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Advice from Audubon on helping the birds

It doesn’t mean you can ignore the yard but there are some practical tips for helping birds make it through winter.

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Submitted by a reader is the following message from the Audobon society on how you can help the local wildlife survive the coming winter.

To Help Birds This Winter, Go Easy on Fall Yard Work | Audubon

There’s a certain satisfaction in autumn chores. When the weather’s right, cleaning gutters, touching up paint, or splitting some firewood can feel less like manual labor and more like a rite of the season.

But if you want to make your backyard a welcoming winter haven for birds, some fall tasks call for a laissez-faire approach. “Messy is definitely good to provide food and shelter for birds during the cold winter months,” says Tod Winston, Audubon’s Plants for Birds program manager.

So let someone else keep up with the neighbors this weekend. Sleep in, linger a little longer with your morning coffee, and follow these tips for a bird-friendly yard you can be proud of.

Save the seeds. When fall arrives, some tidy-minded gardeners might be inclined to snip the stems of perennials in the flower garden. But the seed heads of coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and other native wildflowers provide a helpful food cache for birds. “They’re almost invisible, those seeds, but birds eat them all winter long,” Winston says. Grasses—not the stuff you mow, but native species like bluestems or gramas—also make for good foraging after they go to seed. And letting other dead plants stick around can fill your property with protein-packed bird snacks in the form of insect larvae, such as the fly and wasp larvae that inhabit goldenrod galls.

Leave the leaves. You can help birds and other wildlife—and save yourself some backache and blisters—by skipping the leaf raking. “Those leaves are important because they rot and enrich the soil, and also provide places for bugs and birds to forage for food,” Winston says. If a fully hands-off approach doesn’t work for your yard, consider composting some leaves and letting the rest be. You could also rake them from the lawn to your garden beds, or mulch them with a mower to nourish your lawn.

Leaf litter isn’t just free fertilizer—it’s also a pretty happening patch of habitat for a variety of critters such as salamanders, snails, worms, and toads. “If you’re digging in the garden and come upon these squirmy little coppery-brown dudes, and you don’t know what they are—those are moth pupae,” Winston says. A healthy layer of undisturbed soil and leaf litter means more moths, which in their caterpillar phase are a crucial food source for birds.

Build a brush pile. Along with shaking loose showers of leaves, blustery fall days also tend to knock down tree limbs. Rather than hauling them away, you can use fallen branches to build a brush pile that will shelter birds from lousy weather and predators. American Tree Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, and other wintering birds will appreciate the protection from the elements. Rabbits, snakes, and other wildlife also will take refuge there. You’ll find that the pile settles and decomposes over the seasons ahead, making room for next year’s additions. (And it’s a great place to dispose of your Christmas tree.)

Skip the chemicals. You might see your neighbors spreading “weed and feed” mixtures in the fall to fertilize their lawns and knock back crabgrass and other unwanted plants. In most cases, though, grass clippings and mulched leaf litter provide plenty of plant nutrition and using store-bought fertilizers only encourages more non-native plants to grow. Generally speaking, native grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowering plants don’t need chemical inputs. Save a few bucks and keep your yard healthy for bugs and birds.

Hit the nursery. Although laziness can be a good thing when it comes to creating a bird-friendly backyard, it’s worth putting in some hard work planting native shrubs and trees. (Cooler temperatures also make fall a more comfortable time to tear out some turf grass and expand your native plant garden.) Native dogwoods, hawthorns, sumacs, and other flowering shrubs produce small fruits that not only feed birds during the colder months but can also provide a welcome pop of color when winter gets drab. Planted in the right place, evergreens like cedars and firs give birds something to eat and a cozy shelter. Fall is also a great time to liven up your property with late-blooming perennials such as asters or sages—and to buy spring- and summer-blooming wildflowers at a substantial discount.

To find species suited to your yard, just enter your ZIP code in Audubon’s native plants database. If you plant trees or shrubs this fall, they might not bear fruit this year—but come next winter, you and your backyard birds will be glad you did.

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.

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Gird Your Loins it’s Time to Shiver in the River

The event isn’t limited to jumping in the James, there’s a clean-up, a 5K, music, beer, music and more.

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The 6th Annual Shiver in the River 5k is hitting the James River this weekend, Saturday, February 29th at Tredegar. You can clean up, walk/run, or jump in the James River — or do all three. There is a lot going on and you can pick and choose what you’d like to do. All these events are to benefit Keep Virginia Beautiful.

It kicks off, picks off?, at 10:00 a.m. with a Community Cleanup along the banks of the James River.

A couple of hours later at noon the 5k walk/run runs a loop that starts and ends at Historic Tredegar, taking in the beauty of the James River.

The main event dips in at 1:30, The James River Leap. This fundraising Leap will take place along the chilly banks of the James near Historic Tredegar.  A minimum of $75 must be raised to participate in the Leap and to receive a commemorative long-sleeve T-shirt.  Must be 13 years or older to participate in the Leap.

Image: Dave Parrish

Don’t feel like getting wet? Well, join your fellow sane folks at the Winter Festival from 11 AM to 4 PM for a free event that offers music, beverages, food, heated tents, and, more.

Register Here

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La Milpa Food Truck Stolen

If you see the food truck pictured please contact the police

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Over the weekend one of the best Mexican restaurants in Richmond, La Milpa, had their food truck stolen. If you’ve seen the food truck notify the police as quickly as possible. The world needs every taco truck don’t let the bad guy deny us tacos.

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Must-See RVA! — Bellgrade Plantation

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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February 2020
  • AKA Belvidere, Bellgrade, Alandale, Allandale, Ruth’s Chris Steak House
  • 11500 West Huguenot Road
  • Built, 1732, 1824

The centerpiece of one of Chesterfield’s most notorious murders. PG-13!

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

Belgrade, known in the late nineteenth century as “Belvidere” and renamed “Alandale” in the early part of this century, features an unusual plan and a unique medley of roof types. Situated off Robious Road southwest of Bon Air, the house occupies a large open tract surrounded by rapidly expanding residential and commercial development.

February 2020

February 2020

Originally a one- or 1 ½-story hall-parlor house, Belgrade was expanded to its present form in 1824. In that year, Edward Cox conveyed the property to Edward O. Friend, and assessed buildings rose in value from $482 to $1,939. This increase reflects a complete transformation of the original dwelling from a hall-parlor structure to a large dwelling composed of a two-story, side-passage-plan main block flanked by matching 1-story one-room-plan wings.

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

The hipped gambrel roof covering each of the two wings is unusual, and Belgrade provides the latest recorded example in Virginia of this rare roof type. Another unusual feature is the apparently original 1-story lean-to at the west end of the building. The primary purpose of this eight-foot wide unit appears to have been to house a stair (similar in form and coeval to that in the main block) permitting separate interior and exterior access to the upper chamber of the south wing.

February 2020

February 2020

The present interior trim, varying only slightly among the various rooms on both floors, dates entirely to ca. 1824. The mantel in the main block consists of a simple architrave surround capped by a molded shelf with punch-and-dentil band. The mantels in each of the wings are nearly identical, featuring a raised-panel surround capped by a molded shelf. Upstairs mantels date from the same period, and feature plain architrave surrounds with simple molded shelves.

February 2020 — showing end of original construction at center-right, and the start of new construction at far-right

February 2020 — showing end of original construction at center-right, and the start of new construction at far-right

Two coeval staircases serve the house; both are of closed-string, straight-run form with rectangular balusters, square newel with molded cap, and molded rail. The stair in the main block is of unusual configuration: it divides at a narrow landing against the rear wall, where short flights lead respectively to chambers over the main block and north wing. The stair in the lean-to, which makes a turn about three-quarters of the way up, barely allows headroom at the upper landing.

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

Originally, matching dependencies flanked the house. A one-story, two-room-plan frame kitchen with center chimney stood seventy feet to the south of the house, while an office of similar form stood at an equal distance from the north end of the dwelling. Both were in a deteriorated state in the 1920s and were demolished. The only surviving early outbuilding is a frame gable-roofed smokehouse standing a few yards southwest of the house.

February 2020 — showing original construction at center, new construction at far left

February 2020 — showing original construction at center, new construction at far left

The earliest traced owner of the property was Edward Cox, who in 1824 sold the house and 515 acres to Edward O. Friend for $5,000. Friend, the son of Joseph Friend and grandson of Edward Friend (d. 1806), lived there until his death in 1838, when the property passed to his widow, Matilda E. Burfoot Friend. She remarried and sold the farm two years later to Anthony T. Robiou, who lived there until his death in 1851.

(Old Stocks) — Richmond and Danville Railroad Company 100 share stock certificate

(Old Stocks) — Richmond and Danville Railroad Company 100 share stock certificate

Robious Crossing, where the new Richmond and Danville Railroad line intersected Huguenot Road, was named for the then-current owner of the farm. Robiou is best remembered in Chesterfield County history, however, as the man whose murder precipitated one of the most publicized court trials in nineteenth century Virginia.

(Wikipedia) — Black Heath

(Wikipedia) — Black Heath

The episode began when Robiou filed a divorce suit against his young wife (who was only fourteen at the time of her wedding) charging her with infidelity. [CCO]

Apparently, it wasn’t a “maybe-she-is” situation. Robiou caught them mid-schtupp, still cracking the plaster, and took offense.

John S. Wormley, the girl’s father, along with John Reid, her allegedly adulterous suitor, waylaid Robiou on the road to Black Heath Pits (today’s Robious Road) and gunned him down. [CCO]

(Fineart America) — Infidelity, 18th Century art print by Granger

(Fineart America) — Infidelity, 18th Century art print by Granger

Imagine Robiou’s last moments contemplating the unfairness of it all. “My wife Emily cheats on me and I get whacked for complaining?” ‘Course the Wormley family was old and established, so it must have been a matter of honor perhaps for (rightfully) slandering the family name. At least he has a street named for him.

Both men were taken into custody shortly thereafter, and Wormley, a prosperous planter and lawyer, was found guilty at a trial held at Chesterfield Court House in October, 1851. A mistrial was later declared, however, on the grounds that the jurors had been treated to drinks beforehand by the deputy sheriff and county clerk. [CCO]

*hic… innnoshent, yer Honor…

(Executed Today) — scene of a 19th-century hanging

(Executed Today) — scene of a 19th-century hanging

Over a year later, a jury summoned from Richmond and Petersburg because of the local notoriety of the case sentenced Wormley to death. A week later, a crowd of 4,000 persons watched the 42-year-old man hanged at Chesterfield Courthouse. Reid, meanwhile, had been tried and acquitted, and before the hanging married the young widow whose husband he had been accused of murdering. [CCO]

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — Belgrade Foyer, 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — Belgrade Foyer, 1978

Of course, this all ends happily. Two weeks after her father’s hanging, Mrs. Emily Reid took a tumble down the front steps and perished. Poetic justice.

There are two accounts of how she died. One account is that she fell on a sewing basket and scissors punctured her heart. The other account is that she broke her neck. Since this tragedy, there have been hundreds of stories of sightings of the ghosts of Robiou and his young bride roaming the boxwood gardens behind the home. (Ruth’s Chris)

(Library of Congress) — Map of Chesterfield County, Va. — J. E. LaPrade, 1888 — Belgrade identified as Belvidere, right at the intersection of Robious and the Richmond and Danville Railroad

(Library of Congress) — Map of Chesterfield County, Va. — J. E. LaPrade, 1888 — Belgrade identified as Belvidere, right at the intersection of Robious and the Richmond and Danville Railroad

In 1851, the year of the first trial, Randolph Ammonett purchased the property from the trustees of Robiou’s estate for $2,025. Ammonett lived at Belgrade until his death in 1889. In his will, he directed that “an iron railing about 10 feet square be erected around the graves of myself and my deceased wife, J. J. Ammonett.” This fence still stands in the back yard, although there are no inscribed stones to identify the graves of either Amonett or his wife. [CCO]

Since then the place has been called Belvidere, Alandale, Allandale, and Bellgrade, the nom-de-plume that Ruth’s Chris prefers. Jeff O’Dell calls it Belgrade, and who are we to argue with an architectural historian?

Mary Wingfield Scott would not have approved with Ruth’s Chris’s alterations, but the steak house did end up preserving the original structure, so even if it isn’t on the historic registry, the spirit of the plantation house was preserved.

(Belgrade is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [CCO] Chesterfield County, Early Architecture and Historic Sites Jeffrey M. O’Dell. 1983.

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