Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Transforming Chateau Papillon's Landscape: Building a Wildlife Sanctuary & How You Can, Too!

Videographers Alison Fast and Chandler Griffin
Not too long ago, I blogged about some of the steps Beth and I have taken to make over our yard at Chateau Papillon into a more natural landscape and a habitat attractive to all sorts of native wildlife (and intend to expound upon those topics, later, too).  We signed up for the Audubon at Home program and made our yard wildlife-friendly--and now, we're playing host to the National Audubon Society and volunteering our yard to appear in a video they're producing about how everyone can work to help birds year-round from their own homes.  Even if you're not a first-responder scrubbing clean the oiled birds of the Gulf after an environmental disaster like we recently witnessed, you can indeed still play a very important part in providing healthy habitat for migratory birds.

So when the call came out yesterday from the local Northern Virginia Audubon chapter's environmental education coordinator requesting help in putting together a video about the Gulf response, I jumped right on board; even though Beth and I typically are too busy to volunteer much of our time, this was simply too good of an opportunity to pass up, helping get out the message that everyone can play a role.

I remember how, shortly after the magnitude of the BP Macando well disaster became known, I rushed over to my computer and started pricing flights to New Orleans and to the Gulf panhandle of Florida.  I wanted to be there, instead of sitting helpless here at home.  Just thinking about the tragedy and its effects upon wildlife got me both angry and teared-up at the same time.  I had to do something!

But when I spoke to a friend in Florida--Adam Kent, current President of the Florida Ornithological Society--Adam gently suggested that most volunteers, though meaning the best, would have to be constantly supervised and guided to make sure they didn't do more harm than good (stepping on a threatened tern's nest, for example).  Instead, Adam said, we should be doing things at home like putting up nests specifically for species  around our home, like Eastern Phoebes (platforms sheltered high up near the eaves would be best, he said), and helping the silly Carolina Wrens who'd chosen to nest in our mailbox (we put in a second mailbox and labeled the two so the postman wouldn't drop mail in on top of the eggs).

Indeed, the contributions we can make from home and in our own backyards are actually more important than being on the front lines of response to an environmental disaster--more of us can participate, and over a larger area and much longer span of time.  Keep in mind, too, that what we do in our back yards has a much larger effect when summed across the country as a whole, and a more lasting one: we can change the environment for the better throughout our lives, not just on a single weekend or two of volunteering in the Gulf.

And the backyard contributions need not be something which consumes all of one's time or resources, either.  Though Beth and I certainly spend a huge amount of our own time and energy in our "outdoor living room," even small gestures can make a difference.  For example:

  • Out in the yard with the family or pets?  Spend a few minutes looking for and removing invasive plant species, which crowd out natives and often don't provide as good of food or shelter for wildlife.  Beth and I have almost gotten our Japanese stilt grass under control simply by pulling up a few handfuls at a time whenever we're in the yard.
  • Put out a feeder or two, and keep it stocked with black oil sunflower seeds--you'll pay a bit more for black oil sunflower, but it's generally a better seed and in our experience attracts less non-native "pest" birds (like House Sparrows and European Starlings).  Over time, you'll find yourself adding additional feeders to attract a variety of birds; we have thistle for finches, a sugar water feeder for hummingbirds, suet cake feeders for woodpeckers (including one designed specifically for larger species like the Pileated), and a flat tray feeder the Mourning Doves and Blue Jays love.
  • Plant and encourage native species suited for your terrain and conditions.  They'll do well, and you'll be amazed at how much less fertilizer and pesticide is needed to keep them healthy.  Native plants attract a wide variety of native insects and serve as food and habitat for all sorts of wildlife.
  • Add a water feature; it can be as small as a bird bath.  Our little pond has been a great habitat for native frog species (who found it on their own--build it, and they will come) as well as an attraction for our many backyard birds.
  • Collect water from the gutters in rain barrels and use it in the yard instead of the hose.
  • Create a "brush pile" somewhere in your yard instead of bundling up all those twigs and sticks for pickup at the curb.  Wrens and several other species of birds will thank you.
  • Encourage neighbors to keep cats indoors!
  • Many areas have free mulch available--make use of it.  We've used our locally-available mulch to help build up a layer of rich soil around the yard and to reclaim some of our lawn into new, more natural habitats: meadow in the sunnier spots, filled with bird-, bee-, and butterfly-friendly native wildflowers; forest floor in the shadier areas. 

There are countless more things you, too, can do; the list above covers only a few of the steps we've undertaken over the past two years in our back yard.  The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia offers several resources with more information for those living in the Washington, D.C., area, and the National Audubon Society's Audubon at Home site offers tips and a starting point for citizens nationwide.

Anyway--on the video shoot itself: the videographers arrived, along with National Auduon Society Gulf response communications coordinator Finley Hewes, around 7:30am, having flown up from New Orleans the night before.  They'd been working hard on the bulk of the video, from the beaches of the Gulf shores to trips out onto the water to see first-hand the front-line response to the oil disaster, and would be finishing up with the footage of what people can do in their own back yards.  We took a lot of footage, showing us walking around the yard, pointing out the native plants and their benefits to wildlife, and then spent time on an interview.  I'm sure most of the footage will end up on the cutting room floor (after all, we're just the closing anecdote to the video), but I'm still looking forward to seeing the finished product and will post a link to it as soon as the National Audubon Society folks put it up online.

I think we really conveyed the message that there are indeed things that we as individuals can do every day to help out; I'll post another blog entry later spelling out in detail some of what we shared and how those tips can help you, too, take care of the birds and other wildlife around you, no matter where you are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great message for all those frustrated volunteers who want to help on the coast but haven't been able to.