Social Distancing is Not for Plants

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I frequently take walks through our newly-built neighborhood. While my primary motivation is exercise, I also enjoy checking out the landscaping choices made by the new homeowners. The plants are still small, but it’s easy to imagine what the yards will eventually look like. Some clearly have potential, with trees framing a select palette of shrubs, grasses, and perennials. Others are mostly rocks, with the minimum number of widely-spaced shrubs—mostly junipers and shrubby cinquefoil—added to appease the HOA. Social distancing is great for staying healthy, but please don’t make your plants stand on their own. Even a gorgeous star needs a supporting cast.

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ID-ing Tan Shorebirds

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We’re gearing up for a long-awaited road trip to Washington state. I can’t wait to see the grandkids (and their parents) and, since we’re driving, of course I can’t pass up the opportunity to bird somewhere that isn’t home.

We had wanted to go this past spring, but we all know how that turned out. I don’t often get the opportunity to bird the coasts, so I was eager to finally see shorebirds heading north in their easy-to-ID breeding plumage. Now, all those birds have morphed into migrants heading the other way in drab white and tan. Still, we’ve included several days at wildlife refuges known for vast numbers of migrating sandpipers, and in the meantime, I’m brushing up on my sandpiper ID skills.

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Big, Bad Thistles

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When I spy a thistle in my yard—or in the open space next door—my first inclination is to annihilate it. Pull out the weed killer. Put on gloves and yank. Dig out the roots. Sure, some have imposing purple flowers, but I’ve learned that if you delay your war, the thistles will conquer. Then I started reading up on thistles.

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A Plant for Butterflies

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I love a garden full of flowers, but that’s only half the story. A garden feels incomplete with just plants, no matter how pretty they are. We’ve set the stage. The background and props are in place. But where are the actors? That’s why I intentionally choose plants that attract birds and insects. (Rabbits? Not so much!) A summer day isn’t complete without the buzz of bees, the whirr of the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and especially fluttering butterflies—often as colorful as the flowers they visit.

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Committing Tree-icide: Staking & Protecting

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If we lay perfectly still for weeks and months, we know that our joints will stiffen and become less flexible. Movement will become difficult. Bending will hurt. Holding perfect still is bad for our health. And it’s bad for trees as well. Yet, every year hundreds of trees are splinted into immobility by well-intentioned gardeners. It’s no better for them than it is for us.

We have a tendency to regard a newly planted sapling as fragile, and we want to protect it as best we can. That trunk looks so flimsy, as if the first breeze will snap it in two. So what do we do? We stake it so it can’t wiggle. And that’s a very bad idea. Movement causes trunks to enlarge and strengthen. Trees that are firmly staked will never become strong.

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Birding the Summer Prairie

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There’s a rhythm to birding in Colorado. At this time of year, many birders head to the mountains for the cooler temperatures and gorgeous scenery. Seasonal campgrounds and picnic spots that are inaccessible during the winter are currently full of wildflowers and nesting alpine birds, not to mention people hiking, fishing, or simply hanging around relaxing. While I love seeing people out enjoying nature, at times, the more popular spots get too crowded.

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Springs-Specific Gardening

There is certainly no shortage of advice when it comes to gardening. Everyone has an opinion, and when that fails, there’s the Internet. When you garden in Colorado, however, you quickly learn that much of the advice available doesn’t apply. It’s aimed at gardeners on the coasts, or the Midwest, or even the south—but not a place with harsh winters, false springs, sudden freezes, minimal rainfall, hail, gale-force winds… the list goes on and on. No wonder so many people give up and plant rocks!

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AOU Updates, 2020 Edition

 

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We’re approaching mid-summer, the time that nestlings fledge, birders wilt, and ornithologists announce updates to lists of North American birds. As is common in these days of DNA analysis, most of the changes involve taxonomic reordering and changes in genus. That’s fascinating for those interested in taxonomy, but for most birders, it’s the lumps and splits that claim our attention. When species are lumped, we stand to lose a lifer. When subspecies are split into two or more full species, we can celebrate a longer list. There are three changes this year that will affect our North American life list totals.

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Water Droplets on Leaves

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As I was learning to garden, I repeatedly heard the “experts” telling us not to water in the middle of the day. The prevailing wisdom was that any water droplets on the foliate would act as little magnifying glasses, burning tender leaves. (Think of using a magnifying glass to start a campfire, and you get the idea.)

Then, we all learned that this was a gardening myth. Water droplets are too close to the plant tissue for sunlight to focus on the leaf and cause any damage.

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