Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just in time for Halloween: Cornell's Spooky Birds

Funny how often birds are considered scary in fictional movies and literature. Groups of crows, for example, are called "murders." And Edgar Allan Poe was haunted by a raven. Then there's the whole thing with that classic Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds...

The people at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology think the "scary" bird behaviors people see in their own backyards can easily be explained. In fact, they are challenging people to take photos, do a painting, write a story or poem, even shoot a video showing crows, pigeons, starlings, an owl, or any kind of bird doing something puzzling or strange. They will then reveal what the behaviors are really all about.

"There’s usually a perfectly natural, non-scary explanation!" they say on their website.

This seems like a great activity for school groups, homeschoolers, and parents who want to do some backyard naturalist activities in fall. You can find more info on their website at:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cash for Lawnmowing Clunkers

We once had a friend who couldn't bear to give up anything old. He hated to throw away stuff, and although most of the time that kind of thriftiness can add up to an enviro ethic, in this particular case it sometimes caused a lot of pollution... because he even refused to throw away his father's old lawn mower from the 70s. His dad had died some fifteen years earlier. The mower, unfortunately, just kept on ticking away, spewing out clouds of horrible, smoky exhaust year after year. We used to tease him and say that his old mower was responsible for all of the "code red" bad air days in our county.

I was thinking about that old mower and that old friend today when I got an interesting email from a friend up in Baltimore. It would be great to replicate this kind of event down here in Montgomery County. For one thing, it would provide me with a great discount on a wonderful new battery powered mower, including one of those Neuton ones. Those things are SOOO cool.

Anyhow, here's the low down on the mower trade in event:

Lawnmower Trade-In Event AND Native Plant Sale –
two ways to save and go green!

Trade in your old, noisy, gas-guzzling lawn mower for a coupon worth up to 1/3 off the cost of a brand new battery-powered, cordless, rechargeable, electric mower.

Sunday, October 18, Noon to 4:00 pm
@ Herring Run Nursery
6131 Hillen Rd., Baltimore in the Mount Pleasant Golf Course

Help clean up the air and local water, make your community a healthier (and quieter) place, provide for birds… and save money at the same time!
Event presented by Together Green, Audubon Maryland-DC, Herring Run Watershed Association, Herring Run Nursery, Neuton Mowers, and Baltimore City Department of Public Works.

Need to know:
• Only push mowers will be accepted, no riding mowers at this event.
• Your mower must be drained of all oil and gas – recycling facility and assistance provided onsite if needed. Or drain in advance and properly dispose of fluids (such as at Baltimore City Household Hazardous Waste event October 10 -11
• Coupon is for $110 off of a specific brand of mower plus free shipping.
• Limit one mower/ coupon per household.
Need more information?
Lawnmower Event: email or call (410) 271-2481
Native Plant Sale including inventory and prices:

County Council votes to keep Golf in Sligo Creek Park

Just got an email from The Sligo Creek Golf Association as follows:

The SCGA applauds the County Council's 7-2 vote today to keep the 9-hole course open through June 30, 2010. SCGA also looks forward to participating on the 17- to 19-member task force that will recommend a long-term financial plan for the course by Jan. 19.

The course had been slated to close on October 1...

...Councilmember Valerie Ervin authored the resolution forming the task force, which will include representatives from the Sligo Creek Golf Association, Friends of Sligo Creek and the North Hills of Sligo Civic Association as well as county officials and representatives of veterans’ organizations.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Duchy Trachtenberg. Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Nancy Navarro also supported the $150,000 supplemental appropriation proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett.

“The people in the community surrounding Sligo Creek Golf Course and golfers from around the county should be commended for their advocacy and the efficacy of their advocacy,” said Ervin. “We’ve heard you. We’ve hard you loud and clear. We understand that Sligo Creek Golf Course is really a jewel in our community. So we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Berliner, who was the last undecided member of the Council, said he went over to the course Monday to talk to Sligo Creek golfers. “People were clearly enjoying it and people from all socioeconomic backgrounds were enjoying it. That is one of the things that strikes you immediately,” said Berliner.

{end quoted part of press release}

Well, I'm glad anyhow. I've been advocating all along to keep it as a golf course. I'd love to see the whole place turned into a green model, complete with low impact design and low fertilizer use, native plants and more trees. We'll have to see about that. At least for now it won't be heavily developed, heavily lighted, or otherwise built up.

For more info visit the SCGA website by clicking here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wow! We can finally recycle milk cartons!

This just in: residents of Montgomery County can now recycle all kinds of new stuff. Fantastic! Now if I could just get recycling bins in all the parks so that I can recycle all those silly plastic water bottles I find when walking the dog... that would be super fantastic....

Here's the scoop on from Leggett's office:

"Montgomery County’s nationally recognized recycling program today became even more extensive with the announcement by County Executive Isiah Leggett that an array of additional items can now be recycled.

Under the improved program, residents of single-family homes can now recycle non-hazardous aerosol cans and Tupperware™ and Rubbermaid™-type durable reusable plastic containers and lids. Non-hazardous aerosol cans include whipped topping, spray cooking oil, deodorant, shaving cream and hair spray aerosol cans. These cans must be emptied before being placed into the blue commingled materials recycling bin.

In addition, the mixed paper recycling program has been expanded to include various types of coated paper items. These items include milk and juice cartons, frozen food boxes, cardboard ice cream containers and lids, paper coffee and drink cups, wax-coated fruit and produce boxes, and juice and drink boxes. "

(The above info was taken from a press release put out today by Ike Leggett's office.)

For more information about the County’s expanded recycling program, or for additional blue recycling bins in the 22-gallon size, call 240-777-6410 or visit

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Can They Say They Are Working for the Trees when Mostly they Plant the ICC?

It is horribly depressing to drive down 95 these days between Baltimore and DC and see the work of the Intercounty Connector (ICC) moving ahead, snaking through the green trees like ugly brown tracks left by a very destructive monster.

I hate this road. I hate the idea of this road. I cannot stand to think of the areas being destroyed in its wake, and the more subtle destruction which will follow in decades to come, as developments inevitably will grow up all around its finished path.

This morning I received the following message, posted by Mike Smith to the Friends of Sligo Creek listserv:

"Rob Shreve from the State Highway Administration will be at Montgomery County's Forest Conservation Advisory Committee meeting next Tuesday to discuss the Intercounty Connector and Anacostia forestation. Note that this is not a public hearing, and non-committee members are considered observers and only able to ask questions at the discretion of the 22 member committee. There are hopes to have a DNR representative at their October meeting to further discuss the issue as it relates to the 2001 Agreement.This meeting will be Tuesday September 22nd at 7:00 p.m.

The location is 255 Rockville Pike in Rockville in the Department of Environmental Protection conference room on the first floor, right next to the Rockville Metro Station.Here are related documents:

1). The 2001 Anacostia Watershed Restoration Agreement signed by the Maryland Governor and Montgomery Executive as well as the Prince George's Executive and District Mayor.

Goal 5 was: "To protect and expand forest cover throughout the watershed..." with five parts to the goal.

2). This agreement led to the The Anacostia Watershed Forest Management and Protection Strategy (released June 2005) which can be found at "

((end message))

Indeed, how can they say they say they are working for the trees when all they seem to plant is the ICC?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Native Plant Exchange This Sunday from 3-5pm

Native Plant Exchange

Sunday, Sept 20 from 3-5pm.

Location will be Dennis Avenue Park, Silver Spring, MD. This park is near the playground where it is shady at the corner of Dennis and Sligo Creek Parkway.

Please bring any and all native plants, shrubs and trees that you might have to share with others. Seeds are okay, too, but try to avoid putting them in plastic bags. Envelopes are better.

Please also feel free to come see if we have something you like... This is not an even exchange. Lots of people bring stuff but don't take anything home. Lots of people come just looking for free native plants! Which is fine by me. The more natives we get growing out there in people's yards, the better.

Plants must be native to the US. (You can argue amongst yourselves about what truly constitutes a local native.)

Everything you bring must be labelled. No exceptions!

This is an outdoor event, and really just a casual swap. Heavy rain will cancel.

Why Are Invasive Plants a Problem?

Next month Lynette Scaffidi from the Parks Dept will give a presentation on the issue of invasive exotic plants. She will discuss many parts of the topic, including identification of several of the really problematic invasives and what people can do about them in their yards and in the parks.

Wednesday, October 21, 7 – 8 PM Brookside Nature Center (next to Brookside Gardens)1400 Glenallan Ave, Wheaton, Maryland 20902

More information at 301-949-0223 or ScaffidiNatural Resources SpecialistMontgomery County Parks301-949-0223

Monday, September 7, 2009

Whispering to the Wasps

When I was about seven years old my best friend and next door neighbor, Bruce, was stung fifteen times by wasps. He was playing hide and seek and somehow bumped up against their nest in a bush. The wasps swarmed to protect their home, and he was completely engulfed in their rage.

I’ve been thinking about Bruce’s bad day a lot lately, realizing that there are not a lot of people out there who would be willing to host these creatures purposefully. I think that convincing anyone to plant a garden to attract wasps would be a hard sell.

Even so, I have found myself really enjoying them in the garden these last couple of weeks. Somehow, the wasps and I have found a way to peacefully co-exist. They like to tap dance around on the tops of the flat yellow flowers in my garden, such as the bronze fennel. Soon, the goldenrod will also begin to bloom in brilliant yellow and I’ll have my camera ready to take some shots.

The wasps are fantastic creatures, busy all the time and very efficient. I like to drink strong coffee in the morning, and watch them up close. It’s a pretty good relationship so far. We each enjoy our drinks and sunshine and no one gets injured.

Being so close to these predators feels a bit like swimming with sharks or petting the lions at the zoo. There’s an element of danger, but also something peaceful and soothing in the graceful way they move. I am simultaneously admiring their slender, strange, alien-like bodies, and fearful that they could turn on me at any moment. I think of my son at these times; I understand his fascination with sharks several years ago. I know where his brain was at then. I’m there now, watching the wasps, thinking how their faces are permanently painted with scowls, but their wings and bodies are almost like those of ballet dancers.

According to most sources I found on the bookshelf and online, wasps are not terribly important pollinators in North America. They do some pollinating while they drink up that nectar. But they are smooth, not fuzzy like bees, so they don’t spread around the pollen that much.

They do, however, help gardeners in other ways. Namely, they feed a lot of pest caterpillars, flies and crickets to their young early in the season. They are fierce predators.

Annoyingly, by the time August and September roll around, the queens stop laying eggs and their nests start to decline. There aren’t any young to feed, and so the adults go out on what could be called a bender for sugar. In addition to the nectar of my flowers, they begin to crave sweet drinks and greasy food. They stay away from my coffee, but if I brought a soda or glass of juice out the garden in the morning there would be trouble for sure.

Yellow jackets, in particular, can really get aggressive. You can control them with some cool gizmos. Most of them involve a bottle containing a small amount of sugary liquid. The mouth of the bottle or container is small; the wasps fly in but they can’t make their way back out. Then later you put the stopper on and let them die slow painful deaths in the bottle.

I’ve been told these wasp traps can be effective if hung a few feet away from the food table of your picnic. I have no idea if they work, because I always forget them until the picnic is in progress, so mostly I stick to drinking water and try to eat with an eye on what the wasps are doing with each bite I take.

One thing I find particularly annoying at such moments: there are a lot of people who think that bees and wasps are the same. They are not! Most of the time, bees want to steer clear of humans, and stay away from their food. Bees are also incredibly important pollinators and although it is not scientific to say so, bees actually look kind of cute. Here again I think of ocean animals; if wasps are like sharks, then bees are like dolphins – almost dopey or playful in appearance. (Bees can sting… some more than others… and dolphins can bite and be aggressive, but hey… that’s a different article. Some other time perhaps.)

I’ve never actually been stung by a wasp or a bee, which might explain why I am so forgiving of their presence in my garden. I do wish the wasps would stop building nests in my favorite wooden bird house. But considering how many hours I spend with my hands in the plants and my back bent over the rows of veggies out there, you’d think I’d have been stung at least once.

I sometimes wonder if it is like that guy called the Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel, Cesar Milan. He says that his calm demeanor around tough, wild dogs earns their respect. Maybe my calm demeanor in the garden makes the wasps respect me. Maybe I can get a show on that channel, too. The Wasp Whisperer.


But considering that I am rarely calm and hardly ever manage to whisper about anything, it is far more likely that I’ve just been lucky so far. After all, it could have easily been me getting stung 15 times on that day long ago during the hide and seek game. If so, this would have been a whole different piece of writing.

(This story originally appeared in the September 2009 edition of the Voice newspapers of Takoma Park and Silver Spring.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sligo Golf Course... Where to Begin Before it Ends

Every time I get ready to post something about the Sligo Creek Golf Course on this blog, the whole story changes so much that I decide not to post... YET. I wanted to write something which would explain the mess that is the political battle over the course.... how environmentalists, golfers, people who live near to the course are all fighting to try to keep this incredibly popular course open. I wanted to write something about how it happens that a bunch of people who have never played golf EVER want to hold on to this resource, and those that do play golf want to hold on to it even more... and I wanted to explain how much the course and its relatively low impact current use means to those who work for the betterment of the creek.

At the very least I wanted to explain to the uninformed what the heck all those green signs that say "Keep Sligo Golf Open" mean.

I have realized that would take such an insane amount of time that it would be plain stupid. By the time I finished writing such a post, the whole thing would be over and done.

So instead I will say this.

County Council member Valerie Ervin has sent an email out that says her office is working hard to try to keep the course open. Delegate Al Carr has said the same. There have been warnings that notices will soon go up saying the course will close for ever on Oct 1. This is not a done deal, according to many many people.


If you care about the course or the creek, I would say now is the time to contact your county council members. Because nothing is final and they need to hear that we, as voters, want to see the course stay open.

It is my own dream to see the course remain open but become a model for green golf course maintenance in the county. I can't understand why we have a huge effort underway to GREEN up Bethesda, but here we have a great opportunity presenting itself in good old Silver Spring and well... the green option has yet to be seriously explored.

Okay. Actually, I can understand it. Its par for the course in this county. We are sometimes treated like second class citizens over here. The amazing thing is, we like our community and have some great things going on. We actually would not wish to live over THERE. But some of us would LIKE to PLAY golf close to home. We have no other options. This lovely little public course has provided a close by option to many for many years.

As an aside I have to say that I am not a golfer myself, and neither is anyone in my family. But I bike past the course several times a week, and shiver to think what would happen if the course was destroyed and that area became heavily developed for other purposes...

Giving up the course to lighted mini golf was unthinkable both from a traffic control stand point and an environmental standpoint. (This had been suggested back at the beginning of the controversy. Several angry town hall like meetings later this suggestion was withdrawn.) There are simply loads of people in this part of the county who LOVE to golf. And a lot of them would then have to drive to the upper part of the county. This would be stupid, but also show a complete disregard for those who live in the downcounty area and pay taxes. Meanwhile, it would also add more cars to crowded roads like 270. Again and again traffic planners have told us that one of the best ways to reduce traffic is to provide resources locally, and not force people to drive everywhere.

But also, the course is well used and well loved now. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Or, more to the point, don't throw it away.

And besides, many of us are suspicious about the reasons for the course's possible closure in the first place. Somethin just aint right in those numbers. Somethin just aint right in the way the whole thing has unfolded...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Native Plant Sale at Adkins Arboretum

Adkins Arboretum Public Plant Sale
Saturday, September 12, 9a.m. – 1 p.m.

Enjoy fall in the garden! A wide variety of native perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees will be for sale. Master Gardeners will be available to answer questions, and Arboretum docents will be on hand to lead guided walks.
Members, including those who join on the sale day, receive a 10% discount on plants, gift shop items, and new books. Sale days are popular and can be crowded, so please leave dogs at home. The sale benefits the Arboretum’s education programs and introduces the public to the beauty and benefit of gardening with native plants.