Habitat Heroes

Cape Conservation Corps wants to recognize good stewards of the land by highlighting your conservation efforts.  We want to know what steps you have taken to make your landscape wildlife friendly.  We believe even the smallest changes can make a big difference and have a positive impact on the environment. If we decrease our own footprint we can begin to transform the natural world and build positive connections.

Your yards do not to have to be 100% native or completely converted to a nature-friendly landscaping. We are looking for people who are making changes to a more sustainable, healthy habitat for wildlife to flourishEach quarter we will select a Habitat Hero to feature on our website, and Facebook page.   Please nominate yourself or a neighbor as a Habitat Hero for next quarters selection!  Email us at admin@capeconservationcorps.org.

Habitat Hero – June 2019

Jennifer Crews-Carey

Our 2019 second quarter Habitat Hero winner is Jennifer Crews-Carey.  Last November Cal the Calliope Hummingbird craze begun in Jennifer’s backyard.  She was fortunate to have a vagrant hummingbird-the Calliope Hummingbird that is typically only seen on the West Coast-show up in her yard.  Her husband pointed out the bird, Jennifer snapped a picture and they posted it on a MD Birding page, thinking it was only our East coast hummingbird the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  A birding expert commented to her that he didn’t believe it was a Ruby-throated and wanted to come out to confirm.  An expert from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel came out to verify, band, weigh and measure Cal.  He was indeed a vagrant Calliope, somehow way off course from his usual habitat.  Jennifer and her husband Rusty set about making their yard the perfect habitat for their unusual visitor by providing lots of sugar water, perching areas, water and shelter for the cold nights.  They also opened up their yard to anyone who wanted a glimpse of this unique visitor.  People made the trek from as far as VA, NJ, and NY.  Some came from worldwide places while already in the area.  Cal soon developed his magenta rays of his gorget throat feathers.

Cal (by Jack Anderson)

Many experts warned he could soon take off-in search of a mate as he was maturing.  As the end of December rolled around Cal could no longer be seen in Jennifer’s yard, but she continued making a welcoming environment in case he was still lurking in the area.  Since his disappearance in December he still has not been seen in the Cape but his visit sparked Jennifer’s interest in her backyard birds.  While she had provided seed and housing for birds, she became even more impassioned about her feathered friends as well as seeing what other wildlife she could attract.

Milkweed

Pineapple Sage

This spring Jennifer has added a large patch of milkweed, the host plant for monarchs to her backyard oasis as well as much needed nectar plants for the monarchs after they emerge as adults.  While the caterpillars require milkweed to eat as they grow, the butterflies need nectar plants to fuel up, particularly fall blooming plants as they begin to migrate. Asters, Goldenrod and Joe-Pye Weed are all excellent examples of native fall blooming nectar sources. In addition to her milkweed garden Jennifer has several other native plants such as moss phlox, black eyed-Susan, and spiderwort as well as several hummingbird friendly plants like Pineapple Sage.  They have set up a variety of hummingbird feeders ranging in sizes and shapes, hung in whimsical ways.  There are several old chandeliers, painted red that now house hummingbird feeders.  She cleans and refills them every few days (which usually prompts it to rain!).

Chandeliers

Parsley

Catbird

Mason bee house

In addition to the hummingbird feeders there are seed feeders for the songbirds, a bird bath providing water and several houses that are occupied! While I was there we heard and saw a delightful catbird with his brazen attitude.  Her large variety of potted herbs are offered up as host plants for the swallowtail caterpillar-including dill, parsley and fennel. Jennifer & Rusty’s yard is a welcoming habitat to many of our local fauna! As they continue to add more native plants they will increase the biodiversity in their yard!  Thanks Jennifer and Rusty for being a Habitat Hero!

Habitat Hero – March 2019

Katie Scott-Kelly

Our first Habitat Hero of 2019 is Katie Scott-Kelly.  Katie and her family have worked hard to make their Cape St Claire yard a friendly place for many wildlife species-from birds to mammals to the tiniest of insects.  Katie is a Watershed Shed Steward for Anne Arundel County so she has learned the importance of providing a safe place to co-exist with us in our own backyards.  One place she started with in 2001 was a rain garden in her front yard.  Due to flooding in the basement they directed two downspouts to the rain garden and have not had any flooding since.  The rain garden not only provided a relief from storm water by slowing it down, spreading it out and soaking it in, the native plant in the rain garden offer a wonderful habitat for wildlife.  The rain garden contains joe pye weed, little blue stem, lord Baltimore hibiscus and at one time black eyed Susan’s that have kept the butterflies and pollinators happy all summer long!

The backyard contains more natives that the local fauna finds appealing.  From the New York Ironweed, wild ageratum, sassafras, dogwood, spice bush and a bottle brush buckeye there is no shortage of native plants!   The birds (and kids) adore the berries on her serviceberry, while goldfinches munch happily on the coneflower seeds. And the bee balm, obedient plant, and woodland sunflower attract a large variety of pollinators.  You can’t have butterflies if you don’t have caterpillars so Katie has a wide range of host plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs on.  These include common milkweed (that arrived on their own), fennel, pussytoes, spice bush, and sassafras.  They raised several black swallowtail caterpillars they found on the fennel so the kids could witness the transformation, even bringing them into the classroom.

Some of the backyard critters that visit include an opossum that made its way across the back fence as they enjoyed the hot tub!  A pair of screech owls frequent their back yard.  One evening, around dusk she felt something fly past her head and was delighted when she realized it was an owl.  She shared the news with the kids who replied “duh, mom, we knew about the owls!”

In addition to the great selection of native plants Katie provides she also has four compost bins in the backyard (obtained through the county for free).  Many of the falls leaves get chipped and added as well as grass clippings and kitchen waste.  They have a beautiful curvy vegetable garden in the front yard that gets help from all the pollinators she has attracted to her yard with the native plants.  A few more natives include amsonia, callicarpa, northern bay berry, red bud tree, fringe tree and columbine all adding to attraction of her landscape-both to the human eye and the delight of the wildlife that reaps the benefits.

Katie Scott-Kelly, we thank you for your contributions for a better ecosystem and your caring approach to providing habitat for our local fauna by providing the native plants that they have co-evolved over hundreds of thousands of years! You are a Habitat Hero!!

Habitat Hero – December 2018

Bill Rappoport

Our fourth Habitat Hero winner is Bill Rappoport, a Cape Conservation Corps board member and active volunteer with CCC.  Bill has spent the better part of 2018 installing a Milkweed Garden and converting his yard to native plants.  In addition to the many pollinator friendly native plants he has included several species of native milkweed.  Milkweed is he host plant for Monarch caterpillars, meaning they can only lay their eggs on milkweed as that is what the caterpillars eat when they hatch.

When the time came for “fall clean-up” Bill took what I call the Lazy Gardener approach and left the stems standing throughout his garden.  By leaving the stems he is allowing insects to safely overwinter in the pith of the stalks. This spring, the later the better, Bill will cut the stems back but leave 12-18” still standing as many of them will still house those insects.  Once the garden begins to pop up and green out you will not even notice those stems but it will be noticeable to our beneficial bugs.  In time the stems will break down and add organic matter (natural mulch) to the garden.

Another “lazy gardener” trick Bill has done is to leave many of his fall leaves in place or rake them into garden areas.  The leaves also make a perfect winter home to insects.  You will often find birds picking through the leaves to make those insects a tasty meal.  If you are lucky enough it may attract a Northern Flicker to this backyard buffet!

A “messy” yard should not be viewed in a negative light, it actually provides the right habitat for so many of the creatures we want to attract: those that benefit our gardens. If we rake away all the leaves and cut back the stems we are disposing of next year’s butterflies and beneficial bugs.

Leaving areas of your yard untouched you will also be providing habitat or shelter for a variety of birds and other wildlife species.  A good compromise if you don’t want the “mess” in the front of the house is to tidy up your front gardens and leave the back as untouched as possible.  Let the leaves lie, the stalks stand and leave some undisturbed bare soil for our many ground nesting native bees.  If the plant material is diseased, remove it but if it is just dead let it decay naturally, adding nutrients to the soil as it does.

This spring when Bill goes back to work on his butterfly garden he will be richly rewarded by his lazy approach to gardening.  He will have preserved the larvae, egg masses, hibernating bees, dormant spiders and loads of other hibernating insects. These beneficial bugs will emerge in his garden ready to pollinate his plants, destroy garden pests, nourish the baby birds and provide months of enjoyment as they flit among his native plants.

The following plants are just a few examples of plants that offer winter beauty in any garden:

  • Blue Wild Indigo Baptisia australis the large billowy seed heads make a striking winter view
  • Joe-Pye Weed Eutrochium spp. They hold their wrinkly leaves atop their tall hollow stems giving the birds a place to perch as they enjoy the seed heads
  • Culver’s Root Veronicastrum virginicum birds will delight in the seeds found on this often spooky silhouette in the cold winter months
  • Ironweed Vernonia spp. This super tall plant makes a nice accent against the winter skies as it stands up strong in the face of wind
  • Goldenrod Solidago spp. There are many species available for a range of conditions with their fluffy seed heads that catch your eye
  • Coneflowers Echinacea spp. long after purple has faded the seed heads stand erect and nourish many songbirds, particularly goldfinches
  • Native Grasses and sedges amongst which so many have attractive foliage to add winter interest as well as habitat and food source for insects and birds.

Habitat Hero – September 2018

Melissa Day

Moss

Melissa Day and Miriam Ye

Congratulations to the 3rd Habitat Hero winner Melissa Day located on Hillendale Dr on the Little Magothy.  The first thing I saw as I pulled up to her property was the Bay Wise Certified sign and I knew she was doing all the right things to be a Habit Hero.  As I walked around her property, I marveled at the mix of habitats in the yard, there were mature trees creating a shady front area, wetlands, moss patches, grassy area in the back and beautiful gardens teeming with native plants.  A monarch was nectaring on many of those summer blooms; he could have been born right there in her yard as it contains Milkweed, the monarchs only host plant. Melissa was also fortunate to have nesting bluebirds and cardinals in part because the landscaping has all the comforts a nesting pair of birds would  need- food, water sources, shelter, and leaf litter.  Food sources include nectar plants, fruit bearing shrubs, bird feeders and native plants containing soft bodied caterpillars birds require to feed their young.

Wetland

In addition to the natural water source living on the Little Magothy provides, Melissa provides water in the form of bird baths.  She has placed several nesting boxes in the yard and has many natural areas to act as havens or hideaways.  As she sits in her upstairs she can look out on the yard and observe a wide range of birds making their home or brief visit to her yard.  In addition to the many songbirds, a large variety of water birds including the great blue heron, green heron, egrets, cormorants and even eagles visit her landscape.

Volunteer Boneset

Volunteer Virginia Creeper

Melissa has been doing the hard work of removing non-native and invasive plants from the yards and plans on continuing to remove Rosebushes, Daylilies and English Ivy that are not providing any benefits to the ecosystem and replace them with natives.  She leaves the fallen leaves in place to encourage overwintering insects as well as insect loving birds that will forage in those leaves, including robins, towhees and thrashers.   Other eco-friendly practices in their landscape include composting, mitigating runoff, shunning fertilizers and other chemicals.   Very Bay-Friendly practices!   In addition to continuing to remove invasive plants Melissa plans on adding wetland grasses to her waterfront such as Spartina.  One thing Melissa does in her yard or rather doesn’t do is pulling up “popups”.  There are so many volunteer plants growing in her yard that have appeared naturally.  Instead of mowing them down or yanking them out she allows them to thrive.  I saw Pokeweed, Boneset, St John’s Wort, Tulip Poplar seedlings that have just sprouted on their own thriving in her yard.

Composting

On her side yard where drainage and runoff were a problem she has tried to mitigate the problem with PVC drainage system and dense plantings.  She has a beautiful stand of ferns thriving in the moisture. All of these practices lead to a “slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in solution”.

I enjoyed my time in Melissa’s yard and seeing all of the bay friendly landscaping practices she is utilizing and the natural habitats she has created.  Her yard is truly a functioning ecosystem and that makes Melissa Day a Habitat Hero!!

Habitat Hero – July 2018

Patricia & Rod Frederick

Cape Conservation Corps 3rd quarter Habitat Hero award is being presented to Rod & Patricia Frederick on Hilltop Dr.  They have been in the Cape for over 32 years and during that time they have not used any chemicals in their yard, they mulch with the leaves on the property, use compost for planting and replanting.  They have included multi-wat

er sources throughout their yard to provide for birds and other animals.  When they mow they mow high, leaving the grass at least 2”.  They keep their leaves in the wooded areas or where they lie, creating a beautiful leaf litter in which many

 creatures can over-winter.   They allow the dried stalks from their summer plants to remain standing through the winter to provide another habitat for overwintering insects.  They also provide tasty treats for birds and small animals in the spring. They have a beautiful Baptisia australis blue false indigo growing in the middle of a backyard garden, and lovely stands of Onoclea sensibilis sensitive fern (she even shared one with me!). 

Blue False Indigo

Sensitive Fern

In the spring their yard is alive with colorful blooms throughout, attracting the eye of pass-byers and pollinators alike! Patricia and Rod are not only good stewards of their land but they like to share their plants with friends and family so others may reap the benefits of these life sustaining plants! They have had many creatures visit them over the years – deer, raccoon, opossum, black and gray squirrels, numerous birds, butterflies and other pollinators.

Thank you Patricia and Rod for all you do to be a Habitat Hero!

Habitat Hero – April 2018

Laura & Don Schrank

Laura Shrank, CCC and CSC Garden Club member earned her Master Gardener certification last year and has not stopped learning since!  She has attended workshops on native seed collecting, a screening of a the documentary Hometown Habitat, participated in a native plant discussion group with several like-minded conservationists and attends regular meetings of the Master Gardeners. She has turned her knowledge into a model ecosystem—a landscape teeming with native plant species and the wildlife that has co-evolved with those plants.  Of course she claims it is “a work in progress”, with much work ahead of her Laura is certainly headed in the right direction.

She started by removing invasives growing on her property, including English ivy, Oriental bittersweet and Periwinkle (Vinca) to make room for natives shrubs and plants with an emphasis on pollinator friendly perennials.  Laura has added between 60-70 native plant species to her landscape including Vernonia noveboracensis- New York Ironweed, Asclepsias -milkweed, Liatris -blazing star, Physostegia virginiana -obedient plant, Soldiago -goldenrod and Physocarpus opulifolius -nine bark, a beautiful year round interest shrub.  All of these native plants are attracting a variety of native insects and other wildlife.  She is able to keep track of all these beautiful plants with attractive signs she designed using stamped metal attached to a piece of pine.  The tags include the Latin names so she can use them as a science lesson for her home-schooled children (they know the Latin names better than the common names!)

Asclepsias –milkweed

Laura’s yard, along with the support and hard work of her husband Don, earned the Baywise Certification last year because of her commitment to using bay friendly practices.  In addition to removing invasives and replacing them with natives, she has also installed a rain barrel and drip irrigation on her raised vegetable beds to conserve water, cancelled her lawn spraying service, added insulation to the attic to conserve energy, and has been composting food waste to use a valuable additive to her soil.  Don, her husband has been busy building a retaining wall and putting in swales and berms to control soil erosion and retain water on a tricky corner of the property, adding plants that will benefit from these conditions!

With all she accomplished, Laura is still not done.  Her plans this year include adding an additional native plant beds around her mailbox, around the maple tree in the center of the yard, and another on the side of the house.  She is hoping to continue to remove a patch of invasive English ivy behind the retaining area as well as a few other lingering invasive patches.  She started last year by layering on a ton of mulched wood chips to smother those hard to kill vines! Laura’s hard work will continue to payoff as a welcoming habitat for local flora and fauna and benefit our local ecosystem with her conservation choices.  Thanks Laura for being a Habitat Hero!

Monarch emerging

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