03/27/12 7:00am
03/27/2012 7:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Diana van Buren's Greenport yard, which she filled with native flowers and shrubs.

No bugs means no birds.

That’s the terse reminder for anyone hoping to encourage a winged presence in their gardens from Diana Van Buren, president and program chair of the North Fork chapter of the National Audubon Society.

Her advice? Start a backyard bee, bird and butterfly garden.

“It’s not just an aesthetic pursuit,” Ms. Van Buren said. “So much of the native plant environment has been compromised in being developed for homes. We are redeveloping the habitat and each garden has the power to undo the damage that’s been done.”

Part of the problem, she said, is America’s bug-killing culture.

“We have to look at insects not as the enemy, but as an important part of the web of life,” she said. Bees, for example, don’t chase people and are essential for agriculture.

“If we didn’t have bees, we wouldn’t have fruit,” Ms. Van Buren said.

Native plants are important to undoing the damage because local insects and birds can’t sustain themselves on imported plants. Ms. Van Buren likened a yard filled with colorful foreign fauna to a wasteland for local wildlife.

“They just don’t recognize it as food,” she said.

Supporting local wildlife is as simple as planting some native shrubs on a property’s periphery. A proven food source for insects, caterpillars and birds can also double in providing privacy.

“Don’t be afraid when your shrub is being eaten by a caterpillar either,” she explained. “If you plant a butterfly garden, you don’t just want flowers or nectar sources. Once a butterfly mates, they lay eggs on the leaves of plants so the caterpillar can eat the leaves and grow. If you don’t have host plants, you don’t have butterflies.”

Native oak trees, black or choke cherry trees, witch hazel, viburnum, elderberry, inkberry, American holly and shad bush are a few of the examples of plantings that help sustain backyard wildlife.

“It’s as simple as visiting your local nursery,” Ms. Van Buren said.

Some good native flowers for butterflies include goldenrod, New England asters, sunflowers and black-eyed Susans.

Monarch butterflies love Asclepias tuberosa, or milkweed, a bright orange flower that Ms. Van Buren said is a gardener favorite and makes lovely flower arrangements.

To learn more about attracting favored fliers, Ms. Van Buren recommended “Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy and “Butterflies of the East Coast,” a guide to butterflies and their host plants by part-time Greenport resident Guy Tudor.

“If you have an empty backyard and are looking to start a bee, bird and butterfly garden, check out athome.audubon.org, a website devoted to how to support backyard wildlife,” she said. “If you plant it, they will come.”

gvolpe@timesreview.com

01/04/12 10:52am
01/04/2012 10:52 AM

DIANNE TAGGART COURTESY FILE PHOTO | A black and white warbler, never before seen on the Christmas Bird Count, was found this year. The bird is usually in Central or South America this time of year.

This year’s Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, held on New Years Eve, turned up large numbers of southern birds that have usually migrated long before the end of December, and the count’s organizer believes they’ve been lulled into complacency by the warm weather that ended abruptly early this week.

“In all my years as a compiler, I’ve never seen stuff like this year,” said MaryLaura Lamont, a Jamesport resident who has been compiling the results of the local bird count for 18 years. “We’re getting species that we haven’t had on this count in years, probably because of the mild, mild winter. We’re seeing a great number of unusual species that should be down south by now.”

The count was held before the cold front that began Tuesday, and Ms. Lamont said she’s worried that many of the birds will have trouble finding insects to eat if the cold weather continues.

Not all of the statistics from the count were in as of Wednesday, but already the 50-plus volunteers who counted birds last Saturday found a black and white warbler, which would normally be in Central or South America by now and has never been found on the local bird count before. They also found Virginia rails and large numbers of marsh wrens, two great egrets, a sedge wren and two house wrens.

Ms. Lamont said the counts are held in late December (Audubon allows them to be held during a three week window from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, and the organizers of individual counts decide when they’ll be held) because it’s the time in the year when birds are where they plan to spend the winter. Once winter weather sets in, she said, if birds haven’t migrated already, they aren’t going to. Because of this, the counts give scientists an idea of where birds are overwintering each year.

“I used to never see birds like red bellied woodpeckers. They were southerners, but they’ve extended their range to the north,” she said. “Now we’re picking up thousands of robins. We never used to see them in wintertime. A lot stay north, perhaps because of global climate change. That’s why Christmas Bird Counts are so important. It’s very good science.”

byoung@timesreview.com

Read more about the bird count and its history in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.