Monday, May 31, 2010

New bird!

So we were sitting in the Meadow, watching out for whatever might happen this evening, and we spotted a yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)!!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bee swarm

Now you see them. Now you don't!

I was surveying the front Wildscape a while ago and kept hearing a low, droning sound. I looked in among the crape myrtle branches. Nothing. I around the butterfly bush. Nothing. Then I looked up. A cloud of bees spiraled over the street, in and around the live oak branches up high. I walked around to get a better look. Oh, my! LOTS of bees! And they apparently were going into a hole in the live oak. I went inside to get my camera, wondering if I should contact anyone. I'd just read a newspaper article this morning about dogs that were stung and killed by bees outside of San Antonio. I know and understand that we need bees in our yards. I WANT them here! But I also don't want anyone to get hurt either, and these bees were swarming right over a city street.

I returned outside just a few minutes later with my camera, and the swarm was GONE. Just a few bees buzzed around the hole. Hmmm. I'm going to keep an eye on them today.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A new antlion adult..or is it?

While we were sitting outside in the meadow this evening, watching for martins, listening to a loud mockingbird and just enjoying the peace, James noticed something moving in the grass. I scooped it up for a better look and watched it flex its wings. I was perplexed at first, then I recalled my recent research on antlions (Myrmeleon sp.) See how the tips of the antenna are clubbed? I checked photos via for antlion adults, which I originally thought this was. Well, the antennae of antlion adults are mucher shorter. So now I've decided this must be an owlfly (named for their big, bulging eyes), which are related to antlions.

Either way, welcome to the world!

Another martin visited!

YES YES YES! I was in the front yard and heard a martin. So I dashed over to the Meadow, and–sure enough–there was a martin circling our house! James and I watched it, then it flew off. Later, while we sat in the Meadow this evening, I spotted what turned out to be a martin, sitting on the utility line. It sat there for quite some time. The it flew away. No matter! Another martin visited our house! There's always hope!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

First monarch of the season

I'd noticed the monarch earlier in the afternoon. When I spotted it again after supper, I fetched my camera and managed to get a few shots, though not very good. I cropped one photo (see bottom) so you can see the small matching dots on the black veins of the lower pair of wings. So that means this monarch is a male.

Too many grackles

I was outside just now, handpicking those sophora worms off the little mountain laurel (I nabbed about eight and relocated them far away). Around me, I could hear lots of common grackles, cackling in the live oaks. I've really begun to worry about them staying. Usually, they show up when the tent caterpillars start becoming a nuisance in February. The grackles arrive, eat the worms, then disappear. This year, we hardly had any caterpillars. They showed up any way, and they won't leave! They splash out the water in our bird baths and shove away the other birds at our feeder. I'm going to contact some biologists and ask their opinions. I keep thinking about the hordes of grackles that live in San Antonio and San Marcos. I'd HATE to think of them getting out of control like that here in our neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bad caterpillars!

I noticed something not quite right with our little volunteer mountain laurel in the Meadow. So I looked closer and found these caterpillars. Seem to be BAD caterpillars. I've got an ID request posted on I'd like to see what the experts say and suggest before I forcibly remove them.

UPDATE May 27, 2010–Ken Wolgemuth at identified these as sophora worms or more specifically genista broom (Uresiphita reversalis) moth caterpillars. According to the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Home Horticulture department, this species can harm young mountain laurels, their primary host species. If the tree is larger, it can rebound. Ours is young or at least fairly small. So sounds like I'm gonna be doing some caterpillar pickin' today!

A very strange mushroom?

This strange mushroom or fungus is growing by our Mexican bush sage. There's always something new to learn about. I get a little overwhelmed sometimes!

Official first harvest

Our very pick–one yellow squash!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Geometrid caterpillar perhaps

My new friend, Peyton, knocked on our front door awhile ago. I was on the phone and couldn't visit long. But right away, he spotted a caterpillar on the outside brick wall by the door. Later, when I stepped outside and bug hunted with him, Peyton returned to our front porch to fetch the caterpillar. After he coralled it into a plastic container and I got a closer look, I found the specimen to be very, very interesting.

So I shot it.

With a camera, that is.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Anyway, we're in the process of identifying it with the help of the friendly folks at I've also checked my field guide and am guessing it's in the looper family of moths (Geometriade). Check back for an update.

Take a look at its back end!
(Abdominal prolegs, according to Caterpillars of Eastern North America)

UPDATE May 24, 2010–Replies posted to my photo on

Looks like at least two pair of abdominal prolegs, so maybe Zale or Catocala or something nearby. … john and jane balaban, 23 May, 2010 - 9:22pm

Here's another very similar, if not the same, kind of caterpillar I posted a while ago for an ID. Then Matt Edmonds recently posted this one. Now you. I'm looking forward to seeing if it can be IDed. Maybe with enough puzzle pieces someone can. For example: Matt's and my picture are from FL, yours from TX. Also I found it curious they have all been found away from plants. Matt's on the side of the house on some siding, yours on a brick wall, mine on a cement counter top (which it blended with rather well I may add). I think it may be some kind of Underwing. And as you can see others have suggested Catocala as well. But anyway I love a good mystery can't wait to see how this one turns out. … Livan, 24 May, 2010 - 7:55pm 

This caterpillar was re-IDed today as a live oak metria (Metria amella) moth larva. Those folks at never give up!

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Peyton came over yesterday afternoon with his friends, Griffin and Tristan, to check on the Gulf fritillary caterpillars. They are very curious about EVERYTHING! Peyton lifted up the lid to our underground propane tank and came across this teeny-tiny arachnid on the lid. I checked this morning and learned that it's a pseudoscorpion. Yes, this arachnid species has poison in those little pincers to subdue prey, but heck, the pincers are so small that they couldn't do much to humans. This species can run backward, too! The boys and I saw this one do that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

'Belinda's Dream'

'Belinda's Dream'
Texas Superstar

A gift from my sweet husband in honor of our fourth aniversary on May 2.....fragrant, pink roses!

One of the two original rose bushes that came with the Pink House in 2002 died after last year's drought. I thought that if I ever bought a rose bush to replace that one, it'd be 'Belinda's Dream.' The thing is, I never mentioned that to James. Isn't that amazing? Or perhaps true love....

The live oak gurgles

As we were roaming around the front yard this evening, we happened to spot several butterflies congregated on a live oak. Cool! But as we looked closer, we realized they were actually sipping from the tree. It'd been oozing. Then....I heard gurgling! I looked even closer and saw bubbles coming from the dark brown crack in the bark. Not good. Not good at all! So I'm going to contact biologist Robert Edmondson with the Texas Forest Service in Johnson City and ask if we should be concerned.

As for the butterflies, I believe they were variegated fritillaries. But I'm not sure.

UPDATE E-mail received 5/21/2010 8:30 A.M.

Sheryl, what you are observing is nothing to be concerned about. That is a condition known as phloem necrosis or “slime flux.” It’s caused by a bacteria in the tree. As the bacteria goes through its life processes, it produces that “slime.” It’s merely a by-product of a fermentation process. It’s not harmful to the tree; there is no known treatment and it provides food for insects, especially butterflies. Elms and oaks are the most common tree species where this occurs. Again, don’t worry about it. It is not harming the tree.

Robert Edmonson
Biologist II
Texas Forest Service

One vicious guy

James spotted this strange critter along the edge of the street. It was ugly and very aggressive. I did upload an image to and got this one comment: "It appears to be a beetle larva of some kind. I'll look around a bit, but I'm sure one of the experts will tell you what it is before I get back." He also posted this link to a similar specimen–a ground beetle larvae. Not even a mama could love this guy!

UPDATE–Someone on confirmed: "Yes, a carabid, likely, Calosoma (genus)."

A woolly caterpillar for Peyton

My new neighbor, Peyton, turned 11 today. But I didn't know that when James and I walked over with chocolate chip cookies I'd baked to welcome them to the neighborhood. Good timing. During our quick visit, he showed me a plastic container of assorted caterpillars and pillbugs, including what I used to call a woolly bear. Later in the morning, I pulled out my Caterpillars of Eastern North America to find out for sure. I think these fuzzy guys are either salt marsh caterpillars (Estigmene acrea) or yellow bears (Spilosoma virginica). I need to do more research on this. Because I want to get it RIGHT!

Anyway, I happened onto one in the middle of our street. A car was coming. So I wanted to hurry it up across to the grass. Nope. It didn't like my prodding. So it proceeded to...ah...squirt out some green stuff from its end. Yuck. But no time to lose. So I scooped it onto a piece of wood and hurried it over. Whew. We made it! Then I fetched my camera and shot these photos for my new friend, Peyton, the Pillbug Expert.

Happy Birthday!!

Lost Ladybug Project

Harmonia axyridis, the multicolored Asian ladybug.
Found on passionflower vine.

UPDATE E-mail received Thu 5/20, 9:54 P.M.

Dear Sheryl,

Thank you, again, for your contribution to the Lost Ladybug Project. Your submission can now be viewed in the Contributors section of the Lost Ladybug Project website, here:

This "face-shot" is fantatic!

The Lost Ladybug Project

New vine

Not Virginia creeper, which has five leaves. Or poison ivy. I think. I'm trying to figure this one out. We found in the Meadow on a live oak.

UPDATE May 29, 2010Case solved. Sorrelvine, cow-itch vine (Cissus trifoliata), a member of the grape family. According to Wildflowers Trees, and Shrubs of Texas, it can cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

A caterpillar and some beetles

Snowberry clearwing caterpillar

James spotted this beautiful caterpillar last night in some native lantana. Thanks to our handy Caterpillars of Eastern North America, I can pronounce this as a snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis). I wrote about this cool moth species in the June 2010 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. It's a pretty moth that acts like a hummingbird around flowers.

In the back yard, we've got two large holes, which we suspect are ox beetles. Two years ago, we identified one in a corner of our back-yard Wildscape (see August 20, 2008, and October 21, 2008).

UPDATE May 22, 2010–We were outside a night or so ago with a flashlight and YES I caught the tail end of an ox beetle, bumbling back into his hole. They are VERY clumsy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Purple martin sighting!

This morning, I thought I heard a purple martin chortling toward our neighbors' house down the street. They've got two martin houses but no martins. Only sparrows. Like us. At any rate, what did I see, but either a subadult or a female perched on the utility line, looking at our house! "JAMES!" I hollered while I stared with pure jubilation. Just the SIGHT of one THAT CLOSE made me so darn happy! We immediately got the house down and cleaned out the sparrow nest (which we do every few days). The martin stayed nearby. It flew over us once. Later, after James left, I stood off to the side and either the same martin returned or another flew by! I nearly cried.

I've been listening as best I can all day. But so far, I haven't heard them nor seen them return. But I sure felt some hope that we will get martins. I hope so, so much!!

New wildflower

Say hello to what I believe is plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) in our Meadow...

Lost Ladybug Project

A while ago, I REALLY thought MAYBE I'd found the elusive nine-spotted ladybug that researchers at Cornell University are trying to find. But alas, it was just a seven-spotted specimen (Coccinella septempunctata). I also found a Hippodamia convergens, which is native to the U.S. I uploaded these photos to the Lostladybug site.

Coccinella septempunctata
(first view)

Second view

Hippodamia convergens

UPDATE E-mail received 5/20 6:30 A.M.

Dear Sheryl,

Thank you, again, for your contribution to the Lost Ladybug Project. Your submission can now be viewed in the Contributors section of the Lost Ladybug Project website, here:

Great to hear from you, and I love these photos! (from Rebecca)

The Lost Ladybug Project

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vegetable garden 2010

I actually planted our garden several weeks ago. But I like to blog about it a little so we can refer back to it next year. We planted three tomatoes along with squash and zucchini by seed. Only the yellow squash came up. I'm no fennel lover; I planted it for butterfly caterpillars. And the pumpkins plants I transplanted from our compost pile, where they volunteered.

I can hear the rain pouring down as I write this....


Volunteer, transplanted pumpkin

Yellow squash

Day One

Today I transferred a couple of fritillary caterpillars from the container of leaves to our larger established passionflower vine. Later, while I was showing James the kiddos, a Gulf fritillary butterfly came flitting by and deposited eggs while we watched! Here's one (above). I'm going to try and photograph this egg about the same time each day: 4 to 5 p.m.

Below is a fritillary caterpillar, already munching away on the same vine.

UPDATE May 20, 2010–Alas, the little egg disappeared by the next day. So that little photo project ended.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This and that

Wright's skullcap
Scutellaria wrightii
Beautiful! I spotted it across the barbed-wire fence in the city right-of-way (a ditch).

The rest of these photos were taken this afternoon in the Meadow....

A tiny member of the Convolvulaceae (morning glory) family?

Indian blanket
Gaillardia pulchella

Texas yellowstar gone to seed
Lindheimera texana

Antelope horns (Spider milkweed)
Asclepias asperula

American basket flower
Centaurea americana