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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Flowers and feathers

In April as my sap is rising, other inhabitants of the yard are out ahead of me getting things done.

To be a good neighbor to native creatures, starting with insects, I’m trying to offer blooms from early spring through late fall. Nectar is useful food for the bugs. I also want to provide the right shelter and reproductive conditions for insects and other animals.

    This week several kinds of small flowers are blooming on the garden floor. They aren’t spring ephemerals; they’ll keep their foliage through the summer. But they’re getting in their bid now for attention from early pollinators. I saw a bumblebee weaving above the flowers today, the first I’ve spotted this year. 

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)
Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)
Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)
Bishop's hat (Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum')

Some early-flowering shrubs and trees are getting in on the act too:

Quince (Chaenomeles x superba)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

     Other animals are taking advantage of the warmer weather and longer days. Birds are very active, singing their territorial songs at dawn, feeding and looking for nesting materials all day. 

    Two years ago to help the bird line their nests, I bought a set of “grapevine globes” filled with cotton fiber from Duncraft. This was to invite birds to live in my yard, in hopes that they’ll help create an equilibrium between plants and leaf-eating insects. 

    The vines woven into hollow balls are attractive, but the cotton inside didn’t appeal to the local birds. They never pulled it out, and it gradually matted and discolored in the rain and snow. Birds in my yard are much more enthusiastic about white goose feathers I bought from DownLite Bedding, a company that sells them for topping up feather comforters. 

    Today I was able to poke the feathers through the openings in the vine balls. 

It’s even easier to fill up onion bags with the feathers and close them with twist ties. 

These balls of feathers look strange hanging in the trees, but the birds love them.
There’s a frenzy of activity as they peck out feathers and carry them away to where they’re “feathering” their nests. It’s satisfying to join in the work of spring.

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