Sunday, December 31, 2006

Jeffrey Caldwell

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area

Horticulturist with an ecologist's heart

Jeff at work

Garden and Landscape
Evaluation, Design, Renovation, Upkeep

Expert in:

  • Wildlife Gardens
  • California Native Plants
  • Regenerating Historic Habitats

phone: 408 741-5430


Monday, June 06, 2005

Downtown San Jose

Even in downtown San Jose there are elements of wildness, proving that if the habitat is there, the creatures it serves can survive. Early this afternoon I discovered scrub jays nesting on the rafter of a dilapidated shed behind a Victorian house just a few blocks from San Jose State University. It struck me as a clever place to nest, fairly secure from predators, in a part of the backyard rarely seen or used.

A little later in the afternoon I was delighted to find rough-winged swallows flying quite close to me in the downtown park on Market Street. There were many people about besides myself, but the swallows seemed heedless of them, intent on seeking their insect prey. They were swooping as low as about a foot from the ground over the turfgrass. I suppose the fountain area, and the linear nature of the park with its large trees, echoes the typically riparian habitats they commonly frequent. The many native coast live oaks in the park probably also help produce some insects for them. I suppose the park is a secondary foraging ground, with the riparian habitat along the river their primary foraging and nesting territory. I had never been so close to the species as this afternoon in the downtown park -- repeatedly they flew within a few feet of me, and even between people on the broad walkways!

Yesterday on the driveway here I came upon mourning doves -- they seemed rather fat -- lots of weed seeds in this neighborhood. Like the swallows of today, they seemed more habituated than usual to human presence and I got much closer to them than one typically ever can get to birds in wilder habitats.

It delights me to be able to more closely observe such beautiful creatures!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Are you breeding mosquitos?

We've had a lot of rain this year. And it seems that most people have watertight containers in their yards which have caught some rainwater -- often something along the side of the house or out in a neglected corner. Mosquitos have been breeding in most of the yards I've worked in the last several weeks -- those "wrigglers" in an unused garbage can or an open plastic storage box on the side of the house. They can complete their entire life cycle in a matter of days!

Photograph from Mosquito Ecology on the Web site of Los Angeles County West Vector Control District

Maybe you even have an old tire that has caught some water ... I urge you to check around and make sure your yard isn't producing mosquitos. Most people who are don't know it.

There were over 700 reported cases of West Nile Virus in California last year, a new disease carried by mosquitos. There are few human fatalities, mostly elderly or other particularly vulnerable individuals. But it's not pleasant to be sick. Apparently the disease kills horses! I've been hearing ads on the radio for a vaccine.

Use any captured rainwater to water your plants, especially those under the eaves or indoor plants. Any mosquito larvae in the water will die quickly once out of the water -- they are fully aquatic organisms. The nearly mineral-free rainwater helps leach out the salts that build up in the soil from using irrigation water. Captured rainwater is wonderful for irrigation, but one should take care to isolate it from mosquito breeding opportunties!

By the way, something NOT to do: watering your plants with swimming pool water. One client had a megapot planted with a giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) which has not made normal growth and often seemed burned. I found out why when I was watering it in his presence -- he suggested I do the easy thing and refill the can with water from the swimming pool! Turns out he was consistently filling the watering can with water from his swimming pool, which was so handy, closer than than going to the faucet on the side of the house! Apparently chain fern stands up to considerable abuse, for this has been going on for a couple of years! And no wonder it was much smaller than I expected it to be, and so often presenting burned fronds! Also surviving but not thriving under this abuse was a Vancouveria and western dog violet. Tough plants.

Swimming pool water, with its heavy load of chlorine, is not good for irrigating plants!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Europe -- Natural History Resources

Europe's natural history interests me and I hope to study it firsthand some day. The flowering, as it were, of wildlife gardening and amateur biological study in Great Britain has been an influence in my life.

BioImages - Virtual Field-Guide (UK) -- runs the gamut of the five kingdoms of biota, with photographs of "natural history objects, mostly British" -- everything from purple sulfur bacteria to highland cattle -- 44,494 images as of today! Even so, many more remain to to be illustrated. The site includes an impressive set of European biological links, especially for the UK or for those interested in any of many discussion groups.

Flora of Europe -- a photographic herbarium, taxonomically arranged.

The Postcode Plants Database -- a project of Flora-for-Fauna, hosted by the Natural History Museum in London. It models what I'd like to see everywhere! Enter your postcode and find out what plants are native to your area and the animals each species serves -- marvelous support for the wildlife gardener!

Natural History Book Service -- this British bookseller carries an extensive selection of European natural history books in English. I love a lot of the British books and booklets.

Outstanding up-to-date field guides from Princeton University Press:

Butterflies of Europe -- lavishly illustrated, the most comprehensive field guide to European butterflies.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe -- most recent, comprehensive and best illustrated field guide.

Birds of Europe -- praised as the ultimate field guide for European birds, lavishly illustrated.

Mammals of Europe -- an excellent recent field guide, abundantly and beautifully illustrated, with much more natural history information than is usually found in field guides.

Princeton University Press offers several other excellent European natural history titles, including Where to Watch Birds in Europe and Russia.

Web sites:

Biological Inventories of the World’s Protected Areas -- species lists, mostly plants and vertebrate animals, for parks and preserves all over the world – get an idea of what you can find there before you go!

Araneae – Spiders of North-West Europe – includes over 700 photographs of 220 common species!

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Europe – an extensive site.

Captain’s European Butterfly Guide – especially good for the UK, lots of links for all of Europe.

Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa – impressive photographs and information! Click on the species names on the navigation bar.

Silkmoths of Europe – the Saturnidae, the largest moths; photographs and much information. Huge collection of links for silkmoths and hawkmoths of the world!

Sphingidae of the Western Palearctic – aka Hawkmoths of Europe --very informative.

Amphibians and Reptiles of Europe – wealth of beautiful photographs, organized taxonomically.

Herp Index -- see Regional Herping and Societies and Organizations pages for European herpetological sites.

The Snakes of Europe – download a free pdf copy of a book written in 1913 by a noted herpetologist, 113 pages, from this page.

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society -- plenty of information about Gibraltar natural history, including a complete flora, and links for much of Europe, especially for birds.

The Bat Conservation Trust – located in the United Kingdom.

The Shrew Site – by an Austrian enthusiast. The world’s most complete Internet source for shrew information!

The Hedgehogz Home Page – about hedgehogs, quintessential European mammals. Informative and enjoyable!

The European Polecat – a French project, presented in English here.

Badgers on the Web -- ultimate site for the European badger, and other types of badgers worldwide. Go to the Badger Pages by Steve Jackson first.

Hoof Prints – for people interested in European ungulates.

Deer-UK – learn all about British deer.

European Bison – an informative account of this fascinating bovine.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Oak Woodland Bird Conservation Plan

The California Oak Foundation sponsored this popular book:

Their latest offering is:
The Oak Woodland Bird Conservation Plan

by Dr. Steve Zack and published by California Oak Foundation
California oak woodlands rank among the top three habitat types in North America for bird richness. This book is a guide for conservation policy and action on behalf of oak woodland habitats and wildlife. 126 pages
Paperback, $12.00, Members $10.80.
Don't forget to add local tax and shipping and handling of $5.25.

I learned about it from the February issue of their free-on-request email newsletter. As described on their Home page:

The California Oak Report
Our Current Issues page features a monthly report that provides information to the general public to help them better understand the biological role of California's oak woodlands in the landscape and the planning processes applicable to oak woodland habitats. Automatic electronic mailings of the California Oak Report are available upon request by contacting

Contact information:
California Oak Foundation
1212 Broadway, Suite 810
Oakland, CA 94612
Tel: (510) 763-0282
Fax: (510) 208-4435

The new book and many other interesting items are available from their Merchandise page.

I haven't seen a copy of this new book, but their other materials I have seen are excellent.