Monday, November 26, 2012

Seeding the Meadow

July wildflower seeds....

Grass and wildflower seeds from our land...
Last July and just yesterday, I distributed seeds across the Meadow in hopes of starting new natives (green bowl). Summer seeds included beebalm, Indian blanket and others I can't even remember now. Yesterday I collected seedheads from gayfeathers, goldenrod, Lindheimer muhly, switchgrass, Indiangrass, flameleaf sumac and more (plate). Can't wait for spring to see what happens! Even if just a few germinate, that'll be GREAT! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Those crazy fritillary moms

I wouldn't have believed it unless I'd actually SEEN when and how it happened. I was outside awhile ago, working in the back yard, when I noticed some Gulf fritillary kids on bare passionflower vines. Previous brood had gobbled up the leaves! So I carefully moved several to vines that had plenty of chow. Right when I was depositing one, a Gulf fritillary mom fluttered up, landed on a leaf and stuck her rear up in the air. Huh? 

Then I did a double take!!

She laid an egg on a STRAND OF SPIDER SILK! 

I had to go get my camera because who in their right mind would ever believe me if I told them what I'd observed! See for yourself!

That Gulf fritillary mom is right up there with the one that two years ago laid an egg on our chain-link fence. I blogged about that one, too"This butterfly needs glasses."

And now I have a little dilemma. Do I move the egg or just leave it be?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Now THAT's a BIG caterpillar!

We were in the front yard a few days ago, and I leaned over the lemon verbena for a closer look. Something black had caught me eye. Part of a leaf? NOOOO! Eek! It was a big fat chubby hornworm! (The thing startled me at first, I confess.) I laughed and called for James to come see. We found a second one, too, munching away on the leaves.

Actually, I believe they're rustic sphinxes (Manduca rustica). I checked on them another day or two. Then they disappeared. That's because this species burrows underground to pupate.

Fragrant mistflower magic

The butterfly activity on our fragrant mistflowers is amazing right now but more so on one in the back yard. This isn't a great video, but maybe you can get a sense of what it looks like right now!

Butterfly and moth sightings confirmed

Now and then, I submit images to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Lost Ladybug Project and Butterflies and Moths of North America

Earlier this month, I sent three sightings from our Wildscape to the Butterflies and Moths for confirmation. A regional coordinator verified my submissions, and all three have been added to the Blanco County species list: 

* White-lined sphinx 

* Common mestra

* Carmenta armasata

Caterpillar? Not!

Earlier this month, I spotted what I thought were caterpillars on the seedpods of my climbing snapdragon vine. When I'd touch one, it'd snap up, then drop back into position. Perplexed, I shot some photos and submitted them to What species of caterpillar were they, I asked.

"Could be among the plume moths," John commented. 

Then it dawned on me!

I was seeing COCOONS, not caterpillars!

Cocoon of a moth in the superfamily Pterophoroidea
Strange behavior of snapping up when touched....
Not a great shot but another "snapper."
Later, I shot some more photos of cocoons...
They're very well camouflaged against the seedhead's green.

I also photographed some climbing snapdragon seeds. They're COOL.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

James put our new sign up!

Yesterday evening, after much debate, we settled on a place to put our new sign–Texas Wildscapes Wildlife Habitat Demonstration Site. Then James got to work, chopping two cedar poles and digging holes.
After an hour or so, he was ready to attach the sign.
While we were outside, Davis, Petyon's little brother, wandered over and visited. He's in first grade and a fine young man, just like his big brother. When it came time to take a picture of our sign, Davis was game!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Mark Klym, an information specialist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, visited our Texas Wildscape this afternoon. We invited him to come and see if our gardens would be suitable as a public demonstration site. 

Before we even stepped into the back yard, he was ready to give us an official sign!

He said our Wildscape easily meets the criteria of providing food, shelter and water for wildlife. Plus, our "lawn" is being replaced (gradually) with native plants and habitat.

I'm just a little excited (can you tell?) about achieving this recognition. From the start, I've wanted to share what we're doing in our Texas Wildscape and hopefully educate others about the importance of providing native plants for native wildlife, especially in a time when so much natural habitat is being lost to development and urban sprawl. Not to mention it's just plain FUN to observe nature and learn learn learn something new about it nearly every day.

Like I told a friend recently, I'll never live long enough to learn all there is to learn within our small one-acre yard. But I'm certainly going to keep trying! 

Lost Ladybug Project

Seven-spotted ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata)

Photographed Oct. 25, 2012, in our Wildscape and contributed to the ongoing 
Cornell University's Lost Ladybug Project 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bordered patch?

Yesterday, I thought I'd spotted what appeared to be a crimson patch. It looked very different from the other bordered patches (see below). Right now, we're hosting a LOT of bordered patches (Chlosyne lacinia) on the Copper Canyon daisy, which has begun to bloom profusely. I ran a photo of my find by the devoted folks at, asking if it might be a crimson patch. 

This beautiful bordered patch ranges more in Mexico and Central America (common bordered patch in background). Somehow, it found its way to our Wildscape.
David F. commented back and said no, I had a bordered patch. However, "this color form is more often seen in southern Mexico and Central America than in the U.S.," he wrote.

Well, how cool is that?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Commander Ben enlightens us

Commander Ben and our chapter president, Fredi.
Yesterday, Commander Ben the Invasive Hunter both enlightened AND entertained our Highland Lakes chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists. Ben, who's 14 and passionate about fighting invasive species in our state, talked with us for nearly an hour at our November meeting in Marble Falls. Check out his website and see what he's doing in the way of videos, interviews and other science-related work

At first, he jokingly told us that he'd injured his hand while fighting invasives. Then he said, no, he'd actually broken it during a Taekwondo sparring match. As soon as his hand heals, he plans to get back to sparring!
As a token of our appreciation, Linda, our vice president, presented a Master Naturalist hat to Ben. He loved it!
Commander Ben and his mother, Mary.
After his presentation, Ben handed out business cards to Dan and other members.
He also shared his popular "I'm an Invasive Hunter!" stickers. As you can see, Celia was thrilled to get hers.
This young man has a great future ahead of him, and I'm so glad to know him. (That's me and Ben.) Thank you, Ben and Mary!
* * * 
Yesterday, I filmed a short video (not great quality, sorry) of Ben giving his presentation to give a flavor of his style and energy. He's amazing! 

PSSSSTT! Watch for my upcoming article on Commander Ben in the March 2013 issue of Texas Co-op Power magazine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hot dog–we've got American AND painted ladies!

Oh, my goodness, the more I observe and photograph, the better I learn my butterfly species! I'd decided we had American ladies in our Wildscape. But did we have the similar-looking painted lady? I took some photos and did a little research. The answer to my question?
But how do you tell the difference?
It's all about the eyes...
...the eyespots, that is.
American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
American lady has TWO eyespots.
Painted lady has FOUR eyespots.

Cool bird cam in the Valley

Way down in South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists have installed a live bird feeder camera in the Sabal Palm Sanctuary. It's COOL. This morning, I've been watching green jays gorge themselves on bird seed. Check it out!

Here's how they set up their camera system.

Way to go, fellow Texas Master Naturalists! What a gift for everyone! 

Monday, November 5, 2012

New butterfly!

Common mestra (Mestra amymone)
 After getting the mail awhile ago, I just happened to stroll by the turk's cap, boneset and mistflower in our front yard and spotted this NEW species in our Wildscape!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Peyton and friends find a caterpillar

Peyton, Davis, Zach and A.J. (left to right)

Awhile ago, I was at my desk, editing butterfly images, when someone knocked on the front door and rang the door bell.

"Miss Sheryl! We found a caterpillar!" Davis exclaimed. He's the little brother of Peyton, our seventh-grade neighbor. "Can you come and look at it?"

"Sure," I said, "let me get my camera."

So off I went. Peyton and his buddies, A.J. and Zach, were seated on the gravel along the street in front of Peyton's house. Everyone was bent over their find....a chubby caterpillar.

"Oh, that's just like the ones that James and I found in the Meadow a week or so ago!" I said. "A white-lined sphinx caterpillar." Then I suggested that we carry it to the Meadow, so it could do what it needed to do in a safer location. They agreed. So I carried the caterpillar in my hand (yes, it tried to chomp me a few times) while we trekked over to the Meadow. I set it down, and it started digging. Which is what the boys had said it was doing when they first found it. Hmm, that's interesting....

The boys and I left the caterpillar atop the ground....
Before they headed home, we looked up the caterpillar in Peyton's Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America (which Davis had made a special trip into his house to get...thanks, Davis!) "This species overwinters as a pupa in the soil," states the species account. 

By golly, that's what our caterpillar needed to do. And it was doing exactly that--digging into the ground! Later, my daughter's boyfriend, Benjamin, and I walked out to check on the caterpillar.

"I've never seen a caterpillar dig before," he said as we watched it scoop and gnaw at the ground. Cool!
When I returned later with my camera, it had made a lot of progress....
An hour or so later when I returned, it was out and about, digging and moving dirt.

I watched it dig for a little while....

And then it went back into a resting state? I guessed that's what it was doing when it went into a U shape.
After supper, James, Benjamin, Lindsey and I walked back out to the Meadow to check on the caterpillar one more time. It was GONE! Pretty neat, eh?

Fragrant mistflower for Sandy

Our fragrant mistflower (shrubby) is just getting going with the blooms. So far, I've seen monarchs, Gulf fritillaries, American ladies and queens nectaring on the flowers.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fall butterflies

In hopes of learning myself and sharing with others, here are the fall butterflies that are visiting our Wildscape (yesterday I read up on how to tell the difference between a queen and a soldier)...

Bordered patch
Gulf fritillary
Variegated fritillary
Texan crescent
Monarchs (in love)
Southern dogface
American snout
Gray hairstreak
Fiery skipper
Little yellow
Cloudless sulphur
Red admiral
Common mestra
Phaon crescent
Silvery checkerspot
American lady
Painted lady

Dainty sulphur

White checkered-skipper