Bewick’s wren

blue flames question mark

Why, Oh Why? #1, Parking Lots

Some things I notice in daily life make me think, say and wonder, “Why, oh why?” Are there good reasons for these irritating phenomena? If so, perhaps someone could point them out.

First up, parking lot design.

Maybe it’s just the city I call home, but I’ve noticed a couple of things about local parking lots that never fail to bug me.

Running the Gauntlet. Why, oh why do the people who design parking lots for shopping malls or plazas insist on running all the vehicle traffic right past the mall and store entrances? Everyone has to cross that road to get from car to shops, which frustrates drivers and endangers pedestrians. Could it possibly be that the pedestrians are seen as traffic-calming devices?

The logical place for car access to parking spots is around the outer perimeter of the lot. Moving vehicles would be directed away from the places where all the customers are headed. Bollards or other devices would separate the vehicle parking area from the pedestrian zone running along the shop fronts or mall entrance. All drivers would approach parking spots from the far edge of the lot. Those who need to park close to the stores would still be able to drive to the nearest vacant spot. Handicapped parking spots would be located where they are now. But no one would have to worry about getting mowed down in their final approach to Canadian Tire, the bank, or the grocery store.

The Landscaped Lot, known by me as the Parking Lot From Hell. Here, the rows of parking stalls are separated by narrow strips containing plants — small trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses. I have two problems with this.  First, the space taken up by the landscaping makes it harder than necessary to maneuver one’s vehicle without risking collisions and close calls. Teeth are gritted on arrival and departure, and many trips to one of these mazes are challenging. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more fender-benders in landscaped lots than wide-open ones.

Second, the plants deteriorate. When newly installed, they look attractive, but inevitably, many of them decline and die, going from spiffy to sad, despite routine watering and maintenance (which is not always provided). Narrow beds in expanses of asphalt and concrete can’t be called ideal environments for most trees, shrubs and perennials. Shoppers intent on spending and acquisition tromp heedlessly through them. No one appreciates these plants, especially once they start to look scruffy and battered. What’s the point? It’s a parking lot, not a park.

Old-fashioned parking lots that are just expanses of asphalt with lines painted on it work much better for the intended purpose — parking. Yes, they look butt-ugly and prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground. To mitigate this, parking lot designers could develop durable yet water-permeable surfaces. That would be more effective than the pathetic plantings. Swales and rain gardens around the edges of lots or along pedestrian walkways may also help.

This is the first in what may become a series of posts. Hopefully not a long series. Muttering “Why, oh why?” is not the best way to spend one’s energy.

Here are a couple of pictures that have absolutely nothing to do with parking lots.

 

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Lewisia flowers

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Bewick’s wren on ornamental wooden egg.

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Free Lunch!

Since December, this usually balmy part of the world has been experiencing spasms of cold weather — cold and windy, cold and frosty, even a bit snowy. Being at home during the day now, I’ve been observing bird activity on the premises. I’m not a “birder,” but I can’t help but notice the birds that hang around the place, and what they’re up to. Given the weather, I decided to provide some sustenance for the little dudes.

After a bit of internet research, I supplied the following: black oil sunflower seeds in a hanging tube-shaped feeder with little perches, a block of suet with embedded seeds of some sort, white millet seeds scattered on the ground and a hummingbird feeder with a correctly prepared sugar solution. (Before anyone objects to this as out of season, I’ll just point out that Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents here). The hummingbird feeder is close to a kitchen window.

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Anna’s hummingbird

 

Observations so far: even though black-oil sunflower seeds are recommended as suitable  for a large variety of birds, the only ones I’ve seen partaking of them here have been chestnut-backed chickadees, who show up now and then. I figure I have enough sunflower seeds for the next 20 years.

The suet is preferred by gangs of bushtits and a couple of Bewick’s wrens, as well as some sort of tiny, yellowish green bird I haven’t managed to identify. I’m especially fond of Bewick’s wrens, because of the pair that nested in a shoe on the back porch a couple of summers ago.

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Towhee and junco

 

Seeds on the ground, which may include spills from the hanging feeder, and suet crumbs, are popular with juncos (winter residents here) and what may be golden-crowned sparrows, as well as a solitary towhee. Strangely, the resident house sparrows don’t bother with any of this largesse. I have no idea where they get their food.

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Male hummingbird?

Hummingbirds have started visiting their feeder. I’ve noticed one hanging out in the apple tree and coming over to sip the sugar solution at intervals. I’ve also seen him chasing another bird away, which I gather is typical of hummingbirds. Later, what appears to be a different bird turned up — possibly a female?

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Female hummingbird?

All this is rewarding for everyone concerned, a win-win, but there is some responsibility involved on my part: replenishment of feed when needed, and cleaning of feeders to prevent fungi and other nasties. At night I haul the clothesline from which the seed tube and suet are suspended close to the house, to keep everything out of any rain or snow. Then there’s fretting about the temperature at which the sugar solution might freeze… Always something to figure out and “manage.”

 

 

 

The Garden in Early Summer, and Life in the Shoe

Technically, summer is just beginning, but after a warm, dry spring it feels more like late July than June. Happily, the seediness of mid-late summer has not yet set in.

The area near the pond looks deceptively lush. I’m delighted that the calla lily bloomed quite well this year.

Calla lily by the pond

Calla lily by the pond

The rosebuds I noted a few weeks ago have burst into bloom, with more to come.

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The rather feeble potted rose “Fragrant Cloud,” grown from a cutting (and thus on its own roots, not grafted) managed to produce three luscious blooms. Here are two of them.

Rose "Fragrant Cloud"

Rose “Fragrant Cloud”

 

More "Fragrant Cloud"

More “Fragrant Cloud”

The mulleins are getting into their rather lengthy season of bloom, lighting up the garden like yellow torches.

Mullein (Verbascum chaixii)

Mullein (Verbascum chaixii)

Big mullein (Verbascum olympicum)

Big mullein (Verbascum olympicum)

With almost no rain since April, and the hottest weeks of the summer soon to come, this may be as good as it gets…

The back garden in full bloom

The back garden in full bloom

Note all the campion (Lychnis coronaria), mostly white but some magenta. The ideal way to treat these plants is to remove each spent flower individually — an impossible task with this many plants. They seed extravagantly, which is why there are so many.

Remember the Shoe Bird? The shoe is now full of little Bewick’s wrens, with the parents busily bringing in bugs and removing waste. I wish I had a picture of this activity, but they come and go so fast they’re gone by the time I pick up the camera. It was easier during the incubation period.

Bewick's wren on nest in shoe

Bewick’s wren on nest in shoe

What with the wren family, a gang of sparrows in the garage birdhouse, and raccoons methodically flipping rocks over at night, the garden is full of life.

 

 

The Shoe Bird

Birds nest in various spots in my garden. House sparrows, of course — last year they moved into a long-disused birdhouse attached to the garage, and have been very busy producing more sparrows. I have found three bushtit nests in recent years. The latest one was in a ceanothus right next to the front walk. Sadly, something (probably a crow) yanked it out recently. I found the nest (a small work of art made of lichens, spider silk, dryer lint, grasses and feathers) lying on the street, under a power line where the crow probably took and dropped it. I hope the nest was unoccupied at the time.

And now we have the Shoe Bird! My preferred footwear in the garden is a pair of Duck Shoes — cheap rubber shoes that slip on and off easily. Until the advent of Nelly the Newf, I used to kick them off on the back porch, but since Nelly likes to chew shoes, I resorted to parking the duck shoes on a beam that holds up the porch roof.

A couple of weeks ago, I found an amazing lot of plant material (dried moss and grass) stuffed into both shoes. Since I’d worn them the day before, I was quite surprised. The creature responsible turned out to be a Bewick’s wren. Once I observed it stuffing the shoes, I removed the current ones and put them inside, replacing them with a worn out pair I hadn’t gotten around to disposing of. I made sure to put all the nest material into the replacement shoes. The bird didn’t seem to notice, just got on with nest-building.

I have no idea whether it’s intending to hatch out a brood of tiny wrens in the shoe. Wikipedia says Bewick’s wren males sometimes build “dummy nests,” hoping to attract females to take over and finish the job. (Hmm. No comment; we’re talking about birds). Maybe that’s what’s going on here. I don’t know, but in the meantime, the bird is an interesting addition to the scene.

Shoe Bird 1

Shoe Bird 2

Shoe Bird 3

And, just because it’s so gorgeous, here is the second flower to bloom on clematis “Pink Fantasy.”

May 24, 2015