In this edition of Friday Film, British green roof expert Dusty Gedge takes us on a tour of this 12 year old green roof designed to replicate the brownfield sites of London. The roof is awash in colors of many wildflowers and is full of a variety of insects. Dusty narrates this visit and highlights the various plants while offering insight into green roof design and plant selection.
This past weekend I attended the Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds, Washington. Part of the schedule was a wildlife habitat demonstration garden as well as a tour of five backyard habitats. The demonstration garden was the first stop and has it’s own story which I will post separately about soon. This post will focus on the five very different backyard habitat gardens I visited.
Edmonds is a small town, just north of Seattle, which sits on the Puget Sound in Snohomish County and is probably the best known as the residence of travel host Rick Steves.
While the yards were all quite dramatically different, they each offered the essential habitat requirements of food, water, shelter and a place to raise young. Among the lessons that can be drawn from these gardens is how to balance an interest with habitat. In two cases the interest was horticultural, a collection of Japanese Maples in one yard while dahlias and cactus were a focus of another and in a third case chickens were integrated with the habitat. It was also fascinating to see how creatively each had solved problems and added their own personal touches.
It was very interesting to see these yards and how the owners had interpreted their landscape and surroundings and created their own habitat using their own design vision. It’s an excellent example of how very diverse habitat design can be when it’s adapted by different people with different needs and wants. This was really a lesson in how to take the textbook directions for creating habitat and make them work for the individual. As a result, each yard has a very definite personality.
Let’s take a look at each backyard habitat. More photos of all of the yards can be found on the Flickr page: Edmonds Backyard Wildlife Tour.
Seattle University sits on 48 acres in the middle of Seattle, a five minute walk east from the middle of downtown. It’s in between the First Hill and Capitol Hill neighborhoods and is surrounded by hospitals, medical centers, stores, restaurants and housing. The campus has had a long commitment to sustainability dating back to the 1980′s when the college hired Ciscoe Morris, who is now a local gardening expert and celebrity. Ciscoe ended pesticide use by releasing beneficial insects on the campus which was successful and in turn launched an entire pesticide-free program. The success of the landscaping program spilled over to other sustainable practices such as an award winning recycling program, also begun back in the 1980′s. More recently the campus has seen LEED certified building, Built Green building, a composting program, solar power, electric vehicles, and a multitude of other green practices.
In the landscape the campus has addressed stormwater management with a green roof installed in 1989 and a rain garden installed after several basements in buildings on campus flooded in 2006. The grounds have won several awards for their sustainable practices and in 1989 the campus was designated a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; then in 2007 the campus was certified as Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
Among the campus-wide wildlife habitat, there are several specialized gardens, several of which focus even further on habitat. Three of these gardens are the Rain Garden, Wildlife Garden and the Ciscoe Morris Biodiversity Garden, all of which I visited this week.
I’d often passed along the edge of Seattle University, but never actually stepped inside so it was a new experience once I finally did. I walked in at the main campus entrance on 12th Avenue and right away could get a glimpse at the essence of the campus. The long sidewalk is lined with a great number of plants such as heath, grasses and lavender, many of which were in full bloom. The landscape to one side has a rounded edge to the plant beds bordered by small areas of lawn, which contrasts nicely with the linear sidewalk plantings. From the entry I walked towards the new library which is currently under construction and by peaking through the fencing I saw a landscape that looks like it may be another stormwater management project.
These two courtyards are in my neighborhood in Seattle and present dramatically different landscapes. One is in the center of a U-shaped, tall building and faces north while the other is a short building with an L-shaped courtyard and opens NW. The first one has minimal trees, only small ones in the courtyard and entrance while the second has large trees that cast heavy shadows over much of the courtyard. The first is full of flowers, some native plants and some minimal structural plants of hedge-type plantings. It’s a really lovely space that most people may miss because it’s elevated from the street level. The second courtyard is also elevated, with a locked gate, but it’s not at all lovely. It seems very barren, with only a few varieties of plants, nothing of color and most the plants are heavily trimmed.
From a design perspective there’s no competition, the first courtyard is far more inviting, comfortable, colorful and nicer to walk into. The second courtyard is far from inviting, hard, and seems cold. From a habitat perspective, the results are much the same. The first courtyard has a lot of pollinating flowers with color, which invites in many bees and butterflies. The bright space also is welcoming to insects who need to warm themselves in the sun to become active. The amount of plantings, and lack of bare space provides cover for bees, butterflies or birds while at the same time providing a lot of space for insects (prey) as well. The second courtyard offers almost nothing for wildlife with the exception of the trees.
It would be a lot of fun to replant the second courtyard with better plants including flowers and native shrubs and groundcovers. Despite the shady areas of the courtyard, there’s enough sun to plant flowers and other sun-loving plants in select areas. There are also a number of shade tolerant plants native to the Pacific Northwest that provide different aspects of habitat from food to shelter. The hardscaping of the courtyard lend itself to a formal design, but a space can be formal and welcoming to wildlife as well, as the first courtyard demonstrates. With some more variety of plants, added color and a greater amount of plantings, the second courtyard could be quite welcoming for the buildings inhabitants as well as wildlife.
What started as an artists sketch four decades ago has now become a working product. In 1970 artist Robert Smithson, perhaps best known for his ‘Spiral Jetty’ earthwork, created a sketch showing a tugboat towing a vegetated island on a river and called it “Floating Island“. During his lifetime he was never able to see the idea realized, but in 2005 a team was able to create the island and it toured the shores of Manhattan. There’s a great multimedia feature from the NY Times about the construction of the piece. The islands 30′ by 90′ surface had ten trees, several large rocks, shrubs and turf over bales of hay and soil.
Artist Lynne Hull came up a similar idea titled ‘Bird Barge‘ but on a smaller scale and adding a habitat element to it. Her barges are designed to be a ‘floating wildlife sanctuary’ by providing somewhere for birds, amphibians or even an alligator to rest. They are designed with a variety of platform materials, vegetation ranging from shrubs to small trees, bat houses and sculptures designed to provide a variety of habitat needs for various species.
Floating islands have now even been used by scientists such as was the case with an island installed in Oregon as a joint project between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Real Time Research and Floating Island International. They created an island for nesting Caspian Terns at Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge as an attempt to redistribute the population of the tern colony nesting at the mouth of the Columbia River because of the impact they were having on Salmon populations. At Summer Lake they built two half acre floating islands constructed of recycled materials, “each of the 328 modules that comprise the island consisted of 200 lbs of polypropylene from recycled carpet and 125 lbs of polyester from recycled drinking bottles.”
Because the Terns prefer to nest on the ground, the islands were covered with a gravel substrate with large rocks for swimming birds to get onto the island. The project proved successful with terns nesting on the island in the first year and successfully rearing chicks.
Anaheim had similar success with their own floating island for Least Terns in a water storage basin next to the Santa Ana River. Not only the Least Terns are nesting, the island also has nesting Forster’s Terns, American Avocets, Black Skimmers and Geese.
Floating Island International is the company that built the islands for the Summer Lake project above and they have provided islands for a multitude of other applications including use in zoos and water treatment plants. While the company was started as a way to improve water quality, they do address habitat on their website and list some of the possibilities of it’s use such as for loon nesting.
One of the few examples of a small scale island I’ve seen was in the Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum in London. They had a number of different sizes and shapes, some with houses, others just with vegetation.
Unfortunately there’s not a lot of evidence that floating islands have been used to any extent for wildlife yet. The application for floating islands could have a huge range from small, local ponds to creeks, lakes and even large rivers. With so many of the rivers that run through cities lacking a natural bank, floating islands could provide a refuge for a variety of wildlife species from birds to dragonflies to turtles. In small ponds they could help with species at risk such as the Western Pond Turtle, by giving them somewhere to nest away from predators. In urban areas floating islands could give nesting and rest refuge to species away from domestic cats and even humans. Hopefully this is an idea that will catch on.
Floating Island:: Robert Smithson
It’s Not Easy Making Art That Floats:: The NY Times
Robert Smithson’s Floating Island Multimedia Feature:: The NY Times
Bird Barge:: Lynne Hull
Floating Island Constructed for Caspian Tern Nesting at Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge:: Bird Research Northwest
Floating island created for nesting birds in Anaheim:: The Orange County Register
Design and Management of Rafts (PDF):: RSPB
The Nighthawk is a bird that used to be abundant throughout the US but has been in decline in recent years. There are many potential reasons for this, among them is a change in the construction of roof tops. Nighthawks have been known to nest on roofs with gravel tops, but since most roof construction is now tar, they no longer nest on roofs. There are several reasons for this: the heat of black roofs, the flatness causes eggs to roll around, and black roofs provide no camouflage. One project, in New Hampshire, is conducting a study to see if they can bring the Nighthawks back to nesting on roofs with gravel patches. The New Hampshire Audubon has taken on this initiative and they are calling it Project Nighthawk.
I researched a great deal about Nighthawks for my comprehensive design project and was interested by this project. I wanted to learn more so I sent some questions to the New Hampshire Audubon and they were kind enough to answer.
Why did this project begin?
Nesting nighthawks have disappeared from many New Hampshire towns; in the few towns where they remain (primarily Concord and Keene), their numbers have dramatically declined. Biologists are trying to determine if the loss of urban nighthawks is linked to the disappearance of pea stone roofs. New Hampshire Audubon initiated Project Nighthawk in 2007 to investigate the potential for restoring nesting nighthawks by placing simple gravel “nest patches” on flat rooftops in Keene and Concord. If the absence of nesting sites is a factor in nighthawk declines, biologists hope the gravel patches will lure the birds back.
What is the interest from building owners?
We’ve had very positive response from privately owned and publicly owned building owners. Most building owners enthusiastically support the project by allowing us to construct nest patches on their rooftops. We have had only a couple instances where we requested access to a roof and were denied.
How many patches on how many different buildings do you have setup now?
There are currently 47 gravel patches in NH. Project Nighthawk sponsored patches: 31 buildings and a total of 40 patches (those in Keene were spear-headed by the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory). Independently installed patches in the state: 6 buildings and 7 patches (these are privately constructed and the owners registered their patch(es) with Project Nighthawk).
What percentage of those have been used?
We do not have any evidence that the nest patches have been used, however there has been consistent nighthawk activity over several of the patches since the beginning of the project.
What’s the success rate for the chicks?
We observed a nighthawk pair NOT on a nest patch for the past 3 years ( they nested on the ground at an industrial site). In 2007 they successfully fledged one chick, in 2008 two chicks were fledged, in 2009 two eggs failed due to ground flooding from heavy spring rains and a second nest attempt was unsuccessful for undetermined reasons (the pair re-nested on a rooftop that we did not have access to).
Have you had other species, such as Killdeer make use of the patches?
There has been no evidence of other species nesting on the patches.
Have you found any evidence of predators?
Crows have been observed near some of patch the locations but we’re unable to evaluate predation without a nest. Ground-nesting nighthawk may suffer predation from mammals such as raccoons and feral cats.
Are the locations planned based on surrounding habitat or are you trying them everywhere?
Our initial patch experimentation efforts are concentrated in Concord and Keene where nesting populations of nighthawks still remain. If we have a building owner who is interested in putting a patch on their roof we will evaluate the site to determine if it is appropriate for a patch. Things we look at are: has there historically been nighthawk activity in the area, is the roof flat or sloped, are there parapets along the roof edge, is there enough area to accommodate a 9′x9′ patch, is there accessability to shade, will the area be minimally disturbed.
What types of settings are the buildings in? Urban, industrial, suburban?
Mostly urban although we have a couple patches that are located on school rooftops in more suburban areas.
And is there any correlation of their location to successful nesting so far?
We are not able to determine that at this time.
Are there any further considerations when considering the roof such as parapets, trees or walls for shade, reflective heat, cover from predators, proximity to water, etc?
Parapets, shade, roof accessibility,cover from heat and predators are all important factors when evaluatinga site for a potential nest patch. We have not focused on proximity to water as such, however the Merrimack River runs through downtown Concord.
Have you experimented with different elements such as shade, wood, small plants, etc?
Most of the patches have some kind of shade structure, such as a roof element (i.e. an a/c unit) or manmade from plywood atop bricks or cement blocks. The patches themselves are all constructed out of 3/8″ or 1/2″ fractured or rounded pea stone. Theroofing substrates vary such as black rubber, white rubber, gray rubberor large river washed stone. Some of the patches have a frame around the pea stone. You can see examples of several patches on the Project Nighthawk website:
Have you incorporated any of the patches with a green roof?
Not at this time.
How many years do you plan to continue the project?
We hope to have funding to continue the initial experiment for 5 years to determine if nest patches are successful in luring nighthawks back to the area. If there is evidence of patch use, we plan to continue and expand the project.
All About Birds:: Common Nighthawk
New Hampshire Audubon:: Project Nighthawk
Project Nighthawk:: Gravel Nest Patch Handbook (PDF)
Audubon at Home:: How to Help Nighthawks (PDF)