Summer 2013 Newsletter

Greetings Neighbor,

As we swing into our second summer season, the VHN is gearing up to meet the needs of backyard habitat stewards across the Island. Last month's invasive plant workshop was attended by over a dozen enthusiastic participants despite a busy holiday weekend and less than perfect weather conditions. Many thanks to Bob Woodruff who graciously co-hosted the workshop at his West Tisbury homestead. Look for additional workshop announcements in the coming months.

For this newsletter we visited with some VHN partners who shared a few low-cost tips for enhancing backyard habitats. We also include some strategies for exploring your own "ecological neighborhood."

Please forward this along to anyone you like, and get in touch with us by email or facebook to share your own stories!
-The Vineyard Habitat Network Staff

Welcome Maura

We are pleased to announce the arrival of a new member of the Habitat Network team. Maura Welch hails from Newburyport and comes to us fresh from George Washington University where she earned a BS in Environmental Studies. Maura has a remarkable breadth of experience, having worked two seasons with the US Forest Service and as a writer for numerous environmental publications throughout her college career.

Look for Maura out in the field visiting with VHN partners or helping out in the native plant nursery and offer her a warm Vineyard welcome!

Gardening with water

  pilothillgardens2013 007

Habitat Network partners
Rob and Patty Kendall have
created a wetland haven for
wildlfe in their own backyard

A water feature can enhance any landscape in numerous ways. Installing a pond or a small wetland garden can provide you with a soothing setting, ideal for quiet contemplation and relaxation. Birds and butterflies swoop in for a drink while dragonflies patrol above, hunting mosquitos and other insects.

A diverse community of wetland plants can be grown in this setting, providing a colorful show and an abundant buffet for our native pollinators. A backyard pond can be the cornerstone of your patch of habitat, but many homeowners are resistant to include such a feature in their landscape.
There is a common misconception that backyard ponds or wetland gardens must be costly and high-maintenance affairs, replete with pumps, filters, and other technological elements. I am happy to report: there are many methods for creating low-maintenance, low cost water gardens that provide both valuable backyard habitat and a pleasing visual element in the landscape.

Let's examine some common questions and concerns:

1-“Do I need fish to control mosquitos?”

In natural, functioning wetlands, mosquitos are controlled by a number of aquatic predators including dragonfly larvae and diving beetles. A pond that is free of fish will provide habitat for a greater range of desirable wildlife including amphibians such as frogs and salamanders. Mosquitos actually thrive in the most ephemeral water sources, such as old tires or buckets that harbor no natural mosquito predators.
2-“Do I need  a pump and a filter to keep the water from being stagnant”

This is a personal choice. A pump can add a nice element of movement to your water garden, and may be necessary if you choose to keep fish. However, a pump isn’t required for every situation. You may need to remove some leaf litter on an annual basis, and it will help to have a lot of aquatic plants to absorb some of the nutrients that could encourage algae.
3-“This is an expensive and high-maintenance project”

If you have soil that is high in clay content, creating a pond can be as simple as digging a hole and compacting the soil. For the rest of us who toil in the excessively drained sandy Vineyard soils, a liner of some sort is necessary. A quick internet search serves up several options for flexible pond liners under $100. Avoid hard plastic liners as these generally have steep sides that are not suitable for wildlife, and liners made for roofing or other purposes which may be treated with chemicals that are toxic to fish and invertebrates.
Case study: Pilot Hill wetland garden

DSC01616 2

When Rob and Patty Kendall set out to create a wetland wildlife haven in their backyard, they didn’t bother with expensive contractors, heavy machinery, or pumps and filters. Rob simply selected a relatively level location at the toe of a slope and laid a rubber liner across a small depression in the land.

In the first few years they added some supplementary water to prevent things from drying out, but over time the wetland started to grow on its own, expanding into a nearby area where the soils contained more clay and silt, eliminating the need for an additional liner. Rob added a number of native wetland plants including hibiscus, winterberry, swamp milkweed and joe pye-weed. Additional plants arrived on their own including water-willow and a number of ferns and rushes.

The neighborhood wildlife have found Rob and Patty to be hospitable hosts; as pinkletinks, mallards, and even an otter has spent time enjoying the habitat. The Kendalls don’t worry about mosquitos, they rely on natural predators such as bats and dragonflies to keep a healthy balance in their yard. By cultivating a rich natural environment, they help maintain that balance. Rob did have one piece of advice for would-be wetland gardeners – protect your garden from deer if possible; they seem to especially enjoy the joe-pye and hibiscus plants.


Revising the lawn
blue eyed grass  
Blue-eyed grass can be used in
place of high-maintenance turf.
There is a huge level of interest right now in reducing the amount of space that we dedicate to lawns. The article “How much lawn”, recently published by the MV Gazette, is a nice summary of the issue. Elsewhere, entire websites have been created on the subject (see: or

People will always require some patches of turf for recreation and places for children to run around. However many homeowners are currently in possession of much more lawn than they really need. VHN partners are taking creative approaches to reducing their lawn footprint and creating attractive habitats for pollinators and other wildlife in the process. If you are interested in reducing the amount of mowed-lawn on your property, here are a few ideas to get you started.

Sheet mulching
This is a tried-and true method for creating new beds for flowers or vegetables. It is also extremely useful for smothering grass. Apply overlapping layers of wet cardboard (newspaper can also be used if applied thickly enough) to the area of lawn that you would like to convert. Cover this with a thick layer of weed-free mulch. Woodchips work excellently for this and can often be obtained for free from an arborist or landscaper.

Now you can plant seedlings directly into the new bed by pulling away a patch of mulch with your hands and cutting a hole in the cardboard with a sharp trowel.  VHN partners Ruth Meyer and Marilyn Scheerbaum of Edgartown have applied this method to convert a portion of their lawn into a mix of native wildflowers and grasses. Switchgrass and little bluestem now flourish amid a mix of asters, milkweeds, and other wildflowers.

Selective weeding – or the “wait and see” approach
VHN partner Lani Goldthorpe has nurtured a small island of wildflowers in the middle of her lawn. It started innocently enough when she noticed a few daisies growing in the space and decided to spare them from the mower blade. Soon enough the daisies began expanding their turf and Lani took the hint. She has now added a diverse mixture of plants into the space such as blue-eyed grass, and even native shrubs such as meadowsweet and chokeberry. There was no need for time-consuming site preparation; the plants were installed right into the existing native soil. Over time, the taller wildflowers shade out the turfgrass below, creating a low maintenance meadow that offers visual interest throughout the year.

Great Crested Flycatchers

The great crested flycatcher is a common breeding bird in backyard habitats across the Vineyard.

gc flycatcher
photo - Andrea Westmoreland

It can be difficult to catch a glimpse of this bird at eye level, although you may be able to tempt one out of the trees by offering a birdbath or other water source in your yard. A more reliable to way to observe these birds is by learning to identify their distinctive songs and calls.  Like most flycatchers, and in contrast with other songbirds, they have simple vocalizations that are thought to be innate rather than learned.

To get a feel for the raucous songs and calls of this species, have a listen to the recordings available at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Once you get a feel for the vocalizations, head out into the field and see if they are breeding in your neighborhood. Be careful not to mix up this species with the similar sounding red bellied woodpecker. Let us know what you find out, and check our facebook group to see what others are reporting.

Great crested flycatchers are cavity nesting birds, and will take readily to nest-boxes, including boxes that have been installed for other species such as bluebirds or screech-owls. If you would like to welcome a pair of these beautiful birds into your yard, consider installing a nest-box and protecting it with a predator guard. Some authorities suggest that these birds will also use boxes suspended by wires rather than mounted on a tree or pole. Putting up a nest-box now won't likely attract occupants until next year's breeding season, but the best time to install a box is whenever you have the time to do it!
Find your Watershed
Fullscreen capture 6142013 14244 PM.bmp 

Do you know your watershed address? Follow these simple instructions to find out.

  • click the “layers” tab at the top of the map

  • un-check the boxes for “ecozone” and “general habitat”

  • click the tab labeled “basemap”

  • change the basemap to “light-gray canvas”

  • on the “layers” tab check the box for “watershed”

You should see an overlay of MV watersheds drawn over the map. Zoom in to get a closer look and click within any watershed to see more information.

Try typing your address in to the search box at the top right of the window to zoom in on your house.
You can combine other layers and switch the basemap to any selection you wish.

We hope to update this map in the coming year; adding new data and improving other features. In the meantime we hope you enjoy exploring the map and we would love to know if there are any updates that  you would like to see included in the next version.


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Vineyard Habitat Network
18 Helen Ave.
Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts 02568

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