Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rescued Birds of Prey ~ Their Stories

Still in Michigan...we took a day trip to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary and what an amazing place! This 180-acre refuge offers a diverse wildlife habitat situated on a scenic 40-acre lake.

There are a number of rescued Birds of Prey at the Sanctuary that demonstrate different species of native raptors and I wanted to share their stories.

Note: photos were all taken through the cage screen so I apologize for the lack of clarity.

Barn Owls (Tyto Alba) Status: No longer found in Michigan

Barn Owls have not been seen nesting in Michigan since 1983! This male was found as a hatch year bird in 2006 in Florida with an injured right wing. Despite being treated he is unable to fly and therefore unable to hunt successfully in the wild.

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) Status: common, year-round

These red tailed hawks are both female but their age is unknown. They both have wing injuries and are unable to survive in the wild. The one with the darker patterns has been trained to stand on a glove and is used for educational programs at the Sanctuary.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) Status: Common, year-round

These Great Horned Owls were brought to the Sanctuary in 2008 from the Michigan State Veterinary clinic after their wing injuries were treated. Their age is unknown but it is presumed that they are both female based on their larger size. Males are usually smaller in weight and size.

Fun fact: Great Horned Owls are the only predators to hunt skunks!

Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio) Status: Common, year-round

This Eastern Screech Owl was checking me out. Can you see him looking out the corner of his eye? This little guy was found in 2006 as an immature bird in Vicksburg, Michigan. He has a right wing injury and the tip of the wing had to be amputated. He has learned how to get around without two full wings and word has it that he can sometimes be seen peaking out of his box.

Did you know that Screech Owls don't add any nesting materials to their nests but roost and lay eggs in nest boxes or tree cavities?

Barred Owl (Strix varia) Status: widespread
This male Barred Owl was found as a hatch year bird in Indiana in 2009. He was on the side of the road with a stick in his left eye. A wildlife rehabilitator treated his injury but he remains blind in one eye making it impossible for him to be a night hunter in the wild.

Interesting fact: Great Horned Owls are the greatest predator to Barred Owls.

* * * * *

Birds of Prey are heralded hunters and powerful birds and very often thought to be invulnerable. The stories above show that they are at risk too and their biggest threat are humans. Car accidents are the leading cause of injury and death of these birds. Birds of Prey often hunt along road sides and are struck when they fly by. Birds such as vultures and eagles that feed on carrion are frequently hit by cars when they are feeding on road kill and are too gorged to fly away quickly.

Wind farms are thought of as a clean source of renewable energy however they have a high environmental cost when it comes to bird fatalities. Many wind farms are located on migratory flyways and prime flight corridors for raptors. These birds are often struck by the spinning blades.

All Terrain Vehicles often destroy nests of ground nesting birds. They also damage habitats of the mammals that are their primary food source and without sufficient food and nesting sites the populations of these raptors dwindle.

Pesticides and herbicides used on crops and to control rodent populations are lethal to these birds over time. Habitat loss also impacts their populations since birds of prey require large territories for successful hunting and nesting.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monarch Butterflies in Michigan

I don't often see Monarch butterflies in my garden during the summer months. They spend their summer in the northern regions so it has been a real treat to watch these beauties during our visit to Michigan.

Milkweed grows in abundance here along the roadside and natural areas. It is wonderful to see such a plentiful food source for them.

The monarchs are the only butterflies known to make a two-way migration. When the days begin to shorten, the monarchs will begin their fall migration southward usually around mid-August to early September. 

They will be traveling through my garden starting late September. You can find the peak dates for your area by checking out Monarch Watch website here.

Researchers are still studying these butterflies and you can help by tagging monarchs you find in your garden.  Kits can be ordered from the Monarch Watch site. It is easy to do and all the instructions are available on-line.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wetland Wonderland

Last week we visited The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My previous post covered the Sculpture Park. Another outstanding part of this park is the 30 acres of wetlands. These wetlands are an important part of the regional watershed. The Park's brochure "Tending The Water" explains how the gardens were designed to minimize the effect on the water cycle. Rainwater drains from parking lots into holding ponds. Streams and plant material cool and filter the water before it makes its way to the wetland areas.

I learned after my visit that the islands in the parking lots "take the form of depressions rather than mounds. The water flows into these depressions and aided by the plants finds its way back into the ground close to where the rain has fallen". This approach won several awards in the engineering community.

By the time all this water makes its way to the wetland areas the water has been cooled and pollutants removed and it enters in a controlled trickle.

A boardwalk through the wetlands makes for easy viewing around the marshy area while reducing human impact on this fragile habitat.

It is home to lots of local wildlife. I apologize for the quality of some of the photos. I want to show you the diversity of birds that call this place home but some were simply too far away even for my camera's zoom.

Limbs from dead trees provide a perching spot for birds in the middle of the swamp while providing a safe haven for fish to hide from predators.


Great Blue Heron
This Heron was flying around the marsh during our visit but always staying at a great distance. Unfortunately, This is the best shot I could get.

Red-winged blackbird
The cattails as seen in the photo above are common plants in wetland areas. Red-winged blackbirds and other birds nests in them while beavers and geese eat them. If the blossoms are pollinated they turn into fluffy seed heads. These seed heads were used by Native Americans to create the first diapers.

Water fowl are plentiful and we watched them for a long time.

This couple stayed close together while grazing. These are Mute Swans which are a non-native species and considered a threat to the native Trumpeter Swan. The Mute Swans are very aggressive toward other waterfowl. According to the Michigan DNR website they have implemented a three step reintroduction program to increase the native swan population since the mid-80s and the Trumpeter Swan population is growing.

Mute Swan (European import)

A few ducks were taking an afternoon nap under the protection of some limbs.

The Canada Geese were heading off somewhere all in a row.

We had a great time spotting green frogs (Rana clamitans).  They cleverly camouflaged themselves on the green lily pads in the marshy area.

Mom and baby (?) or maybe male/female were taking refuge from the hot sun under some large lily pads.

Of course there were also lots of turtles sunning themselves on logs and stumps.

painted turtle ~ wide spread native species found throughout N. America

Sometimes it was a bit of a balancing act.

Of course it wouldn't be a complete post if I didn't include a dragonfly photo!

You can see photos from all these parts of the park including the fabulous summer blooms by visiting Southern Meadows' Facebook page under the album Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sculpture in the Park

One of my favorite gardens to visit in Michigan is the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. I only discovered it a few summers ago when Dale Chihuly was exhibiting there. See my post here.

One of the largest parts of the gardens is the 35-acre Sculpture Park. The vast meadows, ponds and grassy knolls showcase works from more than 30 artist. It is like an open-air museum. I thought I would share some of my favorite pieces with you.

Cabin Creek by Deborah Butterfield
The organic nature of this horse makes this a really interesting piece. It is in fact bronze casts of wood but the effect is the same from a distance. It looks like reclaimed art using pieces of drift wood.

Neuron by Roxy Paine
This is a new piece at the gardens and I like how it can be interpreted in so many different ways. It definitely has nature references but is made from decidedly industrial elements. It could be a "root ball elevated by the tendrils of the root" or an "abstract shape with powerful central form reaching out into space".

As you can see my children were rather enamoured with this piece.

Eve by Auguste Rodin
What I love about the setting is that the plants and trees really show of the sculptures. It is so serene and one can really meditate with nature as the back drop. Sometimes when I look at art in museums I feel closed in and don't fully appreciate the art. Plus these pieces are so large they need the vastness of the outdoors to really come to life.

Plantoir by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
This one really appealed to the gardener in me.

I, you, she or he by Jaume Plensa
This is by far one of my favorite in the permanent exhibit. I love how it almost looks computer generated and a little Sci-Fi but the rocks bring an organic feel to it and the green grass just makes it all pop.

Standing Woman by Ossip Zadkine
I really like Expressionism and this one appealed to me with its shapes and lines.
Two Indeterminate Lines by Bernar Venet
This piece was just too temptingly interactive for my son. Apparently he missed the sign that says "don't touch".

Aria by Alexander Liberman
This piece sits in a large field. I like how the wispy grass seems to lift it up. The orange color of this massive structure against the brown grass, green trees and blue sky just sings.

King and Queen by David Nash
The King and Queen is made from bronze but looks like two pieces of wood that has been blackened. The artist is known for creating pieces from wood shaping living trees or carved ones that have died naturally.

Scarlatti by Mark di Suvero

The American Horse by Nina Akamu
And, here we are under the 24 ft. horse. Not necessarily my cup of tea in terms of art but I had to show it because it is so monstrous and powerful.

My next post will be on the wetland habitat of the gardens which is teaming with plants and animal life.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Midseason Look at the Kitchen Garden

Despite our hot and dry days the kitchen garden has been growing rapidly. Spring provided significant rainfall which gave the seeds a good start but we've petered out and supplemental watering has been necessary with more consistent temperatures near the 100 degree mark.

We've been picking blueberries daily. We have several varieties: Tiftblue, Climax, Brightwell, and Premier. Planting at least two cultivars of the species is necessary for cross-pollination; having three or more with over lapping bloom cycles is even better.

A new addition to our garden this year is the Pink Lemonade blueberry. The unique characteristic of this variety is the fruit which starts out pink and then turns a darker shade of pink when ripe. If you close your eyes you can't even tell the difference from a traditional blueberry.

The strawberries which were transplanted from our old raised beds are starting to put out runners and spread. They adjusted to their new home quickly and have been bearing fruit since Spring.

The Moon and Stars watermelon has been a hit with the kids. This heirloom variety has beautiful spotted foliage

and the fruit is covered with small yellow spots (stars) and one larger spot (moon).

The zucchini are blooming. These blooms are edible raw but they are delicious fried.

~For the batter~
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup fat-free cold milk

Sift together dry ingredients. Whisk in milk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Pour oil in a skillet to 1/2 inch deep. Heat oil on high heat. Briefly dip each blossom into the batter and add to skillet. Cook until golden brown, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and eat immediately. Easy and delicious.

The first cucumbers are forming. The culinary possibilities are endless.

The tomatoes are looking delicious. We picked our first tomatoes last week.

The Better Boy seeds which I won from Gardens Eye View (thanks Donna!) are starting to come up. I planted them a little later in the spring so that I could be harvesting tomatoes well into the fall.

I found the first tomato horn worm of the season on the tomato plants. I have to keep a lookout for these caterpillar because they will defoliate the tomatoes quickly. They camouflage so well with all their greenness.

The eggplant 'black beauty' has finally produced some blooms. They are pretty little blooms too!

The muskmelon (cantaloupe and honeydew) are growing quickly. It looks like we will have a bumper crop.

I will be traveling for the next few weeks. I will be posting from the road as there are several gardens and parks that we plan to visit.

Hope you are having a great summer and enjoying the harvest from your garden!