Good Oak News

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Review: Birdscaping in the Midwest by Mariette Nowak

From time to time I hope to keep readers up on some of the great books available about ecological restoration and landscaping with native plants. Today I will tell you a bit about Birdscaping in the Midwest by Mariette Nowak.

Ms. Nowak begins this book by explaining why plants, specifically native plants are critical to the survival of our wild bird species. Basically, she makes the case that there are critical habitat issues which threaten the survival of many bird species in North America and that by landscaping with native plants we can start giving that habitat back. This section is followed by several inspirational stories of people across the Midwest who have done just that.

In the following chapters the author goes into some specific types of gardens for various types of birds. These include particular species such as hummingbirds and Eastern Blubirds but most of the garden types she introduces us to are more general, intended to replicate habitat such as prairies or woodlands for the species that inhabit these natural communities. Each of these chapters is intended to be a manual for constructing backyard habitat for birds that live in these communities.

While the information in these chapters is sound, I found that there was a lot of potential overlap, for example, should your yard be a woodland bird garden, a shrubland bird garden or a bluebird savanna bird garden? The answer may be "all of the above" or just one of these habitat types, depending on your yard. By delineating these habitats into particular habitat types she provides organization for the book but also ends up with a lot of duplicate and discontinuous information. The end result was that I found myself flipping back and forth between various chapters quite a bit. Very few people are going to find that their yard fits neatly into one potential habitat type or another, so any user of this book will likely make use of several chapters to develop their bird habitat plan. On the other hand this might force you to look at your property in new and interesting ways. In the end I suppose this is both a strength and a weakness.

Birdscaping in the Midwest includes a whole host of information such as lists of plant species with high value to birds to plant, recommendations for bird houses and feeders. In fact, there is so much information this could really be split up into several books, and I hope the author can go more in depth on some of these subjects in this book in future works. I found the book very informative and with my extensive knowledge of native plants I was able to visualize some of the habitat gardens she described and extrapolate new ideas for species and designs that would help meet the needs of birds. For those not familiar with plants or landscaping installation, there is still a lot to learn which is why she includes "Gardeners' Resources" in the back of the book. I just wish she had more field guides and native landscaping books in her list of resources because I feel most people are not going to have a very good grasp of the many plant species she recommends in this book

Overall, I highly recommend this book for any bird lover or anyone interested in native landscaping. I pull it off the shelf and use it as a reference quite regularly. It really helps you understand the connections between different wild organism (plants, insects, birds and more), teaching us that the plants are really just the foundation of native landscaping much of the magic is the animals that utilize these plants. Mariette Nowak provides a resource for native landscapers whether they want to specifically focus their property on their favorite bird species, or just want to make a more well-rounded backyard habitat.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Report on the Last Flowers of Fall

It may be a week overdue (we've been very busy with fall plantings around here!) But I thought I'd send a quick report regarding our fall wildflower walk on the weekend of Oct. 9th.

We began our trip by looking at some of the fall blooming asters in the "dry prairie" portion of the UW Arboretums native plant gardens, this area is right at the front of the building. There we saw silky aster, flax leaved aster and sky blue aster all showing off a bit. Most of the goldenrods were starting to go to seed, but a few showy asters still had some bright yellow color for us. Last but not least we looked at several species of grass which are good for ornamental purposes such as dropseed, side-oats gramma, bottlebrush grass and little bluestem as the latter species began to take on the characteristic bronze coloration which it will maintain all winter.

Because some of the young plants that were planted this year are blooming out of sequence, the UW Arboretum's native wildflower garden is an interesting place to visit where we can see a number of species blooming that should have gone to seed months ago. Species like butterfly weed and early sunflower were doing their best to attract pollinators a good two months after their wild counterparts have finished blooming. I'm sure they'll get the timing right net year.

As we moved around the back of the visitors center we were delighted to find a flock of cedar wax wings dining on the berries of a grouping of elderberry bushes.

Storms were threatening to move in, so we called it a day after about an hour and a half at the gardens. It was an enjoyable morning there, but really, any time you get out in a natural setting is a good time.

Stay tuned here, for next year we will be planning bi-monthly field trips in the Madison area and around southern Wisconsin. If you would like to be put on the email list for these trips please contact Frank.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Last Flowers of Fall wildflower walk this Sunday, 9 am.

This Sunday at 9am Frank will be leading a Last Flowers of Fall wildflower walk at the UW Arboretum. We'll start the walk taking a look at the native landscaping garden at the Arboretum visitor center. Then after an hour (or a little more) we'll head over to the Grady Tract, the portion of the Arboretum south of the Beltline to enjoy the natural areas there. Through-out the walk we'll take a look at flowering asters, late-blooming goldenrods, gentians, and if we are really lucky maybe an orchid or two. We'll also enjoy the bronzing prairie grasses and some of the early fall colors from the likes of sumac and aspen. We'll undoubtedly have some encounters with wildlife as well.

This walk is open to the public so contact Frank if you are interested. This single walk for 2008 will be forerunner of a series of twice-monthly walks starting in late April next year, so it should be a lot of fun!