Seattle Life in the Yard

Sustain biodiversity: garden with native plants.

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A couple days ago my recently retired husband called me to the kitchen window to see a Pileated Woodpecker spiral up the big Western Red-cedar tree that stands sentinel in front of our house just a few feet west of our driveway. We watched while it did ascending surveys on three cedars and picked for bugs along the edges of vertical bark strips. It hunted bugs for a couple minutes then flew off with the distinctive “rowing wingbeat” pattern described in “Sibley” (“The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America” by David Allen Sibley). I saw one some years ago (2009) on the same tree as I worked in the yard and was so surprised that I froze in place hoping that it would stay and let me watch it for a while. These are such big striking colored birds and their witnessed visits so rare and brief that any sighting is big drama for “Life in the Yard”. No matter how long any bird might stay in my field of vision, it is never long enough and it makes the value of its visit all the more appreciated.

The welcoming early mark of spring for me is always the delicate lacey blooming of the Indian Plum as it appears in the understory at the same time as sightings of hummingbirds so that these little flowers provide the hummers with water and fast food in the flower nectar. This shrub is also called Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) and it has male and female flowers on separate plants so to get the little plum fruit the male and female plants have to be visited by a pollinator that moves the pollen from the male plant flowers to the female plant flowers. The little hummingbirds and early bumble bees provide this pollinating service while they forage for food and the successful fruit is evidence of how early our native pollinators start work every year, well before the imported agricultural pollinators. Now, when the Osoberry leaves are just starting to emerge, the three leaves remind me of a fleur-de-lis and that it is time to plan some Zydeco/Cajun dancing to shake off winter chill.

It was a welcoming sight last week when we were surveying our yard for planning spring tasks and we saw the fast moving silhouette of a hummingbird. The tiny body was just a dark oval spot and the wings were fuzzy suggestions with the afternoon sun reflecting off of and back lighting the blurring movement of the hummer’s rapid wingbeats. Early spring last year, in the same area of our yard, there was a little female hummer eating aphids off of a Honeysuckle and I saw a lot of her for most of the spring and summer eating tiny bugs & flies and visiting blooms of various native shrubs. A little male, Calliope, I think, spent some time last year aggressively defending space around our west neighbor’s sugar water feeder. It made me think about artificial wildlife conflict we humans can create and cock fighting at the scale of hummingbirds that is so entertaining for some to watch. Today I saw, for the first time, a humming bird collecting Cody down from the underside of the Cody down basket. The little Chickadees have been regular visitors for the years it has been up, but this is the first I have seen a hummer collect from it.

I surprised a bumble bee this morning when I turned over a clump of kinnikinnick flowers to look at the tiny opening of the little pink edged blooms. I was pondering the question of what creature could be pollinating these early tough-to-access flowers on these so-low-to-the-ground plants and was answered by the annoyed buzzing of an escaping bumble. Every year the pollinating efforts are wildly successful as is evidenced by the masses of little red berries all over the kinnikinnick that slowly get eaten by wildlife in the fall and winter. So, my question has been partly answered and I still need to watch for which of our native bumblebees is/are doing the hard work with such successful results.

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