Pipevine Swallowtail Hummock – A Habitat Installation

spore lore, habitat it and they will come, tony mcguigan, garden, soil, soil under my nails, gardening, gardens, native plants, permaculture, wildlife garden, environmental education, ecological landscaping, Pipevine Swallowtail Hummock, pipevine swallowtail butterfly, willow tree, pond, juncus patens, Santa Barbara sedge, Wild Blue Rye, House Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird, Starling, Phoebe,  killdeer, Red Flame dragonfly, dragonfly, wasps, flies, no-see-ums, Dutchman’s pipevine

This article is about a pond bank wildlife habitat installation at the Laguna Environmental Center, which is the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation’s headquarters. The installation was completed by the Play-Outdoors! efforts of Sunny Galbraith and her senior biology students, from Orchard View School in Sebastopol, California, and me, Tony McGuigan.

A willow log has been laying by the pond’s bank since last winter; it is now May. We like the wildlife-creating element of the log, but the cut ends look unnatural in this someday pristine environment. So the log gets turned arch-side up, and we now have a bridge. The log bridge from soil into water provides a smoother energy in this calm setting. It also provides both soil-to-log and log-to-soil interfaces AND a lookout/respite point for critters.

Many habitat projects are strongly purposed to attract birds and butterflies. Pipevine Swallowtail Hummock will accomplish that goal. And, this habitat installation will also help diversify and enrich this human-made pond’s ecology, like Nature would do itself given time. Therefore, this habitat will be enriching fungi, crawling critters, soil and water microbes/crustaceans/insects/plants, and the other Kingdoms and Classes I leave out for brevity. Eventually, the willow log bridge will return to the soil, and to the water.

The bridge is in!  Note that Dutchman’s pipevine is positioned to crawl onto the log.

The bridge is in!  Note that Dutchman’s pipevine is positioned to crawl onto the log.

Basically, the habitat is a log dug into the bank and rocks weighing down the buried, bank-side end. The rocks, log, and collected algae were added into the hole at the same time to jumpstart the micro-environment. Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia californica) was planted at the base of the bridge and also under a nearby willow sapling. Dutchman’s pipevine is the host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

Collecting algae to add Life to the habitat’s rock base. Sure beats sitting in the classroom!

Planting out and mulching native juncus and wild blue rye.  Note the willow sapling in the foreground – it will buddy up with a Dutchman’s pipevine to attract Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies to lay eggs on the vine, or in the willow.

Planting out and mulching native juncus and wild blue rye. Note the willow sapling in the foreground – it will buddy up with a Dutchman’s pipevine to attract Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies to lay eggs on the vine, or in the willow.

Juncus (Juncus patens) was planted on the bank close to but above the mudbank because it thrives near water. Blue Wild Rye (Elymus glaucus) and California Mugwort (Arteisia douglasiana) was planted further up the bank. The bank above the moist mud was mulched with woodchips to give those plants a better chance to fill in the area before non-native weeds do.

The planted out bank was mulched with woodchips to suppress weeds and to retain moisture.

The planted out bank was mulched with woodchips to suppress weeds and to retain moisture.

One Month Later

A Red Flame dragonfly on Santa Barbara sedge.

A  Flame Skimmer dragonfly on Santa Barbara sedge.

A month later, I was happy to see a Western Fence lizard and a Flame Skimmer dragonfly in the habitat.

Rock base aged one after installation.  The natural-looking dried algae has been providing habitat.

Rock base one month after installation. The natural-looking dried algae has been providing habitat.

Life is here!  Many, many wasps, of different species, scurry over the dried algae and rock micro-environment

Close-up of rock base.  Life is here!

Insects! Lots of insects. The rock, wood, and algae Critter Suburbia is swarming with busy insects. Wasps of different species, flies, and no-see-ums (gnats)!   And now that insects are here, surely the trophy animals, like birds and butterflies, will come, too.  P.S. Please let the Amphibians and Reptiles know that they are also invited!

For any wildlife installation similar to Pipevine Swallowtail Hummock, first provide for the soil. The dying and dried algae worked with critters at the lowest trophic levels to create and provide food for those insects. And those insects become food for lizards, frogs, birds and beyond.

 

Two Months Later, June 11, 2015, 8:15AM to 9AM – Who came to visit?

Below are the birds that visited Pipevine Swallowtail Hummock during a 45 minute photo shoot.

 

A starling.  Not native but at least a bird is using the bridge as a perch.

A starling. Not native but at least a bird is using the bridge as a perch.   Every bird footfall adds microbes to the ecology.

 

Male House Sparrow.

Male House Finch.

A Phoebe joins the male House Sparrow.

A Black Phoebe joins the male House Finch.

 

Male House Sparrow leaves and female arrives.  Phoebe stays.

Male House Finch leaves and female arrives. Black Phoebe stays.

A Killdeer stretches her/his neck to get the most out of the bridge’s view.

A Killdeer stretches her/his neck to get the most out of the bridge’s view.

A new pair of House Sparrows arrive, ever watchful from their high perch.

A new pair (or same pair) of House Finch arrives, ever watchful from their high perch.

A female Brewer’s Blackbird (male has the white eye ring) flushes the bridge.

A female Brewer’s Blackbird (male has the white eye) flushes the bridge.

The same female Brewer’s Blackbird surveys the pond from Pipevine Swallowtail Hummock.

The same female Brewer’s Blackbird surveys the pond from Pipevine Swallowtail Hummock.

 

Now

Enjoy your wildlife habitat creations. Habitat it!

Tony

 

© 2014, Tony McGuigan. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. paul says

    House finches, not house sparrows. Notice the red. Awesome project.

    Reply
    • Tony McGuigan says

      Thanks Paul! Edits made.

      You are obviously an accomplished bird(name) watcher.
      Tony

      Reply
  2. Marilyn says

    Hi, Tony,
    As always, your projects are fascinating. I did have to look up the word “hummock” since I was not quite sure of the definition. You must get out your thesaurus to come up with these names. If not, maybe you could try it. So many fine words, so little time…..

    Now for a question: WWTD (what would Tony do)? For the last few years, I’ve been sitting on my deck enjoying a good view of the birds that frequent a tall evergreen next door. Sadly the tree is dead(part of the reason the view is so good) and my neighbor is determined to take it down. Something about it falling into the house….;) If I have the opportunity, I will encourage him to leave a snag, although he probably won’t. I am positive that once the tree is down he would gladly give me any part of it–but what to do with it? We have a smallish city yard, a bird bath but no pond, and don’t have a lot of trees. I was thinking of maybe taking a section of the tree with the branches intact and “planting” my own snag as a perch for the birds in my yard. Other thoughts?

    Reply
    • Tony McGuigan says

      Marilyn,
      The short answer: http://sporelore.com/category/blog/residential-habitats/

      Thank you for asking!

      All, Enjoy your habitat creations. Habitat it!

      Tony

      Reply
  3. Marilyn says

    Thank you so much, Tony! The drawings really do help. I agree that digging a large hole and buttressing the snag with rocks looks like the best option. At this point, the tree is still standing. And I may have to leave that 8′ + section on its side for a time while we complete some of our other projects and figure out where we want it to go. So it may be a while, but I saved the link where I can find it when we’re ready. Meanwhile, for others who may be reading, Tony has detailed plans and options for installing a snag on the referenced website above. Check it out!

    Reply
    • Tony McGuigan says

      Marilyn,
      Glad you liked the drawings/plans. Your question came at a good time — a prospective client wants to install a snag in a new “Habitat Garden”. Nice to get vision on paper (on the web)!

      Good luck with your project.
      Tony
      Tony McGuigan recently posted..Installing Snag Wildlife Habitat Installations — plans for 3 options

      Reply

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