Great Maine Outdoor Weekend

Art is for the BIRDS!!

The Great Maine Outdoors Weekend encourages people to get outside! This year, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust is working with Lee Lee of the SEED Barn on a participatory sculpture that will be woven directly into the landscape in the Kingdom Woods Conservation Area. Part of the Open Air Arts Initiative, this arts workshop invites community members to collaborate on a sculpture that will provide winter shelter for birds, aesthetically integrating material from young oak trees that were recently cleared to preserve the heirloom blueberry field. Extending the flow of existing natural forms which stand prominently in the landscape, participants will weave the branches together, keeping in mind the space needed by bunnies to burrow and birds to flutter. In the process, contributors can explore ways we may integrate organic detritus offer winter protection for resident species in a way that piques visual interest. The Open-Air Arts Initiative is a collaboration between the SEED Barn, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Cynthia Winings Gallery. Its mission is to use nature to ignite creativity in the young people who live on or visit the Blue Hill Peninsula.

Drawing inspiration from the land immersed arts movement of the west, Lee Lee has been bringing a new kind of community arts practice to the Blue Hill Peninsula. Working with only materials found on site, she has invited the public to work together in weaving sculptures through the landscapes around the Blue Hill Peninsula. Through the spring, she collaborated with local students to build sculptural pollinator homes. As the season transitions into fall, she is working with the wider community on ways we may increase habitat for birds through the series birdSEED.

Sculpting branches that we trim out of the garden challenges the popular but somewhat misplaced notion that tidy yards are superior. In fact, tangles of woody brush are essential habitat for birds, small mammals as well as pollinators. Downeast Audubon director, Leslie Clapp describes ways we may creatively incorporate winter protection for resident birds into our domestic spheres at home; “Building brush piles is fun and you can be as creative as you wish.  Some look like tepees, some porcupines, others bee hives. You can plant vines which cover them for more interest.  Sometimes I put a base of logs (in log cabin style) and then weave the sticks in through the logs so they stand upright. The major thing is not to pack them too tightly so the critters can’t get in.  I keep adding to some year after year because they do break down.”

Complementing the weaving of thicket style shelter for the birds, ongoing seasonal workshops hosted by the SEED barn demonstrate how to ferment and sow fresh native stone fruit seeds. Native species like wild cherries, elderberry, mountain ash and an array of viburnum and dogwoods not only feed the birds but provide important nectar sources for pollinators in the early spring.  Because fruit is an inhibitor to seed germination, it needs to be cleaned off thoroughly; as if it has passed through the gut of a bird, bear or moose. The process of mimicking bird digestion is easily replicated at home by smashing a bunch of fruit to a pulp in a Ziploc bag. Over the course of about ten days, mashing the bag daily, the bubbles of fermentation form in the macerated fruit then settle. At this point, the seeds may be cleaned by immersing them in fresh water, massaging any remaining fruit off the seed, swirling the pulp in a bowl of water and pouring off the macerated fruit. Viable seeds will sink in the vortex of the swirl, while the fruit will be picked up by the current and easily poured off. These seeds cannot dry out, so need to be planted fresh. They may be stored immersed in vermiculite in the same plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator until the season shifts; then planted right before the ground freezes. 

Supported in part by a project grant from the Maine Arts Commission, birdSEED will continue the following week with a public workshop on taming invasive bittersweet and barberry at the Blue Hill Consolidated School on September 29th.

Downeast Audubon Yarding Workshop

Tips for supporting wildlife in your yard

Downeast Audubon’s director, Leslie Clapp gave a tour of her extensive gardens to show ways that we may support wildlife in our yards, from the ground up to the canopy.

  • Grow less lawn.
  • See what you have by growing out your lawn, and work with it.
  • Plant a variety of plant species with a succession of bloom and fruit time.
  • Layering: think about planting layers of perennials, shrubs trees and a canopy.
  • Keep dead trees if they are in a safe place to stand.
  • Keep woody trimmings and use them by building wood and brush piles to provide cover for small shy birds; you can make them beautiful and attract sparrows finches and cardinals.
  • Growing thickets like rose or forsythia attract catbirds
  • Use mulch! Maintains moisture in the ground, holds back weeds and it breaks down every year. Nothing organic leaves the property. If the material is diseased or weedy, it goes to the back.
  • Put up windbreaks, especially in winter around feeders.
  • Provide birdhouses and feeders.
  • Keep clean water available, especially in drought conditions. This can be done in birdbaths or as a recirculating stream.
  • Plant native plants and maintain an open field meadow of perennials. Wildlife has evolved with native plants. Some people complain about native plants getting ‘buggy’, but this is good because the bugs feed the birds!
  • Make and use compost
  • Leave plants standing through the winter. Stop deadheading in mid September at the latest so the plants can produce seed to feed the birds.
  • Keep your cats indoors.
  • Mowing is necessary to keep an open field in Maine. Don’t mow in the summer! It takes food away from wildlife. Mow late, in November and alternate parts of the meadow so that there are sections left standing. Goldenrod gauls, for example, are good winter food for woodpeckers.

 

Canadian Ry Grass in the meadow is showy and provides good nourishment for birds

Squirrel grass is a showy native grass which grows a bit lower

Echinacia purpurea is native to the prairie, provide nourishing seed for birds and is medicinal for humans.

Native high bush blueberries are nutritious for birds and tasty for humans

Millet is the foundation of many bird seed mixes, but grows beautifully if you leave it standing in the garden. The grains are easy to harvest and make a good porridge too.

Native button bush produces an interesting bloom

Ornamental Raspberry is a beautiful native with very showy flowers. The fruit is edible for humans, tho it is quite small. Birds love to eat it in the protection of the large foliage.

The Sargent crabapple may be grown as a tree or as a shrub as shown here. In shrub form it offers great protection for birds. Water birds especially love this one with protection branching out over the pond.

The fruit from a Sargent crabapple is a perfect size for birds. If the fruit is too large, they can’t eat it!

Tropical looking Staghorn Sumac is indeed related to the tropical family of Cashews. The pioneer plant shows vibrant color in the fall and the fruit makes for a nourishing tea. The birds go crazy over the seeds.

Native filbert or hazelnut is a delicacy for humans and rich in nutrients for local wildlife.

Mountain Ash produces beautiful fruit and may encourage some types of birds to stay over the winter in years that it produces in abundance.