Thursday, May 26, 2011

Alien invaders

If you were an English major, or just really enjoy poetry, you are probably familiar with the lines from Paradise Lost, where Satan muses:

Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell; and in the lowest deep a lower deep Still threatening to devour me opens wide; to which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav'n.

If you can't relate to that at all...well, then, I really envy you. Because I can. Not that I am comparing myself to Satan, mind you. But I have a knack for making myself miserable. Right now that misery involves the stress and chaos of moving to our new house in Clinton, IL, plus worrying about a wide variety of (mostly minor, but not in my mind!) problems, such as the health of my new dog (I just noticed that he seems to have a bit of a sore area on his underside.... Is he OK?? Luckily going to the vet on Friday so I can ask her!)

BTW, this is my dog. Greenturtle and I adopted him from the Humane Society last weekend, and he is a little dachshund named Trevor.

Right now he is sleeping beside me, snoring just a little...I hope you like dogs, too, because Trevor will probably be a "regular" on my future posts.

Here is the handsome profile.

Normally I work out my "issues" by birding, but with the hectic pace of the last week the birds have been few and far between.

In the gap that not birding has caused, I have been doing yard work with a vengeance, whenever I can get outside--an hour after dinner, a couple hours while the movers were hauling our stuff inside, etc.

As I described in my last post, my goal is to make my yard an Avian Haven, crammed full of native and bird-friendly plants, with a feeding station, a bird bath, perhaps even a small pond. But first things first...and the first thing is that, although bursting with potential, the yard is currently a neglected nightmare.

Check out these weeds around my future veggie garden!

Earlier this week, I weeded one of the four raised beds, including removal of the Worst Weed of All Time, a gigantic, thorny thing that managed to sting me right through my gardening gloves, and had roots that went all the way down to Hell. I expected it to shriek like the mandrake root of legend when I finally yanked the hideous thing out--using a wide variety of garden implements since it was too spiny to actually grasp.

And then while the movers where taking our stuff in, I yanked all the grass and weeds from our brick walkway. The before photo is in my last post; much better looking now!

Although I felt a keen sense of accomplishment at these tiny triumphs, from a bird's perspective, an enormous ugly weed and a bunch of grass crowding the walkway is probably not that big of a deal. More important to my Avian Haven is the fact that the back yard is being over-run by a hideous, invasive, alien species: bamboo. Bamboo is fine, where it belongs. It does not belong in Illinois!

And not only is there bamboo, but beneath the bamboo is a multitude of weeds, vines, stray maple saplings, and God knows what else! One of the moving guys suggested I might want to invest in a little Round-Up, but I was actually thinking more like Agent Orange. Do they sell that at Lowe's? Just kidding! Sorta. Seriously, I bet few gardeners have seen the likes of this in their back yards.

I know very little about gardening, let alone gardening for birds, but here's something I do know: if you live in central Illinois, don't plant bamboo! If you look closely at the next photo, you will see a couple fresh shoots poking up through the lawn. A brief search on the Internet explained that bamboo spreads by means of underground runners, is almost impossible to eradicate once it really gets going, and to make any headway at all you have to dig it out!

Yesterday I pulled out a huge, viney mess of deadly nightshade (another non-native invasive) that was twining itself around the bamboo. My coworkers are actually a little suspicious at all the poisonous plants I can identify. What can I say--maybe I was a Wise Woman in a previous life.

But if you see this in your yard, take it out!

When I went back today to thin out the "understory" a bit, I found evidence that bamboo is not repulsive to all birds. Luckily this is an old nest; I'd feel terrible if I'd disturbed some babies!

I think it is a grackle's nest. Being a regular Sherlock Holmes (ha ha), I deduced this because grackles seem to enjoy congregating in the bamboo. So I looked up images for grackle nests on-line and the photos look quite similar.

If you look carefully, you can find one of said grackles in the photo--kind of like Where's Waldo, the backyard addition.

Robins don't seem to mind the bamboo either; in fact, I am itching to start clearing out the area in the next photo, but am holding off for the time being because a robin has made its nest somewhere in that mess. I see the parent bringing beaksful of worms to that vicinity, and as soon as she approaches, a clamor of begging nestlings starts up.

So this hideous mess of invasives and weeds is actually a bit better for the birds than a super-manicured expanse of lawn would be. It has provided shelter and a place to nest for at least two species. If birds loved it and I just didn't, I'd be tempted to just whack it back every now and then and make my peace with it.

But, only two species seem to use it. I have also seen cardinals, mourning doves, house sparrows, starlings, and a house finch in my yard, but none of them have been spied going into the bamboo. I have also heard chickadees calling from a neighboring yard -- can't wait to lure them into mine!

And I haven't seen or heard a house wren or a catbird, two species which would enjoy bushes and shrubby areas, but clearly turn their beaks up at bamboo.

For a first step, I cleared the area out a little (staying away from the nestlings). Mostly I removed the maple saplings and thinned out the bamboo a bit. Perhaps it looks a little better now?

When I cleared out the brush underneath, I saw evidence that some time in the past someone else had tried to thin out the bamboo a bit -- but as I've learned, just lopping the stalks won't do the trick. You must dig it out!

My next task was to clear out the crap along the fence.

Mission accomplished! But look at that jungle back there. Luckily I am actually enjoying all this whacking and lopping and weeding and yanking things out by their roots. It's actually a good stress reliever -- not as good as birding, mind you. But fun in its own way.


  1. AAWWW, Trevor is adorable! He's so handsome. He looks so happy there in his chair. Both Sara Stein, in "Planting Noah's Garden", and Mariette Nowak in "Birdscaping in the Midwest", recommend RoundUp as a tool to get rid of invasives. I shuddered when I saw the photo of the deadly nightshade. That one's a booger, too! It may take a while, but I know you'll banish the aliens out of your Avian-Haven-to-Come yard! Mom

  2. The more research I do on bamboo, the more discouraged I get. Round-Up is not all that effective because bamboo spreads by means of underground rhizomes, so you'd have to totally saturate your land with it to make a dent. Other suggestions I've read include using industrial strength vinegar to make the soil too acidic, then add alkaline substances later once the bamboo is done for so you can grow something else..or sowing the ground with salt. Or just selling your house. Not kidding! Luckily I am more stubborn than any invasive plant could ever be...listen bamboo, it's either you or me...and it won't be me!