Villainous Voles

640px-Microtus_pennsylvanicus_illustration
By Author: Bailey, Vernon, 1864-1942; Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942; United States. Division of Biological Survey – Revision of American voles of the genus Microtus (1900) https://archive.org/details/revisionofameric17bail, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37187840

In last month’s post on “Who Ate My Plants?” I described the following scenario:

The heavy snowfall took a while to melt, but finally your dormant lawn emerges from under its frozen blanket. Last time you saw it, it was perfect turf, smooth and even. But now, it looks as if an army had performed maneuvers across your yard! Shallow furrows run here and there around islands of still-intact grass. What in the world?!

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Who Ate My Plants?

pocket-gopher-hole_colospgs-co_lah_2261Your carrots have finally reached harvestable size—you can tell from the broad shoulders slightly protruding from the soil that the crop is going to exceed expectations. Excitedly, you bend down and gently tug on the feathery green leaves. Pop! Up come the leaves and the top of a carrot—but wait! Where’s the rest? All you’re holding is a quarter inch of orange. The rest of the carrot is missing! Confused, you stick your shovel into the soil to bring up the next root, but it suddenly plunges downward, encountering no resistance. There’s a tunnel under your carrot bed. Grrrrr!

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Not Quite Hail-Proof

@SantaFeNM 2008jun28LAH 124When I first saw the dark clouds building over the mountains to the west, I was elated. My newly-planted perennials were thirsty, and now I could let Mother Nature do the watering. However, as the cloud mass grew and darkened, I quickly realized that rain wasn’t the only precipitation I could expect. The rounded pumps on the undersides of the thunderheads—the bottoms of convection cells—meant hail was on the way.

Sure enough, the storm that day did major damage in much of Colorado Springs. We were fortunate in that we missed the worst hail, but with hailstones up to an inch in diameter, we too took a beating. While my husband stared dejectedly at our pock-marked car, I ran to the window to see how my flowers fared.

Incredibly, I didn’t lose a single plant.

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Black Vultures

Black Vultures_EvergladesNP-FL_LAH_4670When we first saw the sign, during our recent visit to Everglades National Park, we thought it was funny. What can a bird do to our car (besides the obvious, I mean)?

Then we looked around. Black Vultures were everywhere—in the trees, on the ground, and yes, pecking at the cars. Most people had used the tarps provided to protect their cars, but one black sedan was left exposed. Perhaps the owner didn’t believe the sign. We watched, amazed, as several birds carefully pecked off all the black rubber around the windows. It looked like they were eating the wipers as well. And let’s not forget the extremely acidic vulture droppings burning their way through the nice, shiny paint job.

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Hail Survivors

centranthus-helianthemum-penstemon-trio-003Colorado isn’t an easy place to garden. Drought, late frosts and early snow storms, soils of sand and/or clay… to grow anything here, you have to be stubborn—and so do your plants. Our recent storms were so destructive, I thought I’d post something about how you can avoid a lot of hail damage in the first place. At least for ornamental landscapes, the key to surviving hail is plant selection.

A tour of the garden after a major hail storm will reveal some plants that are totally destroyed while others have nary a bruised leaf. What makes some plants hail-resistant?

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After the Storm

[This article, by Joan Nusbaum and I, originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2005. I have edited it to make it even more applicable after last week’s storms!]

m5auwe-golfballhail67-c-gazetteLast week, our part of the world was hit by a horrific hail storm. Drifts (if you can call them that) measured four feet high. Houses, cars, and, of course, gardens were ruined by hailstones the size of golf balls (as this photo by Pam Woodward proves). It’s quite shocking to watch from your window and see thousands of hail stones plummeting your favorite garden. Do not despair—the plants may recover! Hail usually does not damage the root system. Here are some things you might do to help your plants survive and even thrive:

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Oh Hail!

hail_home_plh-1It was the house-shaking boom of thunder that first caught my attention. As my ears recovered, I heard a drumming on the roof, a steady beat that rapidly got louder and louder. More flashes of lightning. More thunder. I stopped chopping up celery for the stir-fry I was making, and looked outside. Sure enough, that wasn’t just rain I was hearing. It was hail.

Vicious icy balls almost an inch in diameter were pelting the house, bouncing on the driveway, burying the flower borders. I switched windows so I could see my veggie plot. That was a mistake. It’s such a helpless feeling to watch a lovingly tended garden, the beds I had so carefully weeded just hours ago, turn into lime sherbet.

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Starlings Not Welcome Here

european-starling_lincolncityor_20090922_lah_1634Birders in the U.S. are supposed to hate European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), and there are plenty of reasons to do so.

The species originated in Europe, North Africa, and western-to-central Asia. While mostly abundant there as well, the species has been red-listed in England after populations plummeted by more than 80% over the last 40 years [1]. Other northern European countries have witnessed a similar decline [2]. We can only wish that would happen here.

North American populations have exploded since their introduction in the early 1890s. According to the USDA, starlings cost our country $1.5 million in damage to agricultural crops, the consumption of feed intended for livestock, and in property damage. In one winter, a million starlings can down 27,500 tons of livestock feed, not to mention what is ruined by their accumulated droppings—and latest estimates put the US population at over 200 million birds.

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What’s that bird that’s driving me crazy?

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. I was awakened early this morning by insistently loud hammering on the metal chimney guard on our roof. Yup, it’s that time again. Our resident Northern Flicker is announcing his ownership of our property. This year we’re ready. But last year we had a major issue with these woodpeckers. They drove my husband crazy, and inspired me to write the following story:

Not even the cat is awake before 5 am. Soft snoring comes from the bedroom, darkened by shades against the early appearance of the sun this time of year. It’s a lazy Saturday morning in mid-March. Nothing important is scheduled for hours. Later there will be errands to run, chores to catch up on, phones ringing and dishes. Right now, all is peaceful, all is calm.

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM

Like a staccato burst of machine gun fire, the noise reverberates off the metal gutters directly outside our bedroom window.

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