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Birds and bees go wild for flower plots near Hazen

Purple bergamot, or bee balm, and black-eyed Susans are the star bloomers this month in a plot of pollinator grasses and wildflowers on Bill and Leone Wagner's land near Hazen. The Wagners are participating in a Honey Bee and Monarch Partnership program and the second year has been a blooming success. Submitted photo 1 / 3
Bill Wagner2 / 3
n a photo from earlier this summer, blooms of red clover and white yarrow were some of the predominant colors in Bill and Leone Wagner's pollinator plots on their land near Hazen. The seed mix is meant to provide a variety of blooming plants spring through fall to nourish bees, birds and butterflies. Photo by Lauren Donovan / Bismarck Tribune 3 / 3

HAZEN, N.D. — Bill Wagner is amazed at the popularity of his video starring five fuzzy chicks.

He got lucky with his trail cam and happened to catch the tiny pheasants trailing after momma hen in a plot of land he planted to benefit birds, bees and butterflies. He captured a few deer and a weasel on film, too, but it was the brood he was really after.

The video has been viewed more than 50,000 times since being posted several weeks ago on the state and national Pheasants Forever websites.

Wagner was thrilled to get the birds on film, but not more than Rachel Bush, Pheasants Forever state coordinator.

"We know there is a benefit to birds and bees, but it was great to see that pheasant broods do use the plots for insect foraging. We knew they would, but to actually see it is great," she said.

Wagner is one of 15 landowners in North Dakota participating in a multistate Honey Bee and Monarch Butterfly Partnership that involves Pheasants Forever as lead partner, along with honey producers, federal and state land and wildlife agencies and seed companies.

There are 260 acres in North Dakota planted with a diverse mix of grasses, blooming plants and wildflowers to improve conditions for pollinator bees and declining Monarch butterflies, with the idea that whatever's good for insects is good for birds, too.

The program will continue in the spring, and Bush said she's expecting another $100,000 allocation to buy the pricey seed mix of 44 grasses, clovers and wildflowers and compensate landowners $65 an acre for their work and land lease. It's not a lot of money, but landowners can use odd bits of land for a beneficial purpose and have the pleasure of seeing it come alive with blooming plants and buzzing insects.

Wagner, who lives just outside of town on land bordering the Knife River, was among the first to get involved in the partnership when it became available in 2015.

Last summer wasn't exactly a fizzle, but the plantings didn't dazzle, either.

"Last year, it seemed like it was all weeds. But you've got to be patient. There's something about wild plants, it's no flash in the pan," Wagner said.

This summer, the plantings exploded in color and sound. They're alive with blossoming black-eyed Susan, bee balm, cone flowers, yarrow and several clovers but they're truly alive with bees, a few butterflies and other insects besides.

"There are purples, reds, yellows. I've taken a couple hundred photos and it's like holy cow. There's been a definite evolving of color through the season, and it should continue changing into fall," Wagner said. "There's a monster variety of flowers and blooming things and it's just loaded with bees."

Wagner said the experience of having the divided seven-acre plot on his land has been gratifying.

"It's great to do something like this on the prairie. But you've got to be able to tolerate a little mess," he said.

This year, one of the plots had an infestation of horse's tail weed, which he, with the help of his wife, Leone, lopped off at the top to let the sun penetrate through.

"That was the only problem, but this just happens to be the year for horse's tail," he said.

Bush said landowners such as the Wagners could continue to see new varieties come into bloom as the plots mature and some seeds finally come into their own.

"We'll fine-tune the seed mix as we learn. With some soils, some seeds may do better than others, and, with some, it may take a couple of years to establish and bloom," she said.

One wonderful result — besides pheasants foraging in the plots, and bees, butterflies and insects having a field day — is the reaction from landowners.

"They're very happy with what they see and to us, that's just as important as what the bees and the butterflies are getting out of," Bush said.

Anyone interested in participating can call 701-403-4853.

CLOVER: In a photo from earlier this summer, blooms of red clover and white yarrow were some of the predominant colors in Bill and Leone Wagner's pollinator plots on their land near Hazen. The seed mix is meant to provide a variety of blooming plants spring through fall to nourish bees, birds and butterflies. (LAUREN DONOVAN, TRIBUNE).

BILL: Bill Wagner is one of 15 landowners in North Dakota participating in a multistate Honey Bee and Monarch Butterfly Partnership. (LAUREN DONOVAN, TRIBUNE).