Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blessed rain....

Sapphire showers

We've had more than 2 inches of rain in the past week. Such a blessing! I took my camera outside a few times yesterday. While I was shooting closeups of the sapphire showers, a tiny jumping spider jumped on the blossoms. I snapped off two photos, and the above turned out the best. The spider only stayed on the flower a few seconds. So I was lucky to catch it at all!

In the evening, James spotted this load lounging in the Sanctuary, and I got a few photos. The water's muddy because the ox beetle shoved dirt from its hole in a pole near the plate. The toad didn't care!

In the soggy soil, we spotted some kind of tiny, round mushrooms.

Another mushroom? It's definitely not a "plant."

James transplanted the gold shrimp plant from the front to the back because hungry deer kept browsing on them. As you can see, they love their new location. As for the deer, recent rains have kept them at bay from our yard. We hope.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Third one saved!

I kept close to the window all morning, hoping I'd hear a familiar scream. I'd go outside, too, and peer way up into the live oak branches. Finally, about noon, I spotted the little fellow about two stories high on a thick limb. He just huddled there, all alone. I called to him and stood there for the longest time, looking up. (The neighbors probably thought I was nuts.) I went inside and threw a tortilla with cheese into the toaster oven. Then I went outside.

"C'mon, baby, c'mon!" I said over and over again. He looked at me curiously from high atop his perch. Around and around I went at the tree's base, keeping my eye on him, talking gently but loud enough for him to hear me.

Then he carefully climbed head first part way down the tree!

I was flabbergasted. He seemed to be coming toward me! Forget lunch. I had to save that baby! Nearly an hour passed while he sat in the crook of the live oak, probably about 12 feet high. He'd look at me, and I'd look at him. "C'mon, baby. C'mon! C'mon, baby. C'mon!" I said those words over and over and over again. How I wanted him to come DOWN.

And then he did! He started edging head first down the oak to where I leaned against the tree, calling to him gently. I was amazed. "C'mon, baby! C'mon" Here he came, slowly, a little uncertain. Finally, I could stretch my hand just enough to barely touch his tiny nose. His little brown eyes stared at me. I stepped up on the oak, stretched some more, and quickly put my hand around him. He struggled, but I hung on tight. I knew if I lost my grip, he'd surely try to escape.

We did it. In a few seconds, I had him safe against my neck.

Inside the house, I placed him in the same towel that had covered his sisters the evening before.

Once again, Lindsey and I loaded up for the trip to Wildlife Rescue near Kendalia. Diane, who'd been there last night when we delivered the other two, accepted our third sibling. Yep, a boy, she pronounced. However, this little guy had an indelicate health problem .... seems he'd tried to nurse on himself, and his penis had scabbed over. The staff vet would likely have to give him some anesthesia so the wound could be doctored. Otherwise, he likely couldn't urinate. Poor baby. But Diane seemed to think he'll heal just fine. And when the time's right, the three will be released back into the wild, probably on the Wildlife Rescue's acreage.

She also said it's not usual for baby squirrels to seek humans when orphaned. Still, seeing that little baby inch down the tree toward ME felt like a divine miracle .... and an answer to prayer.

Monday, August 25, 2008–UPDATE–I called Wildlife Rescue this morning and left a message, asking how our squirrel children are doing. A volunteer called me back this afternoon with a status report. "Katie says they're GREAT" exclaimed Sally, who was just as excited and happy as me to get the good news. They're ALL such nice folks at Wildlife Rescue!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Another wildlife rescue

Yesterday midday, I stepped outside in the front yard for a break and heard a terrified scream from somewhere high in one of our live oaks. I squinted up at the branches but couldn't see anything. I didn't hear anything more, either. Must have been a baby bird that got eaten by a snake, I thought sadly. I went back inside and didn't think anything more about the incident.

After supper, as usual, James and I went outside to check on the yard. I told him what I'd heard and what I'd concluded earlier in the day. All the sudden, there went the very same screech! But in a different tree. We looked and looked but couldn't see anything. Then I noticed Gabe, one of the boy cats, staring into a live oak on our adjacent lot. I looked up, and there was a tiny baby eastern fox squirrel, clinging to a thin branch at the end of a limb. We watched it for the longest time, and it screeched some more. It even almost fell a few times. Why didn't the mother squirrel come?

Then another screech sounded, this time from the front live oak again. Lo and behold, another baby was clambering around branches! And another one, too! We had thought about going inside the house and let nature take its course, but instead we opted to sit on the porch and watch. Thank goodness we did because a movement in the grass caught my eye. A baby squirrel had fallen to the ground! I ran inside the house for a towel. Then I gently captured it, and we put it in a plastic box. While I was calling Wildlife Rescue, James found another baby on the ground. Two! A third remained high in the tree.

After we got home and looked at photos, we noticed this little baby
had a nose injury from falling. So I called Wildlife Rescue and told them.

This time, Lindsey and I loaded up and headed for the animal rehab center located near Kendalia. They do wonderful work here. The volunteers gladly took our babies. "Little girls!" Katie pronounced after lifting them both out of the container. "Oh, you're going to be a friendly one," she added, after one climbed onto her shirt and into her hair. She told us that they were also not yet weaned so it was good that we brought them to the center.

James told me later that he had seen a dead squirrel in the street earlier this week. So that's probably what happened–the mother died and left orphans behind.

A sign at Wildlife Rescue asks visitors to watch out even for my favorite creatures–spiders.

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to crack a window and listen for screeches. I'm praying the other one (or maybe two) will come within reach, and we can rescue them, too.

Wildlife Rescue 24-hour hotline 830-336-2725

New additions

I'm sure we break a lot of basic gardening rules, like planting new additions near the END of summer. Oh, well. We definitely learn a lot as we go. This week, we added these to our Wildscape. I must confess that everything except the turk's cap is not considered to be a Texas native. Guidelines for a Wildscape require that at least 50 percent or more of plants be native. And we certainly adhere to that as much as we can. Now and then, it's fun to add something beautiful and new. Plus, I checked and made sure: these are NOT invasive!!!

Brazilian rock rose
Pavonia braziliensis

Salvia farinacea ‘Indigo Spires’
Salvia farinacea ‘Indigo Spires’
close up
Turk's cap (white)

Cat's whiskers (an herb) DIED
Orthosiphon aristatus

Sapphire showers
Duranta erecta 'Geisha Girl'
(we've already seen queens visit the flowers and a hummer, too)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mystery holes, solved

Earlier this afternoon, I spotted a hole the size of a quarter in The Sanctuary. Recently excavated and perfectly round, from what I could tell. Hmm. Something lurked at the bottom. Not a snake. Not a spider. What? So I went back outside with a flashlight and camera. Got the mystery critter's front end and later the back end. Plus a curious earwig that perched on the top right side of the hole. We're guessing a beetle of some sort.

The other day, I found this hole in the back yard, surrounded with neatly-arranged leaf litter. A spider, I spectulated. A night or two later, I went outside with a flashlight. Yep, a small wolf spider scurried into the hole. Tonight I took a photo of her hole but didn't see her. So fascinating!

Monday morning, August 21, 2008–UPDATE–Our mystery hole maker is an ox beetle (Strategus aloeus)! According to "Beneficial Insects in the Landscape," ox beetles (also called elephant beetles), "adult ox beetles live between four and six months. They are active in the summer and dig deep holes in sandy soil that they use to hide in during the day." Check out their website and read more on these busy diggers!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Red and yellow

We walked through the wet yard this evening...the rain is such a blessing. We know everything–plants and animals alike–will respond and flourish now. Plus more rain is on the way!



Painted grasshopper juvenile
(Dactylotum bicolor)
Aztec spur-throat
(Aidemona azteca)
perched on the esperanza

Evening rainlily

Evening rainlily
Cooperia drummondii

Since last night, we've been blessed with nearly 3 inches of rain! Maybe nature knew what was up because I photographed this rainlily yesterday afternoon before the rains arrived.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cicada leftovers

Long about 9 or so in the evening, the buzz of cicadas rattle in the live oaks throughout our yard. Those are adult males, singing love songs to their intended. Females don't say a thing.

On our front porch, the remains of a cicada nymph still clings to the pink bricks. It's been there for weeks.

Succulent leaves

African milk tree
This is the happiest I've ever seen this succulent look.

Friday, August 15, 2008

James' well

So I go away with Lindsey for three days and come home again. What do I get? A beautiful new and creative addition to our back yard!

Around this neighborhood, James has a reputation for collecting, moving and arranging rocks. After visiting with a friend from work, he was inspired to build a replica of an old water well. Using rocks he hauled from acreage we own northwest of town, he stacked (and restacked) limestone rocks in the shape of a well. Then he searched for juniper limbs that he used to build a frame for a turn-of-the-century iron pulley once used in a well from our area. Voila! As you can see, his project turned out wonderfully. The local fox squirrels and birds agree, too.

James made MANY trips back and forth, hauling the rocks in his Corolla
(what he calls his "farm truck").

Pieces of his "rock" puzzle that James ultimately fit together to make his well.

A birds-eye perspective of the finished well.

Presto! How do you like it? James has thought about placing a bowl or birdbath inside...
And he's already talking about his next rock project.....

Walkingstick child

My good friend, Kimberly Cloud, paid me a wonderful surprise visit this afternoon. After our chat, I toured her around the front yard a bit and showed her the blue mist, butterfly weeds (where the aphids live), and turk's cap. As we were winding up our visit in the driveway, I felt something lightly brushing against my leg, but I didn't swat because I never want to do that until I see what's there first. As she was backing up her truck, I glanced down and found this little guy–a juvenile walkingstick–hanging onto my ankle. I set my walkingstick friend in an oak tree and then took some best I could. Talk about hard to photograph! Not only was it small (about 1 1/2 inches long), but it kept swaying back and forth, too.

Earlier this year, I wrote about walkingsticks for a children's magazine called JAKES. Here's something interesting I learned related to them: The longest insect in the world is a walkingstick that measures more than 21 inches in length! It's a species that lives on Borneo, a large island south of China. Here in the U.S., our longest walkingstick reaches approximately 7 inches. Texas species grow anywhere from 4 to 7 inches long.

My little walkingstick friend has a long way to grow!

Aphids, you win...for now

On a quick stroll past the front flower beds just now, I leaned down to check on the new butterfly weed. In the evening, whenever I water, I usually stop and try to spray off the day's collection of aphids, like I did vigilantly last night. This morning, however, it looked like everyone had returned and brought FRIENDS. Plus, the friends had brought friends, too! Wow, too many aphids to flick off!

Hmmm, what to do? Should I worry? Should I try and completely eliminate the sap-sucking little bugs? Surely, they can't be doing our butterfly weed any good. Right?

Back at my desk, I Googled "butterfly weed, aphids" and quickly came up with input from other gardeners. Here's what one on said: "Don't sweat the aphids, that's one of the great 'uses' of this plant! It does attract aphids, but the aphids don't hurt the plant. In return, the aphids stay off your roses and everything else, and they attract beneficials, such as ladybugs. Since I've had some of these in select areas of my rose bed, I've haven't seen even a hint of aphids on my roses!"

Another gardener identified the bugs as yellow oleander aphids, which called for another Googling session.... The oleander aphid (Aphis nerii) is also called the milkweed aphid. For obvious reasons–it adores feeding on butterfly weed and other milkweeds.

Actually, this bothersome bug is really fascinating. For one thing, there's no such thing as a MALE oleander aphid! Click on the link above and learn more...

In the meantime, what am I gonna do? I guess I'll keep spraying with water and see what happens.

Stayed tuned.

Another volunteer

Violet ruellia
Ruellia nudiflora

In my past life, I often yanked plants from the yard and flower beds that weren't placed there with purpose and on purpose. In other words, GET RID OF THE "WEEDS!" Now I think a bit differently. Now I look at what's growing there naturally with curiosity. I want to KNOW common names and how they fit in the habitat.

"Silverleaf nightshade, see them? That's what they are!" I told my daughter when we visited Inks Lake State Park this week. We'd passed a smattering of the purple-blooming plants by the roadside, and it just felt GREAT to call them by name. I knew because just recently I'd photographed one across the street here at home.

Yesterday, James pointed out a different purple flower in The Sanctuary. Another volunteer. Before I'd considered the scrawny plant a weed. Now I went to my wildflower book and searched for its name: violet ruellia, also known as the common wild petunia. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, "Flowers are lavender to purple, trumpet-shaped, deeply lobed at the flared rim, and open about sunrise, falling from plant in early afternoon, lasting only one day. This genus Ruellia is not the petunia common as potted plants which are in the Solanaceae (potato family). This genus of wild petunias is in the Acanthaceae (Ancanthus) family."

What's more, this plant is a larval host for at least four butterflies: Cuban crescent, common buckeye, white peacock and malachite. How cool is THAT??!

Moral of this post: Research before you yank.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Welcome, coneflower

Our coneflower FINALLY bloomed. Pitifully but at least it BLOOMED. Poor thing. Deer have been chawing on it all summer.

Can you see a hint of a heart (the outline of one) inside the flower? I do.

You don't see anything...

...unless you look real close.

When my children were young, we'd sometimes go outside and plop down on a blanket in the yard. On our stomachs, we watched whatever happened to be crawling by in the grass–ants, spiders, bugs. It was fun to see how nature interacted. We didn't do those mini adventures enough, I'm sure. But then and now, I'm still just amazed at the drama that unfolds in every little square inch of dirt and grass, every minute of every hour.

This morning, I wandered around the back yard with my camera. I tried shooting an antlion "den," where a frantic ant was trying to escape. The antlion, buried beneath the sandy dirt at the bottom of the inverted cone, had hold of one of the ant's legs. Every few seconds, it'd shake the ant like a tambourine. Poor ant. In another trap, a pillbug lay curled up in a ball. As I crouched down to get a closer look, I spotted a tiny grasshopper nymph, newly hatched, in the dirt. Another one hopped by, too.

On the black-eyed susans, a green lynx lurked, waiting for an insect to flit by. That's how they catch their prey–they stalk'em. On flowers, you may also spot crab spiders, sometimes the same color as the flower. They're sneaky that way. They also sit real still with their legs outstretched, waiting for a bug to happen by. Then–WHAM!–they grab it and–PRESTO!–it's dinner time.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Another nightshade

Yesterday evening, I walked by our nearly dead vegetable garden and spotted some little bright yellow blooms. I kneeled down for a closer look. Hmmm, look a LOT like the silverleaf nightshade I'd photographed just a few days ago. I bet they're related, I thought.

I pulled down Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi and quickly found a photo that looked like the same plant I'd found–a buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum), which is part of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae). According to the book and Texas AgriLife Research and Extension at Uvalde, the "fruit is covered in spines and is said to have attached itself to roaming buffalo, hence the name buffalo bur." It hasn't gone to fruit as yet.

I guess most people would consider this plant a "weed." In my past life, I would have, too. But now I think it's so fun and fascinating to investigate the volunteer plants we find in our Wildscape and figure out what they are. When they're actually related, that's VERY interesting!

(Click on the photo and find the ant!)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


James said I should post this on our blog:



It's a huge dream come true for me. I am so honored. I've always wanted to write for Guideposts.

The end.

Busy guy

Yesterday, we bought a new wheelbarrow, and James it put together ASAP. Then he got right to his dirt pile and starting hauling dirt to the new bed in our front yard. Today he's back at it. The guy never stops.

A little bit of rain

Last night, less than 1/8 inches of rain fell, thanks to Tropical Storm Edouard. But every little bit helps!

Trisha Campbell, a friend down the street, shared some plants from her collection. James planted them in the new back bed. She called them a wandering jew and day flower. They grow from cuttings and take root FAST. Their little respective pink and blue blooms are pretty. I checked on the Internet, and I think our wandering jew is probably a purple heart. Wandering jews have striped foliage; purple hearts have purple foliage.

Day flowers are considered to be a Texas native. I'm thinking wandering jews and purple hearts fit the "house plant" category. Gardeners use them for ground cover.

Some species of day flower

Purple heart