California Least Tern

Which is the weed?

Did you know?

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

My wise old grandmotherMy wise old grandmother,
a Master Gardener
before there was such a designation,
always told me that a weed
is any plant
that is growing
where you don’t want it to grow.

Okay then.

Picture 1, weed or not?Weedy rose

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Picture 2, weeds or not?Not weeds

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The first, a yellow rose, grows in my cactus garden. I cannot get rid of it. I have tried cutting it down, chopping it down, drowning it, withholding water, digging it out. It keeps coming back. It is a weed because it grows where I don’t want it to grow.

The second picture shows weeds that are not weeds because they grow where people want them to grow. Who are these people?

Oh, I’m so confused….

Weeds…. Not weeds…. Weeds…. Not weeds….

The weeds that are not weeds surround a runway at the San Diego International Airport.
Hmmm.
Great picture for those looking out the window while their plane is landing

 “Wow, honey, look at all the weeds.
Why doesn’t someone mow them down or something?”

Well, the weeds that are not weeds are a nesting site for a rare colony of California Least Terns.

California Least Tern

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

In 1973, there were only about 300 nesting pairs of California Least Terns in all of California. Today, thanks to projects like this one run by the San Diego Zoo and the County Regional Airport Authority, there are over 6,000 nesting pairs in California, still not enough to ensure their survival because there are only thirty colony nesting sites in the State.

Birds lay their eggs directly on the sand/gravel surface. The warmth of the sun and sand apparently helps the birds develop within the egg. Areas like this near the airport are critical because the birds don’t have to compete with beach-goers, the planes chase away most predatory raptors, and the airport fence keeps out dogs, foxes, and other four-legged hunters.

Look at the second picture and you can see a little fence in the bottom foreground. That fence is a whopping ten inches high and defines the actual nesting site within the airport fence. During nesting season you can see eggs laying on the surface, and parents closely guarding them.

Their wintering location remains unknown, which I thought was interesting, but biologists suspect that they winter along the Pacific Coast in South America.

I intend on going back to this site during breeding season (April to mid-June) to see if I can get some pictures of parents and eggs, maybe even some little chicks.

For more about the California Least Tern, see the Wikipedia page.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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13 thoughts on “Which is the weed?

  1. Minuscule Moments

    Wonderful story I would enjoy watching their nesting season. I remember when my husband use to hate a weed that took over our garden, yet when he studies bush regeneration he discovered this weed in nature was used by all manner of small birds and creatures. Nature is unpredictable and forever adapting thank goodness.

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  2. Megan S

    It’s so important that people realise that what they may think of as a weed could actually be a vital part of the habitat for another species. Thank you for sharing this story.

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  3. philsandersonwriter

    I’m a cat-lover currently missing my two cats, Anna and Ringo. My (soon to be…but not soon enough…ex-wife asked me to leave and has, since, given them away to a woman living in Tennessee. This was a very tough Christmas. Your cat is very beautiful and photogenic! She seems very sweet too, from what we all are seeing in your photos. Have a Happy New Year!

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  4. Margaret Griffin

    Perhaps the cactus like having the rose as company. They have things in common – they are all thorny, spiky, prickly and are great survivors.
    It is great to see an airport can provide ideal habitat for an endangered species.

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  5. Forget the Viagra...Pass me a Carrot!

    Reblogged this on Forget the Viagra, Pass Me a Carrot and commented:
    As always some great photographs from Russel, but this got me to thinking about people and weeds. We use that expression don’t we. Weed out the weak ones… etc. I am a hopeless gardener – I love a riot of colour and our Spanish friend and gardener will come along and rip out a whole swathe of pinks and blues that are actually just where I want them to be! I love a wild garden – and I probably enjoy that sort relationship with the people in my life too. So perhaps the rose in the cactus garden, has no other competition from other roses, only the cactus and when the bees, that the flower needs to spread its pollen enter the area, the rose has them all to themselves. Thanks Russel.

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  6. cat9984

    One time I read about some Hawaiians who considered orchids weeds because they could not get them out of their lawn. An amazing idea for a Michiganian. (Zoey looks like she’s all worn out from the holiday.)

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