Friday, July 28, 2017

A Jay, or not a Jay - that is the question:

I like mascots, but one of my pet peeves is the improper use of mascots.  It especially bothers me when a team uses an animal as a mascot, but the name of the team and the animal mascot do not match.  If you are going to use an animal as a mascot, you should at least use the correct animal!  One of our local school districts uses the Blue Jay as its mascot.  However, it does not consistently use the same version of a Blue Jay.  One of the versions that it uses is not a Blue Jays at all! 

This is the version on the sign outside the high school.  That is a correct body shape and markings for a Blue Jay, but the colors are a little off.  It should have a white face and white chest/belly.  The feet and beak should be black not yellow, but overall this is pretty good compared to one of the other versions.  I think everyone seeing this would recognize that this is supposed to be a Blue Jay.

The next version appears on the sign outside the school district's central offices.  This "fighting" version seems to be a combination of a Blue Jay and Uncle Sam.  Other than the blue Uncle Sam beard, the markings on this Jay are pretty good.  There is no question that this mascot is a Blue Jay.

"Uncle Jay"wants you...
Here is another version of the same "fighting" Blue Jay.  Rendered in two tones, this version is used on signs pointing out various school facilities in town.  The markings on this version are good, even down to the v-shaped collar, and visible barring on the nearest wing.  This is a cartoon animal mascot done right.

Here is yet another version of the "fighting" Blue Jay.  This version is used on the sign for the district's elementary school.  It is not unusual for elementary schools to use a simplified cartoon version of the high school mascot.  The yellow beak and feet are wrong.  The bird lacks any black markings or white underparts.  (And what's up with the blue scarf?)   Despite these points, I'm actually okay with this as an elementary school mascot - it conveys the point that this is a Jay.  It's a "fighting" jay, but its also a friendly jay - look at the smile and happy eyes.

Despite what the sign says, this is not a Blue Jay.  That is a Northern Cardinal that has been painted blue.  This non-jay adorns the sign for the middle school.   Shame on the sign company for printing this...

From the worst "Jay" to the best.  This final version adorns a sign at the school's athletic complex.  Blue crest - check.  Black collar - check.  White face and underparts - check and check.  Black beak and feet - check.  Blue tail and wing feathers with black bars - check.  This is definitely "Blue Jay Country"!  I think John James Audubon himself would approve of this Blue Jay.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Go to the Fair - Isabella County Fair (through Saturday July 29th)

This week (24 - 29 July 2017), the Isabella Conservation District has a booth at the Isabella County Fair.  Today Shara (Mrs. LeValley) joined me at the fair for a few hours and we took time to walk around all of the exhibits and animal barns.

Shara with a new friend

Until I moved away to college (at age seventeen), I lived on and around farms.  Every year we would go to the county fair - visiting the merchant buildings (where local businesses always gave things away to kids and adults), checking out the arts & crafts and other exhibits, climbing on new tractors and other farm machinery, riding carnival rides, and more!

The Ferris Wheel

One of the highlights was visiting the different animal barns.  Although I never showed animals at the fair many of my friends did.  I always saw people that  I knew when we went to the fair.

The animal buildings at the fair are still a highlight for me.  Now, when I go to the fair, I see the children of friends and co-workers exhibiting animals.  I also see lots of students from classrooms that I visit.  The students always want to tell me about their animals (especially if they won prizes).

Here are a few pics of animals from the fair.

A stylish sheep

Being a hog is tiring

A pen of goat kids
Rabbits are one of the most popular animals to show

Shara conversing with a prize-winning pen of chickens

Dairy feeders

Teens showing beef cattle

I think everyone should visit their local county fair.  With less and less people growing up around farms and being connected to agriculture, this is one of the few opportunities that many people have to interact with farm animals (or even see them up close).  For the kids that exhibit animals, the fair provides an opportunity to develop responsibility as they raise and then show their animals.  Many of the animals are then sold at the fair, earning the kids money for their hard work.  Local businesses and individuals will often pay big bucks for animals especially champions.

If you visit the Isabella County fair, stop into the Merchant's Building and say hello to me (or other conservation district staff), eat at the 4-H food stand (the food is good and the money goes to support 4-H and the fair), and be sure to see all of the animals.

If you can't visit the Isabella County Fair, visit one of the other county fairs held across the state between now and September.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Upcoming Event - Friday Night Moth Hunt (28 July 2017)


This week is National Moth Week!  To celebrate, please join me this Friday night (28 July) at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve as we host a moth hunt.  We will be hanging lighted sheets in the woods to draw in moths and other nocturnal insects.

Sylvan Solace Preserve is located on W. Pickard Road (between Littlefield Rd. and Gilmore Rd.) approximately 8.5 miles west of downtown Mt. Pleasant.

This event is scheduled to begin at 9:00PM and will run for at least two hours.  The event is free to the public, but donations to the CWC are always encouraged. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

At home in the (Mostly) Native Pollinator Garden - 23 July 17

Last week I shared some photos of two of the native pollinator gardens that we maintain (and the story of why I am digging up a third garden).

I am going to start off this week by sharing some photos from our home garden.  I always refer to it a (Mostly) Native Pollinator Garden.  It is probably about 75 per cent native plants, but there are many domestic plants included in the garden.  Some of these (spiderwort, irises, hostas, etc.) were already here when we moved in in 2011.  Other plants (garden phlox, Turk's Cap Lily, Shasta Daisy, sedum, etc.) we added to the garden.  We have also planted several hundred tulip bulbs.  Nowadays, when we add plants they are almost always native species.

The result is that we have a garden that blends the native and non-native.  Although I advocate for the use of native plants, there is nothing wrong with using a mixture.  I know my garden is not a wild habitat, but it is close in function.  I frequently see hundreds of insects each day - especially native bees.  They are drawn by the abundant pollen and nectar of the blooming plants as well as the nesting sites that we provide for them.

One of the things that I like about our garden is the layering.  It almost never needs weeding because of a layer of low plants that act as groundcover.  Above that there are flowering plants in several layers up to eight feet tall!

The view of the southeast corner of the house

Further along the south side of the house

The garden as seen from the street

Here are few of the wildflower species that can be found in the garden:

Red Baneberry grows in the shade at the front of the house

Northern Maidenhair Fern is another shade-loving species

Rosinweed is one of the giants in the garden at nearly 8 feet

Purple Conflower adds a change from all the yellow flowers

Green Coneflower is up to 5 feet tall - it needs other plants to keep it from flopping over

Cup Plant is another giant in the garden.  This one is growing right next to the corner of the porch.

A closer view of a Cup plant flower

Cup Plant leaves hold rainwater at their base.  This water is used by bees, wasps, other insects, and even small birds!

Big-leafed Aster

Blue-eyed Grass

Our garden is certified as a Monarch Waystation.

Our garden is home to home to dozens of native bees.  We have several nesting sites for several cavity-nesting species including mason. leafcutter, and small carpenter bees.  The holes that the bees nest in are quickly filling up.

One of our bee nesting boxes

These drilled holes are about 5 - 6 inches deep.  Filled holes are capped with sections of leaves or mud.

Another nesting block up close.  Each hole contains as many as six bee larvae and enough food for them to mature to adulthood.

Because we have so many bees, we need to provide plenty of food in the form of pollen and nectar.  Our goal is to have something in bloom from April to October.  Here are a few more of the native plants that help us achieve that goal.  These plants are all growing in the shaded areas at the rear of th house.

Culver's Root - even though this plant prefers full sun, it is thriving in partial shade

Woodland Sunflower

Ground-cherry came up on its own this year.  Thanks birds!

False Sunflower - another one in partial shade

Highbush Cranberry provides winter food for birds.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Native Pollinator Garden Updates (19 & 20 July 2017)

Since 2011, the Isabella Conservation District has helped design, plant, and maintain four native pollinator gardens.  These gardens are located at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy, Winn Elementary, the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum, and the Morey Public School Academy.  On June 19th, a decision was made to close the Morey PSA, effective immediately.

What does that mean for the garden at the school?

Once the school announced it closure, we made the decision to rescue and transplant as many of the plants from the garden as possible.  This means that for the past four days I have been digging up plants from that garden, placing them into totes, and transporting them elsewhere for replanting.

Here is what the Morey PSA pollinator garden looked like on Monday (17 July) morning.

Morey native pollinator garden (17 July 2017)

This is what the garden looked like as of this morning.  You can see a lot of plants have been removed, but many still remain.

Morey native pollinator garden (20 July 2017)

Here a view from the opposite side of the garden. This photo was taken yesterday - the grasses on the left are now gone, as are many of the plants in the background.

There should be a 3 ft wide walkway running from this point through the tree all the way to the other side - some milkweed and coreopsis have grown up in the walkway this year.  Both sides of the walkway were full of plants.

It may not seem like much has been removed, but so far I have dug up four full pick-up truck loads of plants and removed them from the site.

The second of three truck loads removed so far.
So what is happening to all the plants that I remove from the Morey native pollinator garden?

Some of them went to Winn Elementary.  The garden at Winn was planted in 2012 and is full of mature plants at this stage.  However there are some areas of the garden where plants have failed to thrive or even died out completely.  This garden is on a challenging site - compacted clay soil, full morning shade and full afternoon sun, lots of roof runoff but most of the water draining away from the site.

I have already added more than a truck load of plants to the Winn Elementary garden, but you would hardly know it unless you know what to look for - these plants are just being used to fill in the blanks.  I will be visiting this garden daily for about a week to make sure the new plants are well watered as they establish roots in their new soil; then they are on their own.

Winn Elementary native pollinator garden (19 July 2017)

A second view of the Winn Elementary Garden

More of the Winn Elementary garden - lots of weeding was done in this section to remove Canada Tick-trefoil

Could you tell where plants have been added to the garden at Winn Elementary?

No?  That's sort of the point.  Remember this is just filling in the blanks, not starting from scratch.

Obviously, not all of the plants from the Morey PSA garden have gone to Winn Elementary.  The rest of them are going the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum.  The Discovery Museum already has a native pollinator garden.  It was planted in 2013, with plants left over from planting the Morey garden.  The garden itself doesn't need a lot more plants.

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum native pollinator garden

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum native pollinator garden - not Rattlesnake Master, Black-eyed Susan, and Hoary Vervain

There are blank spaces in this garden, but the plants are doing a good job of filling in those spaces on their own.  Barring a die-off, in just a couple more years, I expect this garden to be almost completely filled with plants.

So instead of using the plants in the garden, they are going to be used here...

The new home for most of the plants from the Morey Pollinator Garden

The west side of the Discovery Museum property is bordered by a series of retention ponds.  These ponds hold water that drains from the museum's parking lot.  The ponds are home to a surprising variety of wildlife species - frogs, dragonflies and other aquatic insects, Red-winged Blackbirds, and (as of this spring) a muskrat.  The ponds support a number of aquatic plant species including cattails, rushes, sedges, willows, and a many wildflower species.

The museum is committed to using more of its outdoor space.  Last fall I helped them design a series of interpretive signs (seen in the picture above) so visitors can learn more about the wetlands.  The museum director also expressed a desire to create a more natural border along the wetlands.  Previously the lawn was mowed all the way to the edge of the wetland - the first step to creating a natural border was simply to stop mowing.  Second, the museum scattered wildflower seed in the unmown area - unfortunately I don't see a lot of evidence that this was successful.

To speed the process of naturalization along, many of the plants from the Morey PSA garden are going to end up here. 

Awaiting trnsplant

While it is disappointing to have to dig up a garden just as it was maturing, I am glad that we have a ready home for the plants.