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Photo by Kellen McCluskey
Thursday, June 24
When Seeds Come True

When we plant a seed, we go through stages of emotions. The next few hours, days, weeks, we watch, waiting hopefully for a sprout. As time ticks on, we resign ourselves to wait perhaps a few weeks or years, for the seed to decide that now is the time to grow.

In April 2017, just after burning the South Meadow, the staff at Adkins Arboretum sowed four species of native seeds: Coreopsis lanceolata, Aster lateriflorus (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum), Solidago nemoralis, and Rudbeckia hirta in an attempt to increase the biodiversity in the meadow. Seeds can be hard to establish in meadows, as they quickly and easily can get outcompeted by the existing meadow grasses and other forbs. Many of these native meadow species evolved with grazing herbivores (bison, elk, deer, etc.) or occasional fire, which would have kept the meadow in balance. Since our grazing herbivores are solely a small herd of whitetail deer and four goats, we can simulate evolutionary browsing habits by selectively mowing.

In August 2019, the meadow platform was under construction, and so we kept the path-adjacent meadow areas mowed. This mowing had the added benefit of giving our seeds a better chance of spreading their roots and soaking up some sun. 

Fast-forward to June 2021, four years after planting our meadow seeds, and we have our first
Coreopsis and Rudbeckia blooms! Coreopsis lanceolata grows in small clumps but readily self-seeds and can establish colonies in the meadow. It grows well in dry, sandy loam soils and can tolerate a variety of sun and shade conditions. Rudbeckia hirta blooms slightly after the Coreopsis and shares its golden yellow color. As a short-lived meadow biennial, the Rudbeckia 
spends its first year as a rosette close to the ground and then blooms in its second year. The Rudbeckia will continue to bloom throughout the summer and into the fall, hopefully coinciding with the Aster lateriflorus and Solidago nemoralis. These native meadow plants are an important source of nectar for pollinators, seeds for birds and small mammals, and host foliage for some lucky larvae.
Needless to say, seeing the new summer blooms in the meadow this year has brought smiles to our faces, and we look forward to seeing if the Aster and Solidago pop up in fall. Perhaps it is true what they say: good things are worth waiting for.

by Kathy Thornton
Land Steward
Top: Eastern coyote. Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Bottom: Red fox. Photo by Flickr user Marc Barrot.
Nature Notes

My mom is convinced that a coyote has been rummaging through her bushes on recent summer evenings. Despite the fact that she's observed it on more than one occasion, I'm convinced that her visitor is a fox, primarily because I'd be so jealous otherwise. The only time I've been lucky enough to come nose-to-nose with a coyote was many years ago while hiking alone in the Southwest. We were both startled, and the coyote turned tail in the blink of an eye.

Historically, the coyote population in our country was centered between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River. As settlers expanded westward, coyotes set their sights east, where European colonization had led to the extirpation of competing predators and the increase of a coyote's preferred habitat: field and forest edge. Eastern coyotes are larger and display more color variation than their western counterparts, owing in part to interbreeding with wolves and domestic dogs along the way.

With large pointy ears, a sharp muzzle, close-set eyes, and a bushy tail, it's easy to confuse a coyote with a fox. Some coyotes even sport black stockings on their lower front legs, just as red foxes do. Coyotes are significantly larger, though, weighing on average 30 to 40 pounds, versus a mere 14. Their size and coloring resemble those of a small German Shepherd.

In Maryland, one of the last two eastern states to be populated by coyotes, the majority of sightings are in the western counties. Coyote density is lowest on the Eastern Shore. Interestingly, there is an inverse correlation between coyote populations and those of feral cats, although for the most part a coyote's diet is made up of smaller mammals, birds, plants, and insects.

Prevalent or not, coyotes are indeed among us. Not too long ago, my church's former choir director shared her experience of being awakened by loud yipping and snarling in the night. Nightgown-clad (and fearless), she ran outside to find a coyote in the act of treeing her cat. It's difficult to say which of the three was more surprised, but I like to imagine the coyote sprinting into the darkness, spurred on by a rousing soprano rendition of "Onward, Christian Soldiers."

by Jenny Houghton
Assistant Director
The Eurasian Collared Dove/A Second Brood

The Eurasian Collared Dove is a non-native invasive species that has not yet made it to Adkins Arboretum as a resident bird, but it will. The Collared Dove is native to the countries around the Bay of Bengal. It spread 
Eurasian Collared Dove. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Doug Greenberg.
throughout Europe in the 1900s. In the early 1970s, a dove breeder brought 50 of the birds to Nassau, Bahamas. In December 1974, his aviary was burglarized and a few of the doves escaped. For some reason, he released the rest of the birds. By 1982, they had spread to Florida, and from there they moved westward and northward, reaching California in 2001 and Alaska in 2008. They have not yet made it to a few states in the Northeast, including Maryland. I have not seen a Collared Dove, but I have heard its distinctive song. (Listen here.)

The big question is how this ordinary dove managed to spread across the United States and into Alaska in an extraordinarily short time. Like the Mourning Dove, it is a seed eater, and it is extremely well adapted to agricultural and suburban landscapes. Studies have shown that it has not impacted the numbers of Mourning Doves or other native
Spread of the Eurasian Collared Dove.
Courtesy of Backcountry Chronicles.
doves. In fact, where the Collared Dove shares areas with native doves, the population of other doves has increased. It does not migrate, so it can survive harsh winters. It is a non-native, so you can trap or shoot these birds anytime and anywhere you might encounter them. They are slightly bigger than a Mourning Dove, weighing about 5.5 ounces versus 4.5 ounces, which means a bit more meat, and it probably still tastes like chicken.

Like the European Starling and the House Sparrow, the Eurasian Collared Dove is here to stay. Unlike them, it does not appear to have any negative effects on other birds.

A Second Brood?

For the past week during my daily walk, I have counted seven Northern Mockingbirds singing almost constantly from the tops of trees and rooftops in a half-mile section of road. I wondered if their nesting season was done and they were rejoicing with song, or if they were re-courting the females for a second brood. I did find out that they will raise two or three broods during the summer, but I couldn't find an answer to whether they need to sing again as part of a second courtship ritual. I did some research about how many broods some common songbirds may have.
  • Mourning Dove: up to 6 broods
  • Northern Cardinal: maybe a 2nd brood
  • Carolina Wren: 1 to 3 broods
  • Carolina Chickadee: 1 brood
  • Tufted Titmouse: 1 brood
  • Red-winged Blackbird: 1 or 2 broods
  • Downy Woodpecker: 1 brood
  • Eastern Bluebird: 1 to 3 broods
  • American Robin: 1 to 3 broods
Some factors that come into play for having more than one brood are availability of food and length of breeding season (e.g., Maine versus Georgia.) Some birds are more likely to snatch insects out of the air, while others are more adept at gleaning food from under leaves and needles. The season for snatching flying insects is shorter than gleaning season, which limits some species to only one brood. Another factor can be what the female does after the eggs hatch. For the American Robin, the female helps care for the nestlings for a few days and then she is off to build a second nest. This rapid turnaround for clutches allows them to cram an extra brood or two into the season. Some birds do not jump into breeding at the beginning of the season. The American Goldfinch does not nest until midsummer, leaving it little time to try a second brood.

It would seem logical that a bird that is going to raise a second brood would save time and reuse the nest from the first brood. Nests from the first brood are generally pushed and pulled apart to the point where they cannot be used again. Mites, lice, or other insects that would feast on a second brood could also have moved in, which means a new nest. Birds like the Bluebird or Barn Swallow will reuse a nest. Note: this discussion about number of broods and reusing a nest does not apply to raptors or larger birds, which have one brood and will reuse a nest from year to year.

The next time the American Robin builds a nest on top of your porch light by your front door, and you have been using the back door for a month so you don't disturb the babies, don't hesitate to take that nest down after the nestlings fledge. Mama is off building a new nest somewhere and will not return!

Please contact me at with any questions.

Jeobirdy Answer: This is the first non-native bird introduced into the United States (in the early 1600s).

Jeobirdy Question: What is the Pigeon? It is also called the Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon. The early colonists brought them for food. Pigeons have been bred for food and domesticated or thousands of years. 

Jeobirdy Answer: During World War II, the UK had more than 250,000 of these birds in military service.

Jeobirdy Question: What is the Homing Pigeon? They were used extensively to carry messages. The UK stopped using Pigeons in 1948.

by Jim Wilson
Birder/Arboretum volunteer
Partridge berry leaves and fruit. Photo by Kathy Thornton.
Native Plant of the Week

Mitchella repens
partridge berry

This ground-hugging vinelike perennial herb forms a mat of evergreen leaves under the shade of shrubs and trees, especially oaks. The stems creep along the ground, rooting at the nodes. 

A petite, evergreen, slightly woody plant, partridge berry can grow in dappled to partial shade and can withstand some dry conditions. Its four-parted flowers grow in pairs and produce a single red berry. Ants love the flowers. You will see this plant along the Tuckahoe Valley and Creekside paths. 

Ordering for the Fall Native Plant Sale will begin in late July. Stay tuned for more information!
 Fall events are back! Click here for information.

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