Monday, June 18, 2018

Spreading seeds

Yellow flax
With rain in our forecast today and tomorrow, I decided this morning would be as good as time as any to spread seeds that I've been collecting this year. My stash included antelope horn, bluebonnet, yellow flax, standing cypress, skeleton-plant, and probably a few others that I can't remember. Fingers crossed for a spectacular spring 2019 wildflower show in the Meadow! (Thanks for the photos, James! And a video, too?)

Bluebonnet seeds



Saturday, June 16, 2018

Madrone update

Take a look at our Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis), gifted to us March 2017 by Mike Prochoroff at The Madrone Way. Doesn't she look GREAT?

Yesterday, I took a closer look and was amazed to discover, that at just a little over one year old, our madrone has already begun to peel her bark. I'll have to ask Mike about that.

Mike's reply: "She is doing superb. Yes, they can exfoliate very young when they get the water and are healthy. Otherwise they just grit their teeth and try to get through it all, like this drought. You are doing fine and are an inspiration."

My favorite beetle

Okay, I actually have two favorite beetles. But I digress. I first observed an ironclad beetle (Zopherus nodulosus haldemani) years ago at my former home in Blanco State Park. I was amazed and thought it was BEAUTIFUL. I still do. I've since discovered that this species has some interesting attributes, namely that it can play dead. Check out this 2015 post of mine, "You're never going to believe this," about one that came back to life.

ANYWAY, an ironclad beetle has been hanging out by the "pool" (birdbath) in our back yard. Last night, I picked it up so it wouldn't be swept off the beach when I added water to the birdbath. It immediately "died." I laughed. 

I went back later and checked on it. Sure enough, it was back up and walking around. I laughed some more.
This morning, I went back outside and checked so I could add an update to this blog post (photo below). You got it––our ironclad beetle friend is still hanging out around the pool!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Fluff everywhere!

We drove by the Meadow today, and I noted that the pods on our antelope horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula) have begun to bust open. So after supper, I went outside with a glass jar and collected as many seeds as I could.



Instead of standing in the hot sun, trying to separate the fluff from each seed, I sat down on a rock ledge under our big live oak in the front yard (James caught me on camera, above). Robins chortled in nearby trees, and chimney swifts twittered overhead as I let the breeze carry off the white fluff. I felt myself relax as I worked. If possible, I'll try and collect some more seeds as more pods open. Then later on, I'll spread the seeds in the Meadow in hopes of upping our antelope horn numbers.

Milkweed finally bloomed

This milkweed finally bloomed! We bought it in April 2016. I labeled it as a bract milkweed (Asclepias brachystephana), but the flowers don't match. Maybe a showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)? Nope. Flowers aren't right. Maybe another butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)? Rats. Appears so. We already have that species in our Wildscape. Unless you have some other ideas?


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Using iNaturalist as a tool

https://www.inaturalist.org/homeI am almost an iNaturalist addict. Not quite but close. (As an aside, I nominate user sambiology as the official Inaturalist Addict.) But wait a minute.... iNaturalist? What's that, you may say? Well, since you've asked, I shall gladly explain.

iNaturalist is a nature app that's used to identify plants and animals anywhere and everywhere. More than 750,000 users worldwide post photographs (observations) of plants, insects, animals, and all other kinds of nature onto iNaturalist, which is both a smartphone app and a website.  I got started using iNaturalist with my digital cameras when I joined the 2016 Texas Pollinator BioBlitz back in October 2016. If you go to that page, you'll see that a user by the name of sherylsr (that's me) got into the "top five," both in numbers of observations and numbers of species. During that 10-day window of posting observations, I got addicted to searching for and finding new species within our yard. Then the BioBlitz ended. However, my fascination with and appreciation for iNaturalist didn't. In fact, it grew.

It especially grew after I learned how to create a specific "place" within iNaturalist. I lined out boundaries for our Blanco property, which is a certified Texas Wildscape, and created The Pink House.
Now whenever I post observations, they're added to our species list at the Pink House. This is so cool and something I couldn't do with this blog. In the past, I did create separate bird and butterfly/moth lists, which you can link to on this blog. But iNaturalist allows me to maintain ALL kinds of species lists. It is just awesome that way. Currently, I've documented 400+ species within our Texas Wildscape, which is approximately one acre within town.

Also, thanks to iNaturalist, I've learned even more about nature. For instance, I recently spotted this Apiomerus spissipes, an  assassin
Apiomerus spissipes

bug, on an antelope horn in the Meadow. Not only was it a new species for our Wildscape, but this bug seems to favor bees for meals, per other observers on iNaturalist. I sure hate to see one less bee in the world, but that's nature how works.

And look what I spotted on a flowering common yarrow yesterday–a feather-legged fly, likely Trichopoda plumipes. I was so excited when I found it and took lots of photos to post on
Trichopoda plumipes


iNaturalist. That's one thing I try to do: When possible, I take lots of different shots and angles to help other observers identify the specimen, whether it be plant or animal. When I posted this insect, I selected "Flies" as my initial ID. Then I checked other fly observations at the Pink House. Lo and behold, I observed a Trichopoda lanipes on Aug. 15, 2016. Same feather-footed genus! So then I searched the genus Trichopoda within Texas on iNaturalist and found what looks to be my recent find–Trichopoda plumipes. Cool, cool, cool!  

Here's another iNaturalist success story. For years, I thought we had
Scutellaria drummondii
only Wright's skullcap (Scuterllaria wrightii) in our Wildscape. I found the volunteer native species in the Meadow and also in our back yard. This week, I posted on iNaturalist what I thought was another Wright's skullcap. WRONG! It's Drummond's skullcap (Scutellaria drummondii). Thanks to user caliche_kid, I learned that Wright's is a perennial, and Drummond's is an annual. I dug up the Drummond's, which was growing in James "mowing right-of-way" and moved it into a protected flower bed in our back yard. 


The same thing happened with another volunteer species. For years, I thought we had prairie acacia in the Meadow.
Velvet bundleflower
When I posted an observation, user Alisonnorthup disagreed and IDed the plant as velvet bundleflower (Desmanthus velutinus). I did a little research and agreed. So I corrected my blog and also a name tag out in the gardens. I want everything to be absolutely right!


Last week, I posted photos on iNaturalist of Kern's flower scarab beetles having fun in cacti blooms. Observations can also document insect and animal behavior.
Euphoria kernii
In the past, I used to post new species on this blog. I don't do that so much now because I put them on iNaturalist. I also rarely use my digital camera in the yard because it's so much easier and faster to take shots using my smartphone, even more so since I upgraded to a (used) iPhone 6. I upload directly from my phone to iNaturalist. It takes more time and steps to upload observations using a camera. Sometimes I feel guilty because I'm not using my nice DSLR cameras, if at all, in the yard. But they just can't beat the portability and user-friendliness of my iPhone.


Do you use iNaturalist? What do you think? How do you use it? Personally, I only post observations that I find within our Wildscape. Also, I do not post observations of plants that we've planted, only the true natives. Staying within our Pink House boundaries keeps me focused only on this property (otherwise I might be like user sambiology....Oh, hi, Sam!) and restricts my species list just to this property. James posts observations on our rural land via his own iNaturalist account.

So there you have it–my take on iNaturalist. In the meantime, here are some other new species I've recently found in our Wildscape and documented on iNaturalist. Check'em out!
Proxys punctulatus
Hemileuca groeti
Smartweed leafflower
Colonus sylvanus
Common Hentz jumper
Notched-tipped flower longhorn beetle

Thursday, May 3, 2018

New additions

Meet our new native friends, purchased/adopted from the Medina Garden Nursery:

Compass plant (Silphium albiflorum)   
Goldenball leadtree (Leucaena retusa)
Redroot (Ceanothus americanus)
Roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii)
Standing winecup (Callirhoe digitata)
Texas barberry (Mahonia swaseyi)