Create the Habitat and the Animals Will Come

By Anne Owen

When long-time Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy member Janet Locklear purchased her property about 10 years ago, she acquired woodland with some beautiful, mature, native trees, but also a large expanse of lawn, where in her words, “there was no activity.”

Janet has a passion for birds and for many years was the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Bluebird Coordinator, but a talk by Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home,” kick-started her appreciation for the vital role we all can play in providing healthy habitat for wildlife in our own backyards.

Like many of us, she started in a modest way, attending a native plant sale and going home with milkweed, Joe-Pye weed, asters and goldenrod, all of which are key perennials supporting pollinator insects. At the same time, she selected an area of her yard to simply let grow wild. While she has continued to add other native plants, the original selections have become established and now self-seed to populate new areas.  She is even happy to let milkweeds grow among her vegetables.

The new habitat has indeed attracted a variety of critters, broadening Janet’s own interests in the process. A great consequence of developing habitat beneficial to butterflies, is that it is also supports other pollinators, such as native bees; in turn, it benefits the birds by supplying them caterpillars and grubs to feed their chicks. Last year, Janet raised and released over 150 Monarch butterflies, all fed and propagated on milkweed from her property. Now, she is increasingly interested in the native bees coming to the pollinator plants. She has seen bumblebees, carpenter bees, digger wasps, and clearwing moths, to name a few. She has a healthy population of birds, including Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, Chipping Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Phoebes and Chimney Swifts.

Janet’s advice is to try not to do too much and become overwhelmed in starting a pollinator garden. She plans to continue to reduce the amount of lawn on her property, and wants to do more with sedges and native grasses. She already is adding shrubs to provide more habitat variety, and moving oak seedlings to encourage new trees. It never stops being a learning process.

Janet says it is a challenge finding as much time as she would like to spend on her wildlife habitat, but the first thing she likes to do on returning home from work is to take her binoculars or camera and head to the wild area. Where previously it was quiet, now there is continuous activity, and that is a great source of pleasure and relaxation.

Landowners interested in establishing wildlife habitat on their properties should contact the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy by emailing Ann Garvey (agarvey@loudounwildlife.org) or Nicole Sudduth-Hamilton (nhamilton@loudounwildlife.org).

Anne Owen is a Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Audubon at Home Ambassador.  This article was adapted from one originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Habitat Herald, the newsletter of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.  Photo credit:  Janet Locklear. To see more photos of the Locklear gardens, or learn more about the Audubon at Home program, go to loudounwildlife.org. In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition.  To learn more about the organization or to participate in the Rural Roads Initiative, go to loudouncoalition.org.

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