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Home is where the habitat is

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
May 1, 2000


A small native has taken up residence above our front door. Deciding to build it's nest atop the motion sensor device, this little bird figured our entry way was a safe place to raise a family. Seen as a sign of luck in many cultures, we accepted our new housemate. To say the least, the humans at the Scenic House were honored.

Our guest turns out to be a house finch, carpodacus mexicanus to be exact, and it wasn't long before three chicks joined the parents. Coincidently, it was on Earth Day that we noticed the hatchlings. Is this cool or what?

House finches are not our only regular visitors, a Blue Heron has also been frequenting Scenic House. Perched on the north west corner of the house this majestic creature is in the neighborhood because our neighbors Koi pond is hard to ignore. When the Heron is perched on the roof I make sure not to disturb it, hoping it too will feel safe enough to nest on our property.

This familiarity on the part of the birds is something new, and the change has not been for lack of trying. In the past five years we have been systematically removing non-native vegetation, and replacing it with native species. The increase in wildlife visits is proof that going native has many benefits.

Even skunks play a role in a restored habitat. When not coming into the kitchen to raid the cat food, skunks keep the yard tilled, and the number of insects balanced, with their digging for grubs. By recreating habitat through the planting of indigenous species, our functional native scape becomes a neighborhood mitigation bank, countering the far from natural water intensive ornamental lawns and exotic landscaping of the neighbors.

This has been a concentrated effort to restore the majority of our yard to a native scape. Planting indigenous trees that will crowd out the remaining non-natives when they mature, the transition allows wildlife to move in at their own pace. Over the years we have hosted several generations of an opossum family, who have set up house beneath the jacuzzi. Talk about central heating.

The immature coastal live oaks that now grace the lot, will be Leucadian residents long after we have gone, as will the Torrey Pine. According to environmental theologian Wendell Berry, planting trees that you will never live to see reach maturity, is to make an investment in the millennium. Satisfaction received comes from knowing the biological ark that we provide will create a base from which native species can re-establish their former range. An added bonus is future residents will enjoy our commitment to restoration.

Currently I am considering a plan to re-introduce quail to coastal Leucadia. Being unsure of how to accomplish this task, does not negate the opinion it must be done. Other species ripe for reintroduction are: rabbits, snakes, and gnatcatchers. By bringing these species into our neighborhoods, perhaps predators, such as hawks and coyotes, can find haven as well. Learning to coexist with these creatures, we just might learn something from them. The first lesson we need to learn, is the one that just might save us from ourselves. The lesson? Learning to live in balance with nature instead of in spite of it.

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