Native yard attracts surprise visitor

By Ana Grace Schactman

Bald eagle in a tree

Bald eagle surveying the landscape

In the early morning of January 4, 2016, I heard crows cawing in our front yard in Webster Groves, and I went out to see what they were fussing about.

A mature bald eagle was perched in one of the tall oak trees in our front yard, determined to outstay the troupe of crows. The eagle was eyeing something on the ground, and when I said a few calming words, the crows suddenly flew away.

Our wild yard is filled with Missouri native trees and plants, and attracts a wide variety of birds, small animals, and pollinators. Last summer, I noticed a family of red squirrels living here. Over the weekend, two of the squirrels were hit by speeding cars in front of the house, and I brought their bodies back to the yard to bury them.

The eagle had come for the carcasses. That’s how nature works. The next time we see the eagle flying over I will thank it for it’s visit and wish it well.

Happy 2016 and keep looking up!

Follow Bill Hoss into his backyard wildlife refuge

By Peggy Whetzel

As he likes to call it, "Bill's Little Prairie"

As he likes to call it, “Bill’s Little Prairie”

To go birding or to photograph wildlife, two of his favorite activities, Bill Hoss has only to step outside his white frame house on North Forest Avenue in Webster Groves.

From the street, just about the only hint that there’s something unusual about the 43 by 315-foot lot is the hairy-looking buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) and other low-growing natives replacing fescue just beyond the sidewalk.

But a short walk past the house and down the gravel driveway – and flanked by the neatly-mowed lawns of his neighbors – sits a back yard filled side-to-side and front-to-back with an estimated more than 100 species of native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees. And just a big toe or two off the driveway, a small stream bubbles through it.

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St. Louis Native Plant Garden Tour – Registration is open!

Flyer for the first St. Louis native plant garden tour

Click to view the full flyer

Registration is now open for the St. Louis Native Plant Garden Tour on Saturday, June 20 from 9 AM to 3 PM.

Take a self-guided tour of 10 residential native plant gardens in central St. Louis County. Various locations in Brentwood, Clayton, Glendale, Kirkwood, Webster Groves and more.

  • Sun, shade, butterflies, birds, dry sites and wet
  • Traditional and natural designs
  • Take pictures and ask questions

Cost: $20 per person. Proceeds benefit the tour organizers: St. Louis Audubon’s Bring Conservation Home program and Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

Registration for this year’s event is closed. Stay tuned for information about next year’s tour.

The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening

Entomologist and wildlife ecologist Doug Tallamy is at his best in a recent OpEd piece in the New York Times entitled, The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening: In Your Garden, Choose Plants That Help the Environment.

Courtney Wotherspoon drawing of a bird in a tangle of plants

Image by Courtney Wotherspoon

OXFORD, Pa. — I GREW up thinking little of plants. I was interested in snakes and turtles, then insects and, eventually, birds. Now I like plants. But I still like the life they create even more.

Plants are as close to biological miracles as a scientist could dare admit. After all, they allow us, and nearly every other species, to eat sunlight, by creating the nourishment that drives food webs on this planet. As if that weren’t enough, plants also produce oxygen, build topsoil and hold it in place, prevent floods, sequester carbon dioxide, buffer extreme weather and clean our water. Considering all this, you might think we gardeners would value plants for what they do. Instead, we value them for what they look like.

When we design our home landscapes, too many of us choose beautiful plants from all over the world, without considering their ability to support life within our local ecosystems.

Last summer I did a simple experiment at home to measure just how different the plants we use for landscaping can be in supporting local animals. I compared a young white oak in my yard with one of the Bradford pears in my neighbor’s yard. Both trees are the same size, but Bradford pears are ornamentals from Asia, while white oaks are native to eastern North America. I walked around each tree and counted the caterpillars on their leaves at head height. I found 410 caterpillars on the white oak (comprising 19 different species), and only one caterpillar (an inchworm) on the Bradford pear.

Was this a fluke? Hardly. The next day I repeated my survey on a different white oak and Bradford pear. This time I found 233 caterpillars on the white oak (comprising 15 species) and, again, only one on the Bradford pear.

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By Kathy Bildner

Over the last month we have been watching as she sat on the nest, hatched out two babies and raised them.

The last one left this weekend.

Click any image for a larger version.

A magical moment in our woodland

By Margy Terpstra

Prothonotary warbler, photo by Margy Terpstra

Click for a larger image

Wednesday, April 30, 2014, was a raw day, overcast and barely 55 degrees. The dawn chorus, however, was loud and clear. So, I was at my camera. Suddenly, a stunning bird with a bright yellow head and blue wings landed in a small American elm in our woodland. It took my breath away.

I had gotten quick looks at Prothonotary Warblers here before, but this beautiful male stayed, foraging in all the small trees at eye level. He worked his way over to our bubbler and investigated a curled leaf in a Blackhaw. He skillfully inserted his beak, pulled out a caterpillar and made quick work of his meal. I was so fortunate in that moment to record it. I also came to the realization that every effort we had made over the last 18 years had led to that moment.

Our woodland was once filled with invasive bush honeysuckle. Now beneath the oaks, it has layers of native rough-leaf dogwoods, chokeberry, gooseberry, spicebush, pawpaw, ferns, celandine poppies, wild ginger, Mayapple and Virginia bluebells. The birds, butterflies, and other creatures find sustenance. So do I.

Read the full story and see more photos on our blog.


Editor’s note: Read more about Margy, and her and Dan’s backyard.

Are we really helping?

Marilyn Chryst shared this blog post by Susan J. Tweit from the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens website.

A broad-tailed hummingbird rests on the stem of a wild sunflower (Helianthus annuus) on a cold September morning. (Photo: Susan J. Tweit)

A broad-tailed hummingbird rests on the stem of a wild sunflower (Helianthus annuus) on a cold September morning. (Photo: Susan J. Tweit)

When we garden or landscape with the aim of restoring habitat for wildlife, are we really making a difference? There’s precious little research quantifying the effects of our hard work, but new studies are encouraging.

Earlier, I wrote about a study in Arizona which showed that yards landscaped in a way that mimicked surrounding wild landscapes, using at least some native species, supported not only higher bird species diversity, but also provided less stressful habitat as measured by feeding behavior. That was a definite yes.

A pair of new studies of bird and plant diversity in urban habitat support that conclusion, if in a bit of a back-door way for one.

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Bring Conservation Home – Habitat Advisor training, April 5

by Betty Struckhoff

Logo for St. Louis Audubon Society's Bring Conservation Home program2014 is the third year of Bring Conservation Home, a program encouraging homeowners to support our local ecosystem by using more native plants in their landscapes.  BCH is sponsored by St. Louis Audubon and St. Louis Wild Ones is a supporting partner of the program.

For a nominal fee, two Habitat Advisors from BCH meet with a participant at his or her home, touring the property and discussing interests and goals.  The advisors then provide a detailed written report with suggested native plants adapted to the conditions of the property, along with recommendations on storm water control and attracting interesting wildlife.

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Forest Park walking tours – Fall 2013

From Peter VanLinn III, Park Ecologist, Forest Park Forever

Forest Park Forever logoForest Park Forever continues to offer walking tours in Forest Park:

  • Free to the Public
  • Hour-long behind-the-scenes tours lead by Forest Park Forever Staff
  • Bring family, friends & leashed pets
  • Please have all members of group ready to begin at time of tour
  • Pace is leisurely, covers up to 1½ miles
  • Reservations not required
  • Dress appropriately for inclement weather (may be cancelled in severe weather)

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Big plastic pot…

chickadee in bird bubbler

Chickadee in bird bubbler
(click image for a larger version)

by Betty Struckhoff

  • Big plastic pot —                        $25
  • 50′ Outdoor electrical cord —     $34
  • Pump —                                      $19
  • Watching birds at my bubbler —  Priceless!

Friends know I’m a lazy gardener.  So I dragged my feet on creating a bird bubbler for my yard.  But last year I finally gave in.  I kept it as simple as I could by using a big plastic pot from Walmart and running an extension cord, hidden under mulch, to an outdoor outlet.  Yes there is also a big rock but that cost about a buck and Scott at Shaw Nature Reserve drilled a hole for free after I took the bubbler class there.  I propped it up with some old paving stones that were lying around.

bird at bubbler

Who can tell me the name of this bird?

My visions of enjoying the birds from our front window were not to be.  Since we usually kept the blind shut, opening it up made for an unfamiliar situation and the birds didn’t hang around.  This year the bubbler is moving to the back yard where we’ll check out the view from our second story deck.

If you want to know more, just corner me at a meeting or give me a call.