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Time to Collect Wildflower Seeds for Pollinators

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It’s time to collect wildflower seeds for our native pollinators.  I mostly use the seeds for seed balls or package them as promotional items to encourage pollinator conservation but they can also be sown and grown under lights or in cold frames to kick start their growth before planned planting.

I like to snap or cut the mature seed heads into a bucket. After letting the ants and other little critters that might be in there crawl out, I transfer the seeds to paper bags or envelopes where they will undergo dehiscence or dry out and split to release their seeds. The paper bag allows air circulation thus preventing mold.  If you plan to hold the seeds into spring and grow them yourself be mindful that some seeds like many milkweeds require cold stratification before germinating and require refrigeration in a mix of horticultural sand and water.

Eco-School students and Green Clubs can collect and package seeds, craft a marketing plan and sell seeds as part of a schoolyard habitat fundraiser!

Citizen Science participants can collect milkweed seeds to send to Monarch Watch for their Bring Back The Monarchs Conservation initiative!

 

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

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Eagle Scout Projects in the Parks

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I’ve recommended and been fortunate to be a part of many Eagle Scout projects over the years that have helped to improve the local park system for both human and wildlife use. Projects have included three-bin compost systems, garden work benches, cold frames, recycled plumber garden benchesAdirondack chairs, display kiosks, bird feeding area display, small bridges, platforms for wet area crossings, routed trail signage, a recycled bottle green house, pollinator homes, bat boxes, blue bird houses, screech owl/wood duck houses, picnic tables, a river seating area and more. Below are some project pictures that hopefully give you ideas for your own places and spaces. Thank you Eagle Scouts!

Wetland Habitat Restoration

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This is an exciting time of year for nature lovers as spring flowers make their grand appearance. At my workplace, we have been making efforts to enhance a wetland habitat with native plantings surrounded by fenced deer exclosure.  Our goal is to try and reintroduce some of the players or species that once made up the winning team of a healthy wetland forest ecosystem.  In time, the restoration will act to provide better access to nature for both people and wildlife.

The native plants chosen are adapted to the wetland soils and understory of the mature forest currently present. As they regenerate they will create an additional floor and shrub layer within the habitat.  This provides important feeding and nesting areas for many bird and insect species and rewards us with a healthier functioning ecosystem.

Buzz Into Action with Pollinator Nest Boxes!

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This spring help improve your habitat for pollinators!

When it comes to our pollinators you often have to accept a few blemishes for beauty in your landscape.  The old twigs and piles of branches that may appear to be untidy are exactly what about 30% of our many native pollinators require for nesting sites (Tunnel Nest Management, Xerces Society).  To help provide shelter and attract our native pollinators to a place where they can bring up babies you can build a nest block.  All it takes is drilling different size holes between 3/32″ and 3/8″ within the preservative free wood block to provide a variety of egg laying sites. The female will build and provision each brood cell with a mixture of pollen and nectar onto which she lays a single egg before sealing the cell.  The offspring metamorphose through egg, larva and pupa before emerging as adults.

For More Information about Building a Nest Block: Download instructions from The Xerces Society.

For more ideas to improve your habitat for pollinators check out the Pollinator Gardens chapter of Buzz Into Action, The Insect Curriculum for Grades K-4.

For a fun science snack try demonstrating the egg laying in a tunnel or tube.  Use celery as the tube, raisins as the eggs,  honey + maple syrup as the nectar and pollen and a dab of peanut butter to divide the cells.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

Citizen Science & Wood Duck Boxes

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The wooded wetland forest around my home supports a variety of cavity nesting birds. The wood duck (Aix Sponsa), in particular, is a bird that searches out excavations or openings in trees where she can lay her eggs.  Due to habitat loss and because the forest is young there is a “housing shortage” that does not offer adequate nesting location in old large trees.  To assist the wood duck in finding shelter we continue to build and install many boxes.  With the help of local scouts looking for Eagle Scout projects and NJ Fish and Wildlife we have been able to  install over fifteen boxes within West Essex park adjacent to the Passaic River.

When we open boxes after the nesting season is complete there are a variety of surprises to find.  Its common to have mice living in the substrate at the bottom, wasps building nests under the top of the box, screech owls in the winter months (and their pellets) and potentially even a flying squirrel although I haven’t experiences that yet myself.  We hope to find shell membranes, pieces of eggshell, feather down and any other evidence of nesting or use of the box by Wood ducks. All findings are of note and are kept recorded in a journal with the box #.  We also record the gps mark of each box, date of each observation, hole orientation, hole size, box height from water or land, if climbing wire is installed on the inner cover, and if a predator guard in installed.

While habitat protection is ideal as a primary means of protection of these cavity nesters, there currently exists limited shelter availability. When artificial nest boxes are placed in the best locations according to our citizen science research, the nest box monitor can effectively increase the population of a species and make it a common sight as it was many years before.

Buzz Into Action with a Pollinator Habitat Inventory

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Take the Pollinator Habitat Inventory Checklist to Evaluate Your Habitat. 

Pollinator Habitat Inventory

Name(s): ______________________________ Date: __________________________

Habitat: __________________________

Answer the following questions to evaluate your pollinator habitat.

Is there a diversity of blooming flowers available in different seasons?  Yes or No

Buzz Into Action, Pollinator Inventory, Citizen Science Data Sheet

Tip: Pollinators appreciate seasonal blooms that provide continuous nectar flow.

Are you using only native plants? Yes or No

Tip: Native plants and animals evolve together in a relationship. Provide native plants that offer nectar in exchange for pollination services.

Are you limiting areas of mowed lawn? Yes or No

Tip: Avoid lawn in a wildlife habitat as it is largely useless to wildlife and often requires mowing, watering, and fertilizing.

Is shelter available for nesting sites? Yes or No

Tip: Pollinators can be offered shelter in the form of leaf litter or nest boxes and hollow tubes.

Is shelter available for overwintering insects? Yes or No

Tip: Wait until spring to landscape your habitat as many pollinators overwinter attached to and in leaf stems or leaf litter. Waiting may also allow time for certain plants to release their seeds.

Is there a water feature? Yes or No

Tip: Pollinators appreciate an easy drink in the way of a mud puddle, saucer pan or slow drip.

Are you avoiding pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides? Yes or No

Tip: Chemical applications may not be healthy for plants, pollinators, or people.

Do you have a viewing area to enjoy and study your pollinators? Yes or No

Tip: Share your garden with friends and relatives to encourage others to duplicate your efforts.

If you answer no to any of the above questions, research and consider how you can enhance your habitat.

Pollinator Information & Improvement Resources

Available on the Web:

  • Pollinator Partnership: Find out about how to create gardens designed to attract and conserve our important pollinators.
  • Selecting Plants for Pollinators in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest
  • Xerces Society:  A nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. For forty years, the Society has been at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.
  • Monarch Watch:  Find information about creating and certifying a Monarch Waystation or location for migratory insects to stop, rest, and fuel up before they continue their journey.

Available in Print:

  • Pollinator Conservation Handbook by the Xerces Society
  • Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden by the Xerces Society
  • Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation by Donald J. Leopold
  • Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman

Buying Wildflower Seeds:

  • Ernst Conservation Seeds & Ernst Southern Native Seeds: Ask about their Pollinator Mixes.
  • Live Monarch:  You can order milkweed seeds and other supplies for Monarch rearing.  The packets can even be customized with the organization’s contact information for giveaways or sales.  Monarchs are often the charismatic stepping stone to additional insect conservation efforts.

Pollinator Grants:

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

Citizen Science & Bluebird Trails

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Citizen science volunteers work hard to encourage and maintain suitable nesting sites for bluebirds. Bluebirds around where I live have been in decline due to habitat loss and also habitat succession as the farms of yesterday have been turning back into forests removing the broad open meadows once common place. To help assist beautiful bluebirds, nest boxes are placed in the remaining open meadows.  Bluebirds like to forage in these open areas and also require nesting shelters that are out in the open. They will not nest too close to the forest edge or within likely due to competition with other bird species for those nesting shelters.  It turns out that placing two nest boxes back to back or within 15 feet helps to allow tree swallows to take up one box and bluebirds to live in the other. This relationship works because the tree swallows will defend their territory against other tree swallows but allow bluebirds to move in. Bluebirds and tree swallows tolerate one another because the bluebirds are feeding from the ground level whereas the tree swallows feed in the air with their acrobatic maneuvers as they swoop up flying insects.

Bluebirds work hard to create a suitable home for their young and will aggressively protect it.  They face increasing nesting competition due to non-native birds like European starling and house sparrow. Fortunately, when a good location is provided they can have up to three broods a season.

Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box

Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box

Citizen Scientists can monitor these nest boxes to help provide adequate shelter for them to bring up babies.  Nestbox monitoring sheets often include the following information that is gathered: Nest box #, Species, Nesting Activity Notes, Nest Completed Date, 1st Egg Laid, Total Eggs Laid, Hatching Date, Total Eggs Hatched, Total Fledges and Date Fledged.

We can use the data to identify the suitable habitat elements that support bluebirds, document resident bird populations, increase available shelter for bluebird species recovery and promote a stewardship ethic that cares for our natural environment.

Consider installing a single box or an entire trail of boxes during National Nest Box Week in February to have them ready for the spring season.

Bluebird Eggs in Box

Monitoring Bluebirds at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

To learn how to properly construct a bluebird house and much more, visit the North American Bluebird Society.

Share your efforts with the community : )

Share your efforts with the community : )

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