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Sunday, December 28, 2014

How many birds was that?



You certainly don’t see every single bird that visits your yard, so how do you get a rough headcount? Or how do you authoritatively tell a friend there were xxx birds in your yard? Experts disagree on details, but they’re in the same ballpark.

Count the birds you see in your yard in a typical ten second span (count those at your feeders, flying nearby and those just watching). Multiply that number by 5 or 6 (that’s where they disagree) for a very approximate number of birds who look to your yard for support.



cold facts about shivering        Birds shiver in cold weather, just like we do.  Every bird in the world does it to keep warm. Shivering keeps the core body temperature where it needs to be (106-109 degrees for birds). That could mean a difference of 100 degrees from the outside temp to the inside of a bird.

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.  

 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

There are reindeer in North America, but we call them "caribou"

The genetic makeup of reindeer and caribou is the same. The two main populations are in sub-arctic regions of Scandinavia and North America; these two populations have been separated for centuries,  and couldn't  interbreed. As a result, the two populations have evolved a little differently - the caribou being slightly larger than the Scandinavian reindeer

One member of the species has a glowing. red nose but scientists haven't located it yet.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Most north Texas owls don't "hoot"


    

 
Eastern Screech Owls
The majority of Owls in north Texas don’t use the familiar “hoot-hoot” or “who-who” sound (depending on how you want to spell it). The largest native owl, the Great-horned Owl, is the only hooter. Our most numerous one is the Eastern Screech Owl, which makes a tremulous ‘horse whinney’ sound. Only occasionally will it actually screech. Most often, a Screech Owl is black & white.  Sometimes it's brown, however (both are pictured above). He’s smaller (about 9”) than the average owl.



Greater Roadrunner
Do I dare to eat a cactus?      During the winter, Roadrunners are often forced to feed on cactus plants, since insects and lizards are scarce. They often break off a piece of cactus and repeatedly smash it into a rock, softening the needles, to make it edible.

 


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Goldfinches are here now, but don't look for a bright yellow bird.

American Goldfinch (winter feathers)
White-throated Sparrow

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Lots of birds have arrived in north Texas (or are coming), and will stay here all winter. Among them is the Goldfinch, which is not a bright yellow right now – it’s a dull yellow, almost tan because it's growing winter feathers. Other winter birds here are the Junco, Chipping Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow and several others. These join the "regular" birds that are here all year long.

 
Yellow-rumped Warbler

 



Bats’ diet in Texas    Very few bats are vampires – none of the ones in north Texas. There are over 1100 species of bats in the world, and only three are what’s called vampire bats. They are limited only to Latin America. Vampire bats don’t “suck” blood like in the movies – they lap it; being careful never to kill, or even weaken, the “donor” (it makes no sense to harm your source of nourishment).

 The other bat species (1097 or so) eat insects, fruit, pollen and nectar. The bats here in north Texas can eat about 5000 flying insects per night, per bat! Lots of them have migrated south for the winter.  Many, however, remain in north Texas, inactive for the winter – often disguised as dead leaves on trees.

 

 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why are Americans destroying our Tongass National Forest?


 

In a late-night backroom deal, Members of Congress snuck a provision into an unrelated Defense Authorization bill that would log some of the rarest and largest ancient trees remaining in one the world’s most intact old-growth temperate rainforests—Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. This is a forest that you and I own, as American citizens.

 
Bald Eagles

The Tongass has been hit hard by industrial-scale old-growth logging, and pending timber sales, such as the announced Big Thorne project. Excessive logging is already threatening the tracts of unbroken forest needed by birds and wildlife. The language in the Defense Authorization bill will transfer irreplaceable public lands from Alaska's Tongass National Forest to a private corporation, allowing it to cut some of the rarest and largest ancient trees left in the forest. These old-growth forests are critical for birds and other wildlife, including the Bald Eagle, Queen Charlotte Goshawk, Alexander Archipelago wolf, Sitka black-tailed deer, and more. This sneaky, underhanded attack on the Tongass will only add to the risks for birds and other wildlife. It will affect us all.

 

According to the State of the Birds 2014 report, the list of “home-wreckers,” threats to healthy bird habitats, is long and growing: they could threaten half of all North American bird species. The Tongass National Forest itself is the home and breeding ground for many, many species of wildlife, but unfortunately few voters. Please urge Congress to leave the large, ancient trees of the Tongass standing, instead of giving them to lumber companies.
 

 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.  

 


Sunday, December 7, 2014

What color is the Cedar Waxwings' tail?





 
Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwings have already been seen frequently here in north Texas this year. They're starting to appear in groups, in yards now!
 
The tips of their tails are normally a very bright yellow. On a few of them, however, the yellow has been replaced by an orange/rust color. These birds have fed largely on the non-native honeysuckle vine (Japanese or Hall’s Honeysuckle). The native plant (Coral Honeysuckle) is a more natural food source, is less “invasive” and won’t turn the birds orange.

 
 
Who’s getting fooled?     Everyone knows that squirrels bury nuts to eat later. But researchers in Pennsylvania and Connecticut found that squirrels often dig a hole, then don’t bury a nut in it.  When a squirrel knows something is watching, and digging up nuts a moment after he leaves, he may dig fake burial holes to get the follower to give up (maybe it's a bird such as a Blue jay, another squirrel or even a human).  A squirrel may even re-bury a sloppily buried nut to make it harder to pilfer.

 


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Now, when leaves are off the trees, is a great time to plan your birdscape


 

Just so we’re clear, that’s “plan”, not “plant”. (Although many trees and shrubs can be planted now).

In winter, you can see the “panoramas”, “vistas” and “views” that a good landscape plan should expose or capitalize on. You can also clearly see scenes you may want to block, as well as birdscaping opportunities.

Timing is better too. Starting advance plans now doesn’t push the planting phase into the heat of the summer – which dooms many plants and requires a lot of water. And is usually more expensive.
 
   Cool weather is easily the best time, in Texas, to plant birdscape plants, including ones that provide food for birds when you forget to fill your feeder. Plant them this winter so that, when spring finally gets here, they will have acclimated to their environment, and can grow dependably, quickly and lushly,

A good landscape designer can look at a bare tree, and visualize how it will look when it’s green. He or she should also conceptually select and place plants so as to maximize the bird appeal and provide such things as nesting material and safe cover. Also, he can suggest other “non-plant” items to attract birds, such as birdbaths and birdhouses.

That’s part of what a professional does - I call it  “Birdscaping” - a process adding bird-appeal to your yard and making it easier to maintain.

 

 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.


 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Birds absolutely, positively need to be able to fly at a moment's notice



Sandhill Crane
 
Nighthawk

Clearly, without the ability to fly, almost all birds would quickly become extinct. A bird that wants to stay alive does not have the option of 'putting on a little weight'. Birds’ anatomy is designed appropriately. The large flight muscles, anchored onto the breastbone, make up from 30 to 40 percent of a bird’s body weight. Obviously these muscles power the wings, so a bird's body simply can't be too much for the flight muscles.

 

 
 
 
 
Checking out a feeder    Before landing on a feeder that’s not totally familiar to them (like a new one), birds will land on a nearby branch (within about 5 – 8 feet) and watch it for a while. If there’s no branch or perch to land on, the feeder won’t ever be thought of as “safe”.
 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton. 

 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

There are more birds here in cool weather, than in warm months


 
 
Spotted Towhee
 
There are unquestionably more birds in north Texas in the fall & winter, than in the spring & summer.  That includes birds like Cardinals, Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, Titmice and Bluebirds that stay here year ‘round. After all, we’re in “the south”. Their relatives from up north come here too, because the ground (and their food supply) isn’t frozen and snow-covered. So the populations of these birds swell during the cooler months.

The cool-weather list also includes birds like Towhees, Goldfinches, Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, Sapsuckers and Juncos that come here for the winter. They too can find natural food in our comparatively-mild weather. Although, in a rare Texas snowfall or ice storm they can only find food around feeders.
 
It may seem like there are fewer birds, but that's wrong. Only a few species fly farther south. During cool weather all birds are less active, and prefer to stay in cover - like tall vegetation and shrubs. Clearly this is because they're conserving energy for such vital tasks as staying warm.

 

 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.

 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Robins live in north Texas all year long



American Robin

Actually, there are more Robins in north Texas in cool months, besides being here all year ‘round. Robins from up north come here when snow and ice covers up their food (which happens infrequently here) joining with the ones already here. If a friend of yours will be watching for “the first Robin of spring”, he (or she) might want to keep an eye out for the Easter Bunny too. Wherever Robins happen to be, they tend to become more active and visible as mating season approaches. But they live here 12 months a year as long as they can get food, and take a bath every now and then.

 


clogged feeders?     Whenever your feeders are outside, experiencing three or more straight days of continuous rain and/or high humidity, the seed in them can clump together and clog. Since birds feed heavily during breaks in the rain, I leave my feeders outside. But as soon as possible, preferably overnight, I’ll bring them in, empty the seed into a large pan, break up any clumps, and let it air-dry.   Certain seeds (particularly hull-less types) are worse than others, so I recommend seeds with shells, which all birds are very accustomed to opening.


 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spectacular fall color is possible in north Texas

Soapberry
 
North Texas is not known for spectacular fall color, unlike New England and some areas near the Rockies. That’s not because there are no colorful trees here (there are several). It’s because the dominant trees exhibit little or no  spectacular fall color, as you might expect from when almost all of north Texas is in what’s biologically-called a “Post Oak Savannah”
Simply put; the sheer number of Post Oak trees (and its relative Blackjack Oaks), overwhelm the trees here showing nice fall color. Over the centuries this natural disparity has increased. Also, unspectacular trees such as Live Oaks, Ashes and some imported, non-native trees have been widely planted.
I suggest, if you want really dramatic color, you plant a “mass” of the same tree species (a “mass” is at least a dozen, planted in a grove). Not only is it more visually striking; it seems to attract more birds seeking protection within the branches.
·      The Soapberry is my personal favorite. This medium-sized tree with an unfortunate name turns a bright yellow-orange in the fall. {see picture)
 
  •       The Red Oak (also called shumard oak) turns into a reddish “torch”   every fall (most of them, anyway)

·      Bald Cypress, by itself can’t be called a spectacular tree. It’s an excellent background tree, however, since it displays a rust-red color all winter long (see picture below).
·      Sweetgum is a dramatic tree.  The tall tree transforms into a brilliant red {sometimes purple) in the fall.
·      Bigtooth Maple is a small tree that’s hard to find in nurseries, but worth the search. It turns into a striking red each fall.
·      Cedar Elm is a fairly comm90n native tree. Many of them (but not all) turn a yellowish about late October.
·      Sumac is a shrubby plant that’s best used when randomly interspersed among large, trees. It's red.
 
These are all native to Texas, but are usually overwhelmed visually by our unspectacular oaks.  In the ‘silver linings department‘ however, and thanks to rampant land-clearing, we have an opportunity to create a patch of vivid color anywhere we can plant a tree. By far the best time of year to plant them is right now, so the roots can grow all during a Texas winter.
 
OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton. 
Bald  Cypress

Sunday, November 16, 2014

owls - a natural, low cost rat control that won't harm pets or other wildlife


Interesting but useless facts; Owls have twice as many bones in their necks as humans, enabling them to rotate their heads 270 degrees (not completely around as the myth claims). A typical adult Barn Owl (seen here in north Texas) can eat about 1500 rats a year, for only the price of housing. A group of Owls is called a “parliament” of Owls, but most people just call them a “bunch”.

 
binoculars for children:    
When selecting binoculars for children,
there are three key criteria:  1. Choose one where the distance between the eyes (“IDP”) adjusts down to a minimum of 50-55 mm.  2. Avoid a toy/compact model – these almost always have smaller focusing dials, which save weight but are difficult for children to use.  3. Steer clear of extra-high magnification and toward a greater field of view, so a child sees more area and doesn’t just get frustrated.
 
The goal is to compensate for a child's decreased motor control, not just to make things lighter.  “toy” binoculars are quite often cheaply made, poorly constructed and have vastly inferior lenses. These built-in flaws will quickly discourage a child from using them, since he/she can’t see much of what real binoculars disclose.
     ..........

 
 
 
 
OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton. 

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What to do with all those leaves given to us by nature


Every Fall, the same situation arises -  what to do with all those fallen leaves that we're given by Mother Nature. Enjoy the Fall color of course but plan the handling of the leaves to make for a "win-win" situation that saves you time, effort and money (they're a free gift, after all, with a whole lot of dormant value) Having the leaves hauled off to the landfill is the worst decision you can make. You'd be throwing away free, vital soil-building organic material and lots of free nutrients plants crave,  and stores sell for $$$. Here's a better way.

Leaf Management Mistakes:

1. Leaves should never be blown, raked, put in bags and sent to the landfill.

2. Leaves should never be blown, raked, put into piles and set on fire.
 
3. Leaves should never be blown or raked into the storm sewers or streets.

4. Fallen leaves should be shredded into tiny pieces and put back on your lawn.


Correct Leaf Practices: 

1. Mow and mulch them into the lawn. This reduces their volume by about 90% and, after a good rain, they'll disappear back into the soil,  Using a mulching mower to shred is best but not essential. Lawns can take a large volume of leaves before there is excess. Excess leaves (or grass clippings) are when the lawn is about to be completely covered by the ground-up leaves.

2. At the point of excess, the leaves should still be mulched on the lawn or driveway, and then raked, picked up and distributed as mulch in flower beds and vegetables gardens.

3. The
n, the remaining leaves that have been ground-up by the lawnmower can be put into the compost pile. Add dry molasses to the beds and the compost pile to help the material break down and become humus more efficiently. Use it at about 20 lbs. per 1000 sq ft.

4. Fallen leaves should never be removed from your yard. They're full of idle nutrients that aid the growth of future plants. They help loosen tight soil too - like most of north Texas has.  Recycling organic matter on the property makes for healthier plants, water runoff and erosion are reduced, and less tax money has to be allocated to picking up and managing leaves and other organic matter. Your plants will grow better, too.

 
OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Birds often share nests and tree cavities on cool nights




 
Tree Swallows
In cold weather, they often share roost cavities with others of their species; everyone benefits from the cumulative body warmth. For example, Bluebirds often share a nestbox with young Bluebirds they raised earlier in the year. But on particularly wet, cool or windy nights, a dozen or more unrelated birds may pile into a single roost cavity to keep warm, if they can find one.

    At home, we simply set some sturdy boxes around, with entry holes near the bottom (so birds’ body heat can rise, but not escape). Since birds roost at night, we never actually see them, but we know they probably won’t die out in the cold.

 

The Dawn Chorus          The songs and calls of birds are incredibly interesting and relaxing, even if you have no idea who’s making them or what they mean.  Try this – set up one of those lightweight lawn chairs in your back yard just after dawn (it’s by far the best time to hear birds, but neighbors may question your sanity). Sit down, close your eyes and listen to the dawn chorus.


 If you’re like me, and want to stay in bed  - just lie there (hopefully near a window) and listen.


 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.

 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Which berry-plants to put in your "birdscaped" yard, that'll make it in Texas


 
    You’ve seen how much some berry-eating birds need to consume in a day, now take action in the one place you have control—your yard. Fall is a great time to plant shrubs (after they have become dormant). So that you can get started planning and planting your new berry-full yard, here's a partial list of the top native berries utilized by birds.

Hollies
 
Includes many varieties in the genus Ilex.  My personal favorite is a tree-form Yaupon Holly, which grows to 10-15 feet. For a complete list visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website. Berries usually are on the male plants only. The berries are high in carbohydrates and protein. Fruits are usually eaten as soon as they ripen by as many as 40 different bird species, who usually stay around all day or until the plant’s bare.

Viburnum

Includes species such as Arrowwood (Viburnum acerifolium), Southern Arrowwood (V. dentatum), American Cranberrybush (V. opulus var.americanum), Nannyberry (V. lentago), and Wild Raisin (V. nudum var.cassinoides). See a more complete list of native viburnum on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website. Produces fruits late summer–December, Fruits have a high fat, carbohydrate, and protein content, making them very valuable to migratory songbirds that need sustenance for their long journey, as well to birds overwintering in areas where insects are not available.


Elderberry


Includes Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and Common Elderberry (S.  Canadensis) which grow well here. Its relatives are "iffy": Blue Elder (S. nigra ssp. caerulea), and Blue Elderberry (S. nigra ssp. cerulea)— and Red Elderberry (S. racemosa). They fruit August–late October. The berries are rich in carbohydrates and protein making common elderberries an important food for migrating songbirds. Provides cover habitat for birds.


Roughleaf Dogwood

Not to be confused with Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) or Silky Dogwood (C. obliqua), which are troublesome here. Fruits in late summer. High-fat berries are important for migratory and wintering birds.


Beautyberry

Grows best in partial shade, requiring little water. Often called American Beautyberry. Fruit production occurs from midsummer through early fall. Fruits are rich in carbohydrates and a favorite of birds preparing for migration or fattening up for a north Texas winter.

 
 

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.