Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Advocates Trying to Fight the Holmes Bill (HB 1125)

Teams of people are visiting Annapolis this week, to push back against the Holmes Bill (HB 1125).

Advocates are asking anyone who cares about the Chesapeake to call their state senator and tell them you don’t support the proposed legislation.

I think that Diane Cameron of the Audubon Naturalist Society said it best last week:

“We all pay the costs of damaged infrastructure resulting from weak stormwater standards. If we allow projects to be built this year without adequate stormwater controls, and allow developers to avoid paying their share of the cost of stormwater prevention, we will all pay more next year for the many costs of dirty water: dead zones in the Bay and blown‐out streams in every County in the State.” (To read her full click here .)

This year was to be the year that all of Maryland began to see the changes the Stormwater Act would have made. But if the Holmes bill passes in the Senate then many of those protections will be severely loosened to the point of being almost non-existent.

Here’s the background:

On Friday, March 26, 127 Maryland State delegates voted to pass the Holmes bill, despite the fact that some of the people who have worked hardest and longest for the Bay’s restoration efforts have vocally opposed it.

The Baltimore Sun’s B’More Green Blog did the kind of reporting on the bill that all of the papers should have done. If you can only read one story about the entire thing, this is the one to read.

The Baltimore Sun’s regular coverage can be found here.

The Washington Post also ran a story from a different angle:

WTOP radio also covered it.

The Capital (in Annapolis) also covered the controversy.

The Anacostia Watershed Society has called the votes for the Holmes Bill “bad for the Anacostia and bad for the Bay.” As the bill begins its way through the Senate, AWS and many other organizations all over the state are frantically calling upon their members and supporters to contact state senators NOW to show opposition towards this piece of legislation.

To read the AWS action alert includes a list of key Senators that should be contacted.

Audubon Naturalist Society’s Diane Cameron, stated in her testimony against the bill that “weak stormwater standards Are costing us billions.” You can read her full testimony on the ANS website or visit:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Upcoming Meeting about Forest Management in the Anacostia

On Tuesday April 20 the Friends of Sligo Creek program meeting will focus on "The Anacostia Watershed Forest Management and Protection Strategy."

This report ( has advice for public officials watershed issues, including forest preservation, invasive plants, nuisance wildlife, and street trees. In light of Montgomery County's plans to eliminate the tree budget, this seems like a very timely topic.

The principle author of the Strategy, John Galli of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, talk about why it was made, what it says, and how it can be used by citizens.

Location: Long Branch Community Center, 8700 PineyBranch Road.

Come at 7:15 for chatting. Discussion starts at 7:30. Refreshments will be served.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Montgomery Victory Gardens Worth Check Out

Last month at Brookside Garden's Green Matter Symposium, I learned a lot about the local vegetable garden scene. There's a surprising amount of passionate advocacy going on in this area regarding the growing of good, local food.

I don't really write much about my own adventures in edible gardening, although actually I love growing vegetables and fruits. There's something sublime about picking raspberries in your pajamas on a warm summer morning with your kids, and something truly decadent about eating salad fresh from your own backyard. I have such a small garden that I can only grow a few things each year... but I truly love the experience. I just don't have much expertise in it.


One of the groups that I discovered at Green Matters was Montgomery Victory Gardens. I like what they do, and even more I like their weekly emails, which are chock full of really interesting stories about people who are trying to get more fresh, local food in to the hands of everyone in Montgomery County.

This week, for example, they have interesting news about some important congressional bills now being considered which could expand the availability of local farm food to school kids. Really worth checking out.

I'm Giving a Talk on Urban Gardening for Wildlife this Saturday

I'm giving a talk at the the Anacostia Watershed Society this weekend.

Here are the details, as posted by AWS:

"Urban Wildlife Gardening in the Anacostia Watershed"
Part One of Our Spring Gardening Lecture Series
Date: Saturday, March 27, 2010
Time: 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Location: AWS Office
The George Washington House
4302 Baltimore Avenue
Bladensburg, MD 20710

Cost: Free to AWS members! Another perk of being an AWS member.

RSVP: To RSVP contact Meg Mackin at
Building a backyard habitat for wildlife in the city can bring rewards for both the watershed and the gardener. Alison Gillespie will discuss how to create an urban oasis where many kinds of birds, butterflies and bees can thrive. She will also discuss some of the special challenges that urban landowners face, and review some of the techniques conservation gardeners employ to help their local watersheds. Attendees will also have the chance to venture outside as Alison explores the native plants and rain gardens around the George Washington House.

It's a day for native plants! Streamline your spring plant shopping by coming to the Friends of the National Arboretum Native Plant Sale. This group sale features regional nurseries offering an extensive selection of native plants, and growers will be on hand to offer garden information. Most vendors accept cash or checks only. Free admission.

Visit the native plant sale at the National Arboretum in the morning and then take the short drive over to AWS for my talk!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Forget the Robins, It was the Monarch Butterflies that Suffered this Winter

Everyone has been asking me about the robins, but it seems it wasn't the orange, black and brown birds that suffered. It was the butterflies of those same colors.

Reuters reports this morning that the same storms which brought so much snow to the US this February brought unusual, drenching rains to Mexico. The wet weather had a very damaging effect on the monarch populations which reside there each winter.

Depressingly, one of the researchers says he fears he may outlive the entire species. He is already 78 years old.

For the full story, go to:

With hopeful thoughts I'm pasting a picture of one of the monarch caterpillars we found in the back yard last year.

I guess in the US one of the best things we can do is provide a home to those monarchs that remain. Keeping planting that milkweed everyone.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fight the Holmes Dirty Water Bill, Keep Stormwater Regs Strong

The internet is on fire tonight with info about the Holmes Bill going down in Annapolis.

I'm cutting and pasting what has been sent to me from the Anacostia Watershed Society. I also got pretty much the same email from the Potomac Conservancy, and any number of other organizations out there. I'm cheering them all on.

Stormwater ain't glamorous. But the tightness of the Stormwater Act of 2007 holds great promise for bringing this problem under control, at least a little bit.

As the AWS email says, we've asked others in the Chesapeake to play their part in the clean up. Now it is time for the developers to join the effort and do their part, too.

From AWS:

"Wednesday, March 24 at 11AM there will be a press conference in the Maryland State House room H-124 featuring a trio of environmental elder statesmen: former US Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, former US Senator Joseph Tydings, and former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes.

These three will be speaking out against the developer's efforts in the General Assembly to weaken the 2007 Stormwater Management Act. Despite having three years to get ready for the Act's May 4, 2010 effective date, the developers are crying that the sky is falling and are asking that their industry be allowed to continue its special exception to pollute our rivers and Chesapeake Bay. We have asked farmers, wastewater treatment, and industry to do their parts for clean water - it is time for the developers to do their fair share....

Write one of our Anacostia Senators, Paul Pinsky (22nd) ( and tell him that you will stand with him to oppose the "emergency regulations" sent to his AELR committee that would roll back significant provisions of the 2007 Stormwater Act.Write members of the House Environmental Matters Committee ( and tell them to oppose HB1125, Delegate Holmes' dirty water bill.

In particular, contact these members of the Anacostia delegation:Delegate Al Carr (18th) - Tom Hucker (20th) - Barbara Frush (21st) - Anne Healey (22nd) - Doyle Niemann (47th) - all of your elected officials to stand up for clean water and vote no on dirty water bills and proposals that would weaken the Stormwater Management Act of 2007! (

Background: Maryland needs clean water. We need to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and other waters, even as the state continues to grow and develop. Three years ago, the Maryland General Assembly enacted the Stormwater Management Act of 2007 - a strong clean water law that requires developers to design sites to retain and reuse rainwater. The Stormwater Management Act requires use of green techniques like street trees; green roofs; and permeable pavements to slow down, spread out, and soak in stormwater rather than funneling it into our streams. Now, developers and their allies want to weaken this clean water law, with dirty water amendments that would allow projects to be built using obsolete techniques that will continue to kill our streams.

Developers want to weaken the Stormwater Management Act, so they can continue business as usual - to keep funneling polluted stormwater runoff into our streams and to let the public pick up the tab in the form of erosion, continued dead zones in the Bay; damage to public infrastructure; and future "stormwater retrofit projects."Existing damage from stormwater to Maryland's streams - erosion damage that is yet unaddressed - has been estimated to cost the public $12 billion in unmet restoration costs. This price tag will continue to mount if the dirty water legislation is allowed to weaken the Stormwater Management Act. Let's not let that happen."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Did the Crazy-Bad Winter Hurt the Robins?

(The following piece originally appeared March 1 in the Voice newspapers of Takoma Park, Silver Spring and Kensington in Maryland. I write the monthly Sligo Naturalist column for the Voice. The snow has melted in the last 21 days. But the memory of that snow lingers on, and on, and on... and the questions I get about robins persist, too. So I thought better late than never to post it here.)

Things are slowly emerging from the snow and like urban archeologists we see some of our missing stuff out in the sooty, icy drifts, where things became immobilized several weeks ago by the twin blizzards. (Oh, so that’s where the other snow shovel went. And hey, I was wondering where the purple sled had gone. I think that shiny thing is an earring… we’ll just have to wait until it melts a bit more to get it out…maybe this ice pick from the kitchen will help to dislodge it…)

When I walk the dog, I mostly find litter, smashed into the frozen banks where it blew during the high windstorms. Loads of beer cans and beer bottles, fast food wrappers, dozens and dozens of plastic bags – I pick them all up while I walk the dog and arrive home with a sack full of trashy storm souvenirs.

One night I looked out before going to bed and saw a bright red, disposable plastic cup on the sidewalk. By the time I got out there in the morning to pick it up, some one had used it to carve a smiley face completely of circles in the grimy, grey snow bank by the curb. Wise guy.

While we continue to wait for the snow to vanish (and despair that another storm might drop more upon us in March), people desperately cling to signs of spring. We are not a region that is accustomed to real winters. We usually have a lot more thaw periods in January and February than we got this year. We want proof this will soon end.

Everywhere I go, for instance, people want to talk about robins. Why have such huge flocks descended on their yards? Why are they eating all of the holly berries? Are they okay? Will they freeze or starve because they can’t eat enough worms from the frozen ground?

I have theories, and a few scientific answers.

First of all, the robins that we are seeing out there are not that unusual. They often flock together in winter before dispersing to mate in the spring. A few years ago, during a very mild early March, I looked out to find more 30 robins were gathered around the birdbath, noisily drinking and bathing. Flocks are not that unusual.

People keeping telling me that they’ve never seen them in such huge numbers, but I keep wondering if that’s because we were all stuck at home more with out much to do during the long weeks of blustery February. Also, robins are pretty good at blending in most of the time, but I think the unusual abundance and persistence of snow has made them more visible. The brown and orange feathers really contrast against the white snow this year.

There are always robins that spend the winter with us here in Maryland. Although it seems we were all taught to look for robins as “the first sign of spring” there is little to back up this harbinger. Some robins move back and forth. We may be looking out the window right now at a bird which is on its way northward to a place in New England where it will spend the summer. But there are some robins that stay here during each winter.

Robins like to eat berries in the winter, but then switch to worms in the spring once the ground softens. It could be that the real sign is not the robins themselves but the worms they are finally able to eat. But since we get so many mild winters here it is possible to actually see them eating like that, even in the January, so even this is not an accurate assessment of spring’s arrival.

Robins also like to stay in the tops of trees during winter, although during storms they may spend more time near the ground due to wind. So during the storms we may have seen them down at the ground more.

Many people have also asked me if the robins are here early this year because of climate change. I’m glad to hear the question. I’ve been worried that maybe people would be inclined to think this winter’s storms offered some kind of proof that climate change was no longer a concern. (Don’t get me started on a rant about the Fox News foolishness of that very unscientific, anti-intellectual way of thinking. It is not pretty and usually involves bellowing on my part. Instead, you can check out this link to a story about climate change and the snow which appeared in the New York Times for some interesting information. )

There are not really that many straightforward answers specific to robins, however, because the research on these birds and climate change is pretty thin at this point and robins are considered a species of low conservation concern. There are a lot of them around, and they tend to thrive in urban and suburban areas. No one is really thinking that they’ll go extinct or anything if climate change occurs.

It is generally assumed that the impact of climate change for many bird species, including robins, will be to change the birds’ range. They may, for example, appear farther north earlier in the spring and the areas they inhabit in the southern part of the US may recede as the average temperatures continue to rise each decade. Some work a few years ago indicated that some western robins were migrating southward sooner in the Rocky Mountain regions as food became more available to them earlier each spring. But a 2004 study which analyzed fifty years of data about birds in North America found that unlike other bird species such as sparrows, the date the robins laid their eggs and the clutch sizes of the eggs did not really change significantly over the years included in the research.

I guess it is also important to realize that one year of observation does not constitute a trend. So even if the birds did do something unusual this year, it would not necessarily signal a massive change in the entire species’ behavior.

I like the robins, though, and I am glad to see them, even if they don’t have a really strong connection to the beginning of spring. As I stand outside picking away at the ice fossils on the edges of my garden, I like hearing their song mix with the flute-ish call of the blue jays, and the busy chatter of the chickadees that are searching for nesting spots. I think I’ve learned to train my ear to hear those things over and above the noise of sirens, beltway traffic, and helicopters. And maybe that’s why everyone else is so focused on the robins around here, too -- they’re familiar, and easy to remember. Their ability to pull out the worms when the ground warms is reassuring no matter when you witness it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why Doesn't My Mason Bee House Work?

I have many garden success stories, but one great failure so far. I cannot seem to get the Orchard Mason Bees to live in my bee house.

I’ve tried for two years in a row without any luck. I bought the little plastic tube from one of the garden supply companies and hung it on the fence. It is filled with paper straws that are supposed to be really attractive to these fantastic little pollinators, but for two years I got nuthin’. Meanwhile, I’ve seen the mason bees in my yard, and been told by friends at the Nature Centers that they get bees no problem in the same kinds of set-ups.

I read the MD DNR website about the topic, and I think I know why the bees haven’t taken up residence with me. The home we have for them lacks an over hang or eave. I think if I build one or find one with a roof, I’ll be ready. Ideally, you should be able to tuck the whole thing under a porch awning or something. Too bad I don’t have one that will do.

I guess I can’t really call the lack of nesting bees a failure, really. My garden is home to hundreds of pollinating insects, including many species of bees. I find some nesting in many places around the house. Last year we had one tiny little one that nested in the brick wall, in a hole once occupied by a nail or screw. That little one may have even been an mason bee.

But I’d love a whole horde of them going in and out of one large home. So wish me luck. Maybe I can find a really nice house for sale. Maybe I'll get ambitious and make one.

I need to get busy on this project NOW, though, as my friend Christine reminded me this afternoon. Her bees already busy nesting in the box that she and her son built last year. I’m pretty sure that after this week the chances of getting them to successfully nest will not be so great.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Come on Spring. We've waited long enough.

If the sun doesn’t come out soon I feel as if I will go completely insane.

We have had, for about a week now, nothing but grey, dark skies and drizzle. Today they are predicting sun, with a few clouds in the afternoon. Let’s hope it actually happens. Let’s hope the sunny days the weather channel promised for the weekend really come true.

I told my kids: if the sun does come out, our garden is poised to explode into spring. Like a pop-up greeting card, I imagine that a little heat and a little light will cause the tiny shoots which are peeking out above the leaves and mulch to come completely to life.

We’ve got daffodils and tulip leaves shooting up. The shrubs are all showing buds. I can see the very beginning of my wild, native ginger, reaching its tough little stems across the side gardens under the side of the house. No leaves yet. It reminds me of a small elf waking up and stretching. No sign of my Virginia bluebells. Once they pop I know spring is here to stay. Fiddleheads of ferns are not yet showing either. I walk around the yard, checking each of the spots where I know spring ephemerals wait to ephermalize. Watched pots don't boil. Watched wildflowers sometimes surprise you, though.


Come on spring, come on. We’ve waited long enough.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Sign of Spring

The Voice newspapers of Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and Kensington are holding a "First Sign of Spring" contest. This is the same newspaper that has been home to my Sligo Naturalist column for the past decade. Here are the details:

"Sick of snow? Me too!Show Us The First Signs of Spring and Win a Prize!The Voice is holding a photo contest this month. We are looking for the first signs of spring in our local community. It is free to enter. Just send your high-resolution digital image to Please put “Voice Contest” in the subject line. In the body of the email, you must include your name, address, phone, email, and age (if you are under 18). The deadline is Friday, March 26.We will have an adult and a youth category. Winners will get Voice t-shirts, Washington Gardener Magazine subscriptions, and be published in the April issue of The Voice.Please spread the word."

Stormwater Workshop and Panel Discussion

I don't really know much about Bethesda Green, although I have the usual cross county reaction whenever I hear about it... why not Silver Spring GREEN? (It even rhymes!)

But regardless I like the idea of a group working towards greening an entire section of the county, no matter which section it focuses its work upon.

I got this email from them a few days ago. This workshop looks good. I really really liked Dan Kulpinski's article in the ANS magazine, as mentioned below. I'm especially looking forward to hearing what he will say.

Storm Water Solutions Panel
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 7:00 -- 9:00 PM
Bethesda Green, 4825 Cordell Avenue, Second Floor

Learn about storm water management issues and what you can do to improve
conditions in our local watershed.

Panelists include:

-- Dan Kulpinski, author of "To Revive Urban Streams, Think Small,"
cover story in the Winter 2010 issue of Audubon Naturalist News. Dan is
an active volunteer with Bethesda Green and publisher of

-- Steve Dryden, co-chair of, is a self-described
"guerrilla gardener" who spearheaded building a rain garden to divert
harmful runoff from Cabin John Creek.

-- Ann English, with Montgomery County's RainScapes Program, which
provides incentives to property owners to build and maintain source
control stormwater management on their properties.

-- Donna Evans, a Landscape Designer with American Plant and LEED Green
Associate who designs rain gardens as part of her transition from
"garden therapist" to environmentalist.

-- Peter Ensign, LEED AP, Executive Director with DC Greenworks and a
former Bethesda Green Board member, will moderate the panel discussion.