Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tonight, I'm blogging from my room at the Court Square Inn (beautiful suites!) in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where I'm on assignment for one of the magazines I wrote for. Yesterday afternoon and this morning, I met with Suzanne Langley, who owns 45 or so acres just north of town. She's closely associated with the Audubon Society and has been working with her business partner, Carrie Ruscoe, to heal their land. Their focus and goal: replant and restore the native grasses that once historically inhabited their land.

Last month, they conducted a prescribed burn across the front portion of their acreage. Nearly two months later, Suzanne is thrilled to find many native grasses and wildflowers (like the one above) popping up across the property.

Why share here? Because whether you have 45 acres, 10,000 or ONE (like my husband and me), the payoff''s the same: There's just something so spiritually and emotionally gratifying to observe nature simply being nature. Suzanne walks across her pasture and thrills to find a native grass, like little bluestem, just miraculously appear. James and I stroll across our adjoining lot and find antelope horns, false garlic, and purple threeawn grass flourishing. Suzanne's amazed. We're are, too.

How does nature do that?

Bottom line: Suzanne, Carrie, James and I welcome and encourage native plants. Because once native plants return and establish themselves in our landscapes, then nature responds. Birds come. Lizards appear. Butterflies visit. Bees drop by.

It's a ripple effect.

Because neighbors also pause. They see. They stop by. They get out of their car and ask: What kinds of birds are we trying to attract? What's the name of that flower? What do you call that grass?

"Ah, yes," we say. " We're so very, very glad you asked...."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Titmice in the owl house

We got the ladder out last night, and James took some more photos of the baby titmice that are nesting in the Owl Shack. They're definitely starting to look more like birds. Aren't they sweet?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

An indigo bunting and other cool winged friends

I don't have a photo to prove it, but a beautiful, beautiful indigo bunting visited our bird feeder this evening before supper! You just wouldn't believe the brilliant blue hues that bird has! Stunning, just stunning. All I could say when I spotted it was "OH, MY STARS OVER BLANCO!"

In the past week or so, the black-bellied whistling ducks have returned to roost in our live oaks at night. "Hey, guys, how you doin'?" I'll holler up at them, then give them a wave. We've also seen and heard the green herons as they fly by. They like to roost in our neighbors' trees across the vacant lot from us.

Last night, we sat in our driveway, hoping to catch sight of chimney swifts and purple martins foraging overhead. Instead, a slew of Brazilian free-tailed bats put on a show. They soared, dove, and veered right over our heads. "This is better than television!" James exclaimed. I nodded.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gorgeous native grass

Check out this beautiful pinkish-purple grass that grows on our adjoining lot. Even several neighbors have commented about it. When the wind blows (which it's done a lot lately), it moves likes waves of pink water. Talk about soft, too. I wear flip-flops outside so I can feel the wispy heads when we walk through this patch.

For several weeks, James kept trying to figure out the species. Finally, last evening, while we sat in lawn chairs in our driveway (watching the chimney swifts, swallows, and purple martins), he really studied our copy of Grasses of the Texas Hill Country and got it! We have purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea).

Just to see what happens, he transplanted five of the grass mounds to a bed in our back yard.

Texas Wildscapes DVD

Hey, I just happened to check out Texas Wildscapes online at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Cool cool cool–they're offering a FREE interactive DVD on the program!

Here's a snippet from TPW: "The new resource is called Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife, An Interactive Guide to Creating Vibrant and Beautiful Wildlife Habitat. This DVD combines short videos and color photos with a searchable plant database, 'virtual tours' of demonstration gardens, customized plant shopping lists and more."

And you bet, I've already ordered mine!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Guilty as charged

On my way home yesterday, I stopped by Dodd's Family Tree Nursery in Fredericksburg. I happened to think I might find some butterfly weed seeds. We've planted butterfly weed for the past two summers, and it never comes back. Still, I'd like to have some growing next to the blue mist so the queen butterflies have a place to lay their eggs. Why not try starting some from seed?

At the nursery, I found and bought a packet. Then I browsed. And felt guilty.

"I'm glad I don't have a husband to make ME feel guilty," said a woman who was watering the nursery's roses.

"Oh, James doesn't do that!" I responded. "It's just that we're always together when we go to nurseries. He loves plants as much as I do."

Needless to say, I went home with one little black plastic pot of verbena, 'Wildfire Dark Red.' Soon after I got home, I planted the evidence!!

After supper, when we toured the yard, James spotted it right away. "Where'd THAT come from?"

"What? That?" I feigned my best surprised look. "Why, I don't know! Someone must have known I'd been wanting that color. Wow! Aren't they nice!"

"Well, why didn't you get two?" James asked.

"Because I just wanted one............." I stopped. CAUGHT!

James laughed. "Got you!" he exclaimed.

Darn. Foiled!

But isn't it pretty?

Wildflowers in our Wildscape

Hill Country rain lily
(Cooperia pedunculata)
Beautiful blooms and very fragrant, too. At first, I thought it might be a daffodil
because of the long, slender leaves. Then it bloomed....a rain lily but much
bigger than the usual ones that appear after rainfall.

Antelope horns
(Asclepias asperula)
This one is about to bloom!

Lost Ladybug Project

Hippodamia convergens

We found this pair yesterday. I got some photos and just now uploaded them to the Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University. This is my fourth submission so far.

Dung beetles at the Texas Nature Project

While on tour yesterday with Dr. Sherra Theisen, we got to see two dung beetles in action. They were cool. You can only see one in my photos. The other beetle is working underneath the dung ball.

To read more about these interesting insects, go to Ro Wauer's article, "Why Everyone Should Love Dung Beetles."

UPDATE MARCH 24, 2011–I'm betting this little gal (yes, it's a tell-tale horn on her head) is an Onthophagus gazella, a species introduced by USDA scientists in the 1970s. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wildflowers at the Texas Nature Project

Today I drove to Mason, Texas, to interview Dr. Sherra Theisen and Jan Schultz, who've started a unique program called the Texas Nature Project. For more than an hour, Sherra toured me around their 100-acre ranch, where we saw so many beautiful scenes. Lots of wildflowers, too. I took photos and tried to identify them as best I could....

Anyone have any ideas on the two mystery flowers at the bottom of this post?


(Resembled a small orchid)

(Tiny white flowers)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Texas rat snake

So we were touring around the Wildscape this evening, checking on plants, admiring James' weed-eating over on the lot. When all the sudden....guess what?!.....I spotted a LONG rat snake, draped over a rock, lying in one of our beds.

"Go get your camera!" James exclaimed. Off I ran while he kept an eye on the guy. It was about four-and-a-half feet long. By the time I got back, it was still lying still on the leaf litter. I started snapping away, creeping closer as I fired my camera.

Several times, I tried to get a photo of it flicking its tongue at me. A few frames caught a smidgen of its red forked tongue...

Finally, it had ENOUGH of us and started slithering away. James also tried to catch it with gloves. That didn't sit too well with the snake. So it let James go. Then it crawled into some limestone rocks that border another flower bed.

Poor thing. I kept taking pictures.

As you can see, it expressed very well what he thought of me!!

When we returned a few minutes later, the rat snake had already left. Most likely, the guy high-tailed it up a nearby live oak tree. Literally.

Rat snakes are very good at that.

Screech owl!

Yesterday I mentioned how we hadn't seen either of our eastern screech owls. Well, looky here! One was roosting in the second Owl Shack this evening!

As far as we know, the titmice children are doing well in the other Shack.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Titmice living on the edge

Last year, we put up two nest boxes for eastern screech owls. More accurately, they are Owl Shacks hand made by ornithologist Cliff Shackelford of Nacogdoches, Texas. A pair of owls found them right away. Fairly regularly, we'd see an owl roosting in the opening. Most of the time, they wouldn't care when we walked up almost right under them. It was always cool to see one out sunning or resting.

Here lately, though, we haven't seen any owls. But we did spot a pair of titmice, apparently building a nest inside our original Owl Shack. Today, they've been in and out, feeding the little ones. I could hear them twittering excitedly whenever a parent showed up with chow. I waited until James got home, then he fetched the ladder, and we aimed an camera down into the box.

James snagged the photo of the babies with the mouths open. We're guessing we have at least six kiddos in the nest.

This isn't a great photo, but you can make out a parent, getting ready to go into the box....

Today, I e-mailed Cliff and told him about tenants in his owl box. "Very cool!" he wrote back. "The only other Owl Shack landlord that has reported nesting titmice in their Shack is yours truly! A pair of titmice nested in one of our two Shacks during our first spring here in Nacogdoches (which was '08). We have tufted titmice here, and you have black-crested titmice there. They're similar in that they, like screech owls, seek old cavities for nesting. Pretty neat!"

We think so, too. Of course, James keeps wondering what might happen if an owl returns to the box....

I'd rather not think about that.

Blooming beauties

Gerber daisy

My first rose of the season....
(Our two bushes were planted by the late Mrs. Bendele, the previous homeowner)

And another bloom on the way....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Volunteer wildflowers

We have some pretty wildflowers growing on the edge of our yard near a drainage ditch. So far, the city hasn't mowed them down. Yay! I'd been wondering what the yellow ones are. Now I know!

Engelmann daisy
(Engelmannia peristenia)

Another Engelmann daisy

Showy primrose, also called pink evening primrose
(Oenothera speciosa)

Shopping again

James had Tuesday and today off. Yes, you guessed it. We visited our local nursery, Blanco Gardens. We came home with....lots more....

Windowbox wood sorrel
(Oxalis rubra)

Society garlic
(Tulbaghia violacea)

(Plumbago auriculata)

Mexican oregano
(Lippia graveolens)

Mexican honeysuckle
(Justicia spicigera)