Monday, September 29, 2008

Gone to seed and other things

Gone to seed...that's what many plants are doing now. Like the heartleaf hibiscus (above and below).

(Click on the picture for a better view!)

And the blue mistflowers (above), which are attracting scores of queens and occasionally some monarchs...

The little native butterfly weed didn't bloom much its first season, but it is putting out seeds. I noticed some bugs hanging out on the plant and seed pods, which meant I had to stop and figure out what they were...

Would you believe...small mikweed bugs (Lygaeus kalmii)? Yep. Below is a phot of a group of nymphs, clinging to the inside of a seed pod.

Wondering what an adult looks like? Here's a good close up. And I found an interesting discussion on milkweed bugs here (there are two species–large and small) on a monarch website. Check it out! Hmm, should I knock mine off or let'em stay?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Newborn in the bush

What a wonderful surprise I spotted yesterday when I was watering the mistflower and butterfly bush...a tiny, tiny anole. It was clinging to the butterfly bush and well hidden. You can't really tell from the photos, but I met it measured less than one and a half inches. Its mother is probably the anole that likes to hang out on our Texas Wildscape sign.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Take a closer look

Usenea species and Ramalina celastri (bottom)

Purple thing is just a fungus

Xanthomendoza (yellow)

As part of my work as a freelance writer, I'm always researching something. Like lichens. Just go outside, get up close to a dead tree limb on the ground, and see what you can see: probably several different species of lichens. The colors are amazing, too: gold, purplish, green, off white. I walked outside and spotted four different kinds on one limb. You can also find lichens growing on live branches, rocks, gravestones, and even insects.

Lichens consist of fungus (on top) and alga (underneath) in what's considered to be a symbiotic–not parasitic–relationship. They're divided into three types: foliose (papery), fruticose (hairy or branchy), and crustose (crusty). For more info, check out Lichen Biology.

Just had to share. Get outside and find some!

[Note: Lichen IDs are thanks to Taylor Sultan Quedensley, who's in the Plant Biology Graduate Program at the University of Texas at Austin.]

Snake alive 2

Last night, while watering in the back yard, James spotted a snake crawling near the dayflowers and purple hearts. He ran for a glove while I kept an eye on it. Looked like another rat snake, this one even younger than our nighttime visitor. This one, however, rattled its tail in the leaf litter, which made us think for a split second maybe we DID have a baby rattlesnake on our hands. But, no, closer examination revealed a plain tipped tail, no buttons, nothing fancy at all.

Rat snakes do that, vibrate their tails and act very aggressive so that hopefully you WILL get scared and run the other way. Didn't work on us.

Much to this guy's chagrin, James handed him to me, then I carried him gently inside the house to show Lindsey. Then we let him go in the sanctuary.

He sure was cute.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Snake alive!

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to hear someone or something pounding on your window screen right by your bed!! That's what happened this morning at 2 a.m. Immediately, we thought CAT. But we'd never heard any of them do THAT before. So James pulled up the blinds and peered outside.

CAT trying to get SNAKE.

Outside we go in our pajamas. I got to our window first and found Gabe, one of the boy cats, perched on the "cat walk" (brick exterior that goes halfway up our house), staring at the corner of our window. I shooed him, and you'd have thought I kicked him 10 feet up in the air! He shot off the wall like a rocket...I evidently startled him a LOT. With a flashlight, we finally located the young snake, curled up between the window and the screen. It'd have to come OUT if we were gonna get any more sleep. Back inside we went.

Armed with gloves and a towel, James opened the window and corralled the snake. I groggily shot some photos, which didn't turn out great. But well enough to tell more about the snake's identity during daylight hours. Looks to me like a Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri), which are aggressive (as you can see by the photos) but non-venomous. I wrote a short article on the species that appeared in the February 2008 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine.

James carried the guy out to the sanctuary, then we went back to bed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Well, it may look like magic....a spider "flying" in mid air. But it's really not.

Sometimes when you water in the garden, the spray knocks a spider from its perch, and it hangs in the air. Actually, it's still attached by a silken drag line to the plant or some other object.

Above is some species of tiny crab spider that hovered in the air long enough for me to snap some shots. Its back two pairs of legs are curled around its abdomen. Crab spiders lurk on flowers and plants, and wait for a victim to happen by. Then–WHAM!–it GRABS the bug and enjoys a quiet meal.

Sounds like rain...

Stand outside awhile, and you'll hear the thunk thunk of acorns hitting the ground. They're obviously immature and not suppose to be falling this early. I'm guessing it's our lack of substantial rainfall this year, and the live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are stressed. According to the Smithsonian Marine Station, "acorns are produced in abundance in September. Acorns generally fall to the ground during December and are dispersed by animals."

I'll check with some Texas experts and get back on this....

Friday, September 26, 2008–UPDATE– Reply from Pete Smith, Partnership Coordinator Texas Forest Service-Urban Forestry Program: "I think the acorns are fine, and this is just the time of year that they ripen and begin to fall. They might be smaller because of the drought (and likely more bitter to squirrels!), but the ones in your blog looked like they were even trying to sprout from their tips, meaning they are viable and healthy. I've heard that some places in Texas are experiencing a 'bumper crop' this year, which happens about every three or four years, depending on weather patterns."

Butterflies butterflies

This afternoon, I managed to photograph a beautiful, beautiful giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes). At least, that's what I'm assuming it is, after studying our Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. It was sipping on our Salvia coccinea and lantana.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, dozens of queens (Danaus gilippus) visit our blue mistflowers daily. They're just all so beautiful.

Hark, oh, my! This evening, I believe I shot a MONARCH (Danaus plexippus) on the butterfly bush!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Location, location

Well, I figure if I'm really going to write about our Wildscape, then I'd better be honest and share our failures as well.

Alas, one of our two gold columbines in the back yard recently bit the dust. Fast! The other one's not doing too great either, but it's alive. Two more gold columbines in the front yard are struggling, too. But then the red and gold columbines planted in the bed that I can see from my windows are doing GREAT.

The story's similar for the black-eyed susans we planted earlier this summer (they were transplants given to us by our neighbors, the Crofts). The susans in the back yard are flourishing. The ones I planted in the front yard are stunted and barely growing.

Lesson learned: location is the key when it comes to successful gardening. But that comes from trial and error!

Toad child

I was watering some potted plants earlier this afternoon when I spotted this little toad not far from the water faucet that's attached to our hose (it drips when the water runs). At least, I assume it to be a toad of some kind. It was tiny, about the size of a quarter. How did he/she do that? I mean, we've had a drought in recent months, broken only by a few rains last month. There's no water puddles near the water faucet, where this little guy was hanging out. How did he make it from a tadpole to a toad then? Really makes me wonder. Nature is so amazing.

"It's Raining Toads, an article in the September 2008 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, describes how a toad species in arid Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas has adapted to short rain cycles there. More than likely, our species here in Central Texas have adapted, too.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yikes, now I see...

...why buffalo burs (Solanum rostratum) are called buffalo BURS!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Street view

Here's our Pink House from the street. The (non-native) crape myrtle's in bright bloom. This also gives a good perspective of how really old and huge our live oaks are. The last squirrel baby that I rescued (see Aug. 23 entry) was up in the massive oak on the far right side.

This is primarily our "salvia" bed. A pretty heartleaf hibiscus lives on the far left side. We planted it last year, and it's doing really well.

The bougainvillea has taken OFF! It should bloom soon. I was so elated when it came back after we thought it might not survive being in the ground. I treasure this plant because a dear friend–Mark Malone, who died in 2003–and his mother, Mary, gave it to me after I moved into the Pink House in April 2002.

Here are some shots of our plentiful Salvia coccinea and lantanas. We love this bed. You can barely see the birdbath for the blooms.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Clouds of wings

This week, dozens and dozens of queens are visiting our blue mistflowers. Sometimes whenever I walk by, they lift and flutter, like a beautiful cloud. If I'm really quiet, I can even hear the soft sound of their wings beating. These photos can't even begin to capture the wonder of this sight. And when a monarch happens by, OH MY! They are even more lovely than the queens.

(Click on the photos for a better look.)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Inland sea oats

Yesterday, we planted three inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in the back yard. We saw some at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in the summer , and I thought their seed stems looked so cool, waving and swaying in the breeze. Of course, ours so far just look like tall grass. But give'em some time.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Second owl box up

Finally, after months of sitting in my car trunk, the second Owl Shack is UP. James hung up it up Tuesday. Nice, eh? Cliff Shackelford in Nacogdoches builds his "Owl Shacks" in his carport and ships them statewide. For more information, check out his website, Owl He got a lot of good photos and instructions on how to hang his boxes.

If you search this blog, you'll see photos of Al and Agatha, the eastern screech owls who found our first owl box within a week or so of us putting it up last March. We were pretty sure Agatha was nesting, but then we never spotted any little heads poking up in the box in the evening. Next spring, I bet we will!

Cliff told me that the second box will be used by the male for roosting in the winter. It's located in an oak that's on our adjacent lot.

First caterpillar child

The queens are flocking all over the blue mist flowers along with an occasional monarch. James spotted this first queen caterpillar on the nearby butterfly week. It was about a half inch long. See the oleander aphids in the photo? They're all over the butterfly weed. But so far, it's surviving.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sign of life

In our front yard, we attached our Texas Wildscape sign to a low black trellis. Every few days, we spot a resident anole perched on it. A day or two ago, she was shedding her papery skin. I snapped a photo or two before she scampered away into the nearby turk's cap.

This evening, I ran for my camera when I saw this praying mantis, also enjoying the view from our sign. They are just the coolest insects!

I still had my camera out when the sun back lit the cat whiskers in our back yard. As I was shooting, some kind of fly or bee zipped into the picture for a few frames. Nature is just so beautiful and wondrous.

James shot this pretty angle of the cat's whiskers....

If looks could KILL...

A photo for fun...

Gabe the boy cat and a neighborhood dog, Henry, who howls at anything.
(Click on the photo if you REALLY want to see Gabe's grumpy expression.)