Friday, January 25, 2013

Ligustrums, escargot and other intrigues

Yesterday afternoon, the sun came out and felt wonderfully warm. So I fetched my gloves and clippers and did a little work in the Wildscape. I concentrated mostly on ATTACKING the wax ligustrum. They are so so so invasive and mean. I cut them back, and they just happily resprout resprout resprout.

Whilst whacking, I came across several large snails. Uh, oh. Invasives, too. At least not native to the Hill Country.  (See my February 20, 2011, post on the topic. They can be eaten as escargot.)

You should kill it, I told myself.  

No, can't, sorry, I retorted.  

Then I threw it as hard as I could....right into a pile of brush as the edge of our yard. Darn.

I came across yet another one. Then an image flashed through my head....a photo a friend on Facebook had shared a photo of a snail infestation in her yard. I sure didn't want THAT! So I grimaced, set the snail on the compost pile, placed a piece of wood on it, and thenWHAM!!stepped on it. (Photo below of my dastard deed. Those are egg shells stuck to the smashed snail).  

I did the same with four more snails. I hate killing things, but sometimes it's got to be done. 

Like with ligustrums. Back to that. This morning, I emailed our Master Naturalist chapter and asked if vinegar poured on a stump will kill it for good. Here's what folks suggested:

* Our extension agent recommended using CLR shower cleaner as a stump killer.

* Our former president suggested I use Green Light Cut Vine & Stump Killer as a low-risk herbicide. 

* Bill L. recommended mixing a gallon of 20 percent vinegar with 2 ounces of orange oil and spray the stumps.

* Claire H. wrote, "We have had luck with cutting them as close to the ground as possible, cutting the roots and then painting  the cut areas with Round Up. You then need to cover the stumps with a black plastic bag and cover that with mulch so it looks good. We have not had our Chinese tallow return since we did this about six months ago and prior to that it kept sending up sprouts after about three weeks and they grew very rapidly. The tree was cut down three years ago, but just refused to die and I do not miss all the seedlings that it planted everywhere."

* George B. offered: "On the ranch we have found Roundup to be useful in controlling grasses (for instance, to control encroachment on our roads) and for some leafy plants but much less effective on woody plants (like poison ivy). Our biggest concern is what the locals call dry land willow, and unfortunately we have too much to ever hope to eradicate it. But we do try to control it in certain areas. We have found that Remedy mixed with three or four parts diesel fuel works very well. Treating woody stems works best when applied to a freshly cut stem or truck. We apply our mixture with a small brush directly to the freshly exposed cambium layer, which greatly reduces damage to nearby desirable vegetation." 

Thanks, everyone! We haven't decided yet what we should do....

During my trimming, I also came across these eggs attached to the dead blue mistflower foliage. That's one reason why I like to wait until later to trim and prune back. Because wildlife often uses the dead vegetation for shelter or other reasons.

Close up of eggs on mistflower.
Speaking of eggs, I was pulling dead stuff and green algae from the stock tank pond the other day when I happened to spot what looks like a bubble filled with eggs. I'm keeping an eye on it to see what happens.

And today, I spotted a caterpillar in the rue! What a lovely sight to see in January!


Alfalfa weevil (Hypera postica)
I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the word "weevil," I picture one of those annoying little black bugs that I sometimes find in my flour bin. So when I found these small gray bugs on our dining room floor and the front porch, I was clueless. Post them on Bugguide then!

Which I did. 

"Looks like some kind of weevil," someone posted back. Hmmmm. So I did a little searching.....

"Maybe an alfalfa weevil?" I asked

"You nailed it," came the reply. 

A nonnative bug, it seems. 

"I'd say over a third of weevil photos that pop up on Bugguide show adventive species of Old World origin," v belov wrote.

According to the University of Illinois Extension, this species is "one of the primary defoliators of alfalfa."  

Wonder what it's doing here in our Wildscape?

And our house?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our first robin!

Just now, I kept hearing a churp churp churp! outside, but I didn't pay much mind. 

Then it dawned on me!

"THAT'S A ROBIN!" I exclaimed, racing to the dining room. I peered outside to our back yard, and, YES, there she was, hopping along in the grass in the evening light!! Our first robin of the season!!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter thoughts

Last Saturday, a Blanco friend emailed me and shared her thoughts and observations. I think she writes so wonderfully that I asked if I could share her letter here. She said yes and asked that I only use her initials, KCM....

A hungry American snout that dropped by the hummingbird feeder last December 24. So I dropped some sugar water on top of the feeder, and it drank and drank.

"Hi Sheryl, I finally took the opportunity to go through one of your blogs. Windows on a Texas Wildscape is wonderful and is a very close approximation of the daily manna of our household. Birds, trees, wildflowers, mammals, bugs, spiders, turtles, frogs, butterflies--we observe and report to each other the daily latest and greatest. For me, nature provides the simplest sources of joy--all you have to do is pay attention.
"Yesterday brought the conversation of three owls, calling back and forth, just before dusk. They are a family of great horned owls. This season we began to hear them in December. One would call who ha whoo whoo whoo, another would answer, and the third do its best, but not a complete call and never full-voiced at that time. Now they often talk over each other. We've caught sight of all three in a tall tree in front of the house. It is magic.

"I appreciated your picture of the spider. In summer, the orbweavers are my favorites, though we haven't seen any for the last two summers. But they will come again. For years, I've singled out one to be our Carlotta (in homage to Charlotte's Web). I watch it through the summer until it lays its eggs in a little egg sac which I watch through winter in hopes of seeing birth in the new year. Hasn't happened yet, but someday I'll see it happen.

"Do you know of a Blanco-centric blog or site where we could report bird sightings? Sharing that information and seeing if others could confirm it through their own sightings would be fun and useful. Our most recent observations were a ruby-crowned kinglet and a red-breasted nuthatch. I know little about birds, but like you, I spend hours at my computer in front of a window with an old live oak and young deciduous holly livening up the view about 12 feet away. Binoculars and Sibley's (bird book) sit at the ready.  This time of year, the berries on the holly are attracting cedar waxwings, robins, cardinals, and the two previously mentioned species, which are new to me.

"Oops, I could go on. Your winter pictures were delightful. We so often think there's nothing to see this time of year, but to ignore winter happenings is to ignore the silence and sleep and death that winter brings. On the one hand, the end of a cycle, and on the other the peace and rest of nature before all of spring's budding and buzzing and greening up begins. God's touch.

"Thank you for posting your observations. I'll tune in every now and then to see what's up in your neck of the woods."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wanted: Purple martins!


James put our purple martin house up today. Scouts (adult males who fly in first and stake out their housing) have already arrived in Florida (see 2013 Scout Arrival Page). In Texas last year, they arrived as early as January 10 in Pleasanton. So start putting up those houses, landlords!

For more info,read Gary Clark's "Purple martin scouts will soon come calling" in last Saturday's San Antonio Express-News.

This will be our fifth season to try and attract our own martins. Last year, we had ONE martin spend the night in our house (I have the photo to prove it, and I posted it here). I will NOT NOT NOT give up hope!    


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Spring (and summer) are around the corner!

Cold, dreary day today across Central Texas. So we stayed indoors, bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets. Later, James flooded my email inbox with photos he'd taken last year in our Wildscape (see below for a sample).

"Spring is going to be AWESOME!" he wrote me, a gentle reminder that winter's not long lived here. 

And here's hoping spring WILL be glorious! Last week, we received nearly 4 inches of rain. So maybe all those seeds I spread across the Meadow will sprout sprout sprout!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

RIP, spider friend

Our dryer went out temporarily this afternoon so I dumped our wet clothes and sheets into a basket, then walked cross the street to a neighbor's house to borrow her dryer. On the way, a glossy black thing on our driveway caught my eye. A spider! But on his last legs. Alas, a closer inspection told me he was DEAD. On my return trip, I went in the house for my camera. Even though he was no longer among the living, he certainly deserved to be documented.

This handsome fellow (yes, it's a male) likely belongs to Cytaucheniidae, a wafer trapdoor family of spiders. I found a female nearly five years ago ("Trapdoor spider"), so I know we have them in our Wildscape. They're very elusive and rarely spotted because they stay underground mostly. Their burrows are hard to find, too, because they construct a pliable, wafer-thin lid made of silk to camouflage the entrance hole. This guy was likely out, looking for a lady. RIP!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lost Ladybug Project

Since January 2009, I have contributed photos of ladybugs to the Lost Ladybug Project, a nationwide survey being conducted by Cornell University that uses citizen scientists like myself. While out in the Meadow today, I came across a ladybug. So I caught her and went back inside the house for my camera. After I took some photos, I let her go....
Seven-spotted ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata)...a European species introduced to North America in 1956.

Another found January 17, 2013.

Be gone, invasives!

Happy new year! Thank heavens, 2013 so far has brought moisture. OK, it amounted to less than an inch, but every bit helps!

Today, we had some sunshine so I ventured outside awhile ago to check what's happening in the Meadow. Uh oh. The Malta star-thistle (Centaurea melitensis)––one of our BAD BAD BAD invasive species (up there with bastard cabbage––is sprouting rosettes. Last March, I blogged about this annual thistle after I realized we had it growing in our Wildscape. For several evenings, James and I pulled piles and piles of it, hoping to get it under control. This afternoon, I spent some time, pulling up the few I could find. They're really not hard to identify....

Malta star-thistle has ruffle-edged leaves. 

Even when they're small, the ruffled leaves are obvious.

I used an old fork to grab and pull up the thistles.

Can you spot the Malta star-thistle? It's trying to push out a stork's bill.