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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dead leaves will improve your soil, and they're free




Raking dead leaves and throwing them away interferes with the natural growth process and stresses plants, which now have no natural source of nutrition or natural protection. Left in place, however, fallen leaves slowly decompose into an excellent soil ingredient; leaves mixed with your soil will immediately start decomposing to nourish and loosen the soil and noticeably improve plant growth. 

I shred them with a lawn mower to greatly hasten the decomposition process, and allow sunlight to reach the lawn.

Biology is certainly not my strong suit. However, I'm told that fallen leaves contain carbon and nitrogen compounds, which all plants crave. What's more, some organic compounds (such as amino acids) resulting from leaf decomposition can be absorbed directly by plants, for more vigorous growth.

The only drawback that I know of is that sometimes too many leaves can form a mat and smother plants, cutting them off from sunlight, air or water. Of course, if you shred your leaves into little pieces with your mower, this isn’t a problem. Your lawn will green up earlier in the spring and will resist browning in the heat.

You’ll be amazed by the way your leaves nearly disappear when you shred them with an ordinary lawnmower. They’ll take up around ten percent of the space that unshredded leaves do. Pieces will simply filter down between the grass blades and start decomposing and releasing nutrients. This lets you skip one of your yearly fertilizer applications.

When they fall on soil (including your lawn), look at them as a free gift from nature, chock-full of nutrition for your plants, not as a future chore. Those dead leaves should be used as nature intended, not thrown away, burned or sent to the landfill.

  
How do the binoculars feel?

When shopping for binoculars, there are two important "feel" considerations. Consider these after you’ve narrowed your choices to only binoculars with the optics you want.

First;  how do they feel when you hold them? You want to make sure you've got binoculars that will feel good when you use them or hang them from your neck. They shouldn’t be too heavy, nor feel like a toy. And they need to fit comfortably against your face, and in your hands.

The second aspect is how you feel about actually buying them. If you're at all hesitant about the retailer, the manufacturer, the warranty, or anything else, keep looking. Price shouldn’t be your only guide. A good warranty from a real person is worth paying a little extra for. If the whole deal doesn't feel comfortable now it won't feel any better when it appears on your credit card.

        By the way, if you’re buying them for a child, for heaven’s sake don’t just get a “toy”. Toy binoculars almost always have inferior (“cheap“) optics, and will quickly discourage a child! Most important is that they adjust easily to fit a child’s smaller features.





Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at birdpoop@charter.net 


Saturday, September 30, 2017

There are probably more birds here in cooler weather



 


 


Be prepared. To many birds, Texas IS their cool-weather home so they come here from up north. Some of this area’s wild birds start migrating to warmer climates about now.  However, many stay right here in north Texas; this IS their winter home. (Like Cardinals, Chickadees, Bluebirds, Titmice, House Finches, Jays, Mockingbirds and several others). Some pass through Texas on their migration to exotic areas. When all is said and done, there are about as many birds in  north Texas in cool weather as in July. Probably more!





They will likely be encountering a scarcity of natural food, less protective cover (as plants lose their leaves) and cooler weather requiring more energy to stay warm.

Offering fresh food to birds won't affect their migration schedule at all, since their comings and goings are governed entirely by the changing length of daylight, winds, and the sun's angles. In fact, if you have fresh food out, migrating birds may rest up (for a day or two) in your yard for the next leg of their trip south.


Migration presents the opportunity to spot a bird that's not normally seen here. In north Texas, there have been sightings of Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Nashville Warblers, Pine Siskins and several others, including Pelicans. Migrating birds need the same things all birds need, especially plenty of fresh food and clean water as they "bulk up".



For most birds, the actual flight occurs in the cool of the night, since birds navigate by the stars, so we may not see them in flight. Also at night, there are few predators and the winds are more predictable.



For those of us who are earthbound, there's not much we should change as the birds migrate out of and into north Texas. Continue to offer fresh seed, clean water, roosting opportunities and vegetation that makes them feel safe. You'll get visits from about the same number of birds -- new and different species perhaps – but even more if the food you’re offering is good and fresh!





PROFITABLE BATS


According to the National Wildlife Federation, Austin is enriched by over $8,000,000 tourism dollars a year from people visiting to view the bats, mainly at Town Lake. (On a personal note: we recently took our granddaughter to a bat cave in Uvalde County. We saw 10-12 million bats as they left their cave on their nightly food run– it took several hours.  Our granddaughter loved it! )






 Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at birdpoop@charter.net  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Some people call it a "chicken hawk". But "kestrel" is prefered



The American kestrel is fairly common in north Texas. Not big - about the size of a common grackle.  It's primarily thought of as a swift predator of backyard songbirds – occasionally picking them right off a feeder, like our area’s other hawks.  While true, the kestrel’s diet is largely insects and small rodents.

It’s identifiable by the black, vertical marks under each  eye. It's a “raptor” (a bird of prey), the smallest member of the falcon sub-group, within the hawk family. Falcons have very aerodynamic bodies and pointed wings, which enables them to fly and maneuver very well. 

They  used to be called a sparrow hawks, although it has no relation to sparrows, nor does it prey on chickens or sparrfows. Occasionally kestrels will catch and eat small birds of any species. (which is why we suggest you plant protective vegetation near a feeder).  You’ll often see them when driving, perched attentively atop a dead tree, phone wire or a street sign looking for prey.

Like hummingbirds, the kestrel has the ability to hover in flight (although for a shorter time), allowing it to spot prey (like a mouse) and swoop down on it.  In heavily-vegetated yards, however, kestrels aren’t much of a concern, however, since they prefer unobstructed areas.


  



1,140 QuArter-PounDErs anyone?

If an average person had a metabolism comparable to that of a hummingbird, he would have to eat 285 pounds of hamburger meat each and every day just to maintain his health & weight.





Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at birdpoop@charter.net  


Saturday, July 15, 2017

I don't use nectar feeders any more, but I have plenty of Hummingbirds



I simply got tired of the mess, the mixing and the constant bother of nectar
feeders for Hummingbirds (I had four feeders).  Although the hummers loved them – I didn’t.

Instead I now have several large “masses” of flowering, native plants that do a remarkable job of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. All plants have nectar in varying amounts - the ones in my yard are Turk’s cap, lantana, flame acanthus, ironweed and mistflower. Others may do well too, particularly ones with a high nectar content and tube-shaped flowers. (incidentally a “mass” of flowers is at least 50 square feet. For lantana, that’s around 50 plants, depending on their spacing)  

Each flower species has a peak blooming period. Choose carefully, so there’s  flowers available all summer long.  The heat of the summer is the time to enjoy the flowers & Hummingbirds, however it’s definitely not the time to plant flowers. Most flowers in this area should be planted in late winter - for some woodier plants (like acanthus) plant right after the first frost – usually November.

Having a few mature trees around encourages Hummingbirds to nest nearby – always a plus.

You may not attract large throngs (like I did with four nectar feeders), but you can forget about mixing, spilling and re-filling all summer. Just feed naturally!





Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at birdpoop@charter.net

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The water needs of north Texas birds


   Birds need water every minute of every day, all year long.  Especially when it’s hot or cold out! Since they also need to fly, they can’t store water in body fat like most animals. They must constantly get water either in its liquid form or as a component of the food they eat. Since birds live an active life, they lose water at a rapid rate. The smaller a bird is, the greater its daily water loss. 
Since a big part of water loss is due to the air temperature, north Texas birds need A LOT of clean water, all year long.    In the summer, a birdbath is essential.     

In warm weather, a small, inexpensive “dunk” floating in the birdbath kills mosquitoes, but won’t harm birds or pets at all.



If you’re planning to put out a birdbath, remember that birds frighten easily. They’re small and (except for a few species) swim poorly. They shy away from water that’s more than 2½-3 inches deep.  Birds also prefer a bath with a gradually sloping bottom, instead of a sudden drop to the birdbath’s full depth.



Birds want a quick ”escape route” in case a hawk or some other predator gets close. Putting the birdbath next to shrubs or overhanging tree limbs is good. Setting the bath in the middle of a plain lawn makes it doubtful that many birds will use it.




Dead trees  or  “snags”

Many kinds of Texas birds are ”cavity-nesters”, such as bluebirds, titmice, wrens, cave swallows and chickadees. They make their homes and raise young in the hollows of dead trees and limbs (often in old woodpecker hole). Insects in the dead bark are an important food source for nuthatches and chickadees.  So if you don’t like the looks of a dead tree (and it’s not in danger of falling on your house) think about just growing a vine on it.  In our “Cross Timbers” area, try a coral honeysuckle, passion vine or Virginia creeper.







       Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at birdpoop@charter.net  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Landscaping newly-developed housing


In newly-developed housing areas, wild birds may not feel safe from predators (such as hawks, bigger birds and domesticated cats), and may not want to visit frequently, as they did before. This is largely because the old, familiar vegetation may be gone, and new trees and shrubs may not be big enough yet, and numerous enough, to provide good places to hide. Tall (over 3 ft.) native grasses may be the answer temporarily, until the trees and such in your yard get bigger.

Many birds (cardinals are one) prefer to nest in trees on the edge of a grassland.  An evenly spaced line of trees doesn’t accomplish this.  That’s why I recommend an informal “clump” of at least three trees (and maybe some shrubs too) which will provide a somewhat private place to build a nest.


 the Ultimate Bug Zapper       Just one common, ordinary bat will eat roughly 183 tons of insects in its lifetime. When you consider that a colony of bats can number in the millions, and what just one insect weighs, we’re talking about A LOT of dead bugs.



Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at birdpoop@charter.net

Sunday, April 2, 2017

World’s best weed killer is probably in your garage


The most effective weed eradicator known to man is already in your garage. Or your tool shed. Or in your neighbor’s garage. Or whatever. It’s your lawn mower…. A convenient option to spending tons of money on chemical lawn treatments that may or may not work. But are definitely unsafe.

You see, almost all “weeds” (the name for any plants that grow where we don’t want them to grow), produces its seeds at a height that’s higher than the blade on your lawn mower – which is at most 2”. So obviously when you cut your grass, you eliminate weed seeds (although a few may blow in from neighboring yards). Cutting grass at least once a week should be sufficient – a little more often during spring’s growth.

However, if you still want to spend money on questionably-safe chemicals, go for it. Just ignore any potential damage to wildlife, pets, birds, small children or existing plants in your yard.

 
Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at northwestern68@yahoo.com