Welcome! This blog is inspired by the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve in Gardena, California.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Summer Pollinators and Butterflies

Surveying pollinators on native plants - Mother Nature's Backyard

It’s summer and the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve is literally buzzing with activity.  Butterflies and other pollinators are busily making nests, collecting food and setting up housekeeping.   Now is one of the best  times to visit the Preserve.  Whole families can participate in the interesting activities that take place this time of year.

Pollinators are butterflies, bees, flies and other creatures that pollinate the flowers of fruits, vegetables and other foods.  These plants can’t produce if they aren’t pollinated.    In fact, about 80% of all flowers require living pollinators; without them our lives would be less colorful, less fragrant – and hungrier.   We owe our pollinators a huge debt of gratitude.  

Recent visitors to Mother Nature’s Backyard garden (located in the Preserve) were amazed at the number of hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects visiting the flowers.   No wonder the garden and Preserve produce lots of native fruits and seeds!   The staff of Mother Nature’s Backyard can help you make your own home garden more productive by attracting native pollinators.   Just ask for suggestions.

On a recent Sunday, teams of ‘citizen scientists’ surveyed the pollinators visiting several native plants. Their results will be compiled to give us a better idea of important pollinators in local gardens.  Anyone who visits the garden from now through October can participate in the survey; just ask for a survey clipboard at the garden.    You can also take the survey at home (see http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2013/06/citizen-scientist-2013-mother-natures.html for details).

July is ‘Butterfly Celebration Month’ at the Preserve.  A great way to experience local butterflies is to take a butterfly walk with Tracy Drake (Manager/Naturalist, Madrona Marsh).   Ms. Drake will lead a butterfly walk on July 14th at 1:00 p.m.   You’ll see butterflies in their natural surroundings.  You will also learn how to capture butterflies without hurting them and get to photograph them up close.  This is a great activity for families.   Visitors will receive a handout with colorful pictures of local butterflies and a brochure on home butterfly gardens.

Learn more about pollinators at:


Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Season of Flowers

Enjoying wildflowers in Mother Nature's Backyard garden

Spring and early summer is the season of flowers in Southern California.  Nature preserves, wild lands and even native plant gardens often look their best this time of year.   Consider scheduling a visit to the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve in the next few months.  You’ll be glad you did!

The main wildflower show begins in March with the earliest wildflowers.  The annual wildflowers are at their peak in April and May, providing a riot of color from yellow and orange to pink, red and blue.  Mother Nature’s Backyard is awash with color now.   Place of honor goes to our California state flower, the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), which is blooming in several areas of the Preserve.

In May, the annual wildflowers are gradually replaced by the native Sages (Salvia) species.  Their purple, pink and white flowers – and spicy aroma – are worth a visit to the ‘Coastal Sage Scrub’ area on the South side of the Preserve.  Be sure to watch for hummingbirds and butterflies that are attracted to the flowers.   

In late May and June the Salvias are joined by the native Buckwheats (Eriogonum species).   With their masses of pink flowers, the Buckwheats are visited by many species of butterflies and native pollinator insects.    Plan a trip to the Preserve and Garden before the flower show is over for the year.    Be sure to bring your camera or sketchpad to capture the spring beauty.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Native Honeysuckles for Natural Fences

The path leading into the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve features panoramic views of a seasonal stream that has fed the wetlands for hundreds of years.  Recently a group of local Girl Scouts from troop 5965 in Redondo Beach cleared the area to the north of the path and planted some local native honeysuckles.  These vines will soon cover the fence, providing a living green wall as visitors enter the Preserve.

Honeysuckles are woody vines or groundcovers.  While honeysuckles from Asia can be hard to contain, California native honeysuckles have all the advantages of honeysuckles without the invasive qualities.   Two native Honeysuckles once grew abundantly on the Southern Channel Islands and in canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  These two – the Purple Honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) and Southern or Santa Barbara Honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata) – are what the Girl Scouts planted along the entry path.

Honeysuckles are really sprawlers.  They climb up fences, trellises or other supports with a little encouragement.  In nature they clamber over other shrubs and trees.   They will also spread out on the ground and make an easy-care groundcover.   Honeysuckles have pretty fragrant flowers that produce abundant nectar.  That’s what attracts the hummingbirds (the main Honeysuckle pollinators) as well as the larger butterflies.  Children also like to sip the sweet nectar from the bottom of the flower!

Our local Honeysuckles have either cream-colored or pink-purple blooms depending on the species.  The plants bloom in spring, usually between April and June.   After that, the plants produce berries that turn bright yellow or red in late summer and fall.   While the berries are edible they are not very tasty; they are best left for the birds who enjoy them as a fall treat.    Small birds sometimes even nest in a mature  vine, so the new Honeysuckle wall should attract many types of birds and butterflies.

In nature, native Honeysuckles often grow in canyons where they get some afternoon shade.   The Preserve’s entry area provides similar conditions.   Once established, native Honeysuckles are very drought tolerant.  Volunteers will give the ‘Honeysuckle Wall’ occasional summer water to keep it green and lush.   They will also train the vines to climb the fence for the first year or two until the wall is established. 

Be sure to notice the ‘Honeysuckle Wall’ the next time you visit the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve.  The plants are small now, but next year you’ll marvel at the flowers, the fragrance and the wildlife they attract.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Troubles with Trash

The Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve shares a problem with other urban preserves and parks – trash.   Whether it blows in on the wind, is tossed over the fence or washes in with street water run-off, the end result is the same; either the trash is removed by volunteers or it ends up in the ocean.   Neither option is pretty.
The best long-term solution is to prevent trash from entering the wetland.  To this end, The Friends of the Preserve installed trash barriers along the streets bordering the Preserve. This low tech solution decreased the amount of blown-in trash.   But paper, cans and bottles still wash into the Preserve with every rain storm.    Much of this ends up in wetland areas that are difficult to access for cleanup.  

Some of the biggest problem areas are near the drainage pipes that release street water run-off directly into the Preserve. The plastic bags and other materials destroy peaceful views and are a hazard to ducks and other wildlife.   That’s why trash removal is an on-going part of Preserve maintenance.
Picking up trash in a wetland is not glamorous work.   It requires patience, good balance and a high tolerance for wet feet.   In January, a group of community volunteers (including students from the Gardena High School Interact Club) tried a new approach.  First they removed trash brought in by a recent rainstorm (see above).  And then they installed a fence-weir to trap trash and prevent it from entering the wetlands. 

The fence-weir is constructed of plastic coated welded-wire fencing material held in place by steel fence posts.  It  was installed in an area near new Hampshire Street – an area with significant street-water run-off.       Friends Board Member Kelley Dawdy worked with students determine placement of the fence-weir.    After pounding in the fence posts, students attached the fencing.    The result was a trash collecting fence that blends into the landscape except when filled with trash. 
A recent rainstorm tested the new fence-weir.   In short, it works.  The weir collected trash that might otherwise have polluted the Preserve and the ocean.   Now we just have to collect the trash from the weir and that’s a real improvement.  But the ultimate solution lies with all of us who live, work and enjoy the Gardena area.   It’s up to us to prevent trash from traveling down the storm drains and into our jewel of a Preserve.

February 11, 2013                    Constance M. Vadheim (Friends of Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Christmas Bird Count

On a rainy morning just before Christmas three women entered the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve, their binoculars, clipboards and cameras ready for action.  Tracy Drake, Heather Williamson and Connie Vadheim were participating in a December tradition that dates back over one hundred years: the Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count.
 Each year since 1900,  tens of thousands  of volunteers from the Northern arctic to South America brave the cold, rain and snow to census local birds.   Working with local scientists and naturalists like Ms. Drake (Manager/Naturalist at the Madrona Marsh Preserve and Nature Center), local birders and citizen scientists canvas the number of species and individual birds in over 2000 count areas .    The counts are done each year between December 14th and January 5th. 
The date for our local Palos Verdes/South Bay Circle was December 23rd this year.  Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. More than 60 volunteers visited over 50 sites all over the South Bay this year. The count is not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.  The results are tallied at the end of the day and submitted to the national bird count database.

Good ears, sharp eyes and excellent observation skills are required for the Christmas Bird Count.  That’s why volunteers are trained before they get to participate.  The count team records all the birds it sees, as well as those it hears.  If possible, the team also photographs unusual or rare birds that it encounters.  The Gardena team did all three; it quickly became obvious why a team approach is required.
American Crows and Mourning Doves flew over as the team entered the Gardena Willows Preserve.   A large flock of tiny birds (Bushtits) flitted through the trees, foraging for insects.  The team recorded a total of 64 Bushtits during their hour and a half survey, the most common species seen that morning.   Other insect-eating birds, including five species of Warblers, were busy feeding in the Willow and Cottonwood trees.   These large trees provide an important food source for insects and for the birds that feed on them.  

 A White-tailed Kite – a new raptor for the Preserve – circled above and landed on a nearby Willow branch.  The team paused and photographed this rare treat.  White-tailed Kites were almost hunted to extinction in California in the 1930’s.   They are slowly returning to our area – thanks in part local nature preserves and open areas.
Hummingbirds were busy feeding and gathering nesting materials throughout the Preserve.  A small group of Cedar Waxwings were gobbling down a preferred food – Toyon berries.   On the ground,  several Hermit Thrushes and California Towhees rustled in the leaves, searching for ground-dwelling insects.  The team did not see these elusive birds, but their distinctive call allowed Ms. Drake to identify them.  

In total, the team identified 30 species and over 275 individual birds in the Gardena Willows wetland Preserve and surrounding Johnson Park.    The count from the Gardena Site helped make the Palos Verdes/South Bay Circle one of the top 40 sites in the United States in terms of bird species and individual birds seen. 
According to the CBC Website, ‘the results of Christmas Bird Counts provide a powerful picture of our world over time.   Using data from over 40 years of Christmas Bird Counts, Audubon scientists learned that nearly 60% of birds that winter in North America have shifted their winter ranges northward over the past 40 years.  This is important evidence that our winters are getting warmer.’ 
The Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve continues to play a role in providing key data about our changing planet.  You can see results of previous bird and butterfly counts at  http://www.gardenawillows.org/ and learn more about the Christmas Bird Count at: http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count .

--posted by Constance M. Vadheim, Board Member, Friends of Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve