Gardening for Nature at the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary
By Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director The Wetlands Institute
The Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary is an island refuge in a sea of development. It is a remarkable place where a short stroll can transport you to another place and time. The Egret Espy trail meanders through the ancient maritime forest, providing cool shade, wild sculptured trees and the sounds of a hidden paradise. Teeming with life, the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary is aptly named – it is a sanctuary for people as well as wildlife. Migratory and resident birds are frantically feeding in the canopy and forest floor, or are busy building nests. The marsh and wetlands are alive with the calls of frogs and toads. Turtles are meandering through the woods at their own leisurely pace. Moths, butterflies, and dragonflies are just arriving in the sanctuary or are just hatching or metamorphosing. Some are settled into their homes at the sanctuary, while others are only here for a few weeks in May and early June resting and refueling on their journeys to nesting grounds further north. An array of nesting songbirds is in residence already and a stroll down the Egret Espy path is sure to bring you face to face with them – after all you are visiting their living room!
The gardens at the Sanctuary have been carefully designed to provide an array of services for the resident and migratory critters that use this refuge. Sanctuary gardens were designed and created initially as part of the sanctuary restoration project undertaken by the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary Committee and the Borough of Stone Harbor. Since then, some of the gardens have needed updating and maintenance. Beginning last spring, the Sanctuary Committee, Wetlands Institute, and Borough set upon a course to revitalize and renovate the gardens. We started with the gardens around the Egret Espy path on 2nd ave. In spring of 2015, we focused efforts on the gardens around the pump house on 3rd ave. In May of 2016, we finished the gardens around the pump house and elsewhere on 3rd ave and also completed beds on 2nd ave near the Holly Path entrance. We also started to plant milkweed in the meadow next to the Egret Espy trail.
The overarching plan for the Sanctuary gardens is to restore the gardens using only native plants that, once established, will require little to no watering. The plant selections and garden composition place an emphasis on providing critical needs to songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and pollinators. For butterflies, the plant selections provide for the spectrum of their needs from host plants for caterpillars to eat, to nectar sources for feeding adults throughout the summer. A special emphasis has been placed on nectar availability for Monarch butterflies that migrate through Stone Harbor from August to October each year.
Many of you delight in the annual migration of the Monarchs. Their remarkable journey from Mexico each spring takes 3 generations to complete, but their return migration is done by one individual that flies from the northern US and southern Canada all the way to the mountains of Mexico. Monarch populations are in serious decline. A host of factors are impacting their numbers and range from drought reducing food availability on their migrations, to impacts from the prevalence of Round-up Ready crops in vast areas of the Midwest that are resulting in a loss of the milkweed plants on roadside edges that are critical refueling and feeding stations. The gardens at the Sanctuary have been carefully designed to provide these critical resources to both resident and migratory Monarch populations.
Pollinators – think bees of all types – are in serious decline and desperately need some help. A combination of genetically modified plants with built in insecticides to the extensive use of pesticides, to climate change, and disease – are all taking their toll. The result is a significant decline in pollinators –
especially the honey bee. Pollinators are the silent heroes among us. Their role pollinating plants – especially food crops is critical. Recent research has shown that neurotoxic pesticides called neonicotinoids are being found in many leading garden centers in plants that have been pre-treated with the poisons. This poising is causing serious declines in bee populations.
Providing native plants that bloom throughout the season contributes to the well-being of our native bees. Making sure those plants have not been treated with these chemicals is also critical. The plants used in the Sanctuary plantings have been specifically selected to be free from these pesticides. When you pass a sanctuary garden with flowers covered by bees – a fist pump of joy should be the response!
The Public Works Department of the Borough has been hard at work supporting the garden revitalization efforts. They have done the heavy work of clearing out infested beds, and preparing several of the garden beds for replanting by volunteers. Their extensive work cleared invasive plants from the gardens, reset irrigation drip lines, and brought in new soil. In May of 2015, volunteers helped plant more than 200 plants in the three gardens around the pump house on 3rd avenue. In May of 2016, volunteers helped plant more than 320 plants in the 6 additional beds revitalized this year. The gardens include 25 different species of native perennials and 5 different shrubs. The gardens were designed by The Wetlands Institute to include a range of colors, textures, plant habit and bloom times, as well as the critical balance of wildlife usage. A map of the gardens, the plants utilized and information on the plants is available online on the Sanctuary website (stoneharborbirdsanctuary.com).
The gardens are coming back to life and have something of interest almost all year round. A walk around the Sanctuary and self-guided tour of the gardens provides visitors with information about creating important wildlife feeding stations in their own yards and an opportunity to enjoy the wildlife that benefit from the Sanctuary.