Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Dragonflies and damselflies

I love ALL of nature. But I think it's HUGELY cool that our "urban" yard–which is planted with a diversity of native species–has SO FAR attracted 12 different species of dragonflies and damselflies. We're not even close to water! Unless you count our little stock tank pond, and I rarely, if ever, see dragonflies or damselflies near it. 

Today I stalked an eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) and finally got some decent photos. A new species for our yard. I was THRILLED! 
Kudos to iNaturalist for such a great and easy way to compile species lists.

Once upon a cactus fly

What a summer! We've been blessed with lower-than-usual temps AND occasional rain. Two nights ago, we had half an inch of wet stuff! Yesterday and today, the temperatures have stayed in the mid to high 80s, thanks to a cold front (in JULY?). So yesterday evening, I decided to sit outside on a patio and just enjoy the time. Now and then I batted at mosquitoes. But even they weren't too bad. Later James joined me. Then something lit on my arm. I nearly swatted at it, thinking Oh, bother, another mosquito. Then I looked closer. NOT! I took photos for an iNaturalist observation and, my goodness, the little fellow stuck around. He was so friendly! 

I assumed he flew off as we walked back into the house for the night. On iNaturalist, I proposed my little friend's ID as a longhorn cactus fly (Odontoloxozus longicornis). A new-to-me species!

Now fast forward to today at the kitchen sink, washing up from lunch. I happened to glance down by our pink sponge–

"HE'S BACK. HE FOUND ME," I exclaimed to James. A cactus fly was crawling on the back splash behind the sink! James laughed. He recognized it, too. Was it the same one as last night's? Well, of course, I'm going to believe so. Sure makes a better story, right? I shot lots more photos (below) for another iNaturalist observation and a blog post as well.

We went outside, and my fly friend stuck right with me on my hand. He flew off a few times but landed right back on me. My shirt. My head. My glasses. And my leg. Finally, I placed him on our house siding. He flew off, but this time didn't come back. Sniff. I miss him. Maybe he'll find me again sometime. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

This and that

 Flower of a Texas skeleton plant gone to seed. So pretty!

 A mystery butterfly chrysalis....

 Yours truly spreading some horsemint seeds, which I collected from seed heads on city easements. I put some in the Meadow, too.
Kermes scale moth (Euclemensia bassettella)...such a cool find!

Cicada days

This morning, I spotted this just-emerged cicada when I walked over in the back yard to get a photo of James mowing the Meadow.  It's likely in the dogday cicada genus of Neotibicen.

Crestrib morning-glory update

My Edwards Plateau crestrib morning-glory (Ipomoea costellata var. edwardsensis) vines have turned into a happy JUNGLE now! Take a look. They're the uncommon species I found in Blanco last November. You can read "New Plant on the Block," my article in Wildflower magazine that tells about my vine-finding adventure.

Cool ironclad

Hey, look at the cool ironclad beetle I found a few days ago at my mother's house in Kendall County. I just happened to spot it on an exterior house wall. I recognized the beetle type because its shape closely resembles that of a Texas ironclad beetle (Sopherus nodulosus haldemani), one of my favorite beetles. I believe this one is a Sesaspis emarginata. According to, this species ranges in Texas, southeastern New Mexico and northern Mexico but is "....uncommon throughout Central Texas."

Meadow mowed

 The deed is done. James reported that the Meadow was the thickest EVER to mow. We can thank our abundant rains this year!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Madrone S.O.S.

Yesterday I noticed two more sickly limbs on our little Texas madrone child (Arbutus xalapensis). So I got on the horn and emailed Mike Prochoroff at The Madrone Way. Here's what he wrote back: 

"The difficult distinctions of Madrone reaction to water, especially in the summer, is that root damage from too much and too little water look pretty close to identical. The dark interior veins probably mean too much. The rest of the tree looks fine. Hold back on the water. Sparingly is the idea. I have native trees that do this same type of singular die-back, and a colleague in Washington state asked me if I had observed it. So I have a feeling it's common to both species. Again, heat plus water spells trouble. Don't prune the die-back, and let me know if they turn a hard-black or a dark-brown. Another compound problem I have had is when they wilt due to excess water (this is in a pot; different from the earth), giving them additional water exacerbates the problem since the remaining roots aren't re-growing as quickly (no root hairs). Patience."  Thanks, Mike!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Moths, moths, moths!

Texas wasp moth (Horama panthalon)
 In honor of Moth Week, July 20-28, I thought I'd share my cover story in the July 2019 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine: "Like a Moth to a Flame." (Moth photos are mine.)
Harrisina coracina

Painted schinia (Schinia volupia)
White-lined sphnix (Hyles lineata)

Black witch (Ascalapha odorata)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Stock tank update

 Our stock tank pond is looking GREAT. At the moment, that is.

 Our dwarf lily 'Indiana' is blooming for the first time this summer.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Madrone update

Our Texas madrone child (Arbutus xalapensis) is still doing well over all. But I noticed a branch die off, and a second one doesn't look good at all. Mike Prochoroff, who owns The Madrone Way near Dripping Springs, gifted her to us in March 2017. I'm hoping he might shed some light on her loss....

Mike responds: "She looks well despite the die-back and the torrential rains. It looks like root damage from heavy rainfall that acts in two ways: 1) the roots like drying out prior to more rain.  Add heat to that and no root hairs to quickly respond and there's going to be trouble;  2) When a lot of rain starts swelling the earth, caliche and certainly your thicker clay will start to shift and crack... and break roots. I have several Madrones that do this around downpours each year. The majority of the plant isn't affected. It also shows up when the summer heat arrives and bakes the earth. We got another 2 inches+ today, and the outside pots are not looking good. One problem with growing in pots is not having the natural topography to deflect floods. I have a hard time bad-mouthing the rain however. Hardly ever seen the Hill Country so green this late in the year!"

Monday, June 17, 2019

Saga of a dung beetle mama

So what happens when Sheryl spots a dung beetle and some wild animal poop on her mother's asphalt driveway? Sheryl has to hang around, watch what unfolds and take lots of videos and photos. If you feel inclined to watch all the videos, please do so. Or don't. This beetle's behavior just fascinated me so much that I had to document as much as I could over the course of two or so hours. 

At first, I sent short videos to my daughter via Messenger on Facebook. You'll hear me talking to her. We must have arrived soon after this mama dung beetle caught a whiff (phew!) of a rather large dropping. She had quite a few adventures along the way....
Part 1
What's she thinking? Is she trying to figure out where she wants to be? Like down that drop-off?
Part 2
No progress yet...just rolling back and forth....
Part 3
Look out––over the edge!

Part 4
She begins to carve her dung ball masterpiece.

Part 5
The ball is made! I wasn't around to see her push the ball UP the driveway's steep drop-off.

Part 6
More rolling around....

Part 7
A two-minute clip with another WHOA! Then she contemplates one place near the driveway's edge to bury her dung ball.
(See next two photos below.)

I circled her in yellow. The dung pile she left is upper right corner, also marked in yellow.

 The search continues....

Part 8
My dung beetle mama considers a second location.... 
Still seaching...can you spot the dung ball?

 Ah, she's found the perfect spot!
 She begins the burying process....

Part 9
Finally she pulls the ball beneath some leaf debris. 

Part 10
She and the ball are completely hidden now.

I hung around for as long as I could, hoping I'd see her re-emerge. But alas, I had to go and attend to life stuff. According to what I've since read, this "roller" dung beetle mama likely either laid her inside the "brood" ball (which would feed the larva) or saved the ball to eat later. I'll never know for sure. And I don't want to disturb her many hours of work.

Hey, according to this post on National Geographic Kids, dung beetles are the world's strongest insect AND strongest animal! "When moving balls of dung, a roller can pull a whopping 1,141 times its own bodyweight," the post states. "That's the same as a human dragging six full double-decker busses along the road!" Wow, who knew!?