By Bill Lawyer
The calendars may say that we’re weeks into spring, but the thermometers do not agree.
O sure, we’ve had the odd normal to above-normal temperature day, but I’m betting that when the March weather chart is posted in The New York Times, we’ll be somewhere around 8 degrees below normal.
For the wildlife that has managed to make it through the winter, or those that are returning north in large numbers, this has been a very stressful time.
For example, I’ve been spotting a great blue heron and a snowy egret along Blind Brook footbridge the last few weeks, but many of the crustaceans that live in the mud banks are showing no signs of success in finding food.
Cold weather conditions have meant that instead of the water temperature rising, it still continues to fall. I know that this is by no means a scientific survey but based on the fact that I walk my dog four times a day, taking different paths each time, I’ve noticed a lot more bird and small mammal carcasses than in the past.
Many years ago, my then neighbors decided they wanted to have more privacy in their backyard. But they did not construct a large wall or solid fence that would have made it harder for our local birds to nest and feed and make it easier for predators to catch them.
So instead of a wall or solid fence, they chose to plant a row of forsythia shrubs. Hedge lovers call them “living walls.”
Forsythias are not evergreen, but they get their leaves early in the spring season, and they keep them into late fall. The main plus is the yellow flowers that start opening up from late March through mid-April. Their flowering season is very much affected by temperature and length of daylight.
When I’m writing this in early April, both the forsythias and yellow daffodils are just starting to flower. What a great present. While I love lots of flowering plants, whether flowers, shrubs, or trees, the yellow brightness is a true gift.
And, they’re good for the wildlife. During the late winter and spring, birds of various species tend to flock together — you’ve heard the expression — for keeping warm, being protected from predators, and selecting nesting sites. Yes, eventually it will be that warm.
According to Gardeners Path magazine, the ancient tradition of “hedge-laying” is still practiced in the English and Irish countryside today. Shrub branches are cut, bent, and intermingled to create dense barriers.
One a cold winter day, I can be sitting reading near the sliding deck doors when, all of a sudden, I hear a loud chirping commotion. A flock of birds is flitting back and forth from three or four of their favorite shrubs in my yard. According to ornithologists, the noise is intended to determine which birds are the “leaders of the pack.”
If you happen to have a neighbor who maintains a bird feeder, the various interwoven branches allow the birds to eat their seed without being disturbed.
There are more than 25 species of birds that flock as a means of supporting themselves. I single out sparrows because they are one of the most prominent families of birds. There are at least 35 types in North America, fifteen of which can be found most anywhere. The house sparrow, for example, which was first introduced in a New York City Central Park in the 1850s, is now a common bird.
In the big picture, the survival success or failure of species of sparrows may seem insignificant, but it illustrates how choosing to plant shrubs instead of solid fencing, can allow them and similar species to live a sustainable lifestyle, that shares its space with the entire plant food chain, right in our backyards.
A flowering forsythia hideout