FeederWatch Update

by Lee Farnham

Sometimes, when you look forward to doing Feeder Watch each week, you build yourself up by expecting to see something new (a new bird, a record number of one Species, a bird that shouldn’t be in this area, etc.).  This past weekend was not a good one for that because it combined a number of different weather related events To keep the numbers quite modest.  The rain started early Saturday afternoon, and didn’t stop until late on Sunday afternoon, that wasn’t fun.  Higher temperature may have had an effect too.

Consider these numbers, for example:

  1. We’ve been averaging around 45-50 Goldfinches for the season, but saw only 8 while we were watching!
  2. Likewise, White-Throated Sparrows were down to three, Mourning Doves were 10 and House Finches just four.
  3. On the other hand, Cardinals were seven, pretty high; it was fun to watch them zooming around the safflower feeder and perching on the Sunflower Hearts feeder, and then sitting on nearby branches watching others.
  4. Several species were higher than normal, three Downy Woodpeckers and TWO Hairys, three Titmice, three Carolina Chickadees and a relative, one Black Capped Chickadee.

The temperature was pretty mild when compared with weekends past, and it got over 60 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, which had its effect too.

Strangest of all was something we didn’t report to Feeder Watch:  on Wednesday a.m. around 0800, we counted 83 Goldfinches on our feeders, the deck rail, the deck, in the trees and around the Sunflower Heart feeder!!!  Maybe they were stocking up for the seasonal change which will take them elsewhere, it was quite a sight.

Six weekends are left in this season’s Feeder Watch reporting; we’re looking forward to reporting some Pileated Woodpeckers if we’re lucky.  They’re around; we saw one on an early morning dog walk this week, so maybe we’ll report our first for the year hammering away at the suet next weekend.  Here’s hoping.

Project FeederWatch Report Jan 27/28

by Lee Farnham

Seed was put out early on Saturday a.m., but Juncos and Goldfinches were already on the deck and deck rail clamoring for breakfast (there’s plenty of old seed there but they like fresh), so more was added and I went inside to start watching, along with Reina, our cat, who watches with me.  Suddenly,  ALL birds left  the deck in a hurry, ditto the feeders at the bottom of the yard, which usually means a hawk is coming (or perhaps a Red Fox)….and then we heard a clunk as one of the departing birds hit a window in the rush.

Since the deck feeders are within ten feet of the house we’ve taken some precautions against birds hitting windows….it’s mostly that we’ve bought decals for the windows which refract light differently, so the bird knows there’s something there ahead of time.  This poor Goldfinch was woozy when I found him standing on the deck, but he listed to port instead of being upright.  Usually, if the bird has knocked itself out, we pick him up,  put him in a small box lined with tissue paper, and close the lid (and take him inside).  That way he’ll be in a dark place, away from the outside, and he’ll recover after a while.  If he doesn’t, but is still alive, read on.

I thought of doing that with this Goldfinch, but decided not to because he was almost upright.  Instead I left him alone for ten minutes with the hope that he’d recover and be on his way.  However, one of the overfed squirrels needed a drink, and his abrupt visit to the deck spooked the Goldfinch, who tried to fly off but hit another window in the process!  Now he was down on his side, though still conscious, so I gave him another ten minutes….and during that time there was another scare and he flew straight off the deck and into the  Dogwood tree nearby!  It looked as if he had recovered well, and that all he needed was some quiet time.

So we didn’t have to make a trip to the Mercer County Wildlife Center on the east side of Route 29 in Titusville, south of Lambertville, but  they’re there if you need them, and they will take birds that knock themselves out on windows near feeders.  It’s supported, in large part, by donations, so we’re happy to contribute annually to their continuing welfare, because we’ve taken birds and squirrels to them over the years.  They are very conscientious about following up with every patient they get; you’ll get a note when one of their “guests” have been released back into the wild.  While they are run by Mercer County, Wildlife Center Friends partners with them, and is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.

Check out the Mercer County Wildlife Center.  They’re at 1748 River. Rd., Titusville, NJ 08560.  Phone:  609-303-0552. Hours are 9 am – 4pm seven days a week.  They take all types of injured, ill and displaced native wildlife, provide them with medical treatment and a temporary refuge before releasing them back into an appropriate wildlife habitat.


Project FeederWatch Catchup

By Lee Farnham

Weekend of Jan 13/14

It wasn’t quite as cold this past weekend, and that might have accounted for our seeing one species fewer, but 55 fewer birds among the ones we did.  When you compare the numbers of Goldfinch with last weekend and this, it was 54 v. 29; Juncos were 16 v. 9; White-Throated Sparrows were 19 v. 7 and Mourning Doves were 20 v. 14….and the Flicker seen last weekend didn’t return 😦 .  The rest of the supporting cast was there, as always:  Carolina Wren, Titmice, Cardinals, White-Breasted Nuthatch, three Downy Woodpeckers, one Hairy and two Red Bellies.

There may be another thing at work….squirrels!  We normally spread seed on the ground beneath both our Sunflower Hearts Squirrel Buster feeder, and the Safflower tube feeder because we’ve seen, over the years, that some birds are ground feeders, and don’t go to a suspended Feeder.  White-Throated Sparrows, Juncos and Mourning Doves are ground feeders, while House and Goldfinches prefer feeders…but what if the ten fat squirrels that hand around our feeders are the cause of the White Throats and Juncos shifting their feeders some?  Could that account for the greater numbers of same we’ve seen on our deck, where we spread the Thistle (Niger) seed, as well as be a deterrent for other hungry birds?

Time will tell, so be sure to tune in next week for the results of Feeder Watch for 1/20-21.  This was our 231st submission to Feeder Watch, and it’s more enthralling than ever.

Weekend of Jan 6 & 7

With the bitter cold, and snow still on the ground, we expected a big number of birds this past weekend, and weren’t disappointed.  It seemed like there were hordes on the feeders, whenever we looked out the window at our deck or at the lower yard, under the feeders or suet, …  and don’t forget the water.

On Saturday night I emptied the water out of the bird bath, carried the rocks, water heater and bird bath into the kitchen, cleaned the moss off everything, and then ran it all through the dishwasher so the birds would greet Sunday, the coldest day so far, with clean, warmish water and clean rocks to perch on.  The effort was rewarded by a Northern Flicker late Sunday a.m., who flew directly onto the deck rail, jumped onto the side of the bird bath and took many swallows of water, and also wiggled his face in it!!   What a treat to see such a beautifully colored woodpecker within ten feet, and to watch while he tanked up and washed his face.  When he flew off he didn’t stop for any suet or Sunflower hearts, he just went (but he came back the next two days around the same time, so maybe he’ll be a regular).

Aside from that thrill, it was interesting to see how two species which are mostly ground-feeders here, the Northern Junco and the White-Throated Sparrow have expanded their ranges in our yard.  Normally seen underneath the Safflower or Sunflower Heart feeders, we now see them on the deck where we’ve spread Niger seed for the Goldfinches.

Juncos, in fact, take over the deck (but not the deck rail), and we’ve counted more than twenty of them having an early breakfast there.  The White-Throated Sparrows have started to appear on the deck, but not in the same numbers, and they are still mostly under the Safflower and Sunflower heart feeders….still, to see fourteen White-Throats on the deck at one time is unusual.

One thing particularly evident this weekend was how the different species which feed together under the feeders get along so well.  It was particularly evident under the Safflower feeder where Mourning Doves congregate.  This time, in the early afternoon, they were joined by Cardinals (male and female), White-Throated Sparrows, House Finches, Juncos and Carolina Wrens.  Each was busy pecking at some loose seed, but none was paying any attention to the other birds.  The only upset came when the Squirrels (there are about ten, rambunctious and well fed) ran through the feeding area scattering everyone…but it was momentary, and order was soon restored.

For the week we bought another 40# of Niger Seed as we’ve been running through it at a great rate, now that we’re also spreading it on our deck.

Next week we’re going to keep an eye out for Pine Siskins (which look like a cross between a Goldfinch and a House Finch, but aren’t because those two species don’t hybridize).  If winter supplies for them in Ontario run short, they’ve been known to come south looking for food.  In 2009 there was just such an irruption, and we saw a few at first, but then reported a maximum of 55 in one weekend before they started tapering off.  Our cat will help us look too, as she sits on her cushion and watches the deck activity each day.

Weekend of Dec 30/31

At 0715 on Saturday a.m., I opened our bedroom curtains to the backyard and saw a Coopers Hawk sitting on a horizontal branch 20′ from me.  He was looking west, and fidgeting hungrily, but staying where he was.  A quick check of our deck and yard feeders showed no birds at all….they’d sensed his arrival and disappeared, a good thing because Coopers Hawks prey on birds, and we’ve found remains of Doves and Titmice that they’ve probably done.

Before long the hawk was gone and things began to return to normal.  Our deck, where we have the two Thistle feeders plus spread seed on the deck rail and on the deck itself were doing a land office business:  fourteen Juncos busied themselves on the deck itself poking around in the Thistle seed (they like to poke around in the vines at that level too; on the deck rail, and on the Thistle feeders themselves, we eventually counted 33 Goldfinches this past weekend, a few were in trees waiting for their turns, and a couple were on the Sunflower feeder, but most were on the deck rail and the two feeders there.  A lone Song Sparrow was also spied among the Juncos on the deck; they’re not often seen.

The suet feeder, hung off a cable between a Dogwood and our deck had a nice collection of clients, and a new peanut butter suet cake to boot.  The three woodpeckers, Red-Bellied, Hairy and Downy were all on it, but also the White-Breasted Nuthatch was seen, as was the Carolina Wren.  Other species like Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows will sometimes station themselves below the suet, on the ground, to catch extra pieces as they’re ripped off by the bigger woodpeckers….you should see the mess a Pileated Woodpecker makes, with its massive bill…. but it helps the small fry share in the booty.

Since it snowed later that morning, there were a few more species than usual, two English Sparrows showed up to go along with the Song Sparrow, but the Grackles and Crows from a few weeks ago weren’t close enough to be counted.  The Safflower feeder had its usual collection of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice taking a seed at a time, flying to a nearby branch, pounding on the seed and eating it, and flying back for more.  On the ground below it, Mourning Doves, Carolina Wrens, Cardinals, White-Throated Sparrows and House Finches poked around.  On the other side of the bushy Holly which provides cover, the Sunflower feeder was mobbed by Goldfinches, House Finches, Blue Jays, Cardinals, the Red Bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, and White-Breasted Nuthatch, while the squirrels gobbled up what had been spread on the ground for the White-Throated and English Sparrows, and Cardinals, Doves and occasional Carolina Wren.

It was a satisfying weekend for Feeder Watch, and the birds knew that we bought another 20 pounds of Niger Seed, 40 pounds of Sunflower Hearts and 16 pounds of Safflower Seed to go with six more cakes of suet….they’ll be back next weekend to do their part (of course they’re fed on a daily basis, and we’re adding much water to the heated basin they use…, and will clean it next weekend, weather permitting).  It is colder than we can remember, so make sure your birds have food and water for they depend on us.

Weekend of Dec 23/24

The Grackles and Crows seen recently had family obligations elsewhere over Christmas, so did not show up at our feeders either day.  However, it was not a total loss because The Red-Tailed Hawk was back, this time late morning on Saturday.  Instead of sitting on a branch and looking directly into the house, he chose to sit about 50′ up an Oak tree, where a big limb branched off from the trunk…there was a superb view of our feeders, but he wasn’t inclined to get any closer, which proves that he’s not preying on birds.  Had he been a Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp-Shinned Hawk, that would not have been the case, and ALL feeder activity would’ve stopped until the threat was long gone.

The number of Mourning Doves, while not setting records, changed because, of a sudden, they’ve discovered that we’re spreading Niger Seed on the deck rail for The Goldfinches, and half of the 24 we saw were on our deck!  (Since we have feeders in three different locations, the highest number of a species we see at any one time includes all three feeders plus any others of that species waiting their turn in the trees.  Goldfinches and Mourning Doves spend a lot of time perching in the trees before finally coming to the feeders.

Feeder traffic starts to dwindle around 3:30PM these days, but that’s a good time to see the ones who are late feeders, principally Cardinals and White-Throated Sparrows; that’s how we noted seven of the latter this time.

So far this season, in six reports, we’ve seen 19 species, with House Sparrows already showing up twice (practically never in the past 12 years).  At the same time it appears that there are fewer Red Bellied and Hairy Woodpeckers than usual, but slightly more Downy Woodpeckers.  The rest of our visitors are about in the same numbers as last year.

Weekend of Dec 16/17

I’m trying something different with this report….showing the % of FeederWatch reporters who report the birds we saw.  That’ll give you an idea of the rarity, or not, of what we’re seeing.  I can’t edit the FeederWatch chart, so here’s a rudimentary chart by species, % reporting it in SONJ, and what we saw.

Species %
Mourning Dove and Dark-eyed Junco 84
Northern Cardinal 81
Blue Jay 79
Downy Woodpecker 78
Tufted Titmouse 77
House Finch 71
Red-Bellied Woodpecker 66
White-Breasted Nuthatch 63
White-Throated Sparrow 62
Carolina Wren 43
American Goldfinch 32
Hairy Woodpecker 20
Common Grackle 16
Carolina Chickadee 15
American Crow 12
Red-Tailed Hawk 4

What surprises me is that Hairy Woodpeckers were in the 30’s last year, and it was the first I’d seen this year (Ann sees them during the week).  We Used to get the Brown Creeper regularly, one or perhaps, two…but they started disappearing late last year and are now seen by only 1-2% of those Reporting, down from 4-5% last year.  On the other hand it appears that Carolina Wrens are being seen by more as their numbers were in the low 30s last year.

The best sighting was the young Red-Tailed Hawk.  It was later on Sunday, about 3PM, and he flew in and perched on a Sassafras branch looking right into our family room.  I looked at him for 10″ and he flew off to another house, but the thing that impressed me most was that five or six Mourning Doves continued to feed about 20′ behind him, paying him no heed and vice versa.  He looked just like he does in Sibley:  Big, clear white patch on the upper part of his breast, streaked below and above that, and definitely not a Coopers Hawk (no white patch, size, slim, gray).  What a treat.

Weekend of Dec 9/10

Snow was in the air; we noticed this on Friday when larger numbers of birds were at the feeders, which repeated on Saturday, when it started snowing around 0800, and didn’t stop until early morning Sunday.  In the interim we probably had 6″ of loose snow and more activity at the feeders than normal.  It helped that we were able to spend more time watching too, and an overnight guest, who has written six books about birding in South America, was happy to sit and check the feeders with us on Sunday morning.

Early on Saturday morning four Crows were in the feeding area; their presence discouraged other birds from getting food, but the Crows didn’t get much other than water because the safflower’s in a protected tube, the sunflower feeder has a weight ring which closes when something that heavy jumps on it, the suet cage is Too small for their size, and the Niger seed wasn’t to their liking….but they were there and recorded.

Three different woodpeckers favored us, the reliable Downy pair, and a Red Bellied Woodpecker kept coming back to the sunflower hearts.  There was a Hairy sighting on Saturday a.m. which was much anticipated since the Hairy is a neat bird.

The biggest surprise of the weekend came around 4:30PM on Sunday, just as all birds were calling it a day, when a Hawk flew in!  This hawk, which turned out to be a Cooper’s Hawk, flew to four different places trying to find something to attack:  he was on the Sassafras tree first, but moved to the Dogwood’s top…no luck at either, so he then hid in the Hemlocks at the back of the yard, but was impatient and flew off after thirty seconds.  He was about 15-16″ in length, but the key I use is that the corners of his tail were rounded, unlike those of the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, whose tail corners are square.  But, with the appearance of the Coopers Hawk, we were able to log sixteen species on this snowy weekend.

Weekend of Dec 2/3

Species seen were:  Goldfinch, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Red Bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Junco, White-Throated Sparrow, Blue Jay and Carolina Wren.  My comments follow:

Still puzzled by the absence of the Hairy Woodpecker (seen once in three times), and the Red Bellied Woodpecker (twice out of three, but only seen once each time when there Are usually multiple sightings of both on weekends).  Goldfinches were down A LOT from first two weekends, maybe it’s weather related.  Mourning Doves down too, and only saw them once…but I’ve got to spend more time watching.  Highlight of the weekend was the Carolina Wren which, yesterday, busily inspected a cluster of small brown pots we have Hanging on a lattice.  It went into one pot so all you could see was its tail sticking out, inspected, turned around and went on to the next, and repeated – very heart-warming.

The secret (major) to the ones we do get is that we have heated water available on our deck rail…a Chickadee and the Carolina Wren shared it yesterday, the Blue Jay bathes in it, Squirrels love it, all  birds need a source of water when it freezes, so our supply of same attracts many.

Weekend of Nov 18/19

Feeder Watch has started again, but our cat, Reina, doesn’t seem as interested in it just yet.  Maybe it’s because the bird count is down and we’re still waiting to see more consistency among the Woodpeckers.  E.g.  The Hairy and the Red-Bellied were seen only once, the Hairy last week and the RBW this week; they are usually Guaranteed visitors.  Same goes for the delightful Carolina Wren, who pokes around under the Safflower feeder getting what’s jettisoned from above by the Titmice, Carolina Chickadees and House Finches (it saves squeezing into the protected feeding tube).

Last weekend, the first, also had no White-Throated Sparrows, but there were 8 English Sparrows (down to two this past weekend).  They’re not often seen at our Feeders.  And where is our favorite Brown Creeper?  …we only saw him a couple of times last year, and not this year so far.  Has his range changed so that we’re no longer in it?  Well, only 5-6% of Feeder Watch’s New Jersey contingent (generally more than 200 a week) report the Brown Creeper.

Of course the low count may also be because we’re still working in the yard and I haven’t spent as much time watching the feeders as I should…

Project FeederWatch Updates

by Lee Farnham.

Development of land is the bane of habitat for many species.  As open space is lost to housing, industry, roads and “progress,” animals, birds, reptiles, plants, insects, trees and flowers all lose their habitat, unless it’s preserved.  That development leads to an increase in emissions which contributes to global warming, posing further threats.

In the past 50 years, according to many studies, the population of Neo-Tropical bird species in the U.S. has plummeted, by up to 75% is some cases.  New Jersey, one of the smaller states in size (but high in population density) has more than 500 species of birds, partly because it is on a number of important bird migration flyways.  The area around Cape May is known around the world for its spring and fall bird migration.

Twenty-five years ago The Cornell Lab of Ornithology started Project Feeder Watch as a way to document the movement of feeder birds around the country, and to see what’s happening to them.  Now, more than 15,000 participants in all states (and Canadian provinces) report what species they see weekly, and how many at any one time, from November to April.

The Ewing Environmental Commission participates in Feeder Watch because one of its aims is to preserve the natural environment in the Township.  Participating in Feeder Watch helps do that on a local, state and national basis, by increasing knowledge about what birds are seen at feeders, and with what frequency.  Now in its tenth year, more than 160 reports have been filed, and more than 45 different bird species have been seen in that time.

Lee Farnham, former Chair of the EC,  is our Project Feeder Watch citizen scientist who has participated in the project for many years.  He provides updates on the bird counts in his backyard on a weekly basis  Look for his results and insights in posts to come.

Christmas Trees – the December 2017 Tree of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Among the pleasures we enjoy in December is choosing a Christmas tree. The choices are many: the firs (Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir), pines (Scotch, Eastern White), red cedars, and spruce (Colorado Blue, Norway, Concolor). Throughout the United States there are more than 35 different evergreen species grown for the holidays. They are available either cut, in containers, or balled and burlapped.

If you choose to purchase a cut tree, try to prevent the cut section of the trunk from being exposed to the air for more than three to six hours; it should be put into a container with water as soon as possible. Next, trim off the lowest branches which might interfere with the tree’s staying upright in a stand, and then remove ragged branch tips or unattractive branches. Saw off an inch of the trunk so the tree can absorb water freely, and fasten it to its stand, which should contain plenty of water. The water, especially at first, should be replenished often.

Artificial Christmas trees are often made of PVC, a dangerous chemical, which is not biodegradable, and does not have the wonderful fragrance of a real tree. However, they may be used for many years and are maintenance free.

A live tree, while somewhat more labor intensive to care for, may be planted in your yard after its holiday use, and enjoyed for years to come. You must do some planning before you take the tree home but it is well worth while. 1) Determine what spot on your property affords the correct exposure (full sun) and space. Check a good source or the internet to determine how much space your particular species of tree will require when mature. 2) Dig the hole NOW before the ground freezes. Digging a frozen hole is no fun. Make the hole approximately 2 times the width of what you expect the container or root ball will be. This is important; and do not dig the hole any deeper than the height of the container or root ball. Fill the hole with leaves or mulch as insulation, and cover the hole and the pile of soil with a tarp and more leaves or mulch to avoid freezing. Throw away whatever sod was dug up as you do not want it included in the backfill.

Your live tree should be indoors as briefly as possible; place it at first (in a waterproof tub or container) in a garage or porch to allow it to acclimate to warmer temperatures. Water it lightly and frequently, or place ice cubes over the root ball to keep the moisture levels up. Spraying the tree with an antidessicant such as Wiltproof will help control moisture loss through the needles.

When the tree is ready for planting, roll it into the hole and orient it so that its best side faces your house or the street. If the hole is too deep, add soil into the bottom and compact it until it is the right depth. Remove as much of the burlap around the root ball as possible; if it is in a container, remove the container. If it is in a wire basket, cut off as much of the basket as you can. Then, begin to backfill with the soil you set aside. Water it thoroughly and slowly as you fill the hole; this will push out air pockets and saturate the sides of the hole as well as the back fill.

It is not necessary to stake or guy the tree. Cover the area – to the drip-line- with 2-3” of double-shredded, hardwood bark mulch, keeping the mulch 2” away from the trunk. Water your Christmas tree every day for a week, twice the second week, and then once a week until the ground freezes and your hose becomes useless.

Autumn Splendor – November 2017 Plant of the Month

sassafrasby Ann Farnham, LLA

At this time of the year we are especially fortunate to live in a region which displays brilliant leaf color in many of the abundant deciduous trees. The colors vary from yellow to orange, and bright red to purple. This does not happen throughout the world, but only in the Northern hemisphere and one small area in South America. The Northern hemisphere regions include Eastern Asia, Japan, Southwest Europe, and the United States and Canada. In the United States and Canada the foliage display ranges from Southeast Canada and the Northeastern United States, and its high altitude areas, like the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Rocky Mountains of the Western U.S. and Canada.

The brilliance of the color changes from year to year depending on weather conditions: a warm, wet spring, a summer which is not too hot and dry, and a fall with plenty of warm, very sunny days, lessened moisture, and cool nights.

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The process, which some of us learned in our high school biology classes, begins with the fact that deciduous, green leaves contain chlorophyll, which in the presence of sunlight, water, warm temperatures and carbon dioxide, produces sugars which feed the plant, tree or shrub. Leaves also contain carotenes and xanthophyll, pigment compounds whose yellow colors (the colors seen in egg yolks, carrots and flowers) are masked by the green chlorophyll. When the days become shorter, the chlorophyll has insufficient light to continue making sugars and breaks down, making the green color disappear; the other pigment compounds then become apparent. Meanwhile, the plant begins to form a membrane between the leaf and the leaf stalk, cutting off the movement of the leaf’s sugars to the rest of the plant, sealing off the leaf and gradually severing it. The sugars become entrapped in the leaf. Another pigment compound, anthocyanin, then appears as a result of the accumulation of the sugars; its appearance also depends on warm and bright sunny days followed by cool nights, under 45° but above freezing. The anthocyanin contains the red to purple pigments which we see on Sassafras, Red Maples, Fothergilla, and Flowering Dogwood, among others.

If a plant is located in a shady area it will not produce very brilliant colors as the process requires a certain amount of bright sunshine. A plant might exhibit much brighter color on its sunnier side, as well. A cloudy, rainy and warm fall restricts sugar production by the carotenes and xanthophyll, and what is produced continues to be transported to the trunk and roots, not “entrapped” in the leaf. Thus, poor or no color.

Some plants’ leaves will always turn yellow regardless of weather conditions, and some, such as Beech and some oaks, simply turn brown. All deciduous leaves eventually fall, some turning brown only after they fall from the plant, tree or shrub.

Needled evergreens such as pines, spruces and firs have needles which are covered with a heavy wax coating and have chemical fluids inside the needles which resist freezing. However, needled evergreens do experience periodic leaf fall and some, such as certain arborvitaes and junipers, change color.

Near freezing temperatures, low nutrients and other environmental stresses can also cause more and premature red in leaves.

This is an opportunity to encourage all gardeners to compost and use their leaves. A mulching mower chops up the leaves and returns them to nourish the lawn (mow frequently, however), and a blower-vac can chop up leaves into a bag for later composting and use. These chopped leaves make a fine mulch on beds. Pine needles also make an excellent mulch, being acidic in nature, especially beneficial for rhododendron, azalea, and other broad-leafed evergreen plants. 

  • To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.
  • To estimate the age of a tree, go to mdc.mo.gov

The purpose of the Ewing Township Plant of the Month is to call attention to Ewing Township plants of note based on their beauty, size, historical significance or threat, and thus engender a greater appreciation by residents for the plants in our community.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents. Let us know about your favorite trees, shrubs, flowers, and concerns in Ewing Township and perhaps one will be selected for the Ewing Township Plant of the Month.

Substitutes for Invasive Garden Plants: October 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

In September 2017 the Ewing Green Team and the Ewing Environmental Commission published a brochure about twelve invasive plants which, unfortunately, are sold at nurseries and garden centers in our area. Some states and communities prohibit the sale of known invasive plants, but Ewing does not do this. We named the brochure Invasive Plants commercially available in New Jersey. It was distributed at the 2017 Ewing Community Fest along with another brochure, The Ecological Benefits of the Not-So Perfect Yard. We called the invasive plants “The Dirty Dozen”, citing the most commonly used invaders.

In the chart below we list good substitutes for these popular but invasive garden plants. The suggested plants are all hardy to our USDA Hardiness Zone and are native plants.

To clarify what the advantages are to using native plants, the information is available on this web site, dated March, 2017, “Native Plants”. More information, titled “More Bad News”, was the April, 2017 Plant of the Month. More information about the substitute plants, natives and invasives, is easily accessible on the Internet.

Be sure to visit www.npsnj.org/plant-lists-native/trees for landscaping; www.MAIPC (The Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council), and plants.usda.gov. We also recommend the book, Plant Invaders of Mid Atlantic Natural Areas by Swearingen, Reshetiloff, Slattery and Zwicker.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

                                       PLANT SUBSTITUTES FOR THE “DIRTY DOZEN”
Common Name Botanical Name Substitute  Common Name Substitute Botanical  Name
Autumn Olive Eleagnus umbellata Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Highbush cranberry Viburnum trilobum
Bamboo (Running)      [ 1] Several species and genera Ilex opaca American Holly
Magnolia virginiana Sweetbay Magnolia
Ilex glabra Inkberry Holly
Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly
Rhododendron maximum Rosebay Rhododendron
Juniperus virginiana Eastern Red Cedar
Bradford Pear    [2] Pyrus calleryana Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
American Snowbell Styrax americanus
Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus
Green Hawthorn Crataegus viridis
Winged Silverbell Halesia diptera
Dogwood * Cornus alternifolia, florida*, sericea
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Highland Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Fragrant sumac Rhus aromatica
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Summersweet Clethra alnifolia
Smooth Witherod Viburnum nudum
Butterfly Bush Buddleia davidii Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush
Clethra alnifolia Summersweet
Japanese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis Sorgastrum nutans Indian Grass
Andropogon gerardii Big Bluestem
English Ivy Hedera helix Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny Spurge
Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot
Gaultheria procumbens Creeping Wintergreen
Mahonia nervosa Longleaf Oregon Grape
Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii Fothergilla gardenii Dwarf Fothergilla
Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Itea virginica Sweetspire
Diervilla lonicera Bush-Honeysuckle
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera japonica Lonicera sempervirens Trumpet Honeysuckle
Clematis texensis Scarlet Clematis
Japanese Wisteria Wisteria floribunda, sinensis Wisteria frutescens American Wisteria
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Asclepias syriacus, incarnata Butterfly Weed, Milkweed
Coreopsis verticillata, grandiflora Tickseed
Echinacea tennesseensis Tennessee Coneflower
Eupatorium  dubium, hyssopifolium Joe Pye Weed
Liatris spicata, aspera Gayfeather, Blazing Star
Winter Creeper Euonymus fortunei Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnick, Bearberry
Decumaria barbara Woodvamp
Vaccinium crassifolium Creeping Blueberry
1 See July POM, 2017 Running Bamboo
2 See March TOM, 2016 Callery Pear
3 See July POM  2016  Burning Bush
See also March POM 2017   Native Plants
April POM 2017   More Bad News
Cornus florida* Choose disease resistant variety

The Ecological Benefits of the Not So Perfect Yard 2017

recommendations for sustainable fall landscaping care…

by Joanne Mullowney

We love autumn.  Not only are we leaving the hot, sticky days of summer behind for the cooler, more breathable days of fall, but soon the brown gold from the neighborhood trees will blanket the ground with the last gift of the growing season.  This seasonal leaf drop can recharge your landscape and create habitat for wildlife if you let it.  So don’t treat your leaf litter as trash, but rather as the gift that it truly is to the millions of tiny creatures that are a part of our gardens’ ecosystems.

The Benefits of Leaf Litter

Raking up and disposing of our leaves, chopping down dead flower stalks and grasses all contribute to a manicured appearance which we have been conditioned to think of as the norm.  However, in nature, trees don’t drop their bounty at the curb for pick up.   The benefits of leaf cycling, or hoarding your autumn leaf drop for use in your landscape, are many.

Leaves provide an insulating winter cover in  the garden for plants and those tiny creatures that sustain life in the garden.   Don’t buy expensive mulch.  Mulch with fallen leaves.  Wherever possible, leave them to decompose where they fall in your garden beds.  Or settle the leaves under the branches of your shrubs. Give it a year and your leaf litter will have broken down while providing mulch and increasing the soil’s water retention abilities (moisture retention).

You can also rake out some of the leaves from the beds that are simply too much and might smother tender plants and cause them to rot over the winter. Add them to the compost pile or the leaf pile on the lawn while the rest remain in the beds. Then take your mulching mower and chop them up into small pieces. (Yes, using gas mowers is considered an unsustainable gardening practice, but consider the greater good.)

Rake up most of the chopped leaves and place them back in the garden around shrubs and plants .   Not surprisingly, they are greatly reduced in volume and contribute to a more manicured look. The remainder can stay on your lawn and decompose there. Do this as needed until the end of the season and the leaves will break down over the winter providing your soil with valuable nutrients (soil building) all the while enhancing wildlife habitat.  One incidental benefit is that of reduction of Township resources allotted to fall cleanup, saving taxpayer dollars.

While you might think that this leaves the yard looking a little less than perfect, you are nourishing the landscape and providing valuable resources and habitat for wildlife.

The Benefit of Providing Habitat

This somewhat messy yard contributes yet another important benefit – habitat, not a traditional concern of the average gardener.  Did you know that despite its not so perfect look, leaf litter provides an important foraging space for a wide variety of birds, small mammals and insects?  Also providing benefit is the untrimmed garden where ladybugs and lacewings reside in native grasses and pollinating bees settle in hollow plant stems.  Butterflies and moths winter in chrysalides on the ground and baby spiders hide out amid the decaying plant stems. Birds feed from dried seed heads in winter.

Some wildlife use the leaf litter and other dead vegetation to insulate them from winter’s chill, while others, such as earthworms feed on the litter, breaking it into smaller pieces. Bacteria and fungi in turn convert theses smaller pieces into nutrients which then sustain neighboring plants. They in turn help support biodiversity by becoming food themselves. Toads, beetles, ladybugs and much more also live in your backyard’s leaf litter. Each is an integral part of the food web.

Support Wildlife Thru Your Not So Perfect Yard

We recommend the following practices from the Habitat Network to help you in your quest to provide habitat and reduce your ecological impact.  Adopting good practices in the fall also leaves you well set for spring in the garden.

  • Leave your leaves on the property (Leaves are too valuable a resource to dispose of!)
    Leave them in the garden beds when you can, mow them or compost them.
  • Allow dried flower heads of some of your garden favorites to stay standing in your garden.
    ­The dark stems and flower heads of some of our native flowers look gorgeous against the snow and nothing is more exciting than seeing our small winged friends feasting upon the seed heads.
  • Let your ornamental grasses grow tall and seed.
    Don’t cut down your ornamental grasses. They provide shelter for the insects that pollinate our gardens and feed fledgling birds and other wildlife.  Not to mention that they also look fabulous swaying in the wind.  They make a fabulous addition to the fall (and winter) landscape.
  • Build a brush pile with fallen branches instead of removing them.
    If you build it they will come. This author no sooner established a small brush pile in a back corner in the yard and it was inhabited. 
  • Leave snags on your property as nesting places.
    This one is hard in a small yard.  But you don’t have leave the whole tree.  You can leave a small part as part of the garden ornament and wildlife will take up residence.
  • Forget the chemicals.
    This one is not hard. Just do it! 
  • Don’t be in a rush to begin your garden cleanup in the spring.  Wait until after several 50℉ days to begin, when spring has really arrived, allowing overwintering pollinators to move on first.
    You gave them a home all winter; don’t yank it away from them too soon.

Vanishing Habitat

As habitat for wildlife is decreasing, so too is wildlife, and at an alarming rate.  A recent National Wildlife Federation newsletter states:  More than half the world’s wildlife has vanished since 1970.1  This includes  mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.  Quite simply, we’re destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life.

Wildlife needs habitat to survive and we need to do a better job balancing the need to provide habitat for animals’ survival against commercial forces.  Habitat requires food, water and shelter and even a small yard can support birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small animals thru proper landscaping and landscaping habits.  They need more than lawn and it is important to provide trees, shrubs, and other plants (particularly native varieties and a topic for another post) that shelter and feed wildlife.

We ask you to adopt a somewhat messy yard and eschew the leaf disposal.  Keep your leaves so that they can decompose naturally in your own yard and support the butterflies and other small insects that live in the leaf litter.  Take the Habitat Network pledge to Garden Messy and Pledge to be  a Lazy Gardener.  Then put your feet up and enjoy the season.

Printable brochure of sustainable fall landscaping tips.

1.  Source:  Living Planet Report 2016 by World Wildlife Fund http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/lpr_living_planet_report_2016.pdf 

September Plant of the Month (NOT!) – Stilt Grass

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Stilt Grass (AKA Eulalia or Nepalese Brown Top), is botanically classified as Microstegium viminium. This is a notable invasive pest with which most Plant of the Month readers are probably familiar. Introduced into Tennessee as packing material for porcelain coming from Japan and China in 1919, it has now spread into 19 states from New York south to Florida.

Stilt Grass can seem invincible. Flowering occurs here in New Jersey in mid-August to September, and the yellow to red dried seeds are produced from August to mid-October in our area; the seeds are tiny, 0.1” in diameter, and one plant alone can produce 1000 seeds.  They spread, not through animal involvement, but water runoff, wind, our shoes, our clothes, mechanical equipment, mowing, tilling, flooding, and more. Although the plant is an annual, dying back at the first frost, the seeds remain viable for five to ten years, making quick control a fantasy. Germination occurs in late spring, before crabgrass emerges.  This grass thrives on roadsides, in ditches, moist woodlands, lawns, flower beds, and vegetable gardens.

Disturbed sites, moderate to dense shade, and moist, acidic to neutral soils are preferred. Stilt grass, like so many invasives, out-competes native plants. Animals avoid the plants and seeds, and deer ignore them while grazing on other plants nearby, which creates more space for the stilt grass. Huge patches develop as a result, threatening native communities, displacing natives, and degrading wildlife habitat. Large areas of dead Stilt Grass, after frost and before spring plants appear, are fire hazards. There seem to be no insect or diseases which attack Stilt Grass.

What does this invader look like? It has pale green to lime green, lance-shaped leaves which are arranged alternately along the stem and measure 1-4” long and 0.5” wide; there is a white stripe which goes along the mid-rib. It will reach 2 to 6.5’ tall depending on environmental conditions. The weak, narrow stems are erect to reclining, and where the stem node touches the soil it will take root and sprout more plants. The roots are shallow.

Control of Stilt Grass may take years, but there are guidelines which will help. Foremost, control attempts must be addressed before flowering and seed-set. In small areas, such as flower beds, 1. hand-pulling is easy, as the roots are shallow. However, do not be surprised when more appear in the spring; remember, the seeds live for years.  2. String trimmers are very effective if you can avoid whacking your perennials and shrubs. Remove the grasses and do not include them in compost piles or the city brush and grass clippings collection area. 3. A pre-emergent herbicide- such as Preen, corn gluten meal, Pendulum, Panoramic, or Oust – might help in the early spring. This is an annual effort.

Large areas can be weed-whacked, and post- emergent herbicides can be used. The post emergent herbicides include Roundup, Aquaneat, Finale, Assure 11, Aclaim and Barricade. Post emergent herbicides must be used very carefully, when rain and wind are not occurring, and where other, to-be-saved plants are not nearby. There are grass-specific herbicides as well.

Good Luck!

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.

Running Bamboo – July 2017 Plant of the Month (NOT)

by Ann Farnham

In May of 2016 a bill (A3735) was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly to establish requirements for the sale and planting of running bamboo in response to the pleas of a frustrated new homeowner who, after purchasing her property, discovered running bamboo invading hers from a neighboring property (see Making Bamboo Taboo).

The bill specifically pinpointed the genus Phyllostachys and a species, arundinaria. However, Phyllostachys is not the only invasive running bamboo that grows in New Jersey. There are other running bamboo genera; Pleioblastus, Sasa, Arundinaria, and Semiarundinaria, grow here, and some grow as far North as Boston, primarily along the coastal regions. There are three native North American species and more than 700 species world wide, most native to China, Japan, and Asia Minor. Bamboos are not all tropical nor confined to lower elevations.

The common names “Heavenly Bamboo”, “Lucky Bamboo” and “Japanese Bamboo” are not bamboos but unrelated genera.

About Bamboo

Bamboo is a grass, but unlike most grasses we are familiar with, they have underground stems (rhizomes), from which new clumps (culms) arise. The rhizomes of running bamboos can range to 25 feet in length from a single culm in one single growing season and thus, before long, a significant number of plants emerge from them, sometimes intruding into unwelcome areas like neighbors’ lawns, driveways and flower beds. There are “clumping bamboo” genera which have rhizomes as well, but they do not have the invasive properties of the running bamboos.

Many bamboos, both clumpers and runners, make beautiful and graceful garden plants and thick privacy screens. They are usually low maintenance and care-free except for the rigid control that must be practiced to contain the runners’ rhizomes.  They are available in many sizes, colors and shapes, striped and solid. Some are among the fastest growing plants in the world:  up to 3’ in 24 hours, some to a height of 100 feet. Bamboos flower or set fruit infrequently; some species do so only after anywhere from 15 to 120 years, after which most die. Many are attractive in containers indoors, outdoors, or as bonsai.  Insect and disease pests are not very prevalent.

Economically, bamboos are very important throughout the world, not as garden and home plants, but as food, textiles, art objects, paper, tools, fishing poles, furniture, and building materials, among others. Ecologically, bamboo is a workhorse, sequestering carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen prodigiously, and providing unique wildlife food and shelter. It is a vital food for Pandas, whose populations have been seriously affected when groves die after flowering; likewise, animals which proliferate eating the seeds, die when the grove stops producing.

Clumping Bamboos

There are beautiful clumping bamboos, such as Fargesia (Pandas’ favorite) and other clumpers, which are cold hardy and disciplined. They can serve as privacy screens as well as accent plants and focal points. Clumping bamboos, contrary to running bamboos, do not require 2-3’ plastic, concrete or metal buried barriers, or surrounding ditches which require seasonal cleaning out of new rhizomes, or frequent 15-20’ wide perimeter mowing.

Running Bamboo Negatives

Running bamboos deplete surrounding soil of nutrients, which prohibits complementary planting or a wildlife friendly understory. They require a lot of real estate, none of which should approach neighbors, public land or highways because if not properly contained, the hardy plants spread aggressively and can cause damage to concrete sidewalks, home foundations, and other structures. Running bamboo is particularly problematic when it spreads from one property to another, and causes damage to the neighboring property.


There is much more to write about bamboos (physiology, restraint methods, maintenance, physical characteristics, distribution, propagation), as well as the many other species that have been categorized as invasive in NJ.  The Ewing Environmental Commission recommends that all homeowners learn more about the problem of invasive species, the damage that they cause in our ecosystem, and what you can do to halt their spread.   The New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team is an organization that is dedicated to that purpose.   For starters, take a look at their Do Not Plant List and then check out their Go Native Brochure for beautiful, native alternatives to plant in your home landscape.

Running Bamboo Legislative History

Bill (A3735), establishing requirements for sale and planting of running bamboo, was introduced in the NJ Assembly (217th Legislature) on May 19, 2016. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It moved to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.  On October 13, 2016 the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee reported favorably upon the bill.

An identical bill (A2301) was introduced in the NJ State Senate on June 6, 2016.  It was sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It was referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee.  No action has been recorded since.