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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mourning Doves used to be called Turtle Doves

Mourning Dove
Back in 1731, when the Mourning Dove was first described in North America, it was called the "Turtle of Carolina". A decade or so later its name morphed into "Turtle Dove". But the real Turtle Dove is found only in Europe. Today our bird is called the Mourning Dove, after its incredibly memorable, mournful song.

Europe's Turtle Doves were commonly known as "turtur" which imitates the birds' call. Around 1500, the final "R" was replaced by an "L", making the often-translated biblical phrase "...the voice of the turtle is heard in our land" make a tiny bit of sense.

The Mourning Dove is a very common bird - with over 400-million of them in North America. Which is a good thing, odds wise; about 70% of young doves die in the first year. But they adapt well to a human-directed environment, unlike its Passenger Pigeon cousin which was once touted as the most abundant bird in the world (but is now extinct).

You can attract Mourning Doves to your yard, but keep in mind that you might attract other kinds of doves too. They tolerate birdfeeders, but prefer to pick through seed scattered on the ground. (Better footing!) Doves have a tough time with ordinary tube feeders, where the relativelty short perches don't accomodate relatively large birds. Also, make sure you have several large shrubs around, so they can nest undisturbed. In warm weather birdbaths are also a big draw.
“Hey skunk;  here I am!”      I know it’s counter intuitive, but if you come upon a skunk (within about 20 feet), make some noise as you slowly step out of the way. Just whistle or hum or recite a nursery rhyme - it makes no difference.  Reason?  Skunks have terrible eyesight. Whatever’s beyond 3 feet is just a hazy blur to them. And if it’s surprised by something it can’t see well, it sprays. So let it know you’re there.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Get your landscape ready for a north Texas summer

This area’s typical summer weather is coming. We’ve received almost our normal meager rainfall this past winter. Weather experts predict that our spring will turn into our customary bone-bleaching summer. (It has for the past couple of hundred years)!

Unless your utility costs mean nothing to you, there are methods you can use to yield a colorful, bird-friendly landscape, even during our 100-degree days. But you've got to prepare for it NOW. During my 30+ years as a Landscape Architect, I've arrived at these guidelines for getting your landscape through a north Texas summer;

The edge of the lawn 
 Avoid over-maintaining
        Leave your yard alone during the heat! During my tenure as a Landscape Architect in north Texas (and more as a homeowner) I've seen, over and over, that landscapes do much better in the heat if they're left to grow how they want. Cutting the lawn, and occasionally watering, is all you need to do.

Look on a north Texas summer not as a bad thing, but as an experiment. Use it to see what makes it to mid-September and what doesn't. Remember what you learn from your experiments and you'll be better prepared for the following summer, and all the Texas summers after that.

 Minimize your lawn area
       A manicured lawn is a real ego-builder. It also takes a huge amount of work. You know; sweating profusely while you mow, trim, fertilize, weed and kill bugs. Then there's the expense! Entire industries have sprung up just to primp your lawn and exhaust your checkbook.  Yet, on any given weekend, you can spot scores of exhausted homeowners out working on their lawns.

I'd advise people to simply let part of the lawn grow naturally until late September's cooler weather. There should be a distinct edge to your lawn. Choose about half of your current lawn for the usual mowing, watering, etc., and let the rest be taller.

          If you can't resist the urge to cut your lawn, let the clippings stay on the grass, acting as mulch and providing a tiny bit of shade for the grass' roots. Doing so saves about one fertilization per year. And whatever you do, stay away from artificial chemicals and soil additives - they just make plants thirstier.

 Mulch just about everything
       Simply put, a top-layer of mulch cools the soil and holds in moisture, so you need to water less. It also keeps out all but the most determined weeds. Mulch can be just ground-up bark chips, shredded leaves or composted grass clippings or other yard waste.

 Use native plants
     Native plants grew up in this type of summer (their ancestors did, anyway) and with our poor soil. They're used it. Once a native Texas plant is established, it needs little or no extra water. Birds and butterflies are attracted to them much more readily than exotics.

     Most native plants aren't hard to find. In fact, nine of the 12 trees recommended for Denton by Keep Denton Beautiful are native trees that are available in most nurseries. On the other hand, things like hybrid roses, French lilacs, gardenias and azaleas are from elsewhere in the world (where water isn't a problem) and will have a tough time here.

 Use “hardscape'
This is "landscape-speak," for anything in the landscape that's not supposed to be alive and is relatively immobile. Examples: a driveway, a deck, a fence, a wall or a patio. Clearly, these take almost no maintenance. Just don't let hardscape dominate.

 Divide the yard into zones
   There's the active zone with a few potted plants and maybe some outdoor chairs on a patio. Probably there's a garden zone with flowerbeds and such. Maybe there's a natural zone, which is favored by birds. And there's the ubiquitous lawn zone. (You get the idea!). Zones let you do yard maintenance in short, targeted spurts.



Sunday, March 10, 2013

Keeping bees and wasps away from your Hummingbird feeder

Rufous Hummingbird
Obviously, bees (and wasps) are after the sugar.  So it pays to be very careful when filling a nectar feeder.  Even a tiny splash attracts bees.
Some people will even wipe down a feeder using a weak bleach or vinegar solution, while it hangs. If bees still find it, move the feeder at least 10 ft. away from its current location (messes up bees' directional ability) or take it down completely for a couple of days.
Avoid mistakenly poisoning birds  Several reports tell about birds dying in large numbers near homes. This is strange!

A frequent explanation, from scientists who should know, is cross-contamination. Large stores tend to stock both birdseed and pesticides. There are accidental spills sometimes and the spillage gets mixed together (they can look similar to the untrained eye). Also, many seed crops up north are sometimes sprayed with chemicals. Up north, birds may have developed a resistance; but not north Texas birds. Hence, birds visiting your feeder can sometimes be eating poison.

It doesn't happen a lot (once is plenty). My advice is to play it safe, and avoid buying birdseed from a retailer that also stocks weed-killer, weed & feed or pesticides. The life of a bird, or many birds, is worth more than the few cents you might save.