Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Surprising Lure of Open Ground

Why on Earth would I share a photo of such a nondescript area of our "new" backyard, here in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida?

To put it bluntly, I am sharing this photo because it is one of the most "happening" places in our yard.

Yeah, I wouldn't believe it either, if I didn't look out my kitchen window and see it for myself every day, regularly, throughout the entire daylight period.

I am still not sure what, exactly, attracts the birds to this particular area.  They don't dust bathe in the open sand.  There are no thriving ant colonies in the area or obvious signs of other insect life.  There is no pea gravel or other, slightly larger, gravel that could help in their crops.  Yet every day, over and over again, I see blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, mockingbirds, and cardinals come into this area, stay for a while, then fly off again.  Obviously something is attracting them.

By watching closely, though, I've figured out a bit of the mystery....

The red-bellied woodpeckers fly directly from the trunk of the laurel oak (on the left) or the pignut hickory (on the right) down to the ground, stay for 30 seconds or so, then fly back up.  Watching through the binoculars, I think they are generally picking up the laurel oak acorns that were thick on the ground last fall and through the winter. 

The acorns aren't nearly as common now as they were then, which is hardly surprising, but still the red-bellieds come.

The blue jays fly down from the branches of the surrounding trees.  They, too, seem to be going after the acorns, based on what I see through the binoculars.

On the other hand, the mockingbird perches on the hammock first, then flies to the ground.  He seems to scavenge a little longer than the jays or the woodpeckers and it's hard for me to see what he is finding.  I suspect insects or some other small invertebrates, but it could be seeds.  (I am speaking of this as a singular bird, since I tend to see one mockingbird at a time, but I strongly suspect that more than one visits the area.)

I haven't been able to see anything in the beaks of the cardinals or mourning dove that come in to feed either.  For these birds, I suspect the attraction is seed from the "weeds" that are easily as major a component of the area as any grass that remains from the last sodding.

So why share this area at all?  I guess because I want to point out that even seemingly barren, "waste" ground can be valuable to some wildlife.

When we first moved in, I saw this part of the backyard as an area that needed to be fixed, preferably sooner than later.  I just wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with it.  Now I'm not so sure.  This patch attracts many more birds than nearby areas that have much healthier grass.  I do worry about erosion, though, since we get frequent rain and the land in the backyard slopes slightly.

For now I'm content to just wait and observe.  Funny how natural systems see worth in different ways than we humans do.

P.S.  That ugly, plastic, green flag?  I mark plants I don't recognize or that I may want to move when they have come up in the lawn.   That way, I remember to keep an eye on them and the plants don't get mowed before I decide what to do with them.  That particular flag is marking a dainty little sedge that I want to move somewhere more picturesque.


Corner Gardener Sue said...

Thanks for this post! You are right, that what we tend to think about how the yard should look may not be what is the most beneficial to the land or wildlife. How cool that you get to observe the birds there. Is that water on the other side of the yard? What is that?

Gaia Gardener: said...

Our yard is on a small lake (a dammed up creek, actually). We see a lot of wildlife associated with the water, like sliders (turtles), herons, osprey, and fish (in the water...and in the osprey's talons). It's very mesmerizing to watch just the water throughout the day, let alone the wildlife associated with it. A nice plus of our new place.