Friday, February 25, 2011

We're officially "bee-friendly"

Like I say a lot, I run down a lot of rabbit trails whenever I'm researching online different subjects. One recent trail led me to Texas Bee Watchers, where I happened onto Kim Bacon's ambitious project, "52 Bee Gardens: 52 Weeks." In her intro, Kim writes, "Texas Bee Watchers is challenging Texans to plant 52 Bee-Friendly Gardens by the end of the 2011. Since TBW may be the only site certifying Bee Gardens, you can make sure Texas has more Official Certified Bee Gardens than any other state by certifying your Bee Garden! Go Texans!"

Naturally, our Wildscape needed bee certification, too! So I wrote Kim and asked if we qualified or did we need to plant a new garden. "Of course, you can apply and get 'certified," she responded. "I saw the list of  plants on your blog, and you've got plenty of great bee plants in your Wildscape. Existing gardens certainly qualify–you're a trendsetter! I took a look at the bee posts you mentioned on your blog. I'm always telling people to watch the bees in the cactus flowers. It's just like you describe–they seem to be having so much fun."

"I'm very serious about people planting for native bees (and other pollinators)," Kim added. "So send in your photos and list, and I'll put your garden on the beewatchers website and you'll be one of the few CERTIFIED bee gardens in the WORLD!"

This morning, I received happy news from Kim: "Thanks for certifying your Bee-Friendly Garden. I've just posted information about your garden on the Texas Bee Watchers website. Your garden is wonderful, and I am sure it will inspire others to restore their their own residential landscapes to a more bee-friendly state. Attached is your official certificate. Welcome to bee-watching!"

On her cool website, Kim gave us a real nice write-up about our Wildscape and posted the photos I submitted. Wow. Give it a read! Thank you, Kim!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

First robins!

We ate our supper outside on the patio for the first time this season. It was WONDERFUL! It got EVEN better when I spotted a robin. Then another. Then James pointed out more.

SIX ROBINS in the Meadow! I'd say spring has sprung!

UPDATE MARCH 5, 2011–Our friend (and monarch watcher), Kip Kiphart in Boerne told me that I should report this sighting to Journey North. Which I just did this morning!

What is Journey North? That's what I wanted to know.

Here's what the website says: Journey North "engages students in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. K-12 students share their own field observations with classmates across North America. They track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of monarch butterflies, robins, hummingbirds, whooping cranes, gray whales, bald eagles— and other birds and mammals; the budding of plants; changing sunlight; and other natural events. Find migration maps, pictures, standards-based lesson plans, activities and information to help students make local observations and fit them into a global context. Widely considered a best-practices model for education, Journey North is the nation's premiere 'citizen science' project for children. The general public is welcome to participate."


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Look back at my post, "So much life" (October 19, 2008), and you'll see this photo of an ant. "A rather large species of ant" was my caption.

This week, I'm researching ants for a magazine project. Since I'm getting more smarts about different species, I thought I'd go through my blog and see if I had any images of ants. This one popped up. Curious, I clicked on the picture and peered at the thorax (an ant's middle section). Hmmm. Then I looked at the head... Hmmm. Hey, wait a minute! Next I went to and pulled up some ant images. Hmmm. Then I did another search. OH WOW!

"JAMES!" I hollered. "COME SEE THIS!!"

Good sport that he is, James walked into the office and stood next to my desk. "What's that look like?" I said, pointing to the picture.

"An ant," he said. Naturally. I grinned.

"Ah, look CLOSER," I said, beyond excited. "What's it MISSING!?"

James looked closer. Then he shrugged. "I dunno."

"MANDIBLES!" I exclaimed (like I'd found loose coins on the ground or some such treasure). "ANTS HAVE MANDIBLES!" Then I pointed to the long, thin beak coming from the insect's mouth end. "THAT'S A BUG! AN ANT-MIMIC BUG! Isn't that just COOL!?"

"That's nice, Sheryl," James said as he backed away from my desk and tiptoed toward the hall. "Yeah, really nice." James gave me a worried smile, then disappeared.

From ant to broad-headed bug nymph. ShaZAM!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Incredible photos of insect eggs

Just never fails....I'm on the Internet, researching a subject, and I run across SOMETHING ELSE that sends me down a rabbit trail. This time, I HAVE to share! Please surf over to National Geographic and check out Exquisite Castaways, a gallery of insect eggs that were made using an electronic scanning microscope. In a online video, scientist/photographer Martin Oeggerli explains the arduous process of producing and coloring images, which takes more than 40 hours each! The images are stunning. Take a look!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pollination underway

Dang, I'd never noticed this shrub thing blooming before, and I have no clue right now what it is. What I do know is what it's NOT: wax ligustrum and privet. But the bees and flies were all over it this afternoon. And it smelled good, too. Help, anyone?

UPDATE–I finally took the time to check on this new-to-me species, and reader Mkircus was right! Cool! This is a stretchberry–also called an elbow bush–Forestiera pubescens. I'd never noticed it before. Or maybe I had but didn't have the interest that I do now in natives. I'm going to tie a little ribbon around one of the branches so I can tell it apart from other shrubs going in the Sanctuary corner of our Wildscape. Neat-O!

Just a snail

Another day I'll figure out what genus and/or species of snail this just happened to catch my eye.

UPDATE MARCH 24, 2011–This just in from snail expert/Mollusk Man Max S. Anton: "Your snail is almost certainly Otala lactea, though there may be some similar Helicidae in your area whose species have not yet been differentiated. But in all probability, it's a milk snail. Great blog, by the way. And that photo is fantastic. Please let me know if you post more snail-related articles, I'd love to see them."
Thank YOU, Max! 

As for Otala lactea, it's nonnative. 

According to "Snails and Slugs" written by the late J.A. Jackman, "Other exotic land snails are also garden pests in Texas. Milk snail, Otala lactea, is often common in many parts of Texas, particularly in urban areas, and chocolate-banded snail, Eobania vermiculata, has populations in central and southeastern Texas. Both are closely related to brown garden snail, but are slightly smaller in size. Both have also been used as escargot."

Get out the forks?

More from Max: "All Helicidae are exotic, having been imported from Europe and Asia Minor. The milk snail is formerly known as the Spanish Edible Snail, so it is probably more closely associated with the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. I'm not sure how Otala lactea found its way specifically to the Hill Country, but most likely, it migrated there after being introduced in other parts of the country for the escargot trade. Snails have a knack for hitching rides in potted plants, shipping crates, and other transported goods."

Spider camo

A movement in the grass caught my eye this afternoon, and I leaned down to see what it was....a crab spider! VERY well camouflaged, too. See how she blended perfectly with the grass and dead oak leaves? Then, when I poked around her to pull away the dead grass, she stretched her legs out and went into a defense position. Look out, I'll get you, she warned. Even if she tried, her bite wouldn't bother me at all. She was way too small.

Nature just never ceases to amaze me. I've seen a variety of crab spiders, like pink and yellow and rusty brown ones, but never one that blended in with dead vegetation. Cool!

The pruned ones...

The rose bush that's lived longer at the Pink House than I have...
'Indigo Spires' salvia

Copper Canyon daisy
Butterfly bush
Mexican bush sage
Wedelia (zexmenia)

American beautyberry

First daffodil

Spring's coming!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Daffodils and ball moss

The daffodils are about to bust open!
Ball moss seeds have been floating in the air like fluffy snowflakes the past few weeks. Some get stuck on the chain-link fence, and I couldn't resist photographing one.

Readin' up

I've been wanting to pull out reference books and information on native plants so we can better prepare for the new growing season. So this afternoon is The Day! I'm reading over plant lists and mulling over LOTS. 

For one thing, I KNOW I'm going to the Mostly Native Plant Sale, set for April 2 in Boerne. Hosts are members of the Boerne chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. And I've already queried David Winningham at Natives of Texas and asked if he might bring some spicebushes to sell. Yes, he responded. In the meantime, check out his website for information on which native plants like shade and/or sun. He's also got an online catalog of the natives he has in inventory. Can't wait for the Boerne sale! James and I visited Natives of Texas several years ago, but we weren't as up to speed on natives back then as we are now.

Back to the books!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gettin' ready!

I'm not much of a REAL gardener, but I did plant some seeds this afternoon in bedding trays. We'll see. I planted some native seeds I found, like possumhaw, Mexican persimmon, coreopsis and coneflower. I also planted beans and yellow squash. I CAN grow squash from seed, that I know! 

James planted some flowers and carrots. Wish us luck!

Tiny stuff

Found some awfully tiny beauties in the back yard this afternoon. The flower measured less than an eighth of an inch. The orange-gold lichen covered a piece of leaf. And the reddish leaf stood out among its green siblings. So beautiful!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pretty in purple

More pruning I was working on our 'Eyelash' salvia (Salvia blepharophylla), I noticed the pretty shades of purple on the dead foliage. Camera time!! 

This afternoon, I also pruned the turk's cap, blue mistflower and some lantanas. I need to look up and find out how or if chile pequins, butterfly bush and white mistflowers (fragrant, too) should be pruned. There's a lot to take care of!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The purple martin house goes UP

Here we go. Time to try a third season to start our martin colony. These time, we're trying decoys. Scouts are arriving daily in Texas, according to the Purple Martin Conservation Association's Scout Arrival Study. Wish us luck!

UPDATE MARCH 11, 2011–Carrol Fuchs called me today and told me that HIS MARTINS HAD JUST ARRIVED! Still keeping our fingers crossed!

Friday, February 11, 2011

A mushroom from my past

In May 2007, my daughter, Lindsey, and I spotted these delicate little mushrooms in the front yard. We both took photos. Ever since then, I'd wondered more specifically what they were. Looks a like a flower, eh?

Yesterday, while researching a Texas mushroom species, I came across David Fischer's American Mushrooms website and sent him this image. This morning, he graciously answered my inquiry: "This is Coprinus plicatilis, aka Parasola plicatilis. This is one of the very few mushrooms which grow overnight and wither very quickly. You must have been up early that morning. This year, if you watch carefully for them first thing in the morning, you will almost certainly find more."

P.S. I did a quick image search of Coprinus plicatilis, and ours is definitely the prettiest! :-)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Some poop on poop (aka seed balls)

Years ago, I wrote a magazine feature on a field trip program at South Llano River State Park. Participants were middle school students from nearby Junction. The day-long outings incorporated hand-on learning with environmental awareness and appreciation. In May 1997, I joined a field trip as part of my assignment. During one workshop, I watched Bill Neiman–who owns Native American Seed–show the kids how to make "seed balls." His recipe: six parts clay, one part humus, two parts seeds (native grasses and wildflowers), and one part water, all mixed into a mushy dough and rolled into one-inch balls. The balls were left to dry and harden in buckets. After that, the kids were told to toss them around on the ground, then Mother Nature would do the rest. 

(FYI: The New York Times recently featured Native American Seed, "Emphasis on Native Plants Gains Favor Across State." And in 2007, I wrote "Go Native," an article on Bill and his wife, Jan, for Landscapes magazine.)

Yesterday, James and I went out to our land. While he was examining rocks and fossils, I looked at plants and insects. During my looking around, I happened onto some dried, golden-colored pellets and just HAD to open! Encased perfectly inside was a seed! I opened a few more and found more seeds, each wrapped within the grassy fecal matter. I'm guessing the gold pellets came from a rabbit or some other small mammal, the dark-colored ones from deer. (The seeds, I later realized, are juniper seeds. YUCK.)

This all to ponder and report because as I opened those tiny pellets yesterday, I remembered Bill and him showing kids how to make seed balls. Looks like Mother Nature knows how to make her own!!

Can you see the seed?

A close up

UPDATE FEBRUARY 18, 2011–Ran across a reference (BioKids) on animal scat, and I apparently was right! According to BioKids, the gold-colored pellets came forth from a rabbit, and the dark pellets from a white-tailed deer.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bertha Dobie and me

If you're a native Texan, chances are you're familiar with the writings of the late folklorist J. Frank Dobie. Or at least you've heard of him. In 2002 or so, I wrote a profile on him for Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine. During the process of delving into his life and works, I became better acquainted with the man who's also part of my own family. See, Mr. Dobie and my late grandfather, Dudley R. Dobie of San Marcos, were first cousins. They also looked very much alike. And–like his cousin–Daddy D., my grandfather, was a writer.
Yesterday morning, I joined my Dobie clan–Uncle Dudley Dobie Jr. and Aunt Saza Dobie, cousins Rick and wife Audra Dobie, Rusty and wife Tina and their daughters, Kendall and Drew Dobie–on an outing to Southwestern University in Georgetown. There, we attended a celebration of sorts. In 1910, J. Frank Dobie graduated from Southwestern and then earned a master's degree from Columbia University. At Southwestern, J. Frank also met Bertha McKee, whom he married in 1916. She, too, wrote but focused more on gardening articles for newspapers and magazines.

In honor of Southwestern's historic connection with JFD, Steven L. Davis, author of J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind and interim director of the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, shared about Dobie Saturday. Afterward, Austin writer Sarah Bird talked about her experiences, living as a writing fellow at Dobie's Paisano Ranch. (Read more about the ranch and her time there as a fellow in The Acalde magazine, "A Literary Home on the Range.")

Sarah Bird and me
After the two talks, I visited with Sarah, then wandered over to a table display of J. Frank and Bertha Dobie papers, archived at Southwestern. A tattered brown notebook filled with lined pages of handwriting caught my eye. "That was Bertha's journal," said Kathryn Stallard, who heads the university's special collections at the A. Frank Smith Jr. Library Center. "She wrote every day about an elm tree she could see through a window of their home."

The first page of Bertha Dobie's journal...
I literally froze. "Really?" I asked. "Because that's how I came to start my blog...." I was stunned. Window on a Texas Wildscape....

Back in the car with Uncle Dudley and Aunt Saza, I told them about Bertha's journal. "Oh, yes, I remember that tree," Uncle Dud said. In the 1990s, he and Aunt Saza bought, renovated and saved the J. Frank Dobie House near UT in Austin. Today, the two-story home–now owned by the University–houses the Michener Center for Writers. "It was the great elm under which the Texas literary triumvirate of writers–Dobie, Roy Bedichek and Walter Prescott Webb–spent many evenings, talking," Uncle Dudley continued. "We spent a lot of money, trying to save it. But then a wind knocked it down."

Here's what I could read from Bertha's first page.....

The Record of an Elm Tree and a Back Yard (From a North Window)
Thus, Bertha begins her journal: "On February 9, 1929, the cold morning of the winter, a great flock of goldfinches, handsome and in their sober winter plumage, flew into the tall cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) just beyond the north study window. With them were a few dull-colored pine siskens. Suddenly they flew to the ground with the soft fluttering motion that makes them at a distance scarcely distinguishable from falling leaves..."