A Pollinator Update by Pam Wavrin, Director of Ranch Operations
Birds enjoy the dead sunflower heads in the winter.
Anecdotally, we feel that we are seeing a big increase in birds on the ranch over the past two years. Many of the practices that we have been incorporating should be supporting the bird population, but at this point it is speculation.
In order to measure the impact of our work on the wildlife around here, we are initiating bi-annual bird counts, and starting a wildlife log for staff, residents and guests to record bird and wildlife sightings. Our first official bird count will be on February 17, 2023. We will be joining the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is a 4-day count that has people participating from all over the world! We will submit our checklists via the Merlin Bird ID app and the eBird Mobile app, as well as adding our sightings to our internal log.
Some of the things that we have been doing to help our bird population here at the ranch are:
- Leaving dead snags standing for nesting and habitat
- Not using any chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides on the ranch
- Creating wildlife borders between pastures and buildings
- Planting things that can provide food during the shoulder seasons
- Leaving plants intact in the garden at the end of the season, providing seeds and habitat for birds in the winter
- Putting up raptor stands around the ranch
- Building owl boxes and putting them up in the barns
Additionally, this year we will be planting a variety of forbs, grasses and shrubs into our pastures that will attract, feed and provide habitat for birds and pollinators.
Mason bee box made with collected materials from around the ranch.
Last year was our first year having a beehive at Pine Meadow Ranch. We hosted a hive belonging to Allen Engle, who is the president of the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association. It was a great addition to our native bee population. Our dye and textile garden has been a big magnet for native bees and birds, and we are optimistic that our native plant pollinator garden, coming into its second season, will begin to provide for them as well.
In our Native Plant Pollinator Garden, we have primarily been planting by seed, so germination has been sporadic. Already this year we have seen Blue Flax seedlings popping through the snow. Yarrow, Oregon Sunshine, Douglas Aster and Showy Penstemon are just a few of the perennials that we planted last year. In the rear portion of the garden, we have 2 mason bee boxes, 1 which has already been a popular host to Mason and Leaf Cutter Bees. There are a few spots that we will fill with clay for bee habitat as well. This spring we will be hosting a staff and artist resident workshop to make more and larger bee boxes.
A bombus vosnesenskii in a PMR garden, photo courtesy of Michele Sims
Last September, Michele Sims, a volunteer with the Oregon Bee Atlas came out to Pine Meadow Ranch and collected some specimens to catalog and got some gorgeous photos of a Bombus Vosnesenskii. We are planning to have her back at the ranch this Spring to continue identifying bee species here. The Oregon Bee Atlas is a program of the Oregon State Extension Office, whose mission “is to create and maintain a comprehensive and publicly accessible inventory of the states’ native bees and their plant hose preferences b) to educate Oregonians on the states bee biodiversity and c) to conduct an on-going survey of native bee populations in order to assess their health.” Per their website, if species go undetected it is hard to inform conservation decisions.
This year the theme of our artist residency is Food and Agriculture, and there are several artists staying at the ranch who are very interested in birds and bees. One of them is Sarah Red-Laird, aka the Bee Girl, who is assisting us in selecting the plants to introduce into our pastures that will provide good forage for our cattle while provide nectar for bees.