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ursulav

Species #1: Blue-Headed Vireo

So I actually did wind up making a New Year's Resolution, which you can read about here.

Fifty Species Goal

My current yardlist of resident/visiting species is well over 300, which sounds really impressive but is less so than you might think. The impressive bit is that I actually got down on my hands and knees and looked for the darn things, and that's more a tribute to the weirdness of my hobbies. There is an extraordinary amount of life out there if you know where to look...and aren't actively trying to nuke it from orbit, of course.

In my perfect world (such as it is) we would all consider the number of species in our yards to be a source of inordinate pride. They'd give us property tax breaks for biodiversity. The perfect sterile lawn would be treated with mild contempt and HOAs would leave you faux-concerned notes stating that your grass was too short and appeared to be a monoculture. When you sold the house, your real estate listing would mention that there were spotted salamanders and ovenbirds breeding on the lot.

Oh well. Fantasy aside, the point is, I've knocked off a fair bit of the low-hanging fruit, and if I want to increase the count, I have to A) be lucky and B) actually get in there and look closely and track down IDs, not just throw my hands in the air and go "I dunno, it's a bee."

Fortunately for me, I got a surprise guest the other day, a lovely little blue-headed vireo attracted to the open water in the birdbath. This is an insect-eating species, although they'll nosh on fruit in the winter (I think the suet may have interested him a bit, and perhaps the rose hips.) This particular vireo's population is actually increasing, making them a rare good news story in the bird world. (Go, Team Vireo!)

So that's one down and forty-nine to go...


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Leaving aside mushrooms, I reckon an hour in my garden in summer would yield ten spiders and five bees, which would be a good start. And of beetles I don't have any feel for the number, because they all fall into the collective bucket "weird", so I don't have any count for them.

How many species of worm should I expect, and how do i tell them apart? The big fat ones look different from the tiny thin ones, but is that just a matter of growth?

Oh man, I can't do worms at ALL. I call it all "earthworm" and call it good. I don't even know how many kinds there are. (That may be a future year...)

Beetles are often pretty easy if you can get a shot with your phone--then BugGuide.net is a huge help.


(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
That is a really neat idea!

I also really wish your fantasy would be real. I hate the sterile "perfect" lawns! I think they should also have bonuses for amounts of native and/or endangered species, and there'd be prizes and acclaim for yards that were the best for the bees, or yards that got the most butterflies, and things like that.

I also love this idea ^__^

Ursula, we were invoking your name yesterday -- we saw a vulture that was defying identification, and wished we'd had you with us!

(We're pretty sure that it was a Black Vulture whose head was either unusually red OR was red due to the fact that it was eating roadkill . . . we've seen Turkey Vultures before, in MD, and their plumage is kind of dusty-dark but not shiny-black like this one, which we initially thought was a HUGE out-of-place raven until we saw its head.)

-- A :)

I have at least one species that I don't want back--the bear that came through last year. She can stay next door at the old mill in their tree farm. Her, and coyotes (and I know, the coyotes aren't native). Most everything else I welcome with open arms.

Yes, since numbers of hunters are down, bears are flourishing.

Someone wrote a great SF story some years back, "Bears Discover Fire", and therein they were camping on the median of the Interstate, with somone's grandma who had lost her apartment...

I do like them, but in my yard might be another matter. Agreed NIMBY, next door might be OK. Our three-year-old is, I believe, a member of the bear clan...

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Hooray for whole foods. Suet, rose hips and fruit forever!

My brain sees "Fifty S" for your link and immediately fills in "hades of Gray". I should probably be alarmed by this.

It's a pity you can't put Clitocybe nuda--the fungus that inspired it all!--on the 50 list.

On the upside, Wikipedia reckons it's edible. And yours appears to be quite large...

I am therefore voting for it to feature on "Kevin and Ursula Eat Fresh" at some point.

*laugh* Perhaps next year, when they rise again! They're pretty old and woody and frost-bit now.

I am now going to recommend to anyone I know selling a house that they list the biodiversity stats. A friend who moved into her first house after years of apartments had no idea that she had 80% of a viable kitchen garden mixed into the lawn out back.

I loved IDing native pollinators in my old yard. There was really a surprising number of them, considering I lived in a very urban area of Los Angeles. Then again my front yard had a raised bed vege garden which contained many plants I frequently let go to seed, amongst a ton of other interesting flowering plants and fruit trees such as dragonfruit (bees ROLLED in these giant blooms), artichokes (bees get DRUNK in the blooms), and kumquats (well you get the point). Pollinators were VERY happy. Now, IDing mushrooms is a little tough/time-consuming (and keep an eye out for local mushroom fairs in the fall, these are fun), but if you're going the fungus route you'll probably get to 50 in no time! And what about moss? :) Critters below the ground? I guess if December rolls around and you're a few shy there's always the microscopic...

I was surprised at how many thing I plant for other reasons the bees love.

First take over the local HOA.... Just a suggestion :¬)

Actually backyards and gardens are important reservoirs of biodiversity but they only really work if the species can move around. Green corridors are essential for the animals to move from one place to another.

It would be lovely if it was considered a criterion for an estate agent to tout. With possible ratings from UCW (ugly - concrete wasteland) TAS (throw a stick and you will hit something!).

I tends to do most of my critter spotting while actively engaged in gardening. It is great when you have been out in the garden working for an hour or so and the local wildlife population stops seeing you.

working for an hour or so and the local wildlife population stops seeing you.

In our garden we have a couple of pairs of blackbirds that are totally fearless. They will almost stand on the shovel as you turn dirt, and constantly follow us around the garden looking out for disturbed insects and grubs to pounce on. We watch them out the kitchen window turning over leaves looking for bugs. They bug the heck out of the missus by spreading leaf mulch all over, everywhere but back on the garden it's supposed to be on!

The perfect sterile lawn would be treated with mild contempt

Ah, yes, also known as "the nature-hater's lawn". I still don't understand the appeal of an otherwise-empty shorn grass monoculture. Between all the weeding, fertilizing, pesticide applications, and watering necessary to keep the grass alive, those lawns aren't even low maintenance. Not to mention that the look doesn't have aesthetic value to me, it's just... yeah, sterile is a good word for it. If I recall correctly from my past readings, naturalist author David Quammen has a great essay about the history of grass lawns in the USA (yep, found it, here's a digital copy).

Love your idea about tax breaks for biodiversity, by the way. I've bounced a similar idea around in the back of my head, specifically the idea that folks ought to get tax breaks for planting native species on their property. It's one of those things that would probably be doable in the legal sense but difficult to push through as legislation in the social/cultural sense.

Wish I had a bit more greenery on my tiny rental lot. Still, this little chunk of land gets a surprising number of species spilling over from the neighbors. My biggest pleasant surprise was finding a horde of California slender salamanders</em> living under a woodpile by the side of the house. No idea where they came from, no idea where they go when it dries up, but it was a big, squirmy salamander party under there last spring. No lawn crayfish, though.

I have an uncle in Adelaide.au who had the pocket handkerchief lawn in his miniscule backyard dug up and replaced with AstroTurf to avoid wasting the water required to maintain it. (Adelaide has chronic water shortages pretty well constantly throughout the year).

A solution probably better than the greek guy (who lived across the road from us in one house we lived in) who planted his front yard in green concrete instead of lawn...

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Does that include things like chaos amoebae, orange pseudo-spiders, tiny red centipedes, and millipedes the thickness of a thread (I needed a 10x lens to see the legs)?

The dirt in a good garden is full of fun little creatures.

Because we live on a hill and would have to use a winch attached to the house to mow if we had grass in some areas (they really do this) I've planted loads of irises and other hardy, spreading plants. Many of which were given to me and I can't identify. If each color of iris is a different number, I'm going to have a good time counting in the spring.

Imagine lawns too steep to be safe to mow, so they alter lawnmowers and drag them up and down hill on a winch attached to the house instead of considering more natural alternatives.

We have a flight of stairs outside to reach the house.

Figure you might be interested in something that the University of Reading has been working on: Grass Free Lawns

The basic concept is building a green area out of 'tiles' of local native plants, paying attention to what prefers what sort of environment for shady patches, borders etc.

A mention of spotted salamanders and oven birds in the real estate listing would definitely pique my interest in a potential house. Half because of the critters themselves and half because the house belonging to someone who considered them worth mention would probably be interesting.

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