions and will continue to find ways to protect wildlife and offer safer, more environmentally friendly landscape solutions.
For those of you who may want to go the lazy route, letting your lawn slowly convert to a meadow, check out my monthly post on this site:
As a team member, I contribute a monthly posting to the Native Plant & Wildlife Garden blog. Here’s one on my personal observations concerning bluebird boxes:
Years ago my brother and sister-in-law gave my parents a bluebird box as a Christmas present. It hung from a cherry tree in the rear of our Lancaster, PA yard until it eventually crumbled and fell off the tree, but it never attracted a bluebird. I never knew why.
In fact the first bluebird I ever saw in my life was many years later as a young adult in the 1980′s. The bluebirds built a nest in my friend’s bluebird box positioned on a pole in the middle of her expansive open lawn. She showed me how she regularly opened the side of the box to see the four young fledglings within. I was mesmerized by the mama and papa flying to and fro, feeding their young.The male’s vibrant azure blue color was strikingly beautiful, as was his red breast — an icon of American folklore.
As a boyscout my son Wes constructed his own bluebird box and painted it gray. We installed it on a pole behind our condominium in a similar lawn-type area, but all we ever got were sparrows.
Fast forward to a move to our home outside Philadelphia in 2003. Wes’s gray bluebird box made the trip with us and one of the first things we did was find a spot for it in a front-yard meadow next to the driveway, again on a pole. The first season it was up we had bluebirds nesting, not once but twice, in the same summer. They liked to perch on the light fixture atop the stone pillar located nearby before flying to the box.
Males stand guard on the box, staking their territory, after ceremonial peeking in and out, entering, leaving, back and forth many times, until they’re satisfied with their nest site. It is from this perch that they often attract the females. They do this as early as winter.
I was fortunate enough to have received an assignment to install a native grassland in a local electric utility’s 30 acre transmission line corridor. The Right-of-Way also functions as a valuable wildlife corridor, and it’s a perfect nesting site for bluebirds. While doing my quarterly monitoring last week, I saw three bluebirds, one of them a male, perching on one of the new boxes. Perhaps they overwintered in the area.
My own property must be located on a large ant farm because every year my greatest challenge with all the bluebird – as well as other – nest boxes is to control the tiny black ants that colonize every bird box on the property. They appear shortly after the birds build their nests and have young. The ant nests are elaborate and full of eggs in the lower third of the box. I started wondering if they could actually have some sort of symbiotic relationship with the birds, the ants feeding on the bird droppings. I doubt it though because sometimes the ants there long after the birds are gone. I’ve experimented with ways to discourage the ants, but none have been completely successful. I’m all ears if you’ve experienced similar problems, and I’d love to hear your solutions if you have them. I can’t say I ever saw ants crawling on the young birds, but then I never felt it wise to ‘inspect’ them.
Often tree swallows build in bluebird boxes. They’re gorgeous, fascinating birds as well, and they have beautiful feather lined grass nests. Sadly, twice I found a tree swallows dead (trapped) in the gray empty bluebird box. I learned too late the birds enter, and with too smooth a surface, have nothing to cling to to exit. They can’t get the leverage they need to exit. Here’s a solution our new bluebird boxes now have: a metal netting which the bird clings to so he can reach the hole to exit. This is especially important to remember for anyone installing a new nest box. If you can’t go the wire mesh route, at the very least scratch a rough surface on the inner box surface below the hole so the bird can get out.
Try to get your bluebird boxes up soon, install a predator guard to keep snakes and raccoons from stealing the young, and until the birds start the nesting you’ll have shelter for downy woodpeckers to overnight. The woodpeckers and probably many other birds love them too for that purpose, and you will love the new friends that come to visit, even if they’re only overnight friends.
I’ve recently started doing work for Native Return®, LLC, as the Director of Business Development and Legal Affairs. After the rains on Tuesday I stopped by Christina’s property for a visit. Sitting back in my chair and getting ready to talk contracts, I nearly spilled my coffee onto my lap. Directly in front of me, through the large glass window, a doe was watching me, watch her. This doe was literally eye level with me. If it wasn’t for the window, I could have, and would have, reached out and touched her. The doe held my glance for a few seconds, and then fed on some food that was left out for her. It was honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever been a part of.
In the past, I’ve appreciated Christina’s work, heard her presentations, and have understood the importance of her causes. But I’ve never experienced Christina’s nature before – been to her home, witnessed her native meadows, or seen the wildlife that flock to it. I’ve only read about it. Now, holding on to this one special experience I’ve had, I feel closer to her causes.
Christina recently told me that many municipalities, even the adjacent nature center, have declared war on deer. She agrees that they can pose a danger to motorists, but the brutality of our reactions towards deer are insensitive. While I didn’t really see the importance of the issue before, I somehow feel closer to it now.
Hanna Belopolsky, Esq., MBA
As a team member, I contribute a monthly posting to the Native Plant & Wildlife Garden blog. This latest post is so important that I’ll repeat it here. If just one or two of these tips are followed, when they wouldn’t have been otherwise, I’ll be a happy camper.
The good part of wildlife gardening is that it is easier, less time intensive and much cheaper. There are no leaves to rake, no sticks to pick up, no dead trees to take down, no guilt trips for not getting the bulbs in the ground in the fall.
It’s time to heal the earth. Happy native-plant wildlife gardening.
A Message From Wildlife To Humans: Our Recommended ‘Do Not Do’ List
Sometimes it’s as important to know what ‘not to do’ as it is what ‘to do’ in the wildlife garden. With that thought in mind, here’s some simple tips wildlife, if they could speak, would pass along to people:
- Do not surround your properties with fences.We have a hard enough time moving around and finding food. Plus, we get snagged and separated from our young.
- Do not rake your leaves or pick up your sticks. We hide and feed in the leaf litter, and it creates new top soil.
- Do not plant bamboo and other non-native plants that displace our native plant food sources.
- Do not kill native vines like poison ivy, virginia creeper, and native grape vine. They provide us with important food.
- Do not dead-head your native perennials. Their seeds provide us with food in the winter.
- Do not plant non-native bulbs, like daffodil and other narcissus, tulip, snowdrop, and crocus. They do us no good. (Do plant native alternatives as shown in the Dr. Eckel’s comment below. Here’s a link where they may be available for purchase.)
- Do not trap and kill us, even if we’re not your favorite creatures. We may look different and have undeserved reputations (snakes, bats, mice, raccons, groundhogs, opossum, coyote, etc) but we all provide important ecosystem services.
- Do not take down dead trees, called ‘snags’. They provide vital cavities for nesters and perches for many species, including predatory birds.
- Do not use plastic ersoion control netting. We get caught in it.
- Do not worry so much about aesthetics. Pretend you’re us when you plan your gardens. We’ll reward you with our presence.
- Do not give your wildlife ponds steep slopes. We can’t get out easily and often drown.
- Do not mow more often than you have to. Mowers cut us and lawns provide us no benefit. Meadows and shrublands are great alternatives and provide us with food and cover.
- Do not let other people dissuade you from following these tips. (Better yet, perhaps you have a simple tip to add in the comment section below.) Local township ordinances need to change if we are to survive.
I would just like to wish all our readers a joyous, peaceful, and loving Holiday Season! Remember as this year ends, and the new year begins, to take a moment out of your busy lives to get out there and experience the amazing power of our planet as she begins her cycle of rebirth.
Sometimes when I’m on my property I feel like I’m back in elementary school on the day when the local nature center people bring in a few animals for everyone to get excited about. Just yesterday my gardener came upon a beautiful pickerel frog, a garter snake half way through digesting a mouse, and some incredible fuzzy caterpillars. To some, these creatures are normal occurrences or at least common enough that they’re not worth getting excited about. But to me, knowing how crucial each of these organisms is to its ecosystem, each spotting is a glimpse into the intricate web of life surrounding me. Seeing the outline of a creature inside another creature—like mouse-in-snake—is a tragic, yet potent example that every creature plays a part. My joy though comes at the same time, when I realize that even my small effort to preserve areas for native habitat is actually providing room for life to continue as it was meant to!