Monarch Update

MORE ON MONARCHS

On July 21 the monarch butterfly was declared endangered by IUCN (The International Union for the Conservation of Nature). Being listed on the IUCN Red List means it is the first time the monarch has been officially considered in danger of extinction.  Evidently, there is a big difference in which population —the eastern or the western— is more at risk.  Our western population has declined 99.9 percent in the last few decades, from around 10 million in the 1980s to under 2,000 in 2121.  The eastern population declined by 84 percent between 1996 and 2014.  There was a recent controversial study based on citizen-science data from summer nesting sites that showed an increase in some US locations.  However, according to the latest research, it is the winter data that tells the real story.  Even if populations rebound in some places in the summer, overwintering populations, whether declining or even remaining stable, are just way too low.  

So what to do?  As always, plant as much milkweed as possible, because chemically sprayed  farmland milkweed, loss of habitat, and overdevelopment of traditional nesting grounds are some of the reasons our gardens seem to be the last ditch resource for our western monarchs.   We advocate planting native milkweeds, but if you do plant tropical milkweed, be sure to cut it back in the fall/winter.  Tropical milkweed stays green and discourages monarchs from migrating. Cutting it back also helps to eliminate spores that could be on the plant. Climate change has made it easier for tropical milkweed to overwinter in our area.  So I repeat, be sure to cut it back.  Look for native milkweed plants at our CNPS plant sale this fall.  We’ll keep you updated on which species will be available.  

All Butterflies Need Our Help

It has been encouraging to see so many habitat gardening enthusiasts plant more milkweed and work together to save the rapidly declining Monarch populations. While there was some good news of a significant increase in the overwintering Monarch populations on the West Coast, we are still far from the numbers we have seen in the past.  We continue to need more milkweed in backyard gardens, public gardens, undeveloped land—anywhere we can replace some of the milkweed that has been lost to development.   

Meanwhile, there are many other local butterflies that are not flourishing.  Even if I hadn’t seen news of declining butterfly populations, in general, I would be worried at how many fewer butterfly species  I am seeing each year in gardens, on hikes.  Unlike the Monarch, some of our local butterflies can lay their eggs on several species of host plants, though they are often in the same plant family. Some of our butterfly host plants are trees or shrubs, such as willows (Mourning Cloak, Western Tiger Swallowtail, Lorquin’s Admiral), oaks (Mournful Duskywing, California Sister), California coffeeberry (Pale Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak), and mallows (Painted Lady, West Coast Lady, Common Checkered Skipper).

Mallows include shrubs and perennials, and they are easy to grow.  Chaparral mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus) is a fast growing shrub up to 6 ft tall;  island mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora), which is native to the Channel Islands, is also a fast growing shrub (up to 10 feet tall) with beautiful foliage and showy rose-pink flowers from spring to fall.  Though drought tolerant it is happiest at the coast and would need summer water inland.  A friend grows it successfully in Novato by planting it near the house, which offers some wind protection.  Our native perennial wildflower, checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora) is commonly planted as a host plant, but trailing mallow (Modiolastrum lateritum), if you can find it, was always the favorite choice of a botanist friend who inspired me to plant for butterflies many years ago. Mallows, of course, are great nectar plants for all pollinators.

Nancy Bauer
Co-Founder -  the Habitat Corridor Project and Author of The California Wildlife Habitat Garden: How to Attract Bees, Butterflies, Birds, and Other Animals (UC Press)

Locals and Migrants

Locals and Migrants: Autumn in the Habitat Garden

The white-crowned sparrows have come and gone. Their melancholy song marked the end of summer and the return of the autumn season.  Golden-crowned sparrows, a female tanager and a male yellow rumped warbler turned up at the garden pond a few weeks ago. Cedar waxwings have shown up to bathe communally at the waterfall basin.  It’s the season for these migratory birds and many others as they make a stopover to hunt for food, to stay awhile or continue on. They join our local residents in the hunt for fall’s bounty of seeds, nuts, and berries.  

Native trees and shrubs not only provide these food sources, they also support a high number of insect species that birds feed on, which makes them essential to bird habitat. Coyote bush, for example, attracts hundreds of insect species. Many native shrubs provide berries—coffeeberry, toyon, blue elderberry, hollyleaf cherry (and other Prunus spp.), for example— for Northern mockingbirds, cedar waxwings and robins, omnivores that eat insects plus seeds, berries and nuts.  Meanwhile, seed-eaters like the resident finches, California towhees and juncos are searching in the leaf litter that we leave under shrubs and trees where it falls.  Leaves, flower petals and chopped up plant trimmings make excellent mulch that soaks up the rain and provides hiding places for insects, which also feed the leaf mulch foragers.  Light leaf mulch (or bare soil) offers nesting sites to ground-nesting native bees. Beetle larvae also overwinter in the soil.  Fall and winter are ideal seasons for planting natives; they will have the winter to grow deep roots for the long dry season.  They will enhance the bird habitat value of any landscape.

What you can do.

WHAT CAN WE DO

 in our own gardens to help sustain our local wildlife?   Because by all accounts, and many of our own observations, populations of many songbirds, butterflies and bees are going in the wrong direction, way too fast.   In “The California WIldlife Habitat Garden”, I write about ways to grow a habitat garden by starting first with a walk around your landscape. And this is a good time to take that walk and start thinking about what to change or plant in the fall. What are you providing right now?   Vertical  layers of cover?  A water source?  Food and nectar plants?   Are there fences or trellises available for shrubs or vines that produce nectar for hummingbirds or fruit for birds?  Are there plants that have little wildlife value that could be gradually replaced with native trees, shrubs or ground plants?  A plant screen of berry-producing trees or shrubs would serve wildlife and might also give more privacy from neighbors or cars.  Is there a place for a birdbath or wildlife pond?  For drifts of seasonal nectar flowers?  Which host plants for local butterflies could you add near the nectar flowers?   Don’t forget to look at traffic patterns in the garden; improving the habitat value of areas where activity is lightest is a good place to start.  When we decide to plant for wildlife, a new relationship with the land evolves.  Instead of outdoor decoration, the garden becomes a web of life, a sanctuary, and a daily invitation to enjoy whatever shows up—and every single habitat garden is unique with its own unexpected surprises.

Update

Happy Friday!

There is a bunch going on around here at the Habitat Corridor Project.  A brief update:Our Sebastopol Corridor Project is thriving – these sites only get bi-weekly water at the most – and the plants are doing well.  We need to be able to see the seasons in the garden and some brown is OK! California native plants have deep roots that are adapted to drought cycles helping them survive. HabitatCorridorProject.org The Recology Pollinator Garden at 3400 Standish Ave in Santa Rosa is prepped for Fall planting and the BEAUTIFUL mural by Artstart is up — you must go visit.  We planted a small test area of California natives that are surviving on low water use drip irrigation sprays for now – the big planting will come when the rains come.The Resilient Landscapes Coalition, of which we are founding members with the Sonoma County UC Master Gardeners and the Sonoma Ecology Center, was funded for the year by the Supervisor’s Vegetation Management Grant. Super, super exciting!  SonomaResiliantLandscapes.comI must admit – I am feeling very worried about climate change, drought and the already active fire season.  I’m afraid everyone will stop watering their trees – please water your trees.

One of the most important messages the Resilient Landscapes Coalition (Mimi Enright, Ellie Insley and I) have uncovered is that the first 5′ from your home and vigilant maintenance this time of year the best way to protect your home with your landscape. Start clearing  leaves – just keep 2″.  Save your water todampen them on red flag days with cisterns or other vessels. Get rid of all of the foundation plantings around your home depending on where you live.  This is a tough one but of utmost importance if you live in the Wildlife Urban Interface.

In our designs we certainly try to get creative in the 0-5′ zone.  Use dry creek elements, pretty pebble, boulders, fountains, containers with succulents, compost, and other non combustible materials to make this area look great and provide protection from embers. 

And my personal mission for aesthetics and resilience – please do not use Gorilla Hair or dyed mulches.  Stick to a good compost with a lot of wood mulch incorporated in it or simple Arbor Mulch. 






Stay safe out there – let me know your thoughts on this email please.

With Love,

April

April Owens
Proud Executive Director, the Habitat Corridor Project
april@habitatcorridorproject.org
HabitatCorridorProject.org

Bumblebee blog

Our native manzanitas are flowering now and they will attract many early spring pollinators, including those fuzzy black and yellow-haired bumblebees.  There are 26 native species of bumblebees in California and they live in small colonies in the ground, which is a very good reason to leave some patches of bare earth in your garden space as nesting opportunities. The fertilized queens, who are the only survivors at the end of the year, hibernate until spring when it’s time to start up new colonies.  The queen will be the first bumblebee out foraging on early spring flowers for nectar and pollen, which are brought back to the nest as nourishment for the new brood.   Bumblebees use many different nectar plants, but early blooming salvias such as brandegee sage, black sage or  low growing sages such as  ‘Bee’s Bliss’, ‘Dara’s choice’ or ‘Mrs. Beard’ are bumblebee magnets.  Also, early blooming pink-flowering currant, coffeeberry, and ceanothus.  My choice for best bee nectar plant is tansy-leaf phacelia (you may have to grow this one from seed); another habitat gardener’s favorite:  Ceanothus ‘Gloire de Versailles , which blooms all summer and is loved by all pollinators. 

DRAGONFLIES

Habitat Notes

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 

Coffeeberry Packs a Pollinator Punch

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.  

Nancy Bauer 
President and Co-founder, the Habitat Corridor Project and Author
The California Wildlife Habitat Garden - by  Nancy Bauer (Paperback) - image 1 of 1 (UC Press)

AND…a note from April

Happy Friday!

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. 

With LOVE,

April
Proud ED, the Habitat Corridor Project
april@habitatcorridorproject.org

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.