And I’d like to give my love to everybody, and
let them know that the grass may look greener on the other side,
but believe me, it’s just as hard to cut.

Little Richard
Beachgrass in the sunset, royalty free, Unsplash

As environmental mis-steps go, planting European Beachgrass at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, in the late 1800s probably seemed like a great idea. This grass successfully stabilized dunes in Europe and North Africa and many agencies planted thousands of acres, much of it in Oregon.

It seemed like such a good idea

European Beachgrass forms stiff, hardy clumps of grass that can reach nearly four feet tall. A strong rhizome mat holds clumps erect and facilitate fast colonization across an area. One small clump can produce 100 new shoots annually.

This plant provided a faster way to stabilize sand dunes, had few pests and predators, and grows very densely. The grass changes the shape of a dune and overall native ecology by displacing plants and animals by creating higher, steeper curve on the ocean side of a dune. This decreases sand flow to interior dunes impacting the long-term development of the whole coastal ecosystem.

Beachgrass on dune, royalty free Unsplash

One tough grass

Not only does European Beachgrass grow fast and dense, but it will tolerate a number of adverse conditions. For instance, the plant will survive for extended periods of time when buried by sea water and/or sand. In such a disturbance, rhizome pieces will break off. These pieces begin growing in new sites.

It will also grow in a variety of conditions both in pH, mineral or chemical issues, temperatures, and as a perennial live many years. A fungus that grows on the grass, may also make dunes less fertile and thus less likely to support other plants.

The impact?

Beachgrass is one of the most pervasive exotic plant species threatening the West Coast. It is everywhere and not only creating problems for plants but animals such as the endangered western snowy plover by increasing predator cover.

This noxious weed grows from California north along the Pacific coast into British Columbia. This grass was also planted in New Zealand and Western Australia and is considered noxious.

Is it controllable?

Maybe. Interest in controlling began about 1980. Finding a method that is effective, inexpensive, minimally invasive to other native species, flexible enough to use on steep slopes, and acceptable to a wide variety of land owner/managers is a tough challenge.   

Several research projects have been underway for years looking at various removal techniques such as manual, mechanical, chemical, and fire alternatives. Other methods are still being sought.

REFERENCES:
–US Dept. of Agriculture (https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=AMAR4)
–California Invasive Plant Council (https://www.cal-ipc.org/plants/paf/ammophila-arenaria-plant-assessment-form/, https://www.cal-ipc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Cal_IPC_Symposium_2018_Monique_Silva-Crossman_Effects-_of_Ammophila_arenaria_removal.pdf, and https://www.cal-ipc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/1997_symposium_proceedings1934.pdf)
–Wikipedia, Ammophila Arenaria (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammophila_arenaria)
–AZ Quotes (https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/greener-on-the-other-side.html)

‘Little grass shack’

This 1930’s Hawaiian song kicked off a multi-ethnic music craze perfect for the Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark (courtesy ODFW)

Female Western Meadowlarks build a ground nest that is often covered by a woven grass roof — a ‘Little Grass Shack’ so to speak.  

The ‘little grass shack’ nest is a small hollow hidden in dense grass cover. The shack has an entrance tunnel that may extend several feet with several narrow trails leading to it.

Identifying

Visually, this medium-sized bird sports a dapper Herringbone-like plume with a black V-lapel and yellow vest.  This color and pattern palette helps camouflage the birds in the open grasslands.  

Habitat and Range

Western Meadowlarks call meadows, fields, desert shrub-steppe, marshes, and agricultural grasslands home throughout their range. Low-growing vegetation provides foraging cover.

Western Meadowlarks are widely distributed from southern Canada to central America; and from the Mississippi River west. Many birds are permanent residences and breed along the Oregon coast.  

Food

Meadowlarks forage on the ground looking mostly for a wide variety of bugs, seeds, and berries. In the winter, the birds will often forage in mixed flocks of blackbirds and starlings. Winter diet often focuses on seeds and grains.

Meadowlarks, like other blackbird family members, use a feeding behavior called “gaping.” They drive their sharp, pointy bill into the soil, bark, etc. They use strong jaw muscles to force the material open. This hole provides access to foods other birds can’t reach.

Predators

Ground nests are inadvertently destroyed during mowing, and weather (droughts) can be very tough on nestlings.

Bird Song

Six states recognize the western meadowlark as their State Bird, including Oregon. In 1927, Oregon selected the Western Meadowlark as their State Songbird.

Western Meadowlark song is significantly more complicated and flute like compared to other closely related birds.

Males defend their breeding territory by singing. They often sing from the tops of fences, shrubs, and powerlines.

A Party in a Grass Shack?

The little grass shack this bird builds is quite unique, just like the Hawaiian song “Little Grass Shack.” This song is one of Hawaii’s “50 Greatest…” and featured in many movies, performances, and recordings.

The song features one full line in Hawaiian “Komo mai no kāua i ka hale welakahao.” This line or Dolly Parton’s 1987 interpretation may be a great way to remember this unique bird.

She translated the line as Come to my house, we’re gonna party!” Maybe that is what the male birds are really singing about.

REFERENCES:
–Western Meadowlark (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/blackbirds-grackles-and-orioles)
–Audubon Society, Western Meadowlark (https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/western-meadowlark)
–Wikipedia, Western Meadowlark (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_meadowlark) and (…My_Little_Grass_Shack_in_Kealakekua,_Hawaii)
–All About Birds, Western_Meadowlark (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/western_meadowlark)

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Black-tailed deer eat too much of my coastal garden

Healthy Black-tailed deer populations exist in western Oregon (and most likely my back yard). This ‘edge adapted’ species looks for forests with mixed age classes where it can hide in the dense forest cover during the day and eat everything in your garden in the morning or evening.  

Identification

Black-tails are a subspecies of mule deer which are found across the Pacific Northwest, from California north into Alaska. A large male (a “buck”) might stand three feet at the shoulder and weigh around 200 lbs.  An adult female (a “doe”) might weigh around 130 lbs.

Their tawny-brown coloring makes them difficult to spot. The wide, triangular tail with the white underside however is easy to spot as they gleefully bound into the forest after eating all of the flowers on the deck.

Adaptations

Deer communicate through touch, vision, sound, and scent which gives us humans some options for discouraging deer dining in our gardens. They are not as shy as one might think and have made themselves quite comfortable on our back deck, eating potted blueberries, petunias, and azaleas.

First off, they have excellent hearing and are not intimidated by barking humans. They know you are not a dog.

Domestic dogs are considered one of their predators. Other predators include coyotes, cougars, and humans.

Black-tailed buck, photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Male Blacktails have great vision and can spot other animals up to 2,000 feet away, even while chewing. The females do not seem to have that same capacity or are simply fascinated by a weird human running their direction and barking.

Black-tails are a popular game animal for hunters. Techniques used include: Spot and stalk, hunting blinds, still hunting, and rattling antlers. Scent control is very important when hunting these mammals.

Scent Deterrents

Scents can also help deter visitors. Deer naturally want to be able to smell their predators. Overwhelming smells can make that difficult to accomplish.

There are smell and taste deterrent sprays which help in the short term. Some strategies might also include hanging scented soaps, human hair, and diesel-soaked rags on or near affected plants. Many a neighbor has questioned why such things hang from our fruit trees and why the small stand seems to smell like a cheap boudoir certain times of the year.

Lastly, there are effective ways to deter damage. Check out the Manage Wildlife Conflicts in Your Home and Garden (https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/pnw719/html) for ideas on blocking access and deterrence and Living with Nuisance Wildlife (https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/catalog/files/project/pdf/ec1579.pdf)

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/big-game-hunting/species/black-tailed-deer and publications mentioned above)
–National Park Service, Olympic National Park ( https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/nature/black-tail-deer.htm)