Sunday, May 11, 2014


On Saturday May 3, 2014 our volunteer crew planted a meadow at Middle Creek. It was a beautiful day and the work went quickly.  On the Friday before Dave White, Jim Metzler and Ken Barshinger put a grid on the site, so planting would go on with a minimum of delay.  It only took about one and a half hours to plant the one acre meadow.

i would like to thank Fred Habagger, Sharon Hughes, Jennifer Hanf, Jen Slater, Dave White, Ernie Peffley, Jodi Good and Chris Brown for all their help in making this event a success.

The maintenance crew from Middle Creek went over the site on Monday with a culti-packer to give good seed to soil contact.  Now we wait to see what develops.  The recent rains we have had should give the plants a good start.  The first plants will be up in July and by the end of August some of them may be blooming.

After we finished planting and cleaning up my daughter Christine and I decided to tour around Middle Creek and see what was happening.  It was a really neat experience.  I observed things that were unexpected and I have never seen before.

The Bluebird boxes located closest to the meadow site are a side-by-side pair at one foot distance between them.  Although the boxes are newer, this is the same configuration we put in place in 1998 when i was supervising the BB trail. The result that year was that Bluebirds used one box and Tree Swallows used the other one.  This was the first time we actually confirmed that Bluebirds and Tree Swallows could successfully nest as close as one foot apart.  This year the exact same scenario is playing out with the same  two species sharing this site.  As we were watching them the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows seemed to be taking turns sitting on the post holding the boxes.  We will have to check with the monitor of these boxes to see if history repeats itself.

Our first stop on our "tour" was to look at the meadows SW of the Visitor Center that had been recently burned.  As I scanned the area, my daughter said she saw something black moving along the edge of the meadow nearest the woods.  It turned out to be a BLACK Gray Squirrel.  It was hopping along the grass path  and in and out of the burned area as if looking for some food. Soon a couple of hikers passed and it scurried into the woods.  I had seen white squirrels in Washington DC many years ago, but as far as I can remember this was a first time I have ever observed a black one.  That was neat to see.

As we slowly followed the tour road we saw Canada Geese sitting on eggs in artificial nests, some Mallards and lots of song birds including Bobolinks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Kingbirds, Bluebirds  and Tree Swallows.  We drove to the end of the road in the NE section of the property and were rewarded with a beautiful sight.  As we were turning, we spotted some movement in a small tree along the edge of the road. On closer inspection it turned out to be a Yellow Warbler.  This bird defines the color YELLOW---it literally glows.  This beauty is all yellow except for a series of red steaks on its breast and for the next 10 minutes or so we watched as it flitted through the newly unfolding  leaves of this plant that was no more than 20 feet from our car.  I have seen this bird  before, but never this close or with such vibrant color.  Wow!

As we continued on our journey we were serenaded by male Red-Winged Blackbirds vying for the best territories to attract  the females that will arrive soon.  At the pull-off at the right angle turn near Stop #4 we stopped to bird watch.  After sitting for awhile with not much action, a lone hen Turkey emerged from the nearby meadow, scooped up a loose acorn and casually walked over the road not 30 feet from us.  When she reached the edge of a small pond, she  immediately took off and flew to the opposite bank about 75 feet away.  The landing site was a narrow dike about 3 feet wide, so as she made her approach she had to stop quickly.  To do so she had to open her tail completely and it looked like one of the most beautiful FANS i have ever seen. The white, tan and brown colors of her tail feathers were absolutely beautiful.  I have often seen turkeys fly, but i have never seen anything like this before.

With that memorable experience, our Middle Creek adventure was over for now and we headed home. If you do not have these kind of experiences you need to get out more---there is a big wonderful world out there just waiting for you.  


I have been planting native grass and wildflower meadows for the past 12 years.  For health reasons, I can no longer do so.

iI would like to assist others with the same endeavor, if I can.

For the past two years I have been supervising meadow planting from my wheelchair---it has slowed me down, but did not stop me.

During the Summer and Fall of 2013, I visited various meadow sites to see how they were doing.

I was very pleased with how the meadows had  progressed.

 Landis Woods Meadow, Lancaster, PA, planted in 2012

Brown Meadow, Huntingdon Co., PA, planted 2007

Middle Creek Meadow, N. Lancaster Co, planted in 2009


 Humans like immediate gratification!!

Plant a lot of Black-Eyed Susan, Wild Bergamot, Brown-Eyed Susan  and Tickseed Sunflower seed to start. Black-Eyed Susan and Tickseed Sunflowers will bloom the first summer. and continue into the second season. Wild Bergamot, Wild Senna,White Beardtongue, and Brown-Eyed Susan will grow the first year and bloom the second giving you a colorful meadow two years in a row.  

If the conditions are right, you can get an amazing number of the grasses and  flowers to bloom the first and second years, with many continuing indefinitely.

Black-Eyed Susans and Brown-Eyed Susans bloom vigorously for 2 to 3 years and then usually fade to a few here and there in the meadow.

Tall plants  including Joe-Pye-Weed, Wingstem, Green-Headed Coneflower and Tall Sunflower are great wildflowers, but you must be mindful that they can get 8 to 10 feet  tall and they can dominate a site.

Little Bluestem, Purple Top and Broom Sedge are great grasses  for short meadows.

Big Bluestem and Indian Grass are great grasses for tall meadows, but Switch Grass should be avoided.

Planting a variety of native wildflowers and grasses gives you food sources for insects, birds, amphibians and mammals for the entire season, so as one flower fades, others take its place.  The mixes I have been using assure some blooms from June through November and the first Frost. 

The first plants to bloom in the summer are the White Beardtongue and Golden Alexanders in May/june.

Soon Black-Eyed Susan, Ox-Eye Sunflower, Wild Bergamot, Buttterflyweed and other  Milkweeds  show and can dominate.

In August the NY and Upland Ironweeds, Mist Flower, Brown-Eyed Susan, Green-Headed Coneflower, Joe-Pye-Weed, Wingstem, Great Blue Lobelia and various sunflowers take over.

Fall brings Asters, thoroughworts and the native Grasses with Big Bluestem blooming first, followed by Purple Top and Indian Grass.  Little Bluestem and Broom Sedge bloom later in the Fall.

Using Roundup on a site within 3 weeks after a SPRING  planting yields the best results, because none of the plants I use appear until 6 to 8 weeks. It sets the problem weeds back and then the site can be controlled  with mowing.

I strongly believe maintaining the meadow with an annual mowing on or about April first is the best approach to provide the highest quality wildlife habitat, control woody plants and provide the most visually appealing landscape.

Canada Thistle and Crown Vetch are the worst problem plants in most of the meadows I have worked on.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Today I watched sex in the raw.  As I was watching birds in my backyard, I observed a pair of Mourning Doves sitting on a hemlock branch next  to each other.  it seemed on first blush that there was a purpose for their closeness, so I stayed on them with my binoculars and I was rewarded with  a once on a lifetime experience.  It quickly became obvious that these two had something special on their minds.  Both birds started by severely ruffling their feathers to the point that they looked out of sorts and unkempt. They followed this by hurriedly preening and cleaning themselves as if in anticipation of something happening.  Interestingly they actually appeared to be preening and cleaning in a synchronized  series of moves as if copying each.  Both birds sat on the branch facing in the same direction at about 10 inches apart.  After they finished, the male started moving toward his partner, by taking very small steps until he was right next to her.  She looked at him and he immediately touched his bill to hers and he appeared to transfer some item of food.  After a few seconds of bill touching, the male flew up,  mounted the female  and with a brief flurry of wings it was all over.

Afterward the female looked quite content but was probably thinking "Oh god now I have to build a nest".  The male looked spent, and his head drooped a bit as he tried to compose himself.

Wow, I said to myself this is really interesting ( I was beginning to feel like a voyeur) when a pair of gray squirrels came bounding up the tree and disrupted the scene.  Apparently they too were responding to the warmth of  Spring.

You just never know what may be happening right in you own backyard.

Monday, March 3, 2014


On Saturday (3/1/14) I saw a robin in my backyard.  It was drinking out of the water garden kept open with a  heater.  It was brightly colored indicating it was most likely a male. During this severe winter weather the heater kept the ice from forming even when the temperature dropped below zero.  Just about every time I look at the site there is at least one bird taking drink.  One day I watched two White- throated Sparrows taking a bath with the temperature well below freezing.

On Sunday I observed a chipmunk running around on the snow.  I couldn't figure out what it was doing---I guess it woke up from a long sleep and was surprised to find all this snow.  It struck me that it was really making itself a target for any hungry owl, hawk or coyote that might be in the area.

Today(Monday) we had 6 deer in our backyard.  They show up to eat the corn and sunflower seed I have scattered around.

This winter I have been participating in Project Feeder Watch.  My most recent list included---
Black-Capped Chickadees (2), Tufted Titmice (2), White-breasted Nuthatch (1), Juncos (8), Downy Woodpecker (2), one Bluejay,  5 Cardinals,  a huge flock  of White-throated Sparrows (36), four Crows, one Hairy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove (4), Carolina Wren (1), Brown Creeper (1), Red Bellied Woodpecker (2), a male Rufous-sided Towhee without a tail, a  Pileated Woodpecker, a Song Sparrow,  a Fox Sparrow and  a Robin.

Here it is March 3, 2014 and tomorrow night it is to drop to -2 degrees---What a winter!  We have had more snow this winter than the last 5 winters combined.

There is a warm day coming.  Let us hope we don't have to wait until July to see it.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


This winter I am again  participating in Project Feeder Watch sponsored by the Department of Ornitholgy at Cornell University and the Audubon Society.
This birdwatching activity is a lot of fun and contributes to the continuing collection of data on the activities of the birds of North America.

For years I have used a heater in my water garden to provide a water source for creatures visiting my backyard in the wintertime. Even this winter, with temperatures near 0 degrees, the heater maintained a circle of water for drinking.

With most water sources frozen solid in January of 2014, I  have continued to appreciate the value of having a liquid water source available for the wildlife that visits my landscape.

On really cold days, I have observed a steady stream of birds and squirrels getting a drink from this water garden. Tracks tell me nighttime visitors to the watering hole include deer, fox, opossom and possibly a coyote.

I have even observed birds taking a bath at temperatures well below freezing---the "polar bears" of the avian world.

So if you want to improve the habitat in your backyard, put in a water garden with a heater. The creatures who visit will thank you and you will enjoy the view.