Habitat Hero Community Plantings

You’re invited to join us digging in the dirt and creating bird-friendly gardens throughout Fort Collins!  Even though we haven’t seen much sunshine lately, it’s springtime!  Habitat Heroes is partnering with the City of Fort Collins, local nurseries and CSA’s to plant Habitat Hero Demonstration Gardens around town that you can watch grow and enjoy through the seasons.

Here are three family-friendly events we hope to see you at.

HAPPY HEART FARMS POLLINATOR GARDEN

DATE: Thursday May, 28
WHERE: Happy Heart Farms, 2820 W. Elizabeth St., Fort Collins, CO 80521
TIME: 5-8pm

Happy Heart Farm crew members hard at work in the veggie beds.  Photo Credit – Happy Heart Farms

Happy Heart Farm crew members hard at work in the veggie beds. Photo Credit – Happy Heart Farms

Dennis and Bailey Stenson (founders of Happy Heart Farms) have been stewards of biodynamic soils.  They pioneered the first community supporting agriculture farm in Colorado 29 years ago, located in Fort Collins.

Join us while we plant a Pollinator Garden that will boast a 200′ X 20′ bed filled with native wildflowers, perennials, shrubs, grasses and even wild plum trees!  This bed will not only provide essential habitat for pollinators but be an oases for people to enjoy with a flagstone sensory garden circle with seating areas that offer stunning views of the nearby foothills.

Contact Ray Wharton, apprentice at Happy Heart Farms to sign-up for this event at raywharton@gmail.com

POUDRE RIVER FESTIVAL – HABITAT HERO GARDEN NEAR THE FC MUSEUM OF DISCOVERY

DATE: Saturday, May 30
WHERE: Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, 408 Mason Court, Fort Collins, CO 80524
TIME: 11-1pm

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Before Photo of the soon-to-be Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden outside the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

Join us at the Poudre River Festival which is a free, family-friendly festival that celebrates the Cache la Poudre River.  In addition to educational activities, there will be several volunteer opportunities that help to restore and enhance wildlife habitat along the river with hands-on service projects.  We’ll be planting a Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden along the Poudre River bike trail, on the west side of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.  What better way to spend time with the family outdoors than digging in the dirt and planting a garden that will be a mainstay in your community?

Sign up by contacting Jamie Weiss at audubon.habitathero@gmail.com

PLANTING ON THE WILD SIDE GARDENING WORKSHOP – BATH GARDEN CENTER & NURSERY

DATE: Saturday, May 30
WHERE: BATH Garden Center & Nursery, 2000 E. Prospect Rd., Fort Collins, CO 80525
TIME: 3-6pm

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This interactive workshop “Planting on the Wild Side,” presented by Be A Habitat Hero, is a must-do activity!  Learn planting tips and techniques for creating “wildscapes” – landscapes designed to attract and benefit birds, pollinators and other wildlife large and small.  This event goes beyond the basics and includes planting a Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden.  Being a Habitat Hero means stitching the landscape back together by planting regionally natives, conserving water, and eliminating pesticides in our wildlife-friendly gardens.

Hear from, Connie Holsinger, Habitat Hero Project Founder, and her vision in creating this program alongside Jamie Weiss, Habitat Heroes Coordinator and Alison Holloran, Audubon Rockies Executive Director as they provide the essentials of being a Habitat Hero and how you too can bring conservation home one backyard at a time. Frankie Coffren, BATH Garden Center & Nursery Manager will also follow-up with tips needed for planting a successful garden and discuss soil preparation.

Sign up by registering at Brown Paper Tickets – $5.00/person

In addition, here is your chance to have your 5 minutes of fame as this workshop will be filmed for footage of the Hometown Habitat documentary.  Hometown Habitat is a 90-minute environmental, education documentary focused on showing how and why native plants are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystems.  Entomologist Doug Tallamy provides the narrative thread throughout the film.  Tallamy is known for his research, books and lectures on the misuse of non-native plants in landscaping, and its effects on habitat and species loss.

A big “Thank You” to Terra Foundation for funding Be a Habitat Hero and to all our other supporters!

BATH Garden Center & Nursery
Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
Green Roots Garden Design
Happy Heart Farms
High Country Gardens
High Plains Environmental Learning Center
Plant Select
The Gardens on Spring Creek
The Urban Farm Company

Twin Spruce Teens Team Up for Planting

As Habitat Heroes our goal is to work with the community to practice a form of landscape stewardship called “wildscaping” – landscaping designed in mind to attract and benefit birds and other wildlife.  And this was exactly the mission of Twin Spruce Junior High and their after-school Teen Room/Science Club project.

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Students Alex Vance and Gracie Postelwait are hard at work planting this bird-frindly garden at Twin Spruce Junior High.

This school in Gillette, WY has an unkempt garden bed in an alley way that was neglected and became a trash repository over the years.  Katie Brunson, eighth-grade science teacher, Master Gardeners, and the students determined that fixing up the garden would be a great project and learning opportunity.  This is where Audubon Rockies, Habitat Heroes Coordinator, Jamie Weiss helped with their vision – by putting together a garden plan with multiple phases to help with the transformation of the large 100’ X 30’ planting area.  Not only would this garden be aesthetically pleasing and offer the much needed facelift, but also provide habitat for a community of wildlife ranging from insects to pollinators and birds!  A Habitat Hero garden can be as simple as lining a few potted plants on a balcony, replacing sterile turf grass in your residential yard with native shrubs, grasses perennials and wildflowers, or even a schoolyard garden among concrete sidewalks, buildings and playgrounds, all of which provide refuge with food, water and shelter for critters large and small.

With guidance from local Master Gardeners over the weeks leading up to the planting event, phase one of the garden transformation included removing weeds, clearing space for new plants and mulching.  Weiss then joined the crew on Earth Day, Wednesday April 22, to help facilitate the planting of wildflowers and lead a workshop demonstrating how food webs need plants, to bring in other insects, birds, mammals and reptiles.  Without plants, the relationships between these other critters are greatly diminished and once healthy ecosystems begin to unravel.

One of the gardening challenges we had to face was the harsh climate of Northern Wyoming which receives only10 inches of rain annually, strong winds, extreme temperature variations from day to night and a garden that requires little up-keep and maintenance.  Working with High Country Gardens, we selected hardy plants that we knew could thrive in these demanding conditions and came up with a great selection of grasses and native wildflowers to create an eye-catching design and offer pronounced garden diversity of bloom times, vertical structure, textures and colors while providing great habitat for wildlife.

Dakota Sunshine Maximilian’s Sunflower was a real crowd pleaser as the students look forward to its growth and seeing this mature plant reach a height of 6 feet and a large sunflower disc that can be a foot across!  This easily recognizable plant is a show-stopper and brings back nostalgia, reminiscent of memories with nature and hot summer days.  The seeds offer great nutrients for songbirds throughout the winter when food provisions are scarce.  We also planted Llano Indian Grass, which provides vertical structure creating a middle canopy layer next to the spruce.  This showy grass also serves as a windbreak and provides texture for your garden with the added benefits of providing seeds for birds and offering nesting materials and shelter.

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Dakota Sunshine Maximilian’s Sunflower comes into bloom that coincides when students return to school at the end of summer.

Jeana Garden Phlox and Husker Red Beardtounge are medium sized perennials that were planted in the middle of the garden as their pink and white flowers, respectively, are a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds alike.  Firefly Coral Bells and Purple Dome Aster lined the paved walkway winding through the garden.  The Firefly Coral Bells is an early bloomer which provides much needed food early in the season for hummingbirds, while the Aster has an extended bloom time through the end of summer into early fall attracting an array of insect pollinators.

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Planting of the Llano Indian Grass which offers nice texture and vertical structure to a garden while providing shelter, nesting material and food for songbirds.

The students will continue to improve the garden by planting a blend of wildflowers to create a high country meadow.  The hardy, drought resistant seed mix contains over 20 natives species that will thrive with little maintenance and are great for attracting pollinators.  Other features to be added in time will be a paved walkway through the garden with benches for sitting and contemplation.  The goal for this bird-friendly schoolyard garden is to encourage students to ponder questions from their observations, hands-on experience and discoveries – like, “What season do the juncos and finches flit around the plants enjoying seeds?” or “How does the garden change both visually and by the creatures that it attracts throughout the year?”

We look forward to hearing from the students and seeing photos of this garden as it transforms and evolves into a beautiful space that is enjoyed by the students and faculty at Twin Spruce and the wildlife that call this schoolyard garden home!

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These adorable plant labels will help other students identify what plants are in this schoolyard garden.

 

Help pollinators by planting a garden

By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension, Boulder County

When planting a butterfly garden, one of the challenges is learning – and accepting – that the plants you put in are going to be eaten.  A good butterfly garden is designed to provide food for the caterpillars along with flowers with nectar for adults to sip.  Most gardeners understand that this is part of butterfly gardening, but sometimes butterflies can be capricious, and leave their larvae on gardens planted for food or cut flowers.

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Phlox ‘Jeana’ is a new garden phlox introduction notable for its multi-month bloom time and colorful lavender-pink clusters of sweet fragrant flowers which are highly attractive to butterflies.

When this happens, instead of assuming the munching bug is a pest, check books or Extension offices for identification of the caterpillar before squishing or spraying to get rid of it.  Chances are, that insect is a good guy in disguise.

The best gardens are teeming with life, and we can do a lot to help protect and encourage a wide variety of living creatures.  Start by planting a garden and fill it with plants that nourish and support a healthy, living system.  Loss of habitat ranks high on the list of serious threats to pollinators and monoculture lawns do little to offset the loss once subdivisions go in.

Animal and insects aide pollination of a staggering three-quarters of the world’s flowering plants. Food and textile crops, trees, flowers – many rely on the quiet but diligent activities of bees, moths, flies, bats, birds, ants, butterflies, wasps, and beetles.  But changes to agricultural practices and conversion of farms or open lands to subdivisions are taking a toll on the nesting sites and food sources for these creatures.  A diverse garden is one way to provide both food and housing for bugs, birds, and mammals.

You can help restore some of the lost resources by preserving nesting or foraging sites in your yard. To do this, include sources of water, areas for nesting or egg-laying and nooks or crannies for over-wintering. Water features, small bubbling fountains, or bird baths often serve as a watering hole for many insects; you and your family can watch the visitors enjoy the drink you provide.  Use mulch to help provide hiding places and capture moisture for wandering bugs or spiders.

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A simple, yet functional water source.

Many bees require an undisturbed location for nesting sites.  Some use openings in rock walls or hollowed out canes from roses or raspberries.  Others burrow tunnels into soil.  Spend time outside watching what visits your yard, creating a list of the types of insects you see.  Check out the Bee’s Needs program with the University of Colorado for help in identifying your bees.  Once you get an idea of who is visiting, you can plan for providing the right conditions they need for nesting sites.

When planning the garden, put in plants that bloom in succession, so flowers with nectar and pollen are available all season long.  Plants with shallow blossoms, such as mints, alyssum, or fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), attract pollinators and beneficial insects, while cone flowers (Echinacea) are good for nesting.  Native plants are important for all of our bees, so if you can, incorporate those as well.   Be thoughtful when gardening about keeping plants for pollinators healthy, and if problems arise, never use pesticides while plants are in bloom or on plants near to those in flower.

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Photo – Jacelyn Downey, taken on the trails in Northern Wyoming near Moorcroft. A pasque flower being pollinated by a bee.

 

Activities for all ages to enjoy on Earth Day

The backyard serves as a constant source of wonder and fascination for all ages and is the inspiration for Earth Day activities.  These activities are designed to spark curiosity and generate questions from explorations and discoveries in your backyard, nearby park or at school about the world we share with other creatures.

Gardening

Plant an edible garden full of vegetables and herbs, along with some native pollinator plants and watch as a healthy ecosystem grows before your eyes.  The learning opportunities are endless – What are the perfect growing conditions required for a plant to grow?  How much sun and water do they need?  What are the different parts and functions of a plant? How do plants rely on pollinators to flower and reproduce?   Gardening teaches us sustainable backyard gardening practices and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor!

Need help deciding on the collection of native plants and design element?  The Habitat Hero Birdwatcher Pre-Planned Garden from High Country Gardens has a variety of perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses designed to attract and benefit songbirds, pollinators and other wildlife.  Another great option is the Habitat Hero Edible Garden from Urban Farm Company which has a collection of both flowering plants and edible crops – with my favorite plants being Orange Butterfly Weed and Red Heirloom Tomatoes.

Gardening is a great activity for all ages!

Gardening is a great activity for all ages!

Birding

Set up a good ol’ fashioned peanut butter and bird seed crusted pinecone outside your window and watch as birds begin to flock to your makeshift bird feeder.  You can either quietly observe as the songbirds pluck away the seeds or you can be a more active observer using field guides to determine the species and learn facts about them.  Record your observations and findings in your nature journal.  Do you notice different species during different times of the day, month, or year?  Can you tell the difference between male and female birds of the same species?  Can you begin to identify species of birds based on just its call?

Insect Safari

Any nutrient-rich soil is filled with an array of organisms feeding off the microbes and decaying organic matter.  Roll over some rocks, look under logs or dig and watch all the insects scamper.  Grab a magnifying glass to see all of their intricate details and with over a million insect species worldwide, you are guaranteed to find at least one to examine!

Art in Nature

Taking the time to observe and record in our nature journals is a nice break from our modern fast-paced world.  Grab a sketch pad and some colored pencils, crayons, chalk or even paint and capture what you see, feel and hear around you!  Don’t worry if your work of art is not frame-worthy, just enjoy your experience connecting with nature and its beauty.

Earth Day Events

The City of Fort Collins is hosting their annual tree planting along the Cache la Poudre River on Saturday, April 18th at 9:00am.  For more details and to register for this free event – Click HERE

Organized by the Sustainable Living Association, Earth Day Fort Collins is an all-day celebration in Civic Center Park, on Saturday, April 18th.  Stating at 11:00am, this event has it all, with a combination of activities for the entire family, featuring informational booths and displays, arts & crafts, live music, speakers, local food and a beer garden.  Admission is free and attendees are asked to bring nonperishable items for the Food Bank.

On April 22nd – Habitat Hero is celebrating Earth Day by planting a wildflower bed at Twin Spruce Junior High in Gillette, Wyoming.  This school has a large planting area and children that are a part of their gardening club work with the Master Gardeners during afterschool programs to prep, plant and maintain the bed.  Stay tuned for more details and photos of this transformation project and to learn about this Habitat Hero success story at Twin Spruce!

“Before” Photo of the garden at Twin Spruce Junior High prior to our Earth Day planting event of wildflowers and grasses!

“Before” Photo of the garden at Twin Spruce Junior High prior to our Earth Day planting event of wildflowers and grasses!

Enjoy Earth Day on the 22nd, and keep these activities as a reference to enjoy throughout the year.  By connecting with nature, and learning more about our environment and appreciating the natural wonders around us, we can ultimately bring conservation home!

BEES, NEONICS AND THE ORGANIC WAY

I would like to introduce Mikl Brawner, owner of Harlequin’s Gardens located just north of Boulder, Colorado.  He speaks to us and brings his knowledge on neionicotinoids, as they are a hot topic right now.  Our audience is hungry to learn more about this chemical and learn the tough questions to ask nurseries and garden centers to ensure that the plants they plant in their backyard do not harm wildlife, and ensure we are truly creating bird-friendly communities!

A demonstration garden at Harlequin's Gardens.

A demonstration garden at Harlequin’s Gardens.

By Mikl Brawner
All photo credits are given to Harlequin’s Gardens

Pesticides were never a good idea. They were designed to make money from petroleum, not to benefit the public good. Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are poisons that were developed to kill life. Not only has this approach poisoned our earth and ourselves, it has failed to control Nature. Our soils are less productive, and weeds and pests have adapted by becoming resistant. Stronger poisons are not the answer.

In the last 20 years, the new “nicotine” pesticides (neonicotinoids) have become the industry standards because they are less toxic to people and animals than the old organophophate pesticides, and that is good. But the neonicotinoids (neonics) are even more toxic to insects; they last 3 months to 5 years; all parts of the plants are poison, and the poison goes into our water.

So now it has become difficult to buy landscaping plants that do not contain neonics. From the root hairs to the pollen, this systemic poison kills or undermines the health of honeybees, wild bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, ladybugs, earthworms, soil insects and some birds. We are heading into a dead end.

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Sweet Cecily has clusters of small flowers which attract many pollinators. Many herbs like oregano and yarrow have flowers of this type.

Insects are not enemies of plants; they have co-evolved together. They coexist where there is balance and where nutritious soils grow strong and healthy plants. This is not romantic thinking; it is the basis of the organic way that has proven effective all over the world.

At our nursery, Harlequin’s Gardens, we have been growing plants to sell for 23 years without using toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Like most sustainable or renewable energy systems, the costs are higher in the beginning and lower as time goes on. We pay extra for nutritious soil ingredients, but we spend little time and money on pest management.

My wife, Eve, in our pesticide-free greenhouse where plants are grown without any chemical fertilizers

Brawner’s wife, Eve, in their pesticide-free greenhouse where plants are grown without any chemical fertilizers.

This year the plants we buy from other growers will be 100% neonic-free. We have hired a custom propagator to grow pesticide-free plants for us. And we just purchased the one acre property next to us to build an energy-efficient commercial greenhouse go grow even more pesticide-free plants. We don’t need any more proof that neonics are killing our bees and undermining the vitality of our environment.

This year we will also be carrying beekeeping supplies to support honeybees and beekeepers. We will be teaching classes on beekeeping and organic gardening, and we will be carrying soil-building supplies and non-toxic pest management supplies.

Science and history will prove that supporting Life is a more sustainable, economical and successful method than poisoning life. This is the 21st Century direction that will replace petroleum-thinking.

“We cannot command Nature except by obeying her.”  Francis Bacon

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Many natives like this penstemon attract and support local pollinators and beneficial insects.

 

How love of beer, good people, and creative collaborations are helping to save a rare Colorado butterfly

By Rob Schorr
My name is Rob Schorr and I have been working as a conservation biologist in Colorado for 17 years.  I stumbled upon my dream job at a little-known, but very important, conservation organization called the Colorado Natural Heritage Program back in 1997.  CNHP is tucked away in a corner of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and has been collecting information on the location and condition of rare species throughout Colorado since the late 1970s.  What I spend much of my time doing is studying the condition of populations of rare animals in Colorado.

The species I have come to know and love because it brought me to CNHP is the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.  As many may know, this little mouse is only found from southeastern Wyoming to Colorado Springs, Colorado and rarely ventures far from river systems that are moist, heavily vegetated, and usually pretty challenging for me to navigate through.  I’ve separated walls of willow, rose, stinging nettle, alder, currant, and wild hops in search of Preble’s mice and their habitat.

Female hops blue butterfly in tangle of wild hops

Female hops blue butterfly in tangle of wild hops

The beginnings
It was during one of many search efforts that I began to notice how prevalent wild hops is along some drainages of the Front Range of Colorado.  Other than for my general love of Colorado beer and for its tenacity when trying to pass through it I didn’t pay it much attention.  However, in 2011, when my zoological colleague Jeremy Siemers and I were conducting a biological inventory at the U.S. Air Force Academy we spent quite a bit of time focusing on wild hops and the fluttering visitors that might be using it.  You see, wild hops is a favorite plant to several butterfly species and one of these species is only known from the Front Range of Colorado.  That species is the hops blue butterfly, or, as us zoology types like to refer to it, Celastrina humulus. The hops blue butterfly is about the size of a quarter, only found from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, and lays its eggs on the male flowers of wild hops.

Over the obligate beverage for such conversations, Jeremy and I brainstormed on how we could better understand the ecology of this gorgeous, poorly-understood butterfly.  The inspiration was in our hands.  We both believed that this butterfly and Colorado’s general love of all things beer was the perfect stage for developing a novel partnership for conservation.  We believed melding beer and conservation would be a partnership many Coloradans would love to celebrate.  We toasted our glasses and I worked on my sales pitch.

Female hops blue butterfly with wings open

Female hops blue butterfly with wings open

The partnership
I’d like to think that it was because of my smooth-talking salesmanship that I wrangled one of the most beloved Colorado breweries into entertaining this idea, but the truth is I approached the right brewery and the right people.  Odell Brewing Company not only thought a partnership was in order, but decided to brew a beer in recognition of the hops blue and called it Celastrina Saison.  They further demonstrated their commitment to conserving unique pieces of Colorado diversity by donating $1 for every bottle sold.  After its release in May 2013 it flew off the shelf and quickly became more scarce than the butterfly it celebrated.  In December 2013, Odell Brewing Company presented CNHP with a check for $12,000 to study the ecology of the hops blue butterfly.

The Celastrina Saison announcement poster from the tapping event at Odell Brewing Company

The Celastrina Saison announcement poster from the tapping event at Odell Brewing Company

Celastrina Saison!

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The author, Karla Baise (Odell Brewing Company) and David Anderson (CNHP) at the donation event

Now what?
Boggled and nearly tearful, I accepted the check and began brainstorming on how best to use the funds for conservation.  Considering it was more than twice what Odell expected to donate and about 4 times what I ever expected to receive, I felt the need to develop a slightly different plan for these funds. A lifetime’s supply of beer flashed through my mind, but was quickly erased by the lack of storage space in my basement.  What did stick and is now evolving is to set aside these funds within Colorado State University as a way of funding honors undergraduate students to conduct research on rare species in Colorado.

The obvious first species to address was the butterfly.  I was graced by two dedicated honors undergraduate students, Callie Puntenney and Emily Vavra, who in the summer of 2014 surveyed habitat at the U.S. Air Force Academy to produce the first population estimates for the hops blue butterfly.  This research sets the first baseline estimate to assess how well hops blue butterflies are doing at the Academy.  CNHP hopes to recruit more honors students to continue this work, and more to address other rare species in Colorado.  We are actively trying to build these funds through a crowd-sourcing project at CSU called CHARGE!

 

Emily Vavra working in the field collecting data on hops blue butterflies

Emily Vavra working in the field collecting data on hops blue butterflies

Callie Puntenney presenting her honors undergraduate research

Callie Puntenney presenting her honors undergraduate research

How you can help
Since this project began I’ve been approached repeatedly from citizens interested in helping (and finding more Celastrina Saison).  The first thing I stress with all of the conservation-minded and beer-loving constituents is that we need to continue to provide habitat for the hops blue butterfly.  The habitats that have made the butterfly, and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, rare are much less common than they used to be. Broad, meandering creeks that support hops, willow, snowberry and a great variety of plant and animal life are harder to find.  Many of the Front Range’s streams and rivers have homes and other development too close to support these plants and animals, and the streams have been forced into concrete-lined paths.  So, I ask anyone interested in conserving the butterfly that they express their desire for open space and lands that allow streams and wildlife to flourish, and allow the citizens of Colorado to enjoy them.  The second thing I ask is that people do not use the wild hops as a resource for their own brewing.  As tempting as it is to cull the flowers from wild hops, these flowers are necessary for future hops plants and future hops blue butterflies.  Lastly, if people are interested in supporting conservation research on Colorado species, I ask them to visit our CHARGE! project and discover how they can support student research on rare species.

Monument Creek at the U.S. Air Force Academy is a broad, meandering creek that supports the hops blue butterfly and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse

Monument Creek at the U.S. Air Force Academy is a broad, meandering creek that supports the hops blue butterfly and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse

 

Favorite Wildscaping Links…Let’s dream big and create nourishing connections with your own little piece of wild !

Those dark winter days remind you that your garden is just resting, ever awaiting the renewal of life that spring brings.  If you’re up to your eyeballs looking at seed catalogs, then read this blog to find out some reputable sources on wildscaping and let your research rampage run wild!

Over the years, Habitat Hero staff and partners have researched and gathered their favorite wildscaping links and would like to share them with all of you!

1) Lauren Springer Ogden, renowned garden designer, and High Country Gardens carefully selected a collection of 15 xeric plants designed to attract and benefit songbirds, pollinators and other wildlife in the Habitat Hero Birdwatcher Pre-Planned Garden.  This 7’x12’ garden-in-a-box has a great variety of perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses.  Purchase your garden now with a limited time offer: When prompted use promo code WILDSCAPE15 to receive 10% off.  Coupon is good until June 30, 2015.  In addition to this great offer, High Country Gardens proudly supports the mission of Audubon Rockies by donating some of the proceeds with every garden sold!
http://www.highcountrygardens.com/pre-planned-gardens/habitat-hero-birdwatcher-pre-planned-garden?ref=habhero

2) Betty Cahill, a local master gardener shares her struggles and triumphs in gardening around Metro Denver and writes the seasonal garden Punch List for The Denver Post.
http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/

3) Here is a very informative national blog-zine for wildscapes, plants and wildlife.  The team of wildlife gardeners provide a forum from East Coast to the West Coast and everywhere in between.
http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com

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Photo by: 2014 Designated Habitat Hero

4) Visit Bee Safe Boulder and learn about local efforts to create pollinator safe havens by encouraging the elimination of systemic pesticides and other toxic chemicals and retailers who provide safe plants without neonicotinoids.
http://beesafeboulder.com

bee sunflower

Photo by: 2014 Designated Habitat Hero

5) Follow David Salman, Founder & Chief Horticulturist of High Country Gardens and plant man extraordinaire!
http://www.highcountrygardens.com/gardening/category/blog/

6) Check out Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as there are over 8,000 native plants in their database coupled with user friendly search icons makes this search engine truly unbeatable: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/
They also have recommended species lists by states and other characteristics: http://www.wildflower.org/collections/

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Photo by: 2014 Designated Habitat Hero

7) Receive advice and observations from your CSU Extension Horticulture Agents & Specialists:
http://csuhort.blogspot.com/

8) Denver Botanic Gardens has a “Garden Navigator” that allows you to locate and learn about the plants within their collection.  You can search over a thousand plants based on different criteria including; bloom times or specific plant features.
http://navigate.botanicgardens.org/ecmweb/ECM_Home.html
You can also create a personal tour by putting in certain key words or view generated tours already created by one of their staff.
http://navigate.botanicgardens.org/weboi/oecgi2.exe/INET_ECM_ListTours

Photo Credit - Dan Johnson

Red Yucca Plant photographed by Dan Johnson

9) For a timely and interesting blog check out Panayoti’s and marvel at his collection of colorful photos!
http://prairiebreak.blogspot.com/

10) The National Audubon Society is committed to creating bird friendly communities by transforming our neighborhoods into places where birds flourish.  Stay abreast of featured projects and news:
http://www.audubon.org/conservation/creating-bird-friendly-communities

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Photo by: 2014 Designated Habitat Hero

“Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.”
-Chinese Proverb

Our daylight hours are incrementally getting longer as we approach the summer solstice this brings promise to our awakening gardens.  In the meantime, conduct some wildscaping research and set your clocks for Daylight Savings on March 7th.

Citizen Science

After asking friends and family what images they conjure up when they hear the term Citizen Science led to some great discussions.  Taking note of these responses – such as, an individual’s view on scientific issues, “wacky Bill Nye the Science Guy”, to pioneers relying on the land to create medicine – sparked me to spend a minute on explaining the gist of Citizen Science.

It wasn’t until June 2014, that the Oxford English Dictionary included the term Citizen Science and defined it as “a member of the general public who engages in scientific work, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.”  In other words, anybody in the community can observe nature and record and report their findings to scientific institutions.  One person or a team of scientists can’t be everywhere at a specific time; however, the more people that act as the eyes and ears for scientists result in a tremendous amount of data.

What better way for those of you just learning about Citizen Science or seasoned veterans alike than to participate in the first online Citizen Science project that was launched in 1998 – The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).  GBBC is for everyone, from beginner birdwatchers to experts, and anyone can participate from anywhere in the world. Counting birds provides scientists and conservationists with a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are faring, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Please join us for the GBBC, Friday, February 13 through Monday, February 16, and together we can make our local birds count!

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For those of you interested in participating in year-round Citizen Science projects, check out the Wyoming Biodiversity Citizen Science Initiative (WyoBio).  Here’s what Brenna Marsicek, Project Coordinator, has to say about WyoBio: WyoBio was created by the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute, Wyoming Geographic Information Sciences Center and Wyoming Natural Diversity Database and was launched in July 2014, with the goal of allowing anyone, anywhere access to information about Wyoming’s biological diversity. Users can upload their own observations of any organism in the state, see others’ observations and explore species range maps.  They can also add various map layers, such as elevation, urban development, vegetation type, and more to begin asking questions about their data.  How many species of Indian Paintbrush are found in my county?  What are the connections between butterfly species and vegetation type in my area?  WyoBio can help answer all these questions and more.  This is a free resource – anyone over the age of 13 can register at www.wyobio.org to begin uploading data today!

A screenshot of WyoBio with multiple map layers turned on.  Users can gather tons of information from these layers.

A screenshot of WyoBio with multiple map layers turned on. Users can gather tons of information from these layers.

WyoBio also offers resources for teachers and classrooms; including, lesson plans that incorporate WyoBio to get kids outside and use technology while meeting science standards.  These lesson plans and recommended supplies to bring on field trips, identification guides, and more are available for download on WyoBio.

A young pollinator enthusiast catches a honey bee to record in WyoBio.  Photo by Brenna Marsicek.

A young pollinator enthusiast catches a honey bee to record in WyoBio. Photo by Brenna Marsicek.

Mark your calendars for this go-to event, BioBlitz on June 13-14 at Heart Mountain preserve outside of Cody, WY.  This event is co-hosted by Audubon Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, and UW Biodiversity Institute.  This is a terrific hands-on opportunity that brings together scientists, teachers, volunteers, environmental educators, and community members to survey, find, identify, and learn about as many local plants, insect and animal species as possible.  Stay tuned for more information and details by visiting BioBlitz website.

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With your new-found appreciation of Citizen Science you now have many opportunities to get involved and let your amateur scientist shine through.  Make science matter!

New Beginnings and Old Friends

Our Mission – Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day.

A New Year often brings about new beginnings, change, resolutions and commitments. As we kick off 2015, we’d like to share our new ideas and growth potential for Habitat Hero!  Habitat Hero was an undeniable success last year reaching out to over 800 attendees at 9 workshops ranging from Casper, WY to Pueblo, CO and awarding 28 Habitat Heroes for producing outstanding wildscapes.

2014 Habitat Hero Winner - Marcia Tatroe's Wildscape

2014 Habitat Hero Winner – Marcia Tatroe’s Wildscape

So what’s in store for the New Year?  Well for starters, the Habitat Hero program is now a project of Audubon Rockies.  In 2010, Audubon Wyoming and Audubon Colorado combined programs and staff to create a unified, highly functioning Audubon Rockies, a regional office of the National Audubon Society.  In addition to sharing National’s mission of “conserving and restoring natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity,” we partner with our 17 independent local chapters to provide on-the-ground conservation efforts and educational programs.  Audubon Rockies’ aspiration is that our educational goals instill a conservation ethic for generations to come.  Habitat Heroes aligns perfectly with Audubon Rockies’ vision of creating open spaces rich in birds and other wildlife, and benefitting the people who enjoy that richness.

Audubon Rockies Staff!

Staff of Audubon Rockies

The second part of what a New Year brings is the “you” factor and making resolutions and commitments.  What better way to make a pledge that benefits the environment, community and you?  To combat the loss of open spaces, a Habitat Hero positively contributes to the community by increasing natural areas, providing homes and food for wildlife, and connecting to larger green spaces.  This helps in restoring a fragmented ecosystem, and offers a welcome place for birds and wildlife through the implementation of wildscaping principles, a form of landscape stewardship.  A tremendous benefit is that your actions are more far-reaching than the confines of your backyard and have global impact!  Now is the time to say “yes” to supporting a diversity of wildlife, creating an outdoor educational environment that stimulates learning all while having fun at the same time!

To help get you started with the transformation of your garden, we have a Habitat Hero Workshop upcoming in Cheyenne, WY on March 28th from 9am til 4:30pm at Laramie County Community College.  Our speakers include; Susan J. Tweit – Plant Biologist and author of “Rocky Mountain Garden Survival Guide”; Jane Dorn – Co-author of “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area”; and Clint Basset – Water Conservation Specialist, Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities.  Learning water-wise wildscaping tips for your yard will be explained further with Susan’s talk on landscape design including use of berms, hardscapes, soils, wind and exposures, water features, micro climates and microsites.  Jane will share some favorite native plants adapted for the high plains and how to grow them incorporating Susan’s more general design approach.  There will also be a panel discussion using local yards as examples, which is an opportunity to see a live demonstration on how your yard could be made over.  For your yard to be considered, please send photos and basic diagram showing dimensions, orientation and features to audubon.habitathero@gmail.com

For more event details and to register 

Our Habitat Heroes New Year’s resolution is to expand our network of Habitat Heroes, creating more bird and wildlife habitat, consuming less water and walking a bit softer on our home planet.

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Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays & Thanks for Being Habitat Heroes!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Happy Holidays! (A wreath can provide habitat too: a house finch nested in this one.)  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Happy Holidays! (A wreath can provide habitat too: a house finch nested in this one.) Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Thank You For An Outstanding Year….

Thanks to each of you and your enthusiasm for providing habitat in your gardens, yards, and parks and other public spaces, 2014 was a great year for the Habitat Hero project.

Wildscape 101 Workshops

We offered 9 workshops in eight cities and towns throughout the Rocky Mountain region, from Casper, Wyoming, to Pueblo, Colorado. More than 800 people attended our Wildscape 101 programs. Thank you, Lauren Springer Ogden, for headlining our workshops!

Wildscape 101 workshop in Casper, WY

Wildscape 101 workshop in Casper, WY

And thanks to our workshop sponsors: University of Wyoming Extension Service, Natrona County; Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District; Colorado State University Extension–Pueblo CountyArkansas Valley Audubon; Denver Water; City of Fort Collins Utilities; City of Aurora Water Conservation Division; and Greater Arkansas River Nature Association.

We participated in Pro-Green, the annual “green industry” convention in Denver, thanks to sponsorship from Plant Select®.

Hometown Habitat

Hometown Habitat, a national film about the people making a difference in restoring nature at home.

Hometown Habitat, a national film about the people making a difference in restoring nature at home.

We were filmed for the “Hometown Habitat” environmental film project by filmmaker and passionate habitat gardener, Catherine Zimmerman of The Meadow Project. View the trailer with Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home.

(You can help support this groundbreaking film, featuring Doug Tallamy, here.) Look for “Hometown Habitat” at film festivals in 2015!

Habitat Hero Awards

Thanks to our workshops, vigorous social media campaign, and support from our major partners, Plant Select® and High Country Gardens, applications for our Habitat Hero Awards tripled from last year, the first year of the program.

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

We awarded the coveted Habitat Hero sign (and bragging rights) to 28 projects: public gardens, landscape/horticulture professionals, residential yards, plus a multi-family complex, a schoolyard and a trail system.

We Couldn’t Have Done it Without You

It was a record year for us in so many ways, and you, the passionate gardeners, plants-people, landscapers, and park, golf course, public garden, and trail system managers helped spread the word, and the excitement about restoring habitat for songbirds and pollinators right at home where we live, work and play. Thank you!

Jacobs wildscape, Pueblo, CO, a 2013 Habitat Hero Award-winner

Jacobs wildscape, Pueblo, CO, a 2013 Habitat Hero Award-winner

And to our partners at High Country Gardens and Plant Select®–you helped us grow in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Deepest thanks!

What’s Next?

We’re taking a break for the holidays until mid-January. Next year begins a new chapter for the Habitat Hero project. The staff of Audubon Rockies is taking over the project from the start-up team, and they are already planning events, including a Wildscape workshop in Cheyenne, WY, in late March.

Look for more news here after mid-January. And in the meantime, if you’re looking for a last-minute gift, don’t forget our Colorado Wildscapes book.

Broad-tailed hummingbird on the stalk of a common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) on a formerly industrial property. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Broad-tailed hummingbird on the stalk of a common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) on a formerly industrial property. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Winter is a great time to plan next year’s habitat gardens, so “Habitat Up!” and help Audubon Rockies keep the momentum going.

Happy Holidays from Connie, Susan and Sienna. Thank you for being Habitat Heroes!

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.