Giving thanks for the Arboretum team!

What a wonderful time of year when we take a moment to reflect and be thankful for all the blessings we have received. Blessings are around us, but we may have to look a little harder to find them lately.

At Dyck Arboretum of the Plains, we’re thankful for you! We are so grateful that you walk right alongside us with your interest, time, talent and support. You may not be in the building with us, but your partnership with our mission means so much. We couldn’t do what we do without your support and encouragement. Thank You! 

I would also like to express my thanks to the adaptive and talented staff of the Arboretum for their many sacrifices this past 18 months. Each of them did yeoman’s work. 

Dyck Arboretum staff visiting Botanica during our summer staff retreat day

Brad Guhr: Education Coordinator/ Prairie Restoration / Prairie Window Concert Series Coordinator

I appreciate Brad’s interest in prairie education. Through his work with the Earth Partnership for Schools program, over 290 teachers and 50,000 students have been introduced to the beauty of the prairie landscape. These students are the next generation of stewards and conservation enthusiasts. 

He also has a passion for good music and I totally trust his work with the concert series. He has a knack for picking the right performers for each season. 

I also appreciate his willingness to serve wherever needed. We all wear many hats and he is always asking what needs to be done. He is also our spreadsheet guru. 

Thanks Brad!

Brad on the far right with an Earth Partnership for Schools cohort

Janelle Flory Schrock: Public Engagement Coordinator / Office / Rentals

Janelle works in a setting where there are constant distractions. She is pulled in so many different directions each day between phone calls, walk-ins, and other interruptions, it’s difficult to focus on just one thing at a time. In spite of all the chaos, she manages to somehow keep things moving forward. I appreciate her willingness and ability to work through these challenges. I am sure there are days she wonders what got done, but it does.         

She does a great job managing our website and social media spaces. She makes me sound more eloquent than I really am by reviewing blog my posts. In addition she manages memberships, contributions, rentals, and gift shop, as well as our plant sale and ticket sales, even though bookkeeping is not her favorite thing. 

And yes, I appreciate her ideas and creativity, even though she doesn’t get to show this side as much with all the other things she does. I know she is underappreciated, but she is so vital to our organization. 

Thanks Janelle!

Janelle helping with the new sidewalk edge planting

Katie Schmidt: Grounds Manager / Horticulturist   

Katie was hired to take care of the grounds, but she has taken on so many different roles. She manages the plant sales, give presentations, drafts landscape designs, and manages students and volunteers. I appreciate Katie’s can do attitude. If something needs to get done, she figures out a way to make it happen.

I believe she would say that she is not always a people person, but people gravitate to her. Her creativity and passion for what she does is infectious. Volunteers love working for her.   

I appreciate the care in which she manages the Arboretum grounds. It is not easy taming the prairie and not letting it get too out of control. There is a fine line between wild and too wild. She has a great eye for plant selection and design. 

Thanks Katie!

Katie sharing her passion for plants with the Plant of the Day feature on Instagram

       When you see these hard working folks at the Arboretum, please express your gratitude to them. They deserve it.

Predator Profile: Eastern Screech Owl

The wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees at Dyck Arboretum have mostly slipped into dormancy here in mid November and the activity of insects they support has greatly diminished. As a result, I often turn my attention this time of the year to wildlife. This week I am focused on the eastern screech owl (Megascops asio).

The attention to this species started when colleague Katie Schmidt recently alerted me to a head poking out of a wood duck box installed along our west border this spring by member Woody Miller.

Eastern screech owl in a wood duck box at Dyck Arboretum last week, photo by Gerald Leinbach

Species Description

According to Kansas birding experts Bob Gress and Pete Janzen from their book The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots, this small species (8″ tall and with a wingspan of 20″) is typically found in wooded habitat and is common in urban areas throughout Kansas.

Eastern screech owl, photo by Bob Gress. Check out all the great images of eastern screech owls at Birds in Focus by Bob Gress, Judd Patterson, and David Seibel
Eastern screech owl range map from TheCornellLab All About Birds species profile page

Trees are essential habitat for eastern screech owls where they roost/nest in cavities and cache extra food when plentiful. Woodpecker holes, spaces of wood rot, abandoned squirrel cavities, and boxes built for purple martins or wood ducks all make for suitable abodes for the eastern screech owl. They prefer an open understory and will also make use of open parkland, farms, and suburban areas as hunting grounds.

Behavior

Eastern screech owls will nest once each year and lay two to six 1.3-1.4″ long white eggs. In Kansas, they nest in spring. The incubation period takes 26 days with the female sitting on the nest while the male hunts and the young will fledge roughly a month after hatching. The young depend on their parents for food and learning hunting tactics for roughly 8-10 weeks after fledging.

Preferred Diet

Their diet includes just about any small animal including rodents, birds, frogs, lizards and even smaller prey such as insects, earthworms, crayfish and tadpoles. I even spotted one early on a summer night in my backyard waiting on a tree branch and intently watching my bat house 10 feet away, which was squeaky with big brown bat activity before a night of hunting.

Eastern screech owl just outside my parent in-laws’ back door (red morph). According to Gress and Janzen, only about 10% of the eastern screech owls in Kansas are red

Attracting Eastern Screech Owls to Your Landscape

As with any segment of wildlife, you will greatly increase your chances of attracting eastern screech owls to live near you if you provide food, water, shelter, and nesting sites. Having trees with cavities will certainly help your case and putting up a nesting box certainly won’t hurt either. Then, as we promote with so many of our posts, create as much diverse native plant habitat as possible. This habitat will attract the insects, small mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles that owls love to eat.

With these kinds of conditions as attractive habitat, you may very soon hear the shrill, descending whinny call of the eastern screech owl.

References: The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots by Bob Gress and Pete Janzen and the Eastern Screech Owl species page, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds.

Five Book Recommendations for the Kansas Prairie Gardener

Learning to identify wildflowers is a rewarding pastime that can greatly increase one’s appreciation of the world of nature. Identifying plants in their natural setting can also inform our decisions on what and how to plant many of these wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs in our own yards.  Identification is made easier with the aid of a good wildflower guide especially if you are going old school without a phone. These books usually include photographs, drawings, written descriptions, and information on the plant’s ecology and distribution. 

The Arboretum staff is occasionally asked to recommend books on plants and animals. Most of the time we use our phones and search the internet for the information. However, there is something tactile about holding a field guide in your hand and working through the identification process. There are a number of good general guides, the following are particularly helpful in Kansas. 

Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas

A field guide by Michael John Haddock.  Flowers grouped by color of bloom.

Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds

by Michael John Haddock, Craig C. Freeman, and Janet E. Bare.  This book is very scientific but thorough. If you find a plant you can’t identify, look here.

Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines in Kansas Revised and Expanded Edition

by Michael John Haddock and Craig C. Freeman.  I love this book and use it often.  It has the county the plants are found in Kansas.

Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas

by Iralee Barnhard.  It has great color pictures and descriptions.

     

The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots

by Bob Gress and Pete Janzen.  Color pictures, field identification and other valuable information. 

Pocket Guides from the Great Plains Nature Center*

Kansas Snakes, Common Kansas Butterflies, Great Plains Waterbirds, Kansas Raptors, Kansas Red Hills Wildflowers, Kansas Flint Hills Wildflowers and Grasses, Common Kansas Backyard Birds, and Great Plains Shorebirds, Common Kansas Mushrooms, Kansas Amphibians, Turtles and Lizards, Kansas Land Snails, Kansas Mammals, Kansas Freshwater Mussels, Kansas Stream Fishes, Common Kansas Spiders, and Kansas Threatened and Endangered Species.

*Single copies of the GPNC Pocket Guides may be picked up free at the Great Plains Nature Center.  All GPNC Pocket Guides may be downloaded in pdf format from GPNC.org.  Copies can be mailed for $3.00 each by sending a check payable to the FGPNC, to: Pocket Guides, Great Plains Nature Center, 6232 East 29th St. N, Wichita, KS 67220. 

I know technology has changed so much of how we identify the world around us, but quite often, I still use these guides and books rather than my phone. In the absence of a guide I will take a picture with my phone, note the location and site conditions so I can look it up the next day in the office. Nature is a good teacher and I use the things I learn from the field in so many different ways. I am often amazed at the beauty of what I have found, but also the resiliency that it takes to survive where it is growing. Understanding leads to appreciation and appreciation leads to conservation and stewardship.       

These wildflower guides are available online and some can be purchased at our gift shop during the holidays.

Calling it Cuts: Tree Care

If you have been walking at the Arboretum lately you may have noticed some bare spots. Some big bare spots. We have been cutting down dead trees and clearing brush. It can be sad to say goodbye to something that has been a part of our landscape for so many years; casting shade, catching wind, housing birds. But there are lots of great reasons to break out the chainsaw and cut. Not sure when the time is right for tree care? Here are some guidelines.

Safety first! Make sure you are using proper eye and ear protection before you embark on your tree felling adventures.
And don’t go it alone if you can help it — enlist help from family and friends to be spotters and extra hands in case things get dicey.

Disease

A tree harboring disease has got to go. Weather it is in an Arboretum or a neighborhood, diseased trees can sometimes spread their illnesses and cause a lot of damage. Be they mites, fungus, or viral pathogens, keep an eye out for health problems. Certain diseases, like pine wilt, that are spread by nematodes or beetles require the burning of affected wood to prohibit the spread of the disease to other trees. Be kind to your neighbors and dispose of wood properly to avoid contagion.

This pine was slowly dying, and was finally cut down to make room from a row of bald cypress in this area. A naturally wet and clayey spot, they should preform much better here than pines.

Crowding

A good tree in a bad place is not a good tree at all. We have lots of volunteer trees around the Arboretum thanks to a healthy squirrel population. But not all these saplings live to see old age. We cut truckloads of volunteer trees, even desirable oak and maple species, if they aren’t in the right location. Our goal here at the Arb is to create a naturalistic, not exactly ‘natural’ environment. This means curating and editing where trees are allowed to grow, and what species we want to showcase. Because our prairie biome depends on fire and grazing to keep woody species at bay, any area not exposed to those controls turns into an unmanageable forest pretty quick! In your own yard, choose carefully the species and placement of the trees you allow to sprout, and get rid of the rest. This will not only create a more aesthetically pleasing affect, it also allows you to eliminate non-native or invasive species.

This beautiful burr oak was 6 inches around and 12 feet tall, but had grown up in an inconvenient area too close to our other mature trees. It can be painful to cut down a specimen like this, but it is necessary to create well-spaced plantings.

Damage, Age, and Safety

We all get old. And certain tree species don’t age gracefully. From ice storm damage to weak wood, geriatric trees pose a special maintenance dilemma. How to preserve the healthy part of the tree, the shape, and the form, but cut out the dead? I am a lassiez-faire arborist, meaning I prefer to leave a bit of dead wood whenever possible. If the limb is not diseased and does not pose a hazard to nearby trees, why not leave it as habitat? Cavity nesting birds need dead wood to make their nests out of, and insects make their home in there, becoming food for hungry woodpeckers and chickadees. However, if limbs are dangling precariously or pose a safety hazard near structures or walkways, it must be cut immediately.