Thursday, February 23, 2012

February's Spring Fling

It reached over 60F for the second day in a row at Powell Gardens and the garden's earth has responded with a splash of springtime flowers and the first songs of the spring peepers and chorus frogs.  The foliage of many evergreen plants is also a beautiful contrast with tiny flowers of spring -- and with the mild winter it all looks better than ever.

The Tommy Crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) are in full bloom and attracting the hungry spring honeybees.  This squirrel-proof crocus species and its cultivars are the only varieties we can successfully cultivate in most of our squirrel-friendly gardens (the squirrels dig up and eat all the others!).

Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum cultivar) are starting to swell for their springtime growth period.  This one has a lovely red-purple hue in the Island Garden's living wall.  It's amazing how many plants' foliage looks great right now!

Sedum 'Angelina' is still in its winter colors atop the Island Garden wall, making it one of the finest perennials in an ornamental garden.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is another of the first flowers of spring in full bloom in the Rock & Waterfall Garden.
Yucca 'Color Guard' may not have colorful flowers but its yellow-centered, evergreen foliage really captures the strengthening sunlight of the season.

The Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata) is a thicker-leaved, all green yucca that one day will become quite huge as a large evergreen shrub.  Look for Banana Yucca west of the Island Garden pools.
Nothing could be finer than the blue of the Reticulate Irises (Iris reticulata).  Look for these early (blue) birds on the Island Garden just east of the pools.

A related miniature iris (Iris histroides 'Katharine Hodgkin') is the closest to aqua-blue of any flower we grow.  It can also be seen above the living wall to the east of the Island Garden's water pools.
Purplish-leaved, evergreen "Red Yucca" Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe parviflora) contrasts nicely with Yucca faxoniana in yellow-green to their side.   Someday this yucca will actually grow a short trunk and the Hesperaloes (we grew from seed and they bloomed last summer) will thicken up into quite a dense clump with many spikes of "hummingbird candy" flowers.
The beautiful evergreen leaves of Lily-of-China (Rohdea japonica) encircle a cluster of blooming snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in the Rock & Waterfall Garden.  The earliest flowers of spring always look best with a bit of evergreen perennials around them.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are close to peak bloom in the Rock & Waterfall garden with many drifts of this weather-tough but delicate beauty carpeting the garden's ground.

Our tiniest yucca at the gardens is Yucca harrimaniae which is barely 5" across.  It's a nice companion with hardy ice plants (Delosperma sp.) and tiny cacti above the Living Wall on the Island Garden.

The yellow-edged leaves of Yucca 'Bright Edge' give it an extra splash of color in the the garden.  It epitomizes the bright spring time colors just peaking out throughout the gardens in this late winter season. Though winter will still give a few more bouts of reality, spring is definitely on its way but the gardens are filled with the earthly delights of a early spring fling.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Banding Powell Gardens' Bird Feeder Birds for further Research

Staff from the Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO) spent Super Bowl Sunday at Powell Gardens' Conservatory banding birds that were captured in special mist nets outside by the feeders.  The birds banded received special colored leg bands so that individual birds at the feeders can be differentiated.  Visitors who now come visit our "Feather Your Nest" conservatory display can not only relax in the beautiful spaces and watch the birds outside but help keep record of sightings of our color-banded birds.  This way we can track individual birds visiting the feeders now and well into the future.
Visitors to the gardens on Sunday were treated to a first hand experience with wild birds.  Dana Ripper, Director of the Missouri River Bird Observatory holds a Black-capped Chickadee and allows a young visitor to touch the soft plumage.
Brittney Woody, assistant at the MRBO, removes a Tufted Titmouse from the mist nets while Dana watches.  We banded 6 Tufted Titmice and there were still others without bands visiting the bird feeders. Several of the banded birds were observed coming right back to the feeders that day too!  It will really help us get a better count of titmice that otherwise look alike at the Great Backyard Bird Count here on Sunday, February 19th.
Here the Tufted Titmouse gets his band on his leg.  The bands weigh virtually nothing and research has shown that the birds with bands tend to be more successful as they are favored by others of the species!
Now it's time to measure the Tufted Titmouse's wing.  Various measurements, weight, and health were noted on each bird before it was quickly released.  This is obviously our black-banded Tufted Titmouse!

Here Ethan Duke (Assistant Director of the MRBO) holds a Black-capped Chickadee to show its new red band.  We banded 10 Black-capped Chickadees and still saw others at the feeders without bands -- there were far more chickadees coming to our feeders than I had thought!

We caught and banded 5 American Goldfinches, the males are still more yellow than the females in winter but nothing like their bright yellow plumage of summer.

We only caught one woodpecker: this male Downy Woodpecker with gorgeous black plumage complete with white polka dots!  Only males have the red on the back of their head.

I am interested to observe our banded birds at the feeders this winter and wonder if we'll see any of them nest or spend the summer in the garden.  We caught one bird that was banded here by Craig Hensley last winter -- but put a color band on it too so we can track it with binoculars now. 

We will have Dana and Ethan from the Missouri River Bird Observatory back at the gardens for some continued banding of the Powell Gardens' birds in the future so keep watch of these events if you want to see a wild bird up close and personal.

Photos by Roland Thibault