Seattle Life in the Yard

Sustain biodiversity: garden with native plants.

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Little Mother

I am worried about a yard resident I have not seen for a few weeks. I think of this resident as Little Mother and, until recently, I have seen her every day when I look out my big kitchen window. We have a little family of crows consisting of an adult female and her one, or some years two, offspring, that has been using this yard as home. An observer can always tell by behavior which of the three crows is mother, which is baby and which is in-between because the baby is beseeching mother to feed it, mother is feeding baby and in-between is feeding self. Little Mother is also distinctive in that she has feather ruffles at the top of her legs and her offspring are very sleek.

I don’t remember when it became obvious to me that this little mother had made our yard home base, but it has been many years. She is very messy in our bird baths as she brings all the human food she finds to the bath to wash/soak it and eat. Little mother brings bread, crackers, chicken bones, food wrappers, plus bits and pieces of mystery things. When she is especially successful with her foraging, I must scrub and rinse the bird baths daily to keep the water healthy for the other visitors and the garbage away from our dog. The native plants in our yard will support a good variety of the natural bird food of insects, fruit and nectar, so a clean water source is kind of like that nice big pitcher of cold water that our local restaurant is so kind to leave at our table when we dine; so very refreshing and satisfying.

Little Mother has always been a hard working single mother with a youngster in tow that she is either feeding or teaching how to “toss the duff”. The family will walk through an area, a foot or two apart, stop, toss some leaves or cedar duff to expose something tasty, sometimes catching a nibble, then walking a few more steps and doing this over and over covering one area then another, everyday.

The last few weeks I have not seen her, just her last year’s sleek offspring that visits the baths and tosses the duff alone. The drinking water is cleaner, but not a trade-off I would choose.

Juncos have usually nested in our front yard; I have no idea where. I just know I have, in past springs, gotten scolded as only a 5 inch bird can, whenever I worked in the front yard. This year is different in that I think a pair of Towhees is nesting in the front yard and the Juncos have moved to the backyard! Now, no matter where I am working I am being scolded.

Speaking of nesting, an alert citizen, mentioned last week she had seen a bunch of twigs on top of one of the Nathan Hale light stands and asked if we had seen it and if we knew what might be nesting there. The answer was no and no, but on Tuesday I saw two large birds circle and descend, one after the other to the nest, tussle a bit, then settle in for a quiet sit. The bright sun and distance did not allow me to identify the pair, but maybe another alert citizen has had a good look at the nest’s occupants and can identify them for us. Osprey?

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Why Do This?

I have been doing battle with Scot’s/Scotch Broom in my Forest Steward assignment park the past few weeks, with this plant, as with almost all noxious weeds, it is a long, and possibly endless, war with strategies and plans of attack. This first effort is simply to stop the blooming shrubs from providing additional mature seeds to the already existing seed bank in the soil, the seed of this plant can stay viable in the soil for 5-60 years (one source said 80 years!). I have been able to devote a few hours a couple times a week and I think I made progress in my first engagement with the enemy. I read through the King County document on-line for Scotch-Broom-Control and modified my plan so that rather than cutting it close to the ground, I left enough to use a Weed Wrench in the future on the remaining trunk to remove the roots if possible. Some of the Scot’s/Scotch Broom shrubs are old with trunks 3 and 4 inches in diameter so I am not sure how these will respond to being cut down and they are too big for wrenching the roots out, but there are lots of trunks that are the right size for the Weed Wrench so I will have plenty on which to practice my technique. The next plants scheduled for my first attempt at removal are European Bittersweet, Holly, non-native thistles, Ivy, Laurel, Spurge Laurel, Yellow Flag Iris and so many others. The Knot Weed is too wide spread in the Meadowbrook area for volunteers to do the work and will need professionals with special equipment to do the work required to control it; very costly, I guess that is why the “NOX WEED” charge is on our Real Estate Tax bill.

The bird song that I hear during my hours in the park is very pleasant sound to hear while working and I have seen small muted colored female hummingbirds darting about after being alerted to their presence by the buzz-y snapping of their tail. I couldn’t tell what they were doing while I was busy with weed cutting, but I also saw the same type of hummer in the SPU retention pond area. Since our little Meadowbrook Pond was scheduled to be fenced off this week (and now is) I made a point to take a few extra walks through the paths around the pond to identify which native plants were blooming, getting ready to bloom and setting seed. I was excited to see the native Orange Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera ciliosa) was threading its way through several plants in different areas and had healthy sturdy orange blooms pushed up above the support plant to wave in light breezes for the hummingbirds to find them. I was also excited to see another native honeysuckle plant blooming and setting seed in its little fruit and this was the Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata). This shrub has lovely small yellow bell shaped flowers in pairs along the underside of its branches. These turn into pairs of black round berries and then the bracts behind the berries turn dark red and are a very striking contrast to the surrounding greenery. The hummingbirds I saw were getting nectar from the flowers of both plants which provides both water and quick calories for these hot little birds; body temperature about 107 degrees F. They will eat the little soft bodied insects that are also attracted to the vegetation of these native plants and feed the insect slurry to their tiny chicks that need lots and lots of this insect soup to grow so fast that they fledge in about 19/20 days after hatching. The plants continue to pull up water and refill the flowers so the female hummingbird can return again and again for a drink of stock to make insect soup for their babies. That’s why.

Cool Site – The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.