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Gilland to speak on attracting birds with trees

Part of Camden Archives and Museum garden lecture series

Posted: March 2, 2012 4:23 p.m.
Updated: March 5, 2012 5:00 a.m.

I never really gave it much thought. Birds were always around my house and yard while growing up on then-rural James Island near Charleston.

Forty-five years ago, James Island was the “country,” full of vast truck farming fields and heavily wooded old plantation and farm tracts. Old dirt roads, so old that they were worn into the soil several feet down, transversed the island underneath thick canopies of live oaks, maples, pecan and walnut trees. Tall pines grew where old fields had been allowed to lay fallow for decades. The underbrush was filled with cassena, cherry laurel, beauty bush, and holly trees and these were festooned with muscadine and smilax vines. Wild grasses grew in the fields at the edges of the woods.

James Island was full of fresh water springs which filled the ponds that dotted the island landscape. Water fowl flocked to the edges of the salt marshes and saltwater ponds, which were brimming with small fish and fiddler crabs. It was bird heaven! Everything they needed to successfully flourish was right there in abundance -- a canopy of trees, a middle story of large shrubs, an understory of thickets and small shrubs, a ground covers of grasses and wild flowers. There was a profusion of berries and seeds, and plenty of water. The woods afforded them protection from the elements. There were vast open spaces when they wanted them. And then, slowly, it wasn’t the same place any more.

Slowly, through time, as truck farming gave way to the demand for housing close to Charleston, the open fields became subdivisions of endless tract houses. The old woodlands were next -- dotted with fashionable, upscale housing. Development obliterated the historic landscape. Vast tracts were needed for new schools, and shopping centers with sprawling parking lots spread like wildfire. Every inch of shoreline was built upon, in our search for Charleston’s famous views from our back door. Trees were felled to make way for grassy lawns, and natural shrubs and flora were cleared away from our new homes. The egrets quit coming to roost in the live oaks by the edge of our lake. Sighting a blue heron became less common.

The fresh water springs began to disappear mysteriously and lakes in our old neighborhood dried up. Bird heaven was disappearing as the population of island dwellers increased. All of a sudden, we were hearing about “backyard habitats” for wildlife. James Island is not the “country” any more. The same phenomenon has taken place in Camden, as the piney woods adjacent to the old town limits began to develop into subdivisions in the 1950s and 1960s.

Liz Gilland will speak to us about how to use trees to invite those feathered friends back into our man-made environment in this modern age. Her presentation will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. March 15 in the Whiteley Room at the Camden Archives and Museum. Gilland is Camden’s Urban Forester and holds the distinction of being the only full-time urban forester in South Carolina for a city with less than 10,000 residents. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Resource Management from Virginia Tech and has been an ISA Certified Arborist for 15 years. Before coming to Camden, she worked for the South Carolina Forestry Commission for 18 years. She proclaims that she is a “tree geek.”

Gilland’s presentation is free and open to the public. Join us at the archives at 1314 Broad St. March 15 -- and then invite the birds to your garden!

(Katherine H. Richardson is the deputy director of the Camden Archives and Museum.)

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