Thursday, April 30, 2015

I give UP

That's it. 

No more. 

I give up.

I give in. 

I throw in the towel.

I quit.

I can't take it any more.

I just took down our purple martin house and found a sparrow nest in one of the four gourds that we hung underneath it. The nest is too far along. There are baby sparrows in it. I cannot kill them. Nor will I ask James to do it. All this season, we didn't even have ONE martin fly by and check out the house, like they've done in the past. 

So, after seven years, I give UP.

At some point, I'll put my purple martin set-up on Craigslist, I guess. Complete with predator guards and sparrow traps.

And white gourds.

Guess I'll go count milkweeds now..... 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

New beetle and a bit of moth intrigue

Earlier this afternoon, I'd been out in the Meadow when I spotted a cool moth. Darn, no camera. So I headed back to the house and nearly got mowed down in the back yard by a HUGE flying insect or bug. It landed on the side of a barrel so I was able to see that it was a click beetle. Cool! I returned with my camera, but, alas, it was gone. However, I fortunately found it, sitting on the mulch not far away from the barrel. So I got some nice shots. Back at my desk, I've been able to identify it as a big-eyed elater (Alaus oculatus). Pretty big beetle! At first, it reminded me at first of an ironclad beetle. The colors are similar.

Then I headed back out to the Meadow...hopefully, the moth was still there. And it was! This is a new species to me. Isn't it pretty? It's sitting atop a yet-to-bloom Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella). "Hmmm," I thought to myself at my desk later, "wonder if it's a gaillardia moth?"

BINGO!

Meet the gaillardia moth (Schinia masoni)! I've submitted this image to the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. BUT WAIT! I can't find this species on Bugguide.net, only a Schinia volupia. So I've uploaded this image there to confer with their experts.

Further reading (posted June 2009) under this Schinia volupia image: "Identified by Chuck Harp, referee for Heliothinae at Moth Photographers Group. According to Chuck, this species seems to follow the Arkansas River from the eastern plains. To the north it hybridizes with Schinia masoni. If the two species should be lumped, S. volupia will remain the senior name."

So maybe I found a Schinia volupia? Stay tuned!

Blackland Prairie Guide

Last week, Brett Bim with the North Texas chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists contacted me via email. "I'm part of the 2015 class," he wrote, "and we are creating a free field guide of animals, insects and plants of the Blackland Prairie. You have a wonderful picture of a grasslands cicada, and I was wondering if we could use that in our field guide with attribution to you."

Sure, I wrote back.

Today, I got word that their project is DONE! Take a look:

http://public.ntmn.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/FIELD_GUIDE_web.pdf


Well done, fellow Master Naturalists! I'm honored to have contributed to your project. Thank you!

Mockingbirds, too

So a mockingbird couple has taken up residence as well in our back yard. They chose a clump of ball moss right over our rock patio for their nest site. So now when I go outside, I get glares and evil looks from the mockingbirds. The squirrels get chased, and even a hummingbird that innocently perched on a nearby oak branch got harrassed. 



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wrens in progress

Isn't she just CUTE?

Lizard love?

I shall preface this story with an incident that happened yesterday afternoon. I was in my office, seated at my desk, when I heard something scratching at a window behind me. I got up, thinking What kind of bird this time? I peered through the mini blinds and saw a TEXAS SPINY LIZARD! I ran to the dining room and quietly opened the door to the back yard. Sure enough, the lizard was by the window, perched on the brick facing (which we call the "catwalk" because cats like to walk along it). As soon as I started down the back steps, the lizard scurried along the catwalk, then down the brick wall and into the salvias. Oh, well. I thought nothing more of the incident. Other than how cool! We love our spiny lizards.

THEN last night after supper, I was making my rounds through the gardens when I happened to spot a spiny lizard, apparently in the process of digging out a place to deposit her eggs in a flower bed. Last August, we observed one doing the same thing in the Meadow.
I was headed back inside the house to tell James when I SPOTTED A SECOND LIZARD on the side of the house! James was just coming out to the back yard. "JAMES, COME SEE!" I hollered (but not too loud) as I waved him over. This was a first for us–to observe two lizards while one was laying eggs.




Here's a photo of the two of them. She's on the ground in the far bottom corner, up against the rocks. The second one on the wall was very dark colored, but later he/she lightened and she darkened.
We left them alone and went inside the house to watch from our bedroom window. After we were gone, the second lizard climbed down the wall and got closer to her. The photo below was taken through the window (she's barely visible on the left bottom side). She finished her project while the other one climbed over to the other side of the rocks near the plant. Finally, the first lizard scuttled away. We don't know where the other he/she went after that because we gave up the watch.

I'm going to email this post to Travis LaDuc with Herps of Texas (and the curator at the Division of Herpetology at the Biodiversity Collections, Department of Integrative Biology at The University of Texas at Austin) and ask if he's seen this behavior before. 

UPDATE Travis responds: "Some lizards are known to lay eggs in communal nests, though I don’t know if this has been reported in Texas spiny lizards. My guess is that lizard #2 was another female, scoping out the nest site excavated by lizard #1. Lizard #2 looks a bit chunky, like she’s ready to lay some eggs too. Just a guess, but good for you guys for seeing and documenting such interesting behavior!"

Tree ducks

We still have black-bellied whistling-ducks that like to hang out in our oaks in the front yard. I love to hear them chatter.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Time to clean bird feeders!

So I can scratch THAT off my to-do list. 

After lunch today, I cleaned our seed feeders with vinegar and water (one part vinegar to four parts water). It needed to be done. Plus, I'd read a press release on the subject, "Wildlife experts urge safety, cleanliness for bird feeders." Yesterday, I chatted with ornithologist Cliff Shackelford (who wrote the release) about another topic, and we briefly discussed bird feeders. Needless to say, now James and I (okay, mostly me) are thinking of taking down our sunflower feeder for the summer months. (Read the release for more info.)

Back to feeder cleaning solutions, Wild Birds Unlimited recommends "using one part liquid chlorine household bleach in nine parts of tepid water (a 10 percent solution) to disinfect. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, cleaned feeder completely for two to three minutes. Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, but weekly cleaning may be needed if you notice sick birds at your feeders."

Bottom line: All bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, must be kept clean to protect bird health. 


A gift of bulbs

This past week, our friend Nancy A. brought us two bulbs. We got them planted a few days ago. If they make it, we'll see beautiful white blooms of the spring spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme). Thank you, Nancy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

This and that


One lone paintbrush amid the beautiful prairie verbena in the Meadow.
The butterflies are starting to come. We spotted a monarch flitting past in the Meadow!
Wright's scullcap in the Meadow.

More skullcap....
Prairie verbena surrounded by rabbit tobacco....

An oddity that James spotted in the back yard...a little stick driven through a leaf on the Jerusalem sage, perhaps by the recent hail storm?
Our cool coreopsis that grows in a rock.

Coreopsis up close.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Major project DONE


For the longest time, we've wanted to enlarge our back patio and maybe even turn it into a covered or screened porch. This past week, we took the plunge and tackled the first phase. To make it happen, we contacted Jessie Ruiz with Ruiz Construction. 

But first, we had to do the hard part...figure out the DESIGN. We outlined a curved border with rocks.



  
 
I really wanted to get rid of this problem flower-bed area (above), where nothing ever grew. Why not fill it in with concrete and utilize it instead?

The next day, Jessie and his crew installed the forms, footings, and rebar in accordance with our rock border. After they finished for the day, we went and look everything over. Something just wasn't quite right...








Jessie agreed. He'd spotted what we'd seen but was just doing what we asked. Could he fix it? Yes! And he did.



So TODAY was THE DAY! Jessie and his great guys POURED concrete and worked their magic.

Jessie working....
James helped with unloading concrete, which had to be carted in by wheelbarrow. I stayed out of the way and watched everyone from the dining room.
TA DA!!!
WE CAN'T WAIT TO MOVE IN!