Friday, February 27, 2009

Started with a bug and ended with a bird...

Lately, these pesky little flies or gnats have been multiplying under the bird feeders in our back yard. I'm not sure yet what they are, but I'll figure'em out soon. They don't bite or seem too bothersome. I hope and assume they'll die out soon. This afternoon, I figured I'd shoot a photo of them, which would help in their identification. From there, I wandered over to....

...the owl nesting box, where one of our eastern screech owls was roosting. This is the same box where the very-relaxed fox squirrel was reclining the other day. I took a photo or two of the owl, then it flew away. Darn. So then....

...I leaned down and photographed the flame acanthus that's begun to bud out. Such a promising sight... are the young sprouts of the nearby yellow columbine. Despite our severe drought, nature keeps going. Or at least tries. As I was walking back to the house, I spotted a little bird on the ground under the feeders. Hmmm. I snapped one frame, inched up closer, snapped another, inched up more. Soon, I was on the ground, nearly at eye level...

...shooting this little pine siskin. It didn't seem to even notice or care that I was there! It kept eating and eating, poking its beak in the ground, scooting along, eating eating eating.... didn't mind at all that I kept shooting away (surrounded by those dratted flies), changing my position, leaning closer, moving away, snapping more. Then I began to wonder if something was wrong with it. Could it be sick? Why wasn't it afraid, like a normal bird? Who knows.

Finally, it finished dining. Well, sorta. Because it flew up and landed on our new yellow thistle feeder....

A few minutes later, it had enough there and flew over to the thistle sock. Would this little guy ever get enough to eat?

It took off, and I set my camera down on our patio table. I kept my eye on the bird, though. It landed on yet another feeder but not for long. From there, it was on to a bird bath on the ground. I went back for my camera and got another shot or two....

Will this tale/tail ever end, you must wonder by now? Me, too! From the bird bath, I foll0wed the little guy up into the oak tree, where it perched on some ball moss long enough for me to snag a few more photos. By then, both of us had had enough! It flew higher up in the branches, and I turned off my camera.

(Click on the photo!)

So goes my story that started with a bug and ended with a bird.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Funny guy

When I saw this eastern fox squirrel plop down atop our owl nest box this afternoon, I dashed into the house for my camera. Talk about relaxed! Nature definitely has a sense of humor!

Day five

Behold the turk's cap seedling. Maybe it's a who-cares? photo, but I think it's interesting to watch the progression of growth and change.....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wow, what a nice plug!

Check out the March 2009 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine! My editor there, Robert Macias, gave this blog a wonderful mention in his "Foreword" column! I'm so very honored.

Robert writes: "...I strongly recommend taking a look at the blog of one of our regular contributors, Sheryl Smith-Rodgers. Now, first let me say I' not normally a big fan of blogs. When the blog phenomenon first appeared on the scene a few years ago, most of them seemed to be focused largely on rambling, whining and demonstrating that there really is a need for professional editors in this world.

"Sheryl's blog, on the other hand, is well written, entertaining and chock-full of interesting tidbits about the flora and fauna inhabiting her wildscape. In a recent entry, she wrote about rehabilitating a bee: 'I dashed back inside the house and found a container of honey in the kitchen. I mixed a tad with some water in the lid of a water bottle. Using a toothpick, I applied some to the stem where the bees sat. Right away, it began to sip! In fact, for several minutes the bee drank the liquid while I snapped photos. Finally it began to wash itself like a cat.....'

Fromm birds to blooms to Sheryl's personal favorite–spiders—there's always something new to see in her Central Texas yard. When an insect or bird appears in her garden that she can't identify, Sheryl kicks into journalistic mode and figures out what it is. It's info-tainment at its best."

Oh, my stars over Blanco, Robert! Thank you so much! You're just the bee's knees!

We're almost landlords!

So this afternoon (despite the wind), we officially put up our new purple martin house! When and if we attract martins, then we'll be landlords. That's what people who tend martin houses are called, just so you know. Yesterday, I mailed off our membership application to the Purple Martin Landlords of North Texas (I'm thinking positive....we are going to get martins....we are going to get martins). Gisela Fregoe, who's president of the PMLNT, helped me immensely with choosing my housing. She was so patient with answering all my questions via e-mail. I also quoted her in the magazine article I wrote on purple martins, "Purple People Lovers" (Texas Parks & Wildlife, February 2009). In the meantime, I'm also looking into joining some national purple martin associations.

At the start, I'd considered buying gourds, which martins love. But for many reasons, I finally decided on an aluminum house. Specifically: the Coates Water's Edge Suites model on a telescoping pole. This house has three levels with six compartments. Each compartment has an adjoining room for the nest. Plus I wanted a predator guard because we have a pair of eastern screech owls in two nest boxes we put up last year. The "predator guard" consists of the long white poles that go up and down on the house (makes it look like a jail). We also added a black plastic pole guard (last photo) to keep snakes out. Right now, I've got the six half-moon openings capped shut to keep sparrows and starlings out. Half-moon entry holes are also suppose to help keep pest birds out.

The Crofts, our neighbors less than a block away, have a martin colony that inhabit two martin houses. Since our house is brand new, we will likely attract some of the Crofts' "subadults," last year's babies who are now in the market for a home of their own. Subadults typically arrive about four weeks after the adults, so maybe by late March we'll have some tenants. I'll take off the caps as soon as we see some interest in the house.

To hopefully encourage interest, I added pine needles in the nest rooms.

Ta da! The house is up and awaiting purple martins. Right before we finished, Joe Riba, another neighbor of ours, walked over to see what James and I were up to and offered to take our picture together. (His dog, Brandy, came over, too, for a quick hi and some pats on the head, then trotted back to her yard.) Thanks, you two!

Major construction project

I'm many days late, but this was what we did all last Wednesday afternoon. More James than me, I must confess. He dug out a 3'x3' base (2' deep) and poured concrete for my new PURPLE MARTIN HOUSE! It's an early 50th birthday present to me. I'd been wanting one, but it's no easy task to–first of all–decide on WHICH house to purchase and then how to go about putting one up, not to mention where. But I did my research and decided on the model I wanted (more to come on that).

A purple martin house needs to be at least 25 to 40 feet away from trees and buildings but within 100 feet of humans. They need plenty of room to swoop in and out of the house, but they also want to be near people. It's also a plus to be within one or two miles of water. The Blanco River is no more than two miles away from our house.

Once James finished digging, then he mixed and poured concrete ALL afternoon. Eleven bags (80 pounds each total (you do the math). Trust me, that house ain't going anywhere. And yes, I helped...I poured water into the wheelbarrow for him while he stirred. I also kept his tea glass filled and cheered him on hour by hour.

Right before sunset, James completed the foundation for the pole sleeve. Major construction project finished!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Three days later...

The turk's cap seedling is about to pop out of its hull.....

Friday, February 20, 2009

New life...

Not long ago, I was researching turk's cap for a magazine article and learned that this plant regenerates easily by seed. Hmmm. So I went outside to the back yard, peered at some of ours, and found some old, dried fruit still on the stem. I picked one, opened it up, and spread the capsules on my kitchen window sill. After a week or so, I planted them (five, I think) in a little plastic pot I already had filled with dirt. Then I placed the pot by the sink so I'd remember to water it once and awhile.

Just after James got home from work this evening, I happened to glance at the pot and–COOOL!!!–spotted a little green poking up from the dirt. "LOOK!" I exclaimed, carrying the pot out to the garage to show James. "We've got a new baby!"

Like me, he was excited, too (we don't get out much).

So yes, we have a new turk's cap child. Maybe the others will sprout, too.

Isn't it neat how something so small and really insignificant can be so special and wondrous?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love from Nature

On a whim, my camera and I went outside to see what we could find in the way of heart shapes this afternoon. Didn't take long to find these tiny heart-shaped leaves tucked into the dirt in the back yard. I'm not sure what they are, but they used to thrive in my rose bush bed out front. They prefer decaying matter, I've noticed.

And what's Valentine's Day without a rose...or two or three? James, my sweet husband, sent me a dozen today (and three to Lindsey). I couldn't resist a shot of one. They are beautiful and so perfectly shaped.

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all!

Add Image

Thursday, February 12, 2009

First daffodil

Even when everything seems so bleak–next to no rains in so many months, only dirt where a bit of grass and plenty of horseherb once flourished–nature never gives up. I could learn some lessons here, looks like.

Admittedly, honestly, it's been difficult for me as well recently. Personally speaking, I've been struggling as a writer. I feel empty inside. No motivation. No desire to create. Is it the winter doldrums? The recent loss of my beloved father? Hormones even? (Hey, I turn 50 next month! How's that for being candid!) I'm not sure, but it's agonizing. Because writing is what I do for my living. And for my spirit. If I didn't write, I simply wouldn't be me. So when that part of me feels so empty, so nothing, I can't describe the lostness that envelopes me.

Then today I see our yard's first daffodil.... A promise of more good things to come. A symbol of hope, beauty, newness. Rebirth. Brighter days coming. Perhaps rain. Even rain. Blessed rain.

I also spot a tiny spider (perhaps a long-jawed orbweaver), legs folded, body tucked within the flower's folds. It, too, found spring's first daffodil and doesn't want to let go.

We'll both hang on, my spider friend and me. Because as long as we do, the flower's many promises will come true. Maybe not today, but soon. Very soon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Finch convention

As you can see, we bought a new thistle feeder last week (pricey but well made...$30+). James filled it up with seed and hung it near our other feeder in the back yard. Didn't take long at all for the American and lesser goldfinches to find it! This is our first year to attract the beautiful lesser goldfinches (bright yellow one above). In years past, I've coveted the ones that dine on feeders hung outside windows at our local dentist's office. Now we've got our own!

And as you can also see, these birds fuss and feud, tussle and bicker, to get their spot on both the new feeder and a thistle sock we keep filled, too.

In the meantime, I've ordered a purple martin house that we plan to put up on our adjacent lot. I'm a little nervous about spending the money on something that may not get tenants. But we do have purple martins that come every year to houses in a neighbor's yard that a block away. Surely, surely, we'll get some "sub adults" (last year's babies) who need a home of their own.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Little wolf lady

Some folks around town call me the Spider Lady. For the obvious reason: I love spiders. Awhile ago, I just happened to open the back door and spotted this little wolf spider on the inside of our screen door. The sunlight backlit her beautifully so I couldn't resist taking a photo of her. The picture doesn't do her justice, of course.

She's either a juvenile wolf or a small species of the same. Completely harmless. Except to bugs smaller than she!