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Get outside and enjoy the end of summer.

IronweedWe had a great hike around Kendall Ridge, Maryland on this past Thursday. I bet you have never been there. It was a 2 mile walk – part of the 120 miles of paths in Howard County. It was 1 of 10 walks I am leading this year for the Columbia Association.

The woods have changed so much over the past few weeks. Dark green canopies cover the paths. Noonday cicadas drown out all human noise including the airplanes, and Joe Pye, Ironweed, jewelweed and golden rod offer a bit of color.

Grape.360Part of the difference in the woods or the edges of the woods is the result of the vines taking over the forests. All the trees were magically draped with vines climbing up 10, 30, 60 feet covering trees of all sizes. We saw a range of grapevines (fox, summer, riverbank, etc.), Virginia creeper, poison ivy, English ivy, cut-thumb/mile-a-minute, porcelain berry, honeysuckle, and trumpet vine.

It was a special walk along boardwalks reaching across streams, floodplains, and engineered wetlands. We saw stressed sycamores and locust trees, lots of black walnuts, and a series of dying ash trees. It was interesting to envision what life must have been like pre-colonization, and after Daniel Kendall received his 400 and 500 acre land grants back in 1701 (Kendall’s Delight and Kendall’s Enhancement). The forests are recovering as are the streams and a whole host of flora and fauna, including many native and non-native species. It is a seldom visited path that extends sound from the Kendall Ridge Pool. Go try it one day. You will forget you live in a city.

Take-a-way: For a list of future hikes this fall visit this schedule of events. Don’t leave the trails just to the PokemonGo searchers!

Ellicott City Floods – The Need to be Proactive

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Ellicott City Flood 7/30/16 photo by Cody Goodin

Many of us want to know what we can do to help our neighbors in Ellicott City. We feel a strong need to react to this incident. I am sure there are some short term things that could help reduce human suffering. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones, their homes, and businesses.

But fixing this city built in a creek is not a simple thing, especially with the expectations of more frequent and bigger storms. We need to be very thoughtful on how we proceed. We need to be reactive and proactive in our response.

The greatest opportunity to help our neighbors in Ellicott City and across the entire county and country are the actions that we take tomorrow, next week, and next year. We all need to be much more proactive in order to reduce the deaths and damage to our greater community in the future.

Storm waters do need to be managed better. We have known this for years. We all need to step up and put in rain gardens to capture rainfall and slow the flow of water off our properties. We also need to adequately fund the restoration of our storm water management systems.

But we also need to do whatever it takes to reduce the growing threat of more and bigger storms (rain and snow) resulting from the warming and moister atmosphere. We as a community have not taken this threat seriously, yet. We are not talking about it enough. We are not doing enough. There is so much more that we can do as individuals, businesses, and communities. We need to get serious and start doing it. Each of us can take steps at home and where we work. We each need to reduce our use of fossil fuels as much as possible to slow climate change and reduce these big storms. We can do that by:

  • reducing energy use in our homes by insulating attics and upgrading appliances.
  • reducing fossil fuel energy use by buying our electricity from solar and wind farms
  • reducing fuel use by driving less and using more efficient cars.
  • buying less stuff and always insisting on the most sustainable products.

Let’s support our neighbors both short term and long term by acting now to create a safer future. These are simple, concrete things that each of us can do today that will help prevent the next big catastrophe.

Guest Blog – About Mosquitoes and Mosquito Control

By Danielle Bodner, Columbia Association

backyard enviMosquitoes are a summer buzzword, and for good reason. They can ruin outdoor time by mercilessly biting people and leaving nasty welts. Having spent a lot of time catching and staring at the tiny annoyances, I tend to look at mosquitoes in a different light.

Only female mosquitoes bite. The females bite to obtain the protein in blood that they need to produce eggs. There are many different species of mosquitoes, and some don’t bite humans. While all mosquitoes spend their first days swimming in water, different species prefer different types of water. From the salt marshes on the Eastern Shore to rock pools, woodland streams and backyard containers filled with rain water, there are many different places that the various mosquitoes breed.

The Asian Tiger mosquito is widespread in Maryland and particularly interesting. She prefers breeding close to homes and will lay eggs in as little as a bottle cap of water. You can distinguish them by the white and black striped legs and the white line down the head/ thorax.

The Asian Tiger bites all day long and does not fly very far from where they emerge. While not the primary Zika virus vector, the Asian Tiger mosquito could potentially spread Zika to humans. The Asian Tiger are more opportunistic than the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are spreading Zika in Central and South America. This means that while female Ae. aegypti almost exclusively bite humans (requirement for Zika transmission), the female Asian Tiger are biting the first source of blood they find (i.e. dog, cat, bird, rodent, etc.), which will make it much more difficult for local transmission of the virus.

The 16 cases of local transmission of the Zika virus in Miami have been from the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Maryland is the extreme range for Aedes aegypti. Although they are technically here, it is in very low population density.

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Asian Tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) and larvae

Columbia Association conducts active mosquito surveillance in its open space, including identifying any mosquitoes found and encouraging natural mosquito predators, such as birds, fish, frogs, and other insects.  Columbia Association also provides public education through teaching residents about mosquito ecology, breeding sites and how to eliminate mosquitoes from their yards and help prevent diseases carried by mosquitoes.

The most difficult facet of mosquito control is convincing people to find and eliminate standing water in their backyard. You’re probably shaking your head right now, saying, “There isn’t any water in my yard,” but that is exactly the problem. Mosquitoes aren’t shining a light at you and holding signs saying, “Here we are!”

The backyard container breeders, like the Asian Tiger, are sneaky. This is exactly how they’ve managed to invade the eastern United States in such a short time.

Earlier this summer, I washed my car and left the empty wash bucket outside. Out of sight, out of mind; it sat for a week or two. Later when I went to retrieve the bucket, I found less than an inch of water in the bottom and enough larvae/wigglers to ruin a summer barbecue. It just goes to show that even the most diligent backyard mosquito hunter can still have standing water.

Take-a-way:Empty the water from buckets, tarps, planter dishes, birdbaths, bins, and watering cans on a weekly basis. This is the best way to take back your yard and reduce the mosquito population.

Pokemon GO is brilliant – Whatever it takes to get people outside.

Pokemon GoI love the fact that I am seeing hundreds of people of all ages out on the paths during these hot days of summer. It took me a few minutes to appreciate what they were doing: they are all playing Pokémon GO “which allows you to find and catch more than a hundred virtual species of Pokémon as you explore your surroundings with your IPhone or Android device.”

I am still trying to understand why they are doing it. I did ask this question and received the following comments listed below. I think there is some real potential here for getting more people out of their basements and off of their couches to explore the real world while playing a virtual game. As you can see in some of the comments, these folks are starting to appreciate some of the paths and the special places that our ancestors have saved for us. Maybe a few of them will become stewards as well.

Kathy Smith It’s fun! It gets me outside, it allows me to talk with the people around me, and I’m learning a lot of trivia about the physical spaces around me (almost all of the pokestops where you can get virtual prizes are historical, artistic, or local landmarks). I’m really enjoying it. Yes, it’s a silly game, and yes, I’m a geek – but on the other hand, how many people play solitaire, or minesweeper, or any one of a hundred other games on their phones or tablets? But no one ever says anything about that … mostly because they’re sitting inside, alone. I’m enjoying this game that seems to be bringing people out and bringing people together.I’m highly enthusiastic about this game, Ned. I haven’t walked this much (regularly) since my walking partner up and moved to North Carolina.

Judy O’Keefe Kelsey says it helps learn the metric system and they are using it in PT to encourage kids to move. All good in my book as long as caution is used. I’m wondering if we’ll see this in the winter

Jen Cook I stopped to hunt Pokémon at a spot I’ve driven by all of my life. I’ve never seen egrets there before, just geese and ducks.

Chas Parr The week after it came out I accidentally walked more than six miles to Wilde Lake and back. I think it is a very positive influence despite the naysayers.

Ken Crandell I saw a ton of them roaming around Pismo Beach pier at night, too. Glued to their phone, but outside and walking, with some interaction with other actual real live people. So, it’s an encouraging development.

Sherry S. Wechsler While I am clueless about Pokemon Go, right after it was released my daughter Rebecca posted this: “Ok, I am not usually a big fan of apps and video games but am really a big fan of this new Pokemon Go. In the past few days We have walked over 10 kilometers, hiked Patapsaco Park, discovered a nature trail by our home, and walked our entire neighborhood multiple times. My kids have been outside nonstop and had a blast. We live in a digital world and if this gets people out and moving than I am all for it.” They have continued to explore. Of course, I did find myself in my typical Mom/Grandmother style cautioning her to make sure they all watch where they are walking and stay away from traffic, don’t focus on phone in parking lots, avoid cliffs, edges of swimming pools and watch for bicycles. 😊

Carol Weisman I still don’t understand the appeal of bellbottoms.

Take-a-way: I have been searching for ways to get younger generations outdoors. This game has done just that. It is now up to them to see what happens next.

 

Signs of Summer

day lilliesThe fireflies are in full mating season flashing their unique signals trying to attract just the right partner for the evening. My uncle once told me that he courted his wife while trying to figure out the details of these dramatic insects. He later published his findings of some very exotic fireflies from New Guinea. They are a fascinating species that is trying to share this planet with us.  I am glad we stopped wiping out so many insect species by the indiscriminant spraying of pesticides to keep mosquitoes under control. Even with the Zika scare, it seems like most people are not over-reacting and are following the guidelines of the CDC.

Daylilies are in full bloom these days as well. I love seeing them along country roads. The ones I photographed here were grown in a well landscaped garden. They are so large, they must have been fertilized. I wonder how much of the fertilizer fed the flowers and how much of it washed off in a rain.

Judging by the massive amount of submerged aquatic vegetation in the nearby lake, some of the fertilizer must have washed into the lake. This is a summer long problem. We use way too much fertilizer on our lawns and gardens and it ends up causing over-nutrification of our water bodies.

harvesterHere is a photo of how our local HOA (Columbia Association) tries to manage this excess nitrogen – they have fossil fuel driven harvesters and essentially mow the grasses in the lake. This is another sign and sound of summer. Things look better for a while, but as we continue to over-fertilize, the grasses come roaring back. In many cases they grow so long they end up floating on the surface. If we all cut back on fertilizing, and installed rain gardens to slow the flow, this problem would go away.

But in general things look very good this time of year. Enjoy it – get outside and go for a walk. Eat black raspberries along the paths – they are ripe now. Mulberries will be coming soon and then the blackberries. It is a glorious time of the year to forage.

Take-a-way: Let’s learn to work together with nature so we can co-evolve a future that is healthier for us all.

Bats, Bullfrogs, and Fireflies

bull_frog_face_04_17-67-777694Kathy and I walked a friend home after dinner last night along an unlit path through the woods. The sun had set, the moon was out and we could see numerous stars – it was a spectacular time for a walk. Nighttime walks are another wonderful natural resource we have right in our backyards that very few of us take advantage. After last night’s experience, we are planning to do it much more often.

We walked around Lake Elkhorn in Howard County, MD. Kathy had on a head lamp which was helpful since the stretches in the woods were quite dark and the paths had steep edges. The path that we followed was deserted by humans except for one couple walking arm in arm – but the walk was full of life.

The first surprise was a bat that fluttered right over our heads. Several of them seemed to stay with us for a while, passing back and forth, our headlamp catching them in the light on each pass they took. They were probably harvesting the white moths that were attracted to our light. It was pretty neat to be escorted by bats.

As we approached the open meadows and wetlands at the east end of the lake, we were greeted by hundreds of fireflies doing their mating routines in the tall grasses. The area has been left to grow with many native plants and the fireflies seemed to like the habitat a lot.

We were also treated by a series of bullfrogs calling out to their mates and often jumping into the water as we passed. Their deep calls resonated across the waters and off the tree-lined edges to the lake. We also heard them later as we drifted off to sleep with our windows open. It is a very soothing and primordial sound.

The last thing we saw was the reflection of our headlamp in the eyes of a small mammal. Turning off the light we could see the silhouette of a fawn standing by the water’s edge. We wished we could have spent the entire night out exploring and learning more about the nocturnal habits of our fellow creatures. I am sure that like the daytime, there is so much to see as a wide range of life goes about their activities around this vibrant ecosystem.

Take-a-way: Enjoy paths near your home for nighttime walks. Probably best to go with friends and be careful of your footing.

Spring is a Backyard Vernal Pool

spotted salamanderGuest Post by Mark Southerland.

This year, spring really sprung to life in my backyard when an unexpected visitor arrived—the spotted salamander. Eight years ago I added a 1 square meter pond to my 1/3 acre lot just 1 km from the Columbia Mall. As I had hoped, the pond was frequented off-and-on for 6 years by green and pickerel frogs. They made themselves know by plopping into the water when I walked past to deposit my week’s compost in the backyard bin.

vernal poolLast year was special, however, (more…)