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Backyard Biodiversity - What's in Yours?

Backyard biodiversity, the amazing number of species that can be found even in a small yard!

In typical East Brunswick fashion my 40 year-old house sits on a 1\3 of an acre. If you stretch your arms out fully and take a little jump you can almost touch the house on either side. The house is surrounded by maintained lawn that is mostly moss in lots of places owing to 15 large oak trees that create dense (and wonderful) shade and suck up every spare drop of water in the summer. Lawns and oak trees really aren't compatible. We have lots of flower beds around the yard, mostly planted with perennials, that have become a bit unkempt over the past few years and are in need of some work. We like a more naturalistic look and allow some of our yard to be just a bit "rough." It isn't sloppy but we certainly won't be mistaken for an English-style garden. If you look from the air down on the yard, we abut the High School parking lot on one side, houses on two others and the street and more houses in the front. My neighborhood is essentially a 25 or 30 acre island of single-family homes, most with large trees, completely surrounded on all sides by higher density development. When the neighborhood was built about 40 years ago, the developer left most of the large trees and a summer photo from the air looks like a forest with homes stuck in between.

But despite the surrounding development and the small size of the yard, the amount of wildlife that we've seen over the years is pretty incredible. From to , a deer once, now, voles, moles, mice, chipmunks, gray squirrels, opossum, ground hog, Red bellied, downy, hairy and flicker woodpeckers, house and Carolina wrens, tufted titmouse, chicadee, brown creeper, Baltimore oriole, black and white warbler, rose breasted grosbeak, blue jay, cardinal, robin, goldfinch, mourning dove, a fowler's toad, a red-backed salamander and on and on. Most are just passing through and don't stay to breed or nest, but it's nice to know they find our yard worth the stop.

While the number of animals is large, the biodiversity of the insects is amazing. For many years, I've enjoyed trying to see what is in my yard using various techniques like Mercury Vapor and Blacklights, casual observations and even sugaring like we do at Moth Night. In the past, I did a lot of pinning, a scientific technique that preserves the insects forever if cared for correctly and that forms the basis of all the great insect collections in the world. More recently I've been taking photographs. I hope to have a field guide to the moths of East Brunswick just like the one for butterflies up and running on the Friends website sometime later this year. So keep an eye out for it and share any photos you take of moths in East Brunswick and we will put them in the Field Guide. Simply email them to us at friends.ebec@gmail.com.

I think knowing what is around us is important and can help us to make wise decisions about things like pesticide use, cutting trees, the way we landscape and the way we maintain our yards. While many of us in town might not be able to have the wildlife of a 200-acre forest in our yards, by looking closely we might be astonished by what is actually there. I know I have been and continue to be.

I've attached a few photos of some of the moths I've collected in my backyard over the years. Each one has two small labels with data on them and they are in specially designed insect drawers to keep them from decay. It's little know but Rutgers has one of the best collections of New Jersey insects in the world right on Cook Campus. It has more than 250,000 specimens, many dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries and from places that no longer are natural. The collection is like an irreplacable library of New Jersey's biodiversity and is well worth a visit. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

E-Nonymous September 14, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Nice collection! Looking forward to seeing the field guide of the moths of East Brunswick. Glad that you did not do any pinning of owls or squirrels...
Dave Moskowitz September 15, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Thanks...I've also taken a great deal of photos of moths in my backyard and lots more have been taken on our annual Moth Nights by many people, so in combination the pinned ones and the photos should create a nice reference for anyone interested. And the Friends would like the Online Field Guide to be interactive so anyone having photos and wishing to share them for the guide should send them to the Friends @ friends.ebec@gmail.com

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