Birds Tell All

I follow another blog called Cutter Light. It is a chronicle of an extraordinarily adventurous couple’s life working and living in remote locations. Illustrated with high quality photos and good writing, it is always a pleasure to read. I want to share two recent posts here that capture the essence of living in nature (whether urban, rural, or wilderness). Both essays involve birds and what they mean to us personally but also how birds are, uniquely, messengers from beyond the world where we are tethered.

Birds travel, migrate, sing. Their messages to us are as loud as a blaring siren and as obvious as a giant billboard if we tune in. These beautiful essays show us that language at work.

Memory and great horned owls:

2:00 AM: The Owls of Chignik Lake and Clarion River’s Gravel Lick Pool

Climate and species expansion, also limits to our knowledge of species at the edge:

The Week a Grosbeak Landed on my Head, a Chickadee Perched on my Tripod, and I finally got good Photos of Golden-Crowned Kinglets

 

See How Native Plants Deal With Drought: Two Native Plant Walks in August

For anyone within shouting distance of Yamhill County, Oregon (Portlanders out for a day of wine tasting, I’m talking to you), make your trip to wine country memorable and instructive by attending a Taylor Gardens native plant walk on August 27. Or, if you work near McMinnville, take a stroll with me in the evening at Miller Woods, the Soil and Water Conservation District property just outside town. That’s on August 29.

Here’s why it will be fun: you will learn to recognize 10 native plants that you might see in a landscape, or on a hike, even if you can’t tell a nasturtium from a petunia. You will find out how these plants can be used in your garden, and why they are great for wildlife!

Please come with us and enjoy the native flora up close. Oh, there are birds too – have you ever seen an Acorn Woodpecker? The plant walk at Winter’s Hill Winery on Sat, August 27 offers a chance to see and/or hear these birds of oak woodlands that look like clowns and sound like one of the Three Stooges. At Miller Woods, there are hawks, harriers, Pacific Slope Flycatchers, swallows, and red-winged blackbirds galore.

Did I mention wine? The Saturday, August 27 walk is at a winery famed for its luscious Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Rose, among others. They will let you taste for a small fee. Picnicking is free. And the view, well, you have to be there to believe it.

Here is a link to sign up for both or either of these walks. They are $10 each, and the kids are free.

Sign Up Now!

How Green IS A “Green Building” ??

Update: Since this was originally posted, Jeff Acopian kindly pointed out some inaccuracies. His family actually started looking into protecting birds from window strikes in the 1980’s. You can read more on the Birdsavers website.

Also, the American Bird Conservancy has just launched an appeal for help with spreading the word about their own ratings and endorsements for good products for homeowners and commercial buildings. A few of the products below are included. I hope you will consider a donation to help the cause!

Due to a recent upheaval in living arrangements, there’s been a dearth of posts here on Gopher Valley Journal. We retired and moved form the big City Up North to Gopher Valley permanently, and we couldn’t be happier. In the process we replaced our old double wide, aka manufactured home with a new one (also made in a factory). It is a fully eco rated Energystar® model with efficient water fixtures and lots of insulation. It also has beautiful windows and lots of light. These windows are super energy efficient but are also more reflective (think mirrors) than any other window. I knew there would be some work to do when I saw the plans and those beautiful windows.

We had sliding glass doors on a porch in the old place, and more than once birds slammed into them, prompting me to do a lot of research on birds and windows. At the time, the easiest remedy was to paint some vertical stripes with tempera paint on the glass. As funky as it looked, it worked out well and in fact they are still on one set of doors we re-purposed for an art studio. But what about the pristine and, frankly, fancy looking new ones? There was a lot more glass, and even before we moved in, bird-shaped collision marks started to appear.

The good news (well kind of): in his newest book Subirdia, Professor John Marzluff (from whom I took one of the best classes of my second undergraduate career) relates that cats are by far the biggest human-assisted killers of birds. Way more than windows. 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds are expected to die by cat in the lower 48 alone. Every year. Please, please keep your cat indoors. Please. Helpful info at the link.

The bad news: windows are the second biggest cause of bird fatality around homes. Somewhere between 250 million and almost 1 billion birds smack into glass every year, in the U.S. alone. Skyscrapers are responsible for only a fraction of that, with residences and shorter multistory buildings the worst.

What to do?? I went back to the internet for an update. Researchers have helpfully measured the exact dimensions of products that help birds see glass and avoid death and injury that I used for my previous fix. And, there are also some cool new ideas out there. I got a few more tips from the Mid-Valley Birders listserve.

Here below are the results of my search and (trial and error) product testing.

1. External screening by http://www.birdscreen.com/. Thanks to a couple of rave reviews on the birdlist I sent away for a trial amount of this flexible fabric-like screen to try on a variety of window sizes and shapes. I ended up cutting some down to fit on smaller windows that were particularly popular targets for bird strikes. This made the suction cup application a little clunky looking but the ease of installation and modification was a plus. Extremely effective and seems to be holding up to the weather, although the pipe insulation recommended to weigh the bottom down is getting fried on the hot south side. It is as see-through as a window screen. I opted for the attachment method that does not involve drilling into the siding, and it’s only useful for windows that are not on our sliding glass doors. Economical and user friendly. It can be ordered in custom sizes.

This is how Birdscreen (TM) product looks from inside

The view from inside

Birdscreen (TM) product outside

Birdscreen (TM) product outside

Treatments above rely on a weight at the bottom. You can also attach the bottom to the window with suction cups but I ended up using all of those for the multiple smaller pieces I modified from the kit. Here are the smaller window treatments. These were particularly lethal windows, and we have not had problems since adding the external screens.

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The pink tape is to keep us from hitting our noggins on the open casement window.

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2. ABC BirdTape. Sold directly by the American Bird Conservancy, this product is economical and easy to apply. It comes as a roll of tape or wider squares. You can also get long rolls of uncut wide tape. These are all designed according to research that indicates that vertical or horizontal striping or squares of a specific width and distance apart, will help birds see a window, or avoid crashing. The minimum spacing for the stripes is important: 2″ horizontally or 4″ vertically. The tape turned out to be just the thing for the expanse of glass used on our deck panels. If you’re careful, it can be repositioned if you make a mistake, and if you goof up it is not too expensive to discard the piece you have and start over. The product is translucent, so you cannot actually see through it, but it has been fine visually. Visitors often think the glass came that way, and if I had it to do over I would have it frosted like this.

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Birdtape in squares.

Birdtape in strips

Birdtape in strips

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3. Acopian BirdSavers. Another outfit that sells a product they invented just for bird protection. Their product is made  from parachute cord. This product saved us and the birds. It is by far the easiest to apply, and if you want to save money, the website offers instructions on how to make your own. It has the advantages of simplicity and minimal things to go wrong, plus it is low profile. With the amount of glass we had to cover, this was the most satisfactory. Update: A few of these stopped adhering to the siding, and since I did not want to drill into our new siding I used suction cups on a couple of windows, and on others a magnetic strip with holes drilled to hold the strings tucked behind a window flange. I am told by the company that they also offer a permanent attachment bracket that has small screws to mount a bracket which looks very satisfactory in the photos on their website.

Here is how it looks on arrival. I measured my windows and gave them the dimensions to make each one for me (essentially cutting to size and tying the knots) so all I had to do was attach them. They are suspended from a header cord attached to pieces of aluminum with heavy double stick tape on the back. The green color blends in well.IMG_4840Installed, they are effective and low profile. Although they look a bit dark in the photo looking outside, the contrast is not that harsh. The attachment detail can be seen on the product website. Although they mention attachment problems in some applications, we have had very little need to re-attach. When it really gets busy at the feeders, sometime birds perch on the cords for a few seconds!

birdsaver2 birdsavers

Birdsavers cord installed

BirdSavers cord installed, looking out

4. CollidEscape This product seemed like a great idea. It is a mesh adhesive. It was quite pricey even for some samples but I thought it might look better so I tried a few; clear for the deck panels, grey and green to match the siding. The material comes in thick, very adhesive sheets that can be ordered to size, and they will color match for you. It also comes in patterns. I was told it is the material that is applied to buses for advertising. How they get those huge pieces on a bus is beyond me.

The colored film is nearly opaque from the outside, and pretty see-through from inside, although not as transparent as any of the other materials I used, probably because the colored sheets are black on the side that adheres to the glass, plus the holes of the mesh are dense.

If I was an experienced applicator or had an extra person or two to assist it might have been easier. I tried using the methods suggested, but it was a teeth-grinding experience on a hot day. In the end I removed the clear piece I had on the deck because it wasn’t very attractive. I think these photos actually make it look better. To me it just made things look out of focus and did not enhance the glass like the BirdTape.

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In any case, after my first experience, I tried cutting one piece into the dimensions of the bird tape and applying it according to those specs. After a couple of months I decided it was too distracting and took it off.

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The one application that seems to work is a couple of windows where I got it on evenly and it blended in well. On the south side of the house (left) it helps keep the house cooler by reflecting the heat and sun. On a small bedroom window (right) the reduced light is minor. The color match is quite good.

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See below the difference between CollidEscape film and bird netting (left) and the film and BirdSavers cord (right) looking from the inside.

BirdSavers cord on left, CollidEscape film on right

BirdSavers cord on left, CollidEscape film on right

inside view0001

CollidEscape left, bird netting right

These examples show that different solutions work in different areas. The main thing is to do everything possible to protect the wildlife we life with whenever we can.

Because we know better, all buildings must take into account their surroundings. Green buildings can’t be green unless they include bird protection in their design. On the positive side:

  • Some cities have laws about what kind of glass can be used in commercial buildings with birds in mind.
  • Bird-friendly glass does exist.
  • Retrofitting is always an option, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, and not only for new construction.
  • It is really great that LEED building certification includes not only glass specifications but interior and exterior lighting standards for bird protection.
  • Lighting! a whole other story that you can read about in John Marzluff’s great book and also here.

Reblog: IT’S 18 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT — WHERE’S THE PEANUTS????

I’m reblogging a post from this wonderful southern Oregon bird blog, because it is so appropriate and I can’t really add anything:

IT’S 18 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT — WHERE’S THE PEANUTS????.

It was 20 deg F last night, and stayed cloudy all day, preserving the thick layer of frost on all things leafy.

We had lots of birds flocking in to gobble birdseed, suet cakes, and leftover apples hanging in the trees. Notably, also a brand new bird siting (for us) – a Townsend’s Warbler partaking of the granny smiths. They winter along the west coast. It was a treat to see a new visitor we would likely not see in the summer. Here’s a great video http://youtu.be/hpQlILzavms Check out the eyeliner!! I only wish the videographer would keep his cat indoors, such an obvious example of why he should do that.

We still have the one White-Breasted Nuthatch hanging around with the Red-Breasted ones, who practically sit on your shoulder in their frenzy to eat enough to keep from freezing. I noted a Stellar’s Jay scaring off the WBNuthatch as it was cracking a sunflower seed it had wedged in the bark of the dougfir. The Jay snatched it. Turns out those jays can cling to the bark too, the bullies. The WBNuthatch may disappear once the weather warms up, but I hope it finds a mate and settles down for the summer.

Here is the bird lineup near the house currently:

Townsend’s warbler (new to us), white breasted nuthatch (recently noted), Stellar’s jay, black capped chickadee, chestnut backed chickadee, (oh- they are sooo dapper!), dark eyed junco, golden crowned sparrow (took awhile for Tom to settle on that i.d. as their crowns are not very golden in winter), spotted towhee, mourning dove, varied thrush (heard the policeman’s whistle of its call briefly in the evening, and then it visited the ground under the feeder); heard but not seen – golden crowned kinglets.

Everybody Needs A Hedgerow

We can all appreciate the fact that bats and birds eat a lot of insects. They control populations of pests that would otherwise destroy a lot of vegetation.

That is one example of an ecosystem “service”. Clean water, clean air, pest control, are provided by complex food webs, involving untold numbers of producers (e.g. plants, nitrogen-fixing bacteria) and consumers (insects, fungi, microbes, mammals, etc).

Now think about what happens if something goes wrong: species die, we add more carbon than our decimated forests and grasslands can absorb. Gradually we lose services that we need to live. The system breaks down, and no longer supports our health and safety.

Habitat is the key to survival for plants and animals. Wilderness and managed reserves are the highest quality habitat, but the space in between – the “matrix” (no, not the movie one – the real one) that we humans take up with cities, towns and rural agricultural land is so vast, and stretches across so many boundaries, that it becomes essential to manage it properly to ensure the integrity of the safety net that keeps us alive.

This was the topic of a recent article in the New York Times about a research paper that documents the toll of habitat loss in the matrix:

Every fall the calliope hummingbird, which weighs about as much as a penny, braves high winds and bad weather to migrate from Canada and the northern United States to as far south as Mexico, then back again in the spring — a total of 4,000 to 5,000 miles.

The journey is one of several dozen “spectacular migrations” — in the air and on land — that are chronicled in a new report by the Wildlife Conservation Society…But the report warns that these migrations are in peril.

As migration routes are disrupted, other species can be affected too — including humans. Take the case of migratory songbirds, whose numbers are down across North America.

In the spring, these birds eat 3,000 to 10,000 tons of insects each day as they travel. “It’s a legitimate concern,” said Dr. Wilcove, of Princeton. “Presumably with the decline of songbirds, insect damage to crops and forests could be worse.

New York Times December 19, 2011

That last sentence is a profound understatement. Unfortunately, this is not news. The great conservationist, Aldo Leopold began writing about it over 80 years ago. In one of the essays published after his death he addresses the issue in a nutshell:

The shrinkage in the flora is due to a combination of clean-farming, woodlot grazing, and good roads. Each of these necessary changes of course requires a larger reduction in the acreage available for wild plants, but none of them requires, or benefits by, the erasure of species from whole farms, townships, or counties. There are idle spots on every farm, and every highway is bordered by an idle strip as long as it is; keep cow, plow, and mower out of these idle spots, and the full native flora, plus dozens of interesting stowaways from foreign parts, could be part of the normal environment of every citizen.

Leopold, Aldo 1948

A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There

As much as we’d like to have unspoiled wilderness to shelter all sorts of creatures, the time is long past when there is going to be enough, or enough in the right places, for many species. We have to take care of the matrix lands – the places where we live.

Nature is not “out there” it’s here where we live.

What’s needed? Well, the best case is that there will be some connected places that afford the essentials for wildlife:

  • food
  • water
  • shelter and resting places
  • places for homes

Here’s how Leopold explained why we have to conserve habitat patches within farmland:

A city consisting of endless restaurants and dining rooms, with no bedrooms or living-rooms nearby, would support about as many people as Iowa supports upland game birds. Birds cannot rest, breed, or dodge their enemies in one continuous soup-kitchen…Iowa’s problem is to induce the farmer to let some grass and brush grow.

Report of the Iowa Game Survey, Chapter One: The Fall of the Iowa Game Range (1932)

We all need hedgerows

Hedgerows are ideal habitat to give insects, birds, and other beneficial wildlife places to find food and shelter. They will create balance in the landscape and give you a chance to enjoy the diversity of life on earth. The great thing about hedgerows is, it is something we can all do to make a difference. If you link yours with your neighbor’s you have an even larger habitat that is more than the sum of its parts. And hedgerows can be any size – even a few shrubs will improve things.

• Hedgerows can be groomed or left to grow on their own.

• The best ones contain a diversity of plants native to your local area, of varying heights, and with different bloom times.

• Evergreens are exceptionally useful to wildlife and help prevent erosion and excess runoff year-round.

© Copyright Eileen Henderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

• By choosing the right plants for the space, you will not need to “control” the growth of your hedgerow unless you want to. This one is wild – yours does not have to be.

Bare root plants and plugs from the Conservation District are small but inexpensive

I started a hedgerow along the access road from Gopher Valley Road this year. I’m looking forward to watching the plants grow and produce wildlife galore.

If you’d like help with planning, planting, grooming or pruning your hedgerow, I’d be happy to help you through my business, Taylor Gardens