A few weeks ago April was excited to spot a beautiful reddish-orange dragonfly in her garden. She sent me the photo, hoping I could identify it. This beauty was a Flame Skimmer, common to ponds, lakes, and streams in California. April wondered what it was doing in her garden — no wildlife pond there. Even without a pond, a garden with plants that attract a lot of flying insects may also attract a wandering dragonfly looking for dinner. These insect predators spend most of their lives underwater where they will spend at least one winter season. Hiding out in pond debris and underwater vegetation, a dragonfly nymph preys on mosquito larvae, aquatic insects, and tadpoles. When ready to emerge, the dragonfly climbs up a plant stem, sheds its skin above water, and when its wings are dry, flies off. Dragonflies may live for only a few weeks after they emerge, so male dragonflies waste no time looking for a mate. When mating, a male dragonfly grabs the female behind her eyeballs, using appendages at the end of its abdomen. Females lay their eggs directly into the water or on aquatic vegetation, and the cycle begins once again.
-Nancy Bauer, Co-Creator and Board President
Nancy Here: Coffeeberry (Frangula) at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts
I especially love stopping by to see what is going on at our habitat garden at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Last time I checked there was a lot of action on coffeeberry. One of our favorite garden shrubs for the garden and for hedgerows, coffeeberry has great wildlife value. And April/May is the bloom time. Last time I looked the shrubs were buzzing with bumblebees and honeybees, nectaring on the tiny greenish flowers. In fall and winter the small black berries provide food for finches, mockingbirds and other songbirds. The beautiful Pale Swallowtail and Gray Hairstreak butterflies use coffeeberry as caterpillar host plants. It has beautiful dark green foliage, is fast growing (we’ve planted “Pt. St George’ which has a compact shape, to 4 ft.), is drought tolerant and grows in sun or part shade.
President and Co-founder, the Habitat Corridor Project and Author
I’m sitting here in my home office watching a little hummingbird have dinner in my garden- they seem to be most appreciative of the red blooming plants. Yesterday, I enjoyed a couple of Robins in our bird bath. I didn’t have my phone with me (thankfully) so I just sat and watched. It was delightful.
Thank you so much for serving our community by observing the shelter in place order. I know it is so tough not getting out into our beautiful natural spaces. To help, Nancy and I will provide you easy to achieve tips and tools to create more habitat in your garden over the next months. We also have a self guided tour of the Sebastopol Corridor Project on our website. Print it out, take a walk. The gardens look amazing right now.
Please scroll down for a real treat – Nancy will fill you in on the Dutchman’s Pipe vine and the amazing butterflies they attract. One flitted by me this week – they always make my heart race! So lovely.
Stay Safe, Stay Strong! and we will get through this.
Proud ED, the Habitat Corridor Project
PS, please tell me how you are getting nature in your life- pop me an email or call 707.634.6192. Add a picture too and we will add it to our next email newsletter.
The beautiful black Pipevine Swallowtails are emerging and looking for pipevine, their only caterpillar host plant. We’ve started a Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia californica) at the Center near the entrance. Be patient —they can take a year or two to take off, climbing a trellis or tree or sprawling across the ground. Be sure to leave them some room to grow. Pipevine often grows in filtered sun near creeks and other wet areas. They like their roots in the shade but want to climb or move toward the sun. The funny pipe-shaped flowers appear first, then the bright green leaves. I planted two of these deciduous vines under an elderberry tree where they both climbed the tree and spread out on the ground. Grasses, too, serve as butterfly host plants: we have planted various species at our downtown Sebastopol gardens. Skippers (the tiny butterflies in shades of gold, orange and brown) use hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa), rye grass (Elymus spp.), Muhlenbergias, Nasellas, Boutelouas, Festucas and other bunchgrasses as caterpillar host plants.
Nancy Bauer, Habitat Corridor Project Co-Creator, Board President and
Author: The California Wildlife Habitat Garden: How to Attract Bees, Butterflies, Birds, and Other Animals (UC Press)
Want some Dutchman’s Pipe?
It’s a little tough to find but super doable! they will have it at the Fall plant sale for CNPS Milo Baker in October, contact your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society and California Flora is sure to have it for sale soon.
Stay tuned on their websites:
We came up with this wonderful combination for a fire rebuild this week. The clients love their resident Quail but not so much the brambles they are living it.
Add some wonderful California native plants in masses of 3-5. We like islands that are at least 6′ x 10′ with about 4′ between the groupings.
The best part – the plants:
Baccharis pilularis – Coyote Brush – Food and cover. Give them about 3′ between and give a good cut back every 2 years for fire – wise maintenance.
Berberis aquifolium – Mahonia – Cover – this prickly bush will protect the Quail from resident cats.
Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’ and ‘Point Sal Spreader’ – for some reason the Quail especially like these species of salvia for their seed so don’t dead head until they are all gone.
You are welcome! Please let us know how it goes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve been having fun experimenting on small scale projects that can really transform the habitat value of your garden. At the Sonoma Living Learning Landscapes we created this lovely little bermed swale by digging a 2’x 15′ low place for the water to collect and bringing in about 5 yards of the leanest soil we could find to berm up along the sides.
Then we added some shrubs (Frangula californica – Coffeeberry), grasses (Muhlenbergia rigens – Deer Grass) , a whole lot of Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) and Milkweed (Asclepias species). There is cover and protection from predators, a low place for water to accumulate, food for the birds and butterflies. We also added some 1″ pebble for the excess irrigation to accumulate on – butterflies love that! It is an easy weekend project that doesn’t cost much at all. Food, Water, Cover.
Manzanita and Currant
Check out the manzanita —in full bloom— and the pink-flowering currant (just starting) at the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce garden. The soft pink pendants of the pink-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) are a favorite of bees and hummingbirds and an especially important nectar source for our year-round resident, Anna’s hummingbird, which can be nesting as early as December. CalFlora nursery carries many beautiful varieties of this semi-deciduous and airy shrub. “Phil’s” favorite, featured in their April newsletter, is the dark pink ‘Tranquillo Ridge’, a selection from Marin County.
Nancy Bauer, Habitat Corridor Project Board President and
Author: The California Wildlife Habitat Garden: How to Attract Bees, Butterflies, Birds, and Other Animals (UC Press)
I am just so very grateful for your continued reading of our emails and the new followers! Mailchimp says we added 10 new folks to this list since 2 weeks ago. That’s wonderful – welcome.
Although I call California my home and adore this state, I getaway to Hawaii as much as I can. Slower pace, beautiful culture and the water… This week I got to travel to the big island of Hawaii. I did a lot of thinking about biodiversity there. The beautiful ecosystem of the Hawaiian islands was decimated by European contact but slowly degraded since the first humans landed 700 years ago.
“Although comprising less than 0.2 percent of the land area of the United States, the Hawaiian Islands hold more than 30 percent of the nation’s federally listed species, including 317 taxa of plants and animals listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as endangered or threatened, 12 taxa proposed as endangered and 105 taxa as candidates for listing. Unique and varied habitats are also found across the islands. As a result, Hawaii presents both an opportunity and a challenge for conservation.” (http://www.dlnr.hawaii.gov/forestry/files/2013/09/SWARS-Issue-6.pdf)
Although I tried to relax and not work, I thought a lot about urban conservation in Hawaii just like we are creating here. The fact is, we have developed housing and cities and destroyed ecosystems. I truly believe that conservation is achieved by protecting our untouched lands AND redeveloping with natives in the urban environment. That’s why we created the Habitat Corridor Project – to preserve biodiversity. We are so grateful for conservation organizations whose mission focuses on wildlands, but we all can make a huge difference in our own yards by planting natives. I didn’t let myself dive into native plant growers in Hawaii, However; we have followers from all over the country. I’m excited to support you in finding your native plants where you are. Send me an email and let me help you find nurseries and resources.
I have to admit – I am not really a bird person. It sounds terrible to say since our .org is so passionate about creating biodiverse gardens and supporting LIFE in the urban landscape. But no, I don’t really know many of the birds that visit our habitat gardens or flitter by on the many hikes I’ve been on. I was a plant junky and didn’t notice much else but the beautiful California native plants. In the past couple of years, Nancy our co-founder opened my eyes to butterflies and native bees in the garden. Still birds – not so much.
Yesterday, as a part of the naturalist training I’m participating in, I got to go on my first bird walk. I’d always judged these groups of binocular wearing enthusiasts – how boring I thought as they quietly watch those tiny little birds. It was fascinating! Mostly because of our enthusiastic leader Gordon Beebe (go on one of his bird walks, you’ll understand- see below). I learned a ton about birds and their calls – walking up at the front next to him as I have with botanists in the past. Gordon would name off birds as we walked along chatting only from the subtlest hints in little songs and calls! Fun one: if you hear what sounds like a kitten bird sound while hiking in the Oak Woodland it is most likely a Red-chested Sapsucker. These amazing little woodpeckers are responsible for those little horizontal lines of holes in tree trunks (See the photo above). The woodpeckers then go back and eat what they’ve farmed as the sap runs catching a random bug stuck in the sap for a little extra protein. They also love to work apple trees in urban landscapes.
So, using my new birding skills, this morning walking the dog I stopped and listened. The birds were super active. It sounded like a hundred different calls – I couldn’t see a bird! I may only know one or two birds today but I intend to add more. This morning I saw a robin, bluebird, and a hawk. I can’t wait to learn all of the birds that are taking advantage of our demonstration gardens.
Back to work, I am pretty proud of the projects we have brewing and the partnerships we have created. One of our newest is the Sonoma Ecology Center (Sonomaecologycenter.org). We are working closely with them and the UC Master Gardeners to create a set of workshops that dive deep into the idea of a California landscape garden and what is a truly resilient landscape. Hop on over to their website and check them out. This collaboration has also led me to think about the broader and systemic way we need to look at our gardens. Ellie Insley, one of the Sonoma Ecology Center board members, has written an insightful article about the need to be mindful in the landscape from March 1 and August 31st due to bird nesting habits. Please read the text below.
If you are local to Sonoma County please come to our first Sebastopol Corridor Project walking tour, Monday at 2 pm. As we watch these gardens through the seasons we will all learn about who lives there and what they attract. We will try a little birding as well. I’d love to see you in person.
Executive Director, the Habitat Corridor Project
503(c) Nonprofit Organization EIN: 84-4353404
Article by Ellie Insley of the Sonoma Ecology Center
Now is the time to prepare for this year’s fire season by doing defensible space vegetation management. Yes, now, in the middle of winter, before March 1 is the best time! Beginning in early March birds will be nesting and breeding and it’s best not to disturb them.
There are other good reasons to prune in the winter season: many plants are dormant, the best time for pruning; and it’s cool out, so the work is more pleasant than in summer.
But most important – birds such as quail, goldfinch, junco, and others nest on the ground or in the shrubs and tall grasses. If you look closely, you’ll find towhee nests in low forks (3-12’ high) in shrubs or small trees – live oak, Ceanothus, coffeeberry, even poison oak, and many ornamentals. So please don’t remove vegetation when nesting is in full swing March through August!
Home hardening is the most effective thing you can do to protect your house from fire, along with vegetation management. Many government entities require that homeowners maintain defensible space in the area within 100’ of the home. The goal is to interrupt a fire as it approaches the home by removing combustible materials, dead vegetation, and ladder fuels. So pruning dead branches from trees and shrubs, increasing vertical spacing between shrubs and lower limbs of trees, and creating islands of shrubs with space between to interrupt the movement of fire is key.
Remember- Most birds nest from March 1-August 31. Vegetation removal can be very disruptive during bird breeding season, so get it done early. Many birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and it’s illegal to damage or remove bird nests.
Here’s an excerpt from Cornell Labs, a preeminent source of bird research about California quail nesting: “Female California Quail typically hide their nets on the ground amid grasses or at the bases of shrubs or trees. The nest is usually a shallow depression lined with stems and grasses, and often placed near vegetation or rocks for protection. Nests range from 5-7 inches across and 1-2 inches deep.” Let’s provide a welcome home for the quail, our state bird, by respectfully timing our fire-wise vegetation management.
Guidance on tree care and bird nesting: https://goldengateaudubon.org/conservation/make-the-city-safe-for-wildlife/tree-care-and-bird-safety/
Want to know more right now? Head to these sites.
CalFlora database www.Calflora.org
Audobon Society www.Audobon.org
Our Website: www.HabitatCorridorProject.org
Gordon Beebe (https://www.facebook.com/SSUCEI)
Bird Rescue Center: https://www.birdrescuecenter.org/resources/
(We always start with a site tour. Ask a million questions – we love that)
- Workdays at the Sonoma County Living Learning Landscapes: Every Friday in January and February from 10-12 (Except Holidays and Rain Storms). Get your hands in the dirt and learn about these exciting new demonstration gardens. Contact email@example.com and let us know you will come just in case we cancel. Meet at 425 Elliott Street, Santa Rosa. LivingLearningLandscapes.com
NEW! SEBASTOPOL CORRIDOR PROJECT TOUR
- Last Monday at the Sebastopol Habitat Corridor Project Tour – 2 pm – January 27th join us for our inaugural tour. Finish up your month with us as we visit these delightful gardens and watch them wake up as the season’s change. Meet at 2 pm in front of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts 282 S High St, Sebastopol, CA 95472 for a fun walking/strolling (or any way you get around) tour of our Sebastopol Corridor Project.