Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Nature's Garden: Is Your Yard a "Certified Wildlife Habitat"? Maybe Not.


         An organization called the National Wildlife Federation, whose aims I suspect I would wholly agree with, if I knew what they were, each year contacts me and no doubt many others with a request that I "certify" my "yard" as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  
            It does get 'wild' back there at times (generally because I've fallen behind on weeding and trimming), but each year when I consider the criteria required for said certification, I find that my humble little patch of earth fails on almost every single score.
            For instance, this year we unlisted gardeners were offered tips on "a few night loving wildlife to look for in your yard and garden." Fireflies, we are told, "are a sign that summer has arrived."   
            Did somebody forget to send out the newsletter last month?
            Summer has not only arrived -- in fact it arrived more than a month ago according to the solar calendar -- it is already showing signs of passing. And fireflies, at least in their happy flashing-lantern stage, the only phase in which we find it easy to identify them, have long gone dark for next piece of business.
            I did enjoy seeing fireflies this summer. In the first days of July Anne and I walked along a darkening landscape and every handful of steps a new cluster of the flashing beetles would float up from the wild grass and blink on and off. On and off. With the rapidity of beginners playing with a brand-new toy.
            This close encounter with fireflies, that sure token of early summer, took place of course not in our yard/garden or anywhere near it, but along the road to Tanglewood in the Berkshires. No fireflies here this year. We have occasionally seen them in Quincy, but only radiating from the only wild spot nearby, a fenced-in no-entry 'preserve' known as 'the bog.'   
            "Moths," we are then told, are as "beautiful as their daytime cousins, the butterfly, and they help pollinate night blooming plants."
            Moths, we have; check that one off. On occasion one of them bumbles into my screen at night when I am typing words such as these. We are all of us occupying habitat for moths. Leave you outdoor light on after dark and you'll see them. 
            Butterflies, though less evident, have a higher profile because we like their color.
            We have butterflies in our garden because we have flowers. Those I have seen here this year have been cruising at rapid speed, flitting about, then racing off, as if hungry for what we don't have. Other years butterflies have occasionally slowed down and passed some time on a flower, allowing me to photograph them.
            "Listen for frogs and toads calling on summer nights looking for mates," we are told by the garden certifiers. "You can attract them to your garden with a backyard pond."
            Sorry. No pond. I have, very rarely, seen a toad in our yard. One of them camped out for a while on the front walk. Not a safe choice, but I believe he survived an afternoon of sun-bathing there.
            But one of the standard certification criteria for "wildlife habitat" is the presence of a "water feature." How about those little pools that form in the basins I occasionally strew all over the place when I'm trying to find the right-sized basin for a particular pot? I don't these pass muster except as mosquito breeders.
            And then -- in summer? --- "no animal symbolizes nighttime wildlife more than the owl." I have never seen an owl here. Unlike many other birds, owls do not often frequent residential neighborhoods. I did however hear one during a very cold mid-winter night a few years ago. It was loud and chilling; a screech owl. I cannot say that it was in this yard, but it was close.
            In summary, here's the message from the National Wildlife Center: "If you provide the four basic elements—food, water, cover, and a place to raise their young—while using sustainable gardening practices, you will give wildlife the safe haven they need." If you meet these criteria, you can get certified.
            Here's a link to the criteria:
http://www.nwf.org/CertifiedWildlifeHabitat?campaignid=WH17JS2&s_email_id=20170711_CWH_WaterForWildlife|SLLAct           

            I think I'm all right with not being certified.
            Birds feed here and build nests close by. Butterflies flit through, and we always have the little white "cabbage flies." We see hummingbirds occasionally. Bees positively swarm some of the flowering plants, especially in late summer. I have seen skunk, and raccoon here, and hope not to see them again. I also very much hope never to see wild turkeys troop through here, unless it's mid-winter.
            As for plants, bring them on. Whatever wildlife they can sustain is good with me as well.