Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Integrated Pest Management

There is an aspect of sustainability in everything we do, that includes how you handle the tomato worms in your garden or the ants in your pantry.

This week I'm working with a Girl Scout Twilight Camp to help some girls earn their Incredible Insects badge. As part of my preparation, I had to become knowledgeable about the 5 components of Integrated Pest Management.

While the five components are fairly intuitive, knowing them and applying them to any "pest" situation can help you respond in a more sustainable and earth-friendly manner.

Over the next few days I'm going to apply these five components to a couple of "pest" situations around my own home to demonstrate how you too can dig a little deeper and find new ways to approach old insect "pest" problems.

Look at the insect in the photo above. Is it a pest or a beneficial ? If you don't know, make sure you come back over the next week, it could make a huge difference in how you see the world and respond to insects.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Interaction Between California Quail and Other Birds

I've continued to do regular birding walks at Serrania Avenue Park. One of the species I've been looking for is California quail. The number of quail seems less than normal despite the ample rainfall that has been a boon to other species.

However, this morning we saw a plump pair and heard two additional males calling from the two sides of this canyon.

Unfortunately, the pair did not have any chicks following them. But we did observe something that we haven't seen before:

The two quail were making their way through tall dry mustard plants. They were feeding on either insects or seeds. Following them were two immature Bewick's wrens and an adult California towhee with three juveniles. The smaller young birds seemed to be taking advantage of what the larger quail were scaring up.

How different the San Fernando Valley must have looked when it was mostly tall grasses with a riparian corridor along the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. How many birds would have been feeding on the seeds and insects? What interaction between species would you have seen?

The more we can establish a quilt of native habitat across the suburban landscape, the more we may have an opportunity to understand the native wildlife that should be here.

Digging Deeper means understanding that the interconnection between species is essential to a sustainable world.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Then There Were Mourning Doves

Two mourning dove chicks in a nest constructed in a hanging flower pot.

A friend and his family are documenting this nest site on their front porch. SEE the nest when first discovered.

A healthy backyard habitat gives back to you in living treasures.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Program on Island Fox and the Role of Field Biologists

California's Channel Island fox is making a strong comeback thanks to the joint efforts of government agencies, private organizations and the general public. Conservation efforts include annual capture of island foxes to count their numbers and provide them with health checks. Join me at:

Placerita Nature Center
8:30 - 9:30 AM,
Saturday June 19th

In my role as
V.P. of Education for Friends of the Island Fox, I'll be giving a program exploring why the island fox became endangered and what actions were taken to save them. We'll demonstrate how field biologists use radio tracking to monitor island fox health and welfare. And the group will hike a short way into the chaparral for an opportunity to see how island foxes are trapped annually across the islands. Kids will have the opportunity to engage in the steps biologists use to preform a health check on an island fox in the field.

Following there will be a guided hike, lead by representatives from the Placerita Nature Center for those that wish to go on a longer hike.

Join me for a fun opportunity to learn about field biology and the island fox in a beautiful natural setting. This event is FREE and for ages 5 and up.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Identifying A Bird Nesting in a Hanging Pot

Do you have a bird nesting in a hanging flower pot?

After a recent talk I gave on identifying
local birds, my friend Shane and his daughter Jenna sent me the following photos of the bird they wanted to identify.

This mourning dove has build a nest in a hanging pot. The dove or pigeon shape of the body, the soft gray coloring, the black beak, and the lack of a marking on the neck or a "collar," help us to identify that this is a mourning dove. This smallish dove is one of the most typically seen birds at bird feeders and in suburbs. Mourning doves don’t mind people and we discourage the presence of their primary predators: hawks and falcons, foxes, bobcats and other small mammalian predators.

Mourning doves build a haphazard, loose nest of twigs. If they can find a cupped location–like a hanging pot– or a secure surface–like the top of a window-mounted air conditioner or a protected roof line under an eave–they will use that human-made location to their benefit. Frequently that means mourning doves nest close to human activities.

This pinkish-gray dove depends on its camouflage coloring to allude predators. Their survival tactic is to remain very still. They trust that if they don’t move, you can’t see them. Don’t be surprised if a nesting dove will sit on its nest as you walk by.

According to birding books, both parents incubate the eggs; taking a shift at a specific time of day. The two white eggs shown here are a typical clutch.

A bird nesting close to your home says that you are providing habitat the bird needs. A protected secure location near food and water. (See nesting Bewick’s wren, Allen’s hummingbird.)

I hope that Jenna and her dad will keep us informed as the mourning doves continue their nesting effort. It would be great to see young mourning doves.

What is in your yard?

Are you interested in learning to identify birds in your yard? Contact me at

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Praying Mantises Emerge

Digging deeper into backyard biodiversity means getting you to look at what is in your backyard too.

This past week we had cons
ecutive days of temperatures in the high 90s F. The praying mantis egg cases seemed to be plumper each day. (This egg case was laid by a female praying mantis that I had caught and used in a class I was teaching last fall.)

Saturday night the low hovered around 60 degrees F. Sunday morning dawned overcast but warm. Everything was just right and the pray mantis juveniles emerged from their egg case leaving behind debris shed as they emerged.

We missed the moment of emergence, but this photo taken by our friend Jessica shows how the praying mantis juveniles hatch all at once. Jessica caught this moment in her yard.

The 4 -5 mm long, tiny praying mantises were dispersing when we saw them. There were 20-30 of them.

We wished them well as they dashed along the grape vine and across the patio supports. Some will become food for birds, lizards and other insects. Hopefully, some will grow up to prey on a variety of insects in the yard and lay their egg casings on twigs to continue the cycle of praying mantises in the yard.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Giving Furniture New Life - Recycling

Has recycling become part of your daily life? For many of us recycling paper, glass, metal and plastic containers has become integrated into our daily practices. More cities and towns participate in curbside recycling of disposables.

But that in itself points at an unsustainable mindset in our current society: that everything is disposable and therefore should be replaced on a regular basis to continue the economic cycle of consuming. We’re trying to move away from that mindset.

A hundred years ago when more people had to make the things they used themselves, they tried to find multiple uses for everything. I have a doll cradle that my great grandfather made for my grandmother when she was a toddler. The wooden planks that he used to maker the doll furniture were recycled from an old carriage.

We have an oak dining room table that we purchased new over 20 years ago. We’ve taken good care of it and the wood is still beautiful, but the upholstery of the chairs is shot. To toss the chairs and purchase something new would be expensive and a waste of oak resources. To dig deeper into a sustainable lifestyle we decided to take on the job of reupholstering our six dining room chairs.

Spending a couple of hours a weekend for the past two months, I’ve been taking apart the chairs and removing the staples that attached the cloth covering. It isn’t a difficult job, just time consuming.

The most important part was having the right tools. Much of the removal of the cloth can be done by cutting it off with a utility knife. The key tool is a special tipped screw driver-shaped staple remover or staple puller. Using the tapered end you pry up the staples. Some staples break off, requiring a pair of pliers to pull them out.

Not all of the staples need to be removed, but the majority did on our chairs because of the tight fit between the inset backs and the wooden frame.
As I’ve gone along I’ve taken notes so that I can follow these notes in reverse to reapply the new fabric.

All of the old upholstery has been removed and the exciting part will be putting the chairs back together.

Upholstery is something I’ve never done before. I hope to have the chairs finished by the end of the month. I’ll keep you posted as we progress.

What big items can you recycle or re-purpose at your house? Where can you stop thinking disposable?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Green Action #6 - Digging Deeper

Sustainability has become the catch word for everything from business markets to politics. But the important use of the term refers to humans living on resources that are replaceable in a manner that can be sustained into the future. Sustainability relates to economics, housing, business practices, education, development, food, clothing, every aspect of our lives. However, it doesn't mean manipulating the marketplace so that there always is a desire for a specific product. It means living in a way that provides a vital, healthy world for humans to live in seven generations from now.

Since January I've been trying to take on one niche of my daily life and to make it more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
June seems the perfect time to re-evaluate and dig deeper. Too many individuals, institutions and companies have taken on the banner of sustainability, but they have only scraped the surface of green actions and behavior.

So, where have we done well:

I've expanded Veggie Tuesdays and Thursdays to Wednesday as well. The middle of the week I focus on eating lower on the food chain. I've found that the transition has been fairly easy and there are more meals throughout the week that are veggie oriented.

Gardening with the intent to raise more of our own food is rewarding. A bowl of cereal with a handful of blueberries fresh from the bush is not only more tasty, it is also more satisfying.

With only a few plants–zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes–we aren't producing all of our food needs, but we are producing some. We are living closer to our own small bit of land.The biodiversity in the yard continues to grow, entertain and delight us. No, the desert cottontails are not munching on my vegetables. They seem to prefer the "weeds."

I've found soap products based on olive oil and glycerin to replace those using palm oil. We haven't bought any food products with palm oil for 3 months and we don't miss them.

I've been counting bird species for eBird both in my backyard and at our local Serrania Park. In fact, I discovered a blue-gray gnatcatcher pair nesting in an oak tree in the park and on Sunday morning we saw their two chicks fledge from the nest. It was very rewarding. Inali and I have documented nesting Bullock's and hooded orioles, black phoebes, Cassin's kingbirds, western bluebirds, bushtits, oak titmice, scrub-jays and Bewick's wrens all nesting in our local park.

Do you know what wild creatures live in your neighborhood? We've found that learning about our wild neighbors has put us more in touch with the rhythm of life.

We are using fewer resources, it is costing us less, and we don't feel that we are missing out on anything. I can't wait to dig deeper.