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.

Habitat Hero Awards: School Garden & Professional Landscapes

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. 

Take a Virtual “Tour” of Inspiring Professional Landscapes & a School Garden

Read on for a virtual “tour” of the landscapes designed by horticultural professionals from this year’s Habitat Hero Awards, plus a growing schoolyard garden. Unlike the public parks and trails, these gardens aren’t open to the public. Still, they’re full of ideas to inspire your own wildscapes and habitat gardens!

Pinedale Elementary, Rapid City, SD–Outstanding School Garden

Center court before planting

Center court before planting

The National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Habitat program spurred this elementary school to reclaim unused space in their central courtyard for ecosystem gardens.

Prairie meadow garden three months later

Prairie meadow garden three months later

With advice from a Habitat-Hero-Award-winning master gardener from the community, the school designed three native-plant gardens that reflect the surrounding landscape: prairie meadow, badlands, and Black Hills forest.

Unused lawn before Black Hills forest was planted

Unused lawn before Black Hills forest was planted

“Kindergarten through fifth grade students helped plan, plant and manage these environments. Every native plant was selected either for its ability to provide food, shelter and a place to raise young for local bird species, or … restoring habitat to our pollinators.” The gardens also save water, and teach kids and parents the importance of using tough and resilient natives for their own gardens.

Black Hills forest garden three months later

Black Hills forest garden three months later

Because the courtyard and its gardens are visible from every hallway in the school, kids can observe the habitats and their wildlife as they walk from class to class, making it a living laboratory.

Pinedale Heath Aster with bee gathering pollen

Pinedale Heath Aster with bee gathering pollen

“Lessons come alive as we step out to observe the sunflower heads and asters covered in different types of bees, legs laden with pollen, busy at work.”

 Hayward Yard, Masonville, CO—Outstanding Landscape

May in the Hayward's "tinaja" or waterhole garden

May in the Hayward’s “tinaja” or waterhole garden

“Why wildscape?” writes Pat Hayward about the extensive habitat gardens she and her husband Joel have created on their nearly four-acre property in the foothills above Fort Collins. “It’s like asking why we breathe. It’s the right thing to do, it’s social, it’s fun, it’s mysterious, it’s educational and it’s fun to share.”

Allium and sunflowers, a beautiful contrast of blue and gold

Allium and sunflowers, a beautiful contrast of blue and gold

The Haywards–she’s a horticulturist and he’s a biologist–chose the hundreds of kinds of plants they planted for beauty in all seasons, durability in Colorado’s challenging weather, and value for wildlife, whether food, shelter or nesting/denning.

Another view of the tinaja garden

Another view of the tinaja garden

Most of their plants are Plant Select® varieties, not just because Pat is Executive Director of the program; because the Hayward’s harsh site demanded resilient plants that would survive with little supplemental water in full sun.

A hummingbird drinks at a Hesperaloe with pink Rocky Mountain Beeplant (Cleome serrulata) and Agastache nearby

A hummingbird drinks at a Hesperaloe with pink Rocky Mountain Beeplant (Cleome serrulata) and Agastache nearby

The Haywards welcome wildlife of all sorts, whether the hummingbirds, bumblebees, tadpoles and orioles that are easy to love, or the skunks, snakes, and song-bird-eating Cooper’s Hawks. Except mule deer, which are fenced out of the main yard area, but have full run of the rest of the acreage.

A natural garden of mostly native species transitions to the "wild" portion of their acreage.

A natural garden of mostly native species transitions to the “wild” portion of their acreage.

Peacock Yard, Lakewood, CO

A prairie-like swath of lawn with woodland edges

A prairie-like swath of lawn with woodland edges

In just four years, landscape designer Marie Peacock transformed a neglected 1960s suburban yard into a water-saving oasis for wildlife, replacing bindweed, scruffy patches of lawn and aging Pfizer junipers with two very different habitats, front and back, picking plants suitable to the very different exposures with an emphasis on long blooming time.

A berm and dry streamed give character to the xeric front yard.

A berm and dry stream bed give character to the xeric front yard.

The front yard, a sloping and sunny exposure, features a berm and dry stream bed, plus xeric plants that provide food for hummingbirds and pollinators.

Cascading water feature and "wild" edges

Cascading water feature and “wild” edges

The back, which slopes uphill to an irrigation ditch, features a cascading water feature that Peacock admits “had a mind of its own and became larger than life.” In that more well-watered site, Peacock used native and regionally adapted plants to create woodland edges with a prairie-like lawn in the middle.

Coyote hunting in the back yard

Coyote hunting in the back yard

Wildlife attracted to the habitat corridor along the irrigation ditch frequent the habitat in Peacock’s yard, including the coyote pair that raised a family in a den nearby!

Tatroe Yard, Centennial, CO—Outstanding Wildlife Garden

Diverse kinds of plants make for beauty and diverse habitat.

Diverse kinds of plants make for beauty and diverse habitat.

When Marcia Tatroe and her husband moved to their covenant-controlled community in 1987, their neighborhood, “an island of 1200 homes with fields on three sides,” supported “all of the usual critters that manage to live in such a place” along with several varieties of snakes. As housing developments took over the fields, Tatroe “watched in horror as wildlife gradually disappeared.”

Two of Tatroe's whimsical birdhouses (note the wren perched on the right-hand one)

Two of Tatroe’s whimsical birdhouses (note the wren perched on the right-hand one)

So Tatroe set out to provide habitat in her quarter-acre lot. After receiving a variance to eliminate the bluegrass lawn, she began a cottage-garden-style wildscape that now takes up every inch of the lot beyond the house. “I hope to provide an… example in my community to demonstrate it is possible to share a garden with the creatures that were here before my home was built on top of theirs.”

A garden that invites wildlife and people

A garden that invites wildlife and people

Tatroe’s garden includes over 2,000 taxa of plants, many native, and is entirely organic, involving no pesticides at all. “Insects are food for the birds and other critters I’m trying to attract.”

Tatroe's "messy" garden in winter, with last year's stalks left for food and shelter.

Tatroe’s “messy” garden in winter, with last year’s stalks left for food and shelter.

Her design alternates open areas with shade and shrubby areas for maximum diversity of habitat, and includes woodpiles and brush piles for shelter, and different types of water, including basins and birdbaths.

A Northern Flicker finds a perch on a garden sculpture in winter

A Northern Flicker finds a perch on a garden sculpture in winter

_____

Congratulations to the 2014 Habitat Heroes! Thank you for helping grow a network of habitat for wildlife in the Rocky Mountain region.

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

Habitat Hero Awards: Residential Gardens, Part II

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. 

Continuing Our Virtual “Tour” of Inspiring Residential Gardens

This is post two in the virtual “tour” of our top residential garden Habitat Hero Awards (listed in alphabetical order, no ranking implied). They’re full of ideas to inspire your own wildscapes and habitat gardens!

Engelstad YARD, Rapid City, SD—Outstanding Residential Yard

The front flower bed--prairie for pollinators, a tree to shade and cool the house

The front flower bed–prairie for pollinators, a tree for a perch, and to shade and cool the house

When this Master Gardener moved to a golf-course-and-green-lawn community in western South Dakota, she had already experienced the rich rewards of restoring native prairie in her yard. How to convince the homeowners association to allow her to replace some of her lawn with prairie?

Back yard with formal flower beds featuring native prairie plants

Back yard with formal flower beds featuring native prairie plants

“We requested permission to create a Japanese garden with native plants.” Once permission was granted, they removed all of the river rock in front of the house and their indoor summer temperatures dropped by 10 degrees!

Then came moving plants that didn’t belong where the landscapers had placed them, and planting native prairie plants in their stead. And as the natives took hold, the pollinators and songbirds moved in.

Bumblebee with full pollen "baskets" on her hind legs at Pikes Peak® penstemon

Bumblebee with full pollen “baskets” on her hind legs at Pikes Peak® penstemon

She’s had to “corner” the landscaping company hired by the homeowners association to keep them from spraying her yard with pesticides, and even turned the every-two-days lawn sprinklers off herself a few times. “But I think we’ve had an influence,” she says. “There are more flower beds now and less river rock and even a few native plants.” (She also designed the plantings at Pinedale School in Rapid City, this year’s Outstanding Schoolyard.)

Adult male American Goldfinch (winter plumage) in hawthorn tree

Adult male American Goldfinch (winter plumage) in hawthorn tree

FReudenburg/White Yard, Colorado Springs—Outstanding Wildlife Habitat

A bobcat drinks from the front yard cascade in winter.

A bobcat drinks from the front yard cascade in winter.

Living not far from the foothills and Garden of the Gods, this couple knows their yard is part of a wildlife corridor between the plains and the mountains, so they make a point of landscaping to provide food and water for critters from native bees to bobcats!

The private backyard oasis

The private backyard oasis

Their backyard, mostly fenced to keep out deer, is where the couple’s chickens and edibles live; their front yard is a xeriscape full of food plants for pollinators and songbirds.

The colorful front yard rock garden and perennial bed

“The yard is a work in progress,” the couple admits. But they love to garden and bird-watch, and they are so dedicated to wildscape principles that they are part of a neighborhood group that rents goats to control weeds instead of using pesticides!

A "weeder" goat

A “weeder” goat

Rose Wildscape, Powell, WY—Outstanding Zone 4 Garden

When you live in northern Wyoming’s windy, dry and cold climates, and you have sandy, alkaline soil, you’ve got a serious gardening challenge.

Inside the low wall, an oasis for people and wildlife

Starting in 2005, this intrepid couple created a walled garden around their house for a windbreak, and within it, are growing an oasis for songbirds, pollinators and people. The garden uses little supplemental water and no pesticides.

Layers, color and texture, plus plenty of hiding cover for "little guys"

Layers, fall color and texture, plus plenty of hiding cover for “little guys”

They’ve got layers, color and texture, and plenty of summer and fall food. They admit that they need to add more spring food, and replace bark mulch (which blows away and dries out) with gravel mulch more appropriate to the native and xeric plants.

And they’ve got an array of songbirds, from meadowlarks to hummingbirds. This wildscape is a great example of what our founder, Connie Holsinger likes to say: “Plant it and they will come.”

Apache plume re-blooming in the fall, Maximilian sunflower behind gone to seed.

Apache plume re-blooming in the fall, Maximilian sunflower behind gone to seed.

Stalls/Purner Yard, Denver, CO—Special Recognition for Creativity

The southwest corner of the yard after beginning to remove lawn.

The southwest corner of the yard after lawn removal begins.

Take one ordinary 1950s city lawn-scape plus two guys motivated to do something interesting and water-saving, add a Wildscape 101 workshop, and what do you get?

Prairie-garden in the making with Little Free Library

That same corner as a prairie-garden in the making with Little Free Library on a post

A brand-new front-yard prairie garden in the making (they grew most of the plants from seed this year) with a Little Free Library that has made their corner “one of North Park Hill’s new thriving ‘destinations’ in a matter of months. People point. They stop. They read. They ask questions. They leave inspired,” say the owners.

Backyard: edibles and a pollinator border

Backyard: edibles and a pollinator border

And a back lawn replaced by edible garden with a wide pollinator border. “Our morning back yard coffee is full of birds and their song,” they wrote in their application. “The bees buzz all morning and evening. … Just yesterday I sat and watched four goldfinches finally make their way to our bright and seeding sunflowers too. And all this in just one growing season!

“It’s been such a special journey – for the neighborhood, for the critters, and of course for us.”

Thanks, guys! That pretty much sums up why we wildscape.

Congratulations to all the 2014 Habitat Heroes! Thank you for helping grow a network of habitat for wildlife in the Rocky Mountain region.

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

Habitat Hero Awards: Residential Gardens, Part I

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. 

Take a Virtual “Tour” of Inspiring Residential Gardens

We thought you’d like see some of this year’s residential Habitat Hero gardens. Unlike the public parks and trails, these gardens are private, so over the next few blog posts we’ll give you a virtual “tour.” They’re full of ideas to inspire your own wildscapes and habitat gardens!

Here are the first three “Outstanding” and “Special Recognition” yards (listed in alphabetical order, no ranking implied):

Alberty/Buschmann Yard, Salt Lake City, UT

What looks green and natural is actually invasive and toxic myrtle spurge.

The slope carpeted by  invasive and toxic myrtle spurge.

This Salt Lake City couple thought their steep back slope, which adjoins City-owned Open Space, was natural until 2010 when they learned from a county awareness campaign that a carpet of invasive and toxic myrtle spurge had choked out all the native plants.

Within days, these energetic restoration gardeners had pulled a “whole carload” of myrtle spurge, leaving them with a bare slope and a “mudslide to be” looming over their house.

The steep slope minus most of the spurge, and with baby plants plugged in.

The steep slope minus most of the spurge, and with baby plants plugged in.

What could they plant that would survive on a hot, west-facing slope with thin soil covering rocks? In order to save water and not introduce the next invader, they chose plants native to the Intermountain West, and created a beautiful naturalistic habitat garden.

Three years late in June--that's a habitat garden!

Three years later in June–that’s a habitat garden!

Not all of the 200 plants they plugged into the slope to stabilize it survived. But some natives–including big sagebrush and rubber rabbitbrush–volunteered once the toxic spurge was cleared away, and over four years they’ve established other native shrubs, including mountain mahogany, Gambel oak, and serviceberry, plus bunch grasses and wildflowers.

Fall view of the restored slope, now an inviting place for people and wildlife.

The restored slope in fall, an inviting and diverse place for people and wildlife.

The unexpected benefit: A “huge burst of wildlife,” including hummingbirds they hadn’t seen before, a host of insect pollinators, and baby owls that grew up in the yard. “Our daughter is growing up with a community in her backyard, not just a mess of weeds dribbling caustic sap.”

Bidgood Garden, Denver, CO

The turf grass "desert" before.

The turf grass “desert” before

When this Denver homeowner moved with his family into their new house in a city infill development in 2009, the front-yard landscaping included foundation plantings and Kentucky bluegrass turf.

The turf at the front corner was hard to maintain, so in 2012, the homeowner decided to replace it with a perennial garden that would build on the existing foundation plantings. He smothered the turf with compost and manure topped with black plastic, and then rototilled the dead grass into the soil and began to plant.

The new garden--complete with small boulders passing kids use as stepping stones--in spring of 2012.

After: the new garden–complete with small boulders passing kids use as stepping stones–in summer, 2014.

He selected plants adapted to the former prairie site with flowers and foliage in tones of white, pink and silver, in part so the garden would look good at night and would attract night-flying pollinators, including white-lined sphinx moths. He also used the runoff from his roof for supplemental water to maintain a few mesic prairie plants, including Joe Pyeweed, a butterfly magnet.

The new habitat garden in summer (Joe Pyweed watered by the downspout in left background)

The front-yard habitat garden–note Joe Pyweed watered by the downspout in left background.

The resultant 300-square-foot patch of city habitat is not only aesthetically pleasing and water-saving, it buzzes with pollinators and hummingbirds. The homeowner now photographs bumblebees for the Xerces Society’s Bumblebee Watch project, and he and his kids contribute ladybug observations to Cornell University’s “Lost Ladybug” project.

Brown-belted bumblebee foraging on Echinacea flower.

Brown-belted bumblebee foraging on Echinacea flower.

Cappel Yard, Brighton, CO

The garden and their blue grama lawn (full of seedheads) in fall.

The garden and their blue grama lawn (full of seedheads) in fall.

When this couple moved to a subdivision in semi-rural Brighton, they knew they wanted a garden that would attract wildlife rather than just an expansive area of turf grass lawn. They also wanted to maintain an aesthetically pleasing yard and not violate their subdivision watering and lawn regulations.

Front garden in June

Front garden in June

They started with a single pre-planned garden from High Country Gardens, and over the years added more plants from High Country Gardens, Harlequin’s Gardens in Boulder, and the Center for ReSource Conservation’s Garden-in-a-Box program.

Perennial border by their porch

Perennial border by their porch

These intrepid gardeners learned by trial and error, through “drought, hail and even a grasshopper plague.”

Now they point with pride to the diversity of wildlife that come through their garden, from songbirds and pollinators to praying mantids, cottontail rabbits, toads, and hognose and bull snakes (both of which are great for keeping the rodent population in balance). “Our garden is our favorite place to be!”

Western tiger swallowtail nectaring on Jupiter's Beard

Western tiger swallowtail nectaring on Jupiter’s Beard

Congratulations to all of the 2014 Habitat Hero Gardens. Thank you for helping us make the places we live, work and play welcoming to wildlife, especially to pollinators and songbirds, for saving water, and for mitigating the effects of climate change. You are truly heroes!

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