Friday, May 31, 2013

Giane coneflower

 
 Last April, we bought two giant coneflowers (Rudbeckia maxima) from the Mostly Native Plant Sale in Boerne. This month, one is blooming for the first time. It's beautiful! Giant coneflowers can grow as tall as six feet. As you can see, this one is taller than our chain-link fence.
In the wild, I'd only seen them once somewhere out toward East Texas. I took some digital pictures of them but don't know what happened to them. Then last week, I spotted one growing near San Marcos. On the way back (a different trip) via RR 32, I saw a cluster growing in a dry stream bed or draw. Cool!




This jumping spider was messing around with a stick that was somehow attached to the flower. He acted like he was trying to rig an escape hatch. I don't know what happened after I left. Doesn't he know that he's got built-in drag-line equipment?


Thursday, May 30, 2013

They're still here

Our martins. They came back. I just knew they'd leave today and never return. But they proved me wrong. Yet again.

This evening, I was going to put in a sparrow trap. Since today was perhaps a hatching day, I took some photos of the martins' nest. No eggs showed up. I took another picture, then another. No eggs. Tentatively, I reached inside the compartment and softly touched around the leaves. No eggs. 

Gone.

Vanished. 

I was stunned. James reached inside, too, and felt around. He couldn't believe it. "Four eggs," he said, "gone."

Sadly, I cleaned out the sparrow nests from two other compartments and threw the material on the ground. I didn't feel like putting in a trap. Then I went back inside the house and shared my sad news on the Purple Martin Conservation Association's page on Facebook. 

"No eggs," I wrote. "Our four eggs are gone. The first would have been hatching around today. And we'd just put up the predator guard this week. And this morning, I just paid my dues to the PMCA and the North Texas Purple Martin group...our brand new colony is done. Finished. I feel so sad for the martins too."

Then I cried.

 "I don't think I can do this any more," I typed on the page. ".....sorry.......I'm really down right now..................."

I really felt like giving up on this business of being a purple martin landlord. Obviously, we'd failed. Because their eggs were gone. Likely eaten by a rat snake. We'd even met up with one in the back yard yesterday. James got pictures of it, too. We didn't think anything about it. We like snakes. But now... It's such a moral dilemma for me. Because of the martins, I trap sparrows (then give them to my Hit Man for execution). I appreciate the role that snakes play in nature, and I've never hated or feared them. But now, what do I do? It's hard. We have decided to get rid of two brush piles on our property. We'd let them pile up as "snags" and places that wildlife could hide. But now we wonder if that was wise after all. Maybe the rat snakes live there.

This evening, I stood in The Meadow, amazed and stunned to see our martin pair flying around the house. I'd just assumed that they would abandon their nest if a snake had indeed eaten their eggs. But there they were, flitting around and landing on their porch. At first, he sat and chortled a bit sadly. I wanted to cry. "I'm sorry," I said. "I'm so sorry you lost your eggs."

But after awhile, he perked up and seemed happier. He'd take off, and she'd follow behind. They'd land on their porch, pop inside their compartment and chatter softly. Then they'd take off again. In and out, in and out.  

So, if you're not going to give up, then I guess I can't either. Then I thought back on everything we've been through together. A first lady mate that didn't stay. A starling attack. Sparrow invasions. The day I thought a hawk had taken the male. And now the loss of four eggs.

Yet there they were, my martin male and female, going back inside the compartment where they'd lost their unhatched. How brave is that?

Truly, how brave IS that? I've decided that I'm going to try to have the courage of a purple martin.

Gone



 Our four purple martin eggs are gone. I don't think I can be a purple martin landlord after all.
And we'd just put up that fancy predator guard, too. What was the point. 

James' new project



James can't sit still for long. Since we're now officially purple martin landlords, we trek back and forth across The Meadow to the martin house to trap sparrows and nest check. We were stepping over his cedar fence until James took out a section and started working on an arbor and gate. It's going to look beautiful!

Mostly familiar, some new natives

Silver bladderpod (Lesquerella argyraea)
Silver bladderpod (Lesquerella argyraea)
Working on this one....
Wright's skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii)
Scarlet pea (Indigofera miniata)
Catclaw sensitive briar (Mimosa microphylla)
I love to touch the leaves and watch them fold up....
Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) with a lurking crab spider on two petals

Pipevine eggs!



Yesterday afternoon, I was in the Meadow, helping James with his newest project (stay tuned). In between assisting, I pulled snailseed vine (lots of it) and other weedy stuff that's overrunning the rocked-in bed that encloses several live oaks. While I was working, a pipevine swallowtail fluttered past and landed near one of the three non-native pipevines (Aristolochia fimbriata) that we planted. She touched on a henbit, then a dayflower, then a pipevine leaf. Over and over again she landed and touched, landed and touched on plants. Nothing seemed to meet her approval. I stopped pulling and watched until finally she found a pipevine stem near me that she liked. Bent at my waist, head upside down, I kept watching while she deposited seven orangish eggs. I was thrilled!


"Hey, do the boys want to see some butterfly eggs that were just laid?" I hollered across the street at my neighbors. They were sitting on their front deck with their two grandsons. "I just saw them being laid!" 

In a flash, Caleb and Clayton dashed over and crouched down next to me. I showed them the new eggs and explained how pipevine swallowtail butterflies ALWAYS lay their eggs on pipevine leaves. Then I showed them a little pipevine caterpillar that I'd spotted. 

"Would you like to come back when the caterpillars get bigger? They're REALLY cute!" The boys nodded and smiled. "OK, I'll let your grandmother know." 

The little info that I found on incubation says the eggs take 10 days to hatch. Let the countdown begin!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Purple martin update

May 28, 2013--no babies yet. But SOON!
May 25, 2012

Wildlife sightings



I've been busy AND lazy lately so I haven't posted in a week. Last Friday, I saw something moving by our chain-link fence. I kept looking and then..."JAMES, THERE'S A COTTONTAIL IN THE BACK YARD!" I hadn't seen one on our side of the street in years and years. It was quite exciting. When the rabbit seemed like it couldn't find its way out, we decided to step outside. As soon as it saw me, it sped across the yard and slipped through an opening between the house and fence. The photo above was taken through a window, then cropped tight. We opened a window to get the shot below, but it's still not very great. Sorry!
Can you find the rabbit? (Hint: Search along the rock line.)
Then at supper that evening, look who showed up and acted like SHE wanted to explore our back yard, too? We've got a herd of five white-tailed deer that roam our neighborhood. Yay. (Yes, that is sarcasm in my voice that you hear.)


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another classroom visit



For the third week in a row, science teacher Pam Meier brought three students from the Blanco Middle School to tour our Wildscape. They walk from campus and stay about a half hour. Today, we listened for the calls of baby mockingbirds begging parents to feed them and the chorltes of adult purple martins flying overhead. I showed them tiny caterpillars munching on passionflower vines and explained how, in nature, many plants feed specific insects. Which is why you shouldn't always squash them when you find them in your gardens. They asked about the turk's cap (photo above), which grows in the wild here in the Hill Country. However, we couldn't find the species in the guidebooks they brought (the classic Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgidoesn't include turk's cap, darn it).

The girls will return for two more Wednesday morning tours. Then it's summer vacation! In the meantime, Pam and I are discussing the idea of having more students come next year, which would be GREAT! I love sharing our Texas Wildscape.
 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Note to self

This morning along the fence in The Meadow, I scattered seeds from white rock lettuce (Pinaropappus roseus) given to us by Linda and Ron Chang last Friday.

Monday, May 20, 2013

New bird

My bird expert Joanne thinks this was a female common yellowthroat (sighted May 16), which migrate through Central Texas. These aren't great images because I crop'em tight.



New friends and new plants



Last Friday, we spent the afternoon, exploring the native gardens around the home of Ron and Linda Chang. WOW! Their collection is AMAZING! They started 19 years ago when they bought their land and built a home. We saw so many species! Not to mention both Ron and Linda know each by their BOTANICAL name. We have to go back because we didn't get to see everything. 

To my delight, they sent us home with six new friends:
 
Goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)
Lindheimer's crownbeard (Verbesina lindheimeri)
Bracted passionflower (Passiflora affinis)  
Pearl milkweed (Matelea reticulata
Wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata)
Mexican orchid (Bauhinia mexicana) [Note: Not native to Texas but great butterfly nectar host]

I'm VERY excited to get a pearl milkweed. I've wanted one of those for a long time. And another native passionflower vine, too. Wonderful!

THANK YOU, Ron and Linda! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

BAD snail!



HA! Two years ago, I thought this was "Just a snail." Well, it's a snail, all right. But the non-native milk snail (Otala lactea), which is a BAD BAD BAD snail. (Unless, as I joked two years ago, you happen to love escargot.) This spring, I've found more milk snails in our Wildscape than ever before. Like coreopsis leaf beetles and English house sparrows, I HATE THIS SNAIL SPECIES. It doesn't belong here, and it eats our plants.

I'll never forget a photo posted by a friend of mine on her Facebook page. A plant in her yard was COVERED with these snails. That was a red flag to me. The picture told me that this species CAN get out of hand. So ever since then, I've killed them (I place a piece of ball moss on top of the thing, then STOMP), or I get my sweet Hit Man (James) to do the execution. I still don't like to kill stuff.

So how'd they get here? Snail expert/Mollusk Man Max Anton wrote me in 2011 that: "All Helicidae are exotic, having been imported from Europe and Asia Minor. The milk snail is formerly known as the Spanish Edible Snail, so it is probably more closely associated with the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. I'm not sure how Otala lactea found its way specifically to the Hill Country, but most likely, it migrated there after being introduced in other parts of the country for the escargot trade. Snails have a knack for hitching rides in potted plants, shipping crates, and other transported goods.

Around here, I've found them on the outside of our house. In the grass. On the sides of potted plants. Earlier this week, I spotted a small one at the Blanco Good Samaritan Center. Squish!  So look around your yard, especially after a rain. I bet you have some, too. But I sure hope not!

Milk snail on spiderwort
I found two snails on the same spiderwort this morning. I summoned my favorite Hit Man, and he took care of the varmints for me.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Purple martin nest check

 FOUR EGGS!  
She lays one each consecutive morning around sunrise, no more than seven.

Happy belated anniversary!



We received some anniversary cash for our May 2 (number seven!), and I know these special people wanted us to spend ALL of it on nice dinners out. Well, we did indulge at a seafood restaurant. But we had a lot left...so what else would James and Sheryl do but buy PLANTS! Naturally! Today we visited Blanco Gardens and came home with: damianita (six), grey santolina (two), green santolina (two), salvias (pink, red and 'Nuevo Leon'), cedar sage (three), pink skullcap (one) and one catnip. James didn't feel good, but he planted nearly everything (I took care of a few plants). He'd been wanting to get a front bed looking better. And it does now! I love you, James!


Nature's symmetry



The symmetry in milkweed blooms fascinates me. Above is a single flower on an antelope horns cluster(Asclepias asperula). Now take a look at a single flower on a purple milkweed vine (Matelea biflora). They both have a five-pointed star shape.These two related species are growing side by side in The Meadow. And thank goodness the city has agreed not to mow along the streets because these milkweeds are growing on city easements!


I've never seen this many flowers in a cluster on a purple milkweed vine. Cool!

Indian beauty



Indian blankets (Gaillardia pulchella) are in the process of blooming across The Meadow. Come by and see!
 

Purple martin update

We're gonna have little ones!


Two evenings ago, I happened to look up and see this rainbow. Our martin flew overhead so I ran inside for my camera. This was the only decent shot I could get of him and the rainbow. I doctored it up a lot, and you can barely see him in the left half of the photo. See that black speck in the sky? 


And YES, I checked inside the nest yesterday and counted THREE eggs with my fingertips! Hip hip HOORAY! Stay tuned! I plan to check again today.
 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Another native volunteer!


Last summer, I noticed a weedy-looking plant growing under the bird feeder. Like I often do, I let it go, wondering if it might turn into something worth keeping. Well, it did! Meet our healthy, happy, robust Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). A month or so ago, I tried transplanting both some Mexican hats and prairie verbena, which are both native perennials. But it's just so much more fun (and easier) when they volunteer in our Wildscape.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Our purple martins



It's truly and wonderfully officially now...we are purple martin landlords. Our martin guy did find a gal, and this one stayed. So they're working on a nest and fighting off sparrows. 

So are we. We've bought a Universal Sparrow Trap that fits in a house compartment and a Deluxe Repeating Sparrow Trap that sits on the ground. I've never been one to kill ANYTHING, but English house sparrows and European starlings (both nonnative) can destroy martin eggs and murder nestlings. So we're being defensive about the martins and trying to get the enemies under control. So far, with the univerisal trap, we've nabbed two male sparrows (those are the ones you want to get) and one female. A trapped starling got away, darn it.
Nest May 5, 2013
I tried taking some videos in hopes of catching their sweet chortle. I didn't get the chortle, but you can see a martin "hissing" aggressively at a sparrow. The second video was an accident, but I got the chortle!

video
video

May 2013 in our Wildscape