“How Are those Rain Barrel Diverters Working???”
A little over two years ago, I installed Y-shaped rain barrel diverters at the end of each of my gutters.
I have been asked to give an update on this — a lot of people are starting to buy rain barrels now and want to know about these diverters, which allow you to easily switch from the “fill” mode to the regular rain gutter mode with just the slide of a toggle.
(You can read my original post about it by clicking here.)
The diverters have made it through two winters, and several rounds of snow and a number of huge hurricanes. We installed them because we’d had some problems in the past with ice and snow damming up in the downspout and I don’t have the room or the energy to store the barrels some place else in the winter.
We have two sizes of diverter installed — the 2×3 inch size and the 3×4 inch size.
Both work really well and do not clog at all. We have a lot of leaf litter in both the spring and fall — and we always have to have our gutters flushed out at the end of those seasons. The gutters get clogged but it is not due to the diverters or the downspouts — just debris sitting on the gutters. The diverters themselves have yet to clog up or malfunction.
The mechanism for opening the diverters works as promised. One of my biggest challenges has been getting the kids to NOT play with the toggle. They like to pretend they are working in a factory — and I even found one of my daughter’s friends pretending she was a train conductor. This has led to some unexpectedly empty barrels at times. But that is no big deal and actually kind of funny. Anyhow, when a storm blows in I sometimes run outside to check and make sure they are in the right position for collecting all that free rain water!
I thought I would also post a picture of a rain barrel installed by my friends, Ben and Jennifer, in their backyard. This is the prettiest rain barrel set up I have ever seen. She says the pebbles were leftover from a craft project — she put them on the top screen in a random moment of creativity.
The barrel itself is also lovely, isn’t it? And instead of a rain gutter they have one of those cool rain chains, too.
I look at this and think: time for me to upgrade!
Dwarf Crested Iris
I tend to plant a lot of interesting things near my garbage cans. Its kind of a wacky thing to do, but when you live in a tight, small yard and you like to garden you tend to fill any empty space with color.
My Dwarf Crested Irises live happily next to the trash bins. They seem to like the way my water spigot always leaks when I hook up the hoses, and they don’t mind the very dense, dark shade. They make taking out the trash a beautiful experience in early May.
This is the first year where they weren’t just pretty – they were breathtaking. I’ve had them for almost a decade but somehow I don’t think I ignored them enough. I kept poking and prodding them, hoping for a bigger amount of blooms. They were okay, but not spectacular.
Last year I decided I would give up on this native, and resolved to remove it or just move it in the spring. Suddenly, a thick carpet of the rhizomes had spread to fill in every nook on both sides of my ugly old chain fence, just where the gate makes entering the yard noisy.
I am in love with them. What they wanted, I guess, was to be left alone. Native plants are like that sometimes.
If you want to try planting and ignoring them you need to know: Dwarf Crested Irises are short, small versions of the exotic irises – their sky-blue flowers often remind people of a crucifix. They are tiny – getting to be only about 5-7 inches tall, and the leaves are much less abundant than the exotic hybrid forms. Pairs well with native ginger and ferns. Needs shade and likes a bit of moisture, but according to many sources will tolerate drought.
According to the Missouri Botanic Garden this plant is native from Maryland, south to Georgia.
Sadly, they are very hard to find at commercial nurseries.
The hummingbirds have returned to our yard. The first one arrived at dusk last week and hungrily darted around at our native honeysuckle vine which had just begun to blossom a few days earlier. I wasn’t able to get more than a very dim passing glance – the sun was setting and the bird was moving very quickly. I wondered if it as migrating through on its way north or if it was here to stay in my yard for the summer.
In the last few years there has been a huge increase in the variety of hummingbird species seen in the Eastern US. Not all that long ago, seeing anything other than the Ruby-throated species would have been unheard of in the mid-Atlantic. Then, numerous anecdotal reports of the Rufous hummingbird were made up and down the East Coast.
This winter, while attending a showing of a film about birding at the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge in Laurel, Maryland, I heard Bruce Peterjohn mention that bird banders monitoring mist nets east of the Mississippi River had reported a large increase in hummingbird diversity. Peterjohn is the chief of the Bird Banding Lab at Patuxent, which sits on an amazing piece of riverfront property just northeast of Washington, DC. Patuxent is a wonderful place to hike, attend lectures, and learn about the science being conducted by the US Geological Survey. But it is also a valuable asset in our efforts to learn more about our environment – as the website for the banding program states, “Bird banding is a universal and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds.”
When I recently asked Peterjohn for more details about hummingbirds, he explained via email that seven species of hummingbirds were found across the MD-VA-DE-DC region this winter and reported to his lab:
There have also been three additional species recorded in our region during other times of the year:
-Green Violetear Hummingbird
At the Patuxent site itself they have only seen the Ruby-throated species.
There are lots of theories, apparently, among birders about this change in species sightings. Some think the increase in winter landscaping across the US is attracting more species – all those pansies planted outside your local Target or gas station all winter are providing more food. Others think it might be a sign of climate change.
I used to wonder if we had just gotten better at spotting, sighting and photographing these tiny wonders; cameras with powerful zoom lenses are now the norm, and everyone seems to be a backyard nature photographer on the weekends.
But then I heard Bruce Peterjohn say that it wasn’t just photos and anecdotes but actual bird counts in mist nets which were recording the change, and it kind of blew my mind. I find that I am now looking even closer at the beautiful, feisty little visitors at my vines this year, hoping to see something surprising.
(To find out more about bird banding, visit the Patuxent site at http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/.)
What’s In Bloom: Golden Ragwort
(Senecio aureus or Packera aurea)
Yesterday, while visiting Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, I happened upon several patches of Golden Ragwort and snapped these photos.
John Bartram, who was one of the very first North American botanists and nurserymen, lived in the city of Brotherly Love when Ben Franklin was there, too. He studied plants of the New World, wrote about them, and often shipped them to his powerful friends and acquaintances in England. His records form some of the most detailed first accounts of those plants we now call native, and his former house and garden are now maintained as National Historic Landmarks. Its a great place to visit if you love native plants or colonial history.
Golden Ragwort, which is one of those native plants, is also in full bloom around the DC Metro area right now.
Despite its awful sounding name, this is a really beautiful native. The hearty leaves make a multi-season ground cover along shady hillsides, and during the month of April the stems poke out to hold dainty yellow flowers a few inches aloft above the ground in bright yellow drifts.
This is a great bee plant — its early blooms attract many different species.
It is also a useful plant in urban areas — a good substitute for non-native ground covers like English Ivy which might have formerly been used in the shady root zones of large trees.
Unlike other spring blooming natives, this one is not ephemeral. Those leaves continue to make a thick rug along areas of dappled sunshine for the remainder of the growing season and are great for blocking out weeds. I find in my garden they also make great hiding places for toads, and supposedly it is somewhat distasteful to deer and other mammals.
Golden ragwort likes dappled sunshine best and struggles a bit in full sun areas. One warning, however: this plant can get thuggish, so it is not the best plant for formal gardens or mixed perennial beds. Put it where it can stretch out cover large areas and ramble freely.
Makes an excellent companion plant for native violets, white wood asters, and ferns.
For more info you can check out this great USDA document on the plant.
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Just in time for Earth Day, there’s a new book out for kids about recycling from Jennifer Chambers entitled, Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle.
Chambers has been working on environmental causes for years in the DC area. She’s also a teacher. In her new book for kids, she combines all of her talents to tell the story of a plastic water bottle named Scout who accidentally becomes a river rider and a piece of ocean trash before being rescued by a little girl named Alima.
If you haveve ever struggled to explain the journey that trash takes when it leaves our streets via storm drains, you’ll appreciate the graphic details and the lively pictures in this book, which tell the story in a neat, elegant and fun-to-read way. (Those pictures, by the way, were created by Jesse Auth, a former student at the Siena School here in Silver Spring, Maryland.)
Chamber’s book, which includes depictions of some beavers, water strider bugs and loggerhead turtles that the bottle encounters along its journey, is being sold as both a way to educate and an inventive way to raise funds for the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics program; all profits from its sale will be distributed equally between these two organizations.
Plastic trash is a serious problem in both our local watersheds and the oceans. As the Surfrider website points out, except for a very small amount that has been incinerated, “virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form.” Encouraging kids to recycle and pick up litter when they find it is a great way to address some of the problems that plastics can create in our ecosystems.
To purchase the book you can visit the Tate Publishing website, where both e-book and printed copies are available.
Spring is full of pretty sounds, but one of the sounds that I really hate is the sound of birds crashing into windows at my house. I would love to NEVER hear that sound EVER again.
Sadly, there have been times when I have heard that sound a great deal. Two of my windows in particular seem to be real problems, injuring several mockingbirds, robins and catbirds each year.
Because I maintain my yard as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat, this is particularly heartbreaking for me. I worry that sometimes I have attracted birds to a dangerous window. When I’m sitting in my office I can sometimes hear them hit the glass at top speed and more than once I’ve found a dead bird on the ground below the window, too.
In the past I have tried the stickers shaped like hawks. I have tried the stickers shaped like chickadees. I have tried the stickers made to look like spider webs. I have even tried closing the curtains on nice spring days in the hopes of reversing the problem. All of these things were supposed to scare the birds away from the glass. But in truth nothing seemed to work short of letting my windows become really dirty.
While attending a recent bird talk by Anne Lewis, however, I began to understand what was causing the problem and I think I may have found a workable solution.
Lewis is the Executive Director of a wildlife rehabilitation group in DC called City Wildlife. She recently met with me and outlined all the ways that buildings can imperil birds and some of the research related to stopping bird collisions.
Birds see reflections of trees and sky and think your window is not glass but an opening into another part of the yard, she explained.
To alert them to the pane of glass, you need to put something on it – like a sticker. The problem is that birds can fly much better than anyone realizes, she further noted. A bird can fly through an opening four and a half inches wide. It can also make its way at top speed through a vertical opening three inches tall. They are not fooled by the stickers that look like hawks, webs or chickadees. What they need is something which alerts them to the presence of the glass.
Lewis is a former architect. She thinks that the future of bird-friendly buildings may lie in the industry’s ability to create windows based on scientific knowledge about what the birds see when they are flying.
But for homeowners in the meantime, there’s some good news. Detailed research has begun to emerge about ways we can make our windows less lethal. And now the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has come out with a product which makes the whole process of using that research very simple: BirdTape.
I asked Jim Monsma, an avid birder and a former board member for City Wildlife, if he’d come to my house and show me how to bird-proof my own windows. Jim had done his own windows at home using clear contact paper and he wanted to see how the new ABC BirdTape worked, too.
We began by cleaning my window. (Although ABC recommends using soap, water and a squeegee in order to optimize the tape’s stickiness, I found that window cleaner worked just fine for the job and did not cause the stickers to peel off. Results may vary depending on what you use as cleaner. )
For the stickers, we began in the center – this saved us from doing tricky long division math problems because once the first square was in place all we needed to know was how far to distance the other stickers around it.
Jim showed me that a regular, non-permanent marking pen could be used to mark where each of the other stickers should go. You can easily wipe off the marks later, when you are done.
Remember: the stickers need to be no more than four inches apart horizontally and two inches apart vertically.
On the ABC website they recommend using your palm as a rough guide for these measurements – which would have involved even less math and measuring than what Jim and I did. You might want to pre-measure your palm though, just to check.
The tape is slightly easier to work with than conventional Contact paper. It doesn’t curl up as easily and it is really nice to have the squares be all uniform and pre-cut, too. It sparkles a bit in the sun, but not so much that you see it from the ground when you look up at the window. I assume this is some kind of UV-coating which is highly visible to the birds.
I found that it was maddeningly hard to keep my fingertips clean during this whole process! White dust from the window frames and dirt from the sills kept causing me to leave fingerprints on the sticky side of the stickers. UGH! I finally stuffed a hand wipe into my jacket pocket so I could clean my fingertips off as I worked.
The BirdTape can be removed fairly easily, so if you do make a mistake you can go back and correct it. I also assume that this means you can removed the stickers later in the season without too much trouble.
Even though you can see the stickers from inside, they do not block any light from coming into your room.
But you will be able to see these stickers from inside of your house. It is worthwhile to think of a pattern which is complementary to your house’s appearance and pleasing to people, even though this project is hopefully going to make your window more visible to birds. ABC’s website has several suggestions for patterns – but the whole time I was working on this I was thinking how fun it would be to let someone with an artist’s eye come up with a better pattern. I could imagine a very innovative math or art teacher turning this into a challenge for students: make a pattern that is bird-safe and people-pleasing.
As we finished the last touches of our project Jim warned me that – at least at first — any squares that were even slightly crooked would be likely to annoy me when I looked out the window.
“Then you get used to it and you forget it is even there,” he said with a smile. His own window which he covered in similar pattern using Contact paper no longer causes bird fatalities.
Anne also noted in her talk that the peak times for bird-to-window collisions are during migration season in the fall and spring. This is when many birds that are in our yards are not familiar with the windows and the landscape. Roughly speaking that’s April and May and then again in September and October. The rest of the year the collisions are not as much of a problem.
If covering your windows at other times of the year is either not an option or not appealing, then by covering them at least during peak migration times you are likely to avoid most of the collisions.
Another thing I noticed: even though we have many windows, the birds only crash into those which reflect the trees in my yard. So only two windows proved to be detrimental and needed treatment.
Although my family is still a bit unsure about the window pattern made by the ABC BirdTape, there is one thing we all agree upon: there is no point in having a pretty view if what you see is a dead bird. Hopefully we won’t be seeing that ever again, or hearing those collisions, either.
-To find out more about ordering ABC BirdTape go to www.ABCBirdTape.org. The demos on that site are very helpful, as well!
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