Saturday, April 27, 2013


Our antelope horns have begun to bloom. They're so cool. Then I happened to notice that a purple milkweed vine is growing close to some antelope horns. Even cooler! In the photo below, you have to look carefully for the milkweed vine...the leaves are heart shaped.

New to me native across the street

Weedy dwarfdandelion (Krigia caespitosa). Spotted this colony of strange dandelions across the street near a drainage ditch. New to me!

New native

Narrowleaf blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustiloium). Found in the Meadow under the live oaks. I barely noticed the flowers because they are so small. Lovely!

Friday, April 26, 2013

New bird!

Once again, a terrible photo, but it documents this rose-breasted grosbeak that visited our feeder today!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Purple martin nest cams

Now that we think and hope that we're truly purple martin landlords, we wonder about the process of mating, nesting and laying eggs. So I looked around for some nest cams, and here are a few that I found:

Gazebo Phil

Environmental Institute of Houston

New York Wild (not yet activated)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Native plant sale

I'm way behind in my blog posts. Sunday, April 14, James and I drove to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin and went to the last day of the Native Plant Sale.  

Naturally, I came home with many new friends:

Dwarf Barbados cherry

Lindheimer's senna

Alamo vine

Betony-leaf mistflower

Gulf Coast penstemon

Whiteleaf mountain mint

Purple martin update

I believe I can really, truly, honestly, happily report that we DO INDEED have a pair! They've shared two nights together so far. I think that's pretty darn committed!

Here's what we've observed since my last report, "Just one martin," April 19:

Saturday, April 20
I didn't feel up to sitting in the Meadow, so I watched with my binoculars from our bedroom window. I kept a pretty close eye, but I didn't see even one martin go inside our house. Sniff.

Sunday, April 21
However, the next morning, I looked out our window as soon as I got out of bed (which was...don't tell anyone...after 8) and I SAW A MARTIN on the house! I felt tons better!

During the day, I watched the house and kept the sparrows away as best as I could. I cleaned out their two nests, too. I was THRILLED when our male returned with another gal! At one point, a male sparrow shot between them and went into the middle compartment! MEAN! This was WAR. The rest of the day, all I wanted to do was stay outside and scare off sparrows. Which I nearly did. 

That evening, James and I sat in the Meadow. We clapped and threw rocks to keep the sparrows away. TWO martins flew in! They were in bed by 8 p.m.

Monday, April 22

I've ordered a Universal Sparrow Trap from the Purple Martin Conservation Association

I watched off and on during the day. One time, our martins returned with two others. But they didn't stay. In the evening, a third martin showed up and perched on the utility line for awhile. Then it left.

Around 8 p.m., our male went into the second-floor compartment for the night, and she went into the top floor. We could hear him "talking" inside his room.

"Nope, not this time, Hon, you're sleeping down here with ME," he seemed to be chortling. After several minutes of him fussing, she finally relented and moved downstairs with him! She's stayed TWO NIGHTS now!

Tuesday, April 23
We braved 55-degree temps and kept watch from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. First, we did remove the two sparrow nests. I, for one, was VERY happy to see our pair fly in and go right to bed before 8 p.m. 

This time, they slept in the top bunk.

Wednesday, April 24

Native or not?

A few days ago, while emailing with Joe Marcus – collections manager and native plant information specialist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – I asked why isn't Sida filicaulis (spreading sida) listed in the plant image database? His reply was interesting, so I thought I'd share:

"Great question!  The answer is a bit complicated.
"Our taxonomic authority is The Synthesis of North American Flora, a database of all vascular plants found in North America, north of Mexico. The USDA Plants website uses the same taxonomic authority. These resources list Sida filicaulis as a synonym for Sida abutifolia. So Sida abutifolia is the correct name for the species according to our authority on botanical names.
"Here’s where the question gets interesting. The USDA Plants website considers Sida abutifolia an introduced species in North America (native to Puerto Rico). In general, we use nativity information found on the USDA Plants website to determine whether or not we publish a species in NPIN, though we’re not locked into that the way we are on botanical names. Since USDA Plants considers the species non-native, we have not included in the NPIN databases. However, another USDA website, USDA ARS-GRIN – which usually has excellent distribution information – considers the plant to be native to Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as well as other places outside North America. If we followed USDA ARS-GRIN we could include Sida abutifolia in NPIN. I’ve been considering doing just that pending a more thorough investigation of the scientific literature.
"Thus, a very real answer to your question is that it may not be listed in NPIN because I haven’t yet pursued it. When I can carve out some time to do that, I will."

Thanks, Joe!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Another class visit

Earlier this week, Jo Ellen C., who's with the Highland Lakes Master Naturalist class, sent me these photos of their April 4 visit to our Wildscape. She kindly agreed to let me share them with you on my blog.....

Last month, the Highland Lakes Master Gardener class also visited our Wildscape. I failed to post photos but will at the end of this post. 

Yes, that's me.

Gray shrub sage (Salvia chamaedryoides)

Bearded iris (non native, here before me)

One of our salvias....

Non-native dianthus
Texas betony
Horsetail rush...thank you for the wonderful photos, Jo Ellen!

And here are photos that James took of the Master Gardeners who toured March 26. (Our neighbors are gracious about letting people park their cars all over the street.)

P.S. I just had to scan and save and share this thoughtful thank-you card that Ray B., Master Gardener class instructor, wrote us....

New bird!

I spotted a new bird from my office window yesterday. Managed to get a few shots. Not a great image, though, and I had to crop tight. Joanne, my bird expert, says it's a yellow-breasted chat!

Just one martin

Alas, only one martin has returned to our house the last two nights. I wish I knew what happened to the other one. I feel sure our lone soul is the male. He entertained a female briefly at the house but returned by himself Wednesday evening. For a long while, he sat on the porch, then at 8:15 he went inside the top-floor compartment for the night.

A female briefly visited....

Last night, I headed outside at 7:30 to keep an eye out for him. I felt sure he'd return. I saw him soaring overhead several times then he'd disappear. Close to 8 p.m., he returned and began flying in closer to the house. Then another pair of martins flew by, and he took out after them, chortling loudly. At first, I thought maybe he wouldn't come back. But yes, he would, I decided! And he DID! Alone, still. At 8:05 or so, he flew straight into his compartment. I headed back to the house. My vigil was done.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New-to-me natives

I thought this was false nightshade, but now I don't think so. James spotted this delicate plant in our Meadow....

Carolina woollywhite....the species that's growing prolifically along roadsides. I'd never noticed it before this spring. There's some growing across the street us from us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


April 16, 2013

Finally, after five long years of waiting, they've come. My first pair! 

"Remember when you fell in love with me, and you didn't want to eat?" I asked James shyly before supper last night. He was fixing spaghetti, something simple so I could get back outside as fast as possible. "Like what I felt when I fell in love with you?" He nodded. "Well, that's how I feel now," I said. "I don't have any appetite, and I don't have TIME to eat either!"

Right now, all I want to do is watch and be near them…. 

I researched long and hard about what kind of purple martin house I should buy. I figured out the prime location on our property and how far it should be from nearby trees. A successful martin house must have starling-proof, crescent-shaped entrances. Bars across the porches to discourage owls and hawks. A predator guard on the pole to stop snakes and raccoons.

All in all, in honor of my 50th birthday in 2009 (I am telling my're welcome), we spent $400-plus for EVERYTHING. That included a pre-assembled Coates Waters Edge three-level house with six two-room compartments. The house’s "entrance foyer" further protected nestlings from predators, I learned.

I won't even begin to tell you how many bags of cement James used to set the pole. I lost track after 10. Or was it 15? (Then we found the instructions, buried at the bottom of the shipping box.)

Ah, the pole. A telescoping pole, top of the line, of course. We had the house up no less than a month when we were outside working, and the house crashed down a notch! I was devastated. I called Birds Choice, the pole manufacturer, and they shipped a replacement pole. Problem solved. Or so I thought. Several days later, I happened to look outside and saw that the house/pole had completely COLLASPED. I cried. Because if we'd had martins, and that had happened, THEY WOULD HAVE ABANDONED THE HOUSE AND NEVER EVER EVER EVER RETURNED.


We contacted the company and reported what had happened. James bought some long screws and nuts, and drilled into the pole's three interconnected pipes. THAT never happened again.

Nor did we get martins that first year.

Or the second. Or third. In 2010, we even replaced the starling-proof entrances with normal "round" entrances, hoping/thinking that would solve our martin-less problem.

We took off the owl guards, too.


Oh, sure, we had a few casual lookers. They flew by. They browsed. But no one stayed.

Year four, we had what we THOUGHT was our first martin to stay overnight. I even blogged about the big event (March 12, 2012). To this day, I'm still not sure of the bird species, but it sure looked and acted like a martin. We were up before daybreak the next morning, and I got one photo of the bird before it shot off into the air, headed south. We never saw it again.

Fast forward to spring 2013. It's April, and I've given up. Again. Another year with no martins. I don't even have enough faith to ask God to send me one. Isn't that a silly thing to pray for? What's more, I feel like I'd be testing Him to ask. If only I'd believe more, then maybe He'd give me martins? No, I can't set conditions. God doesn't. So I don't pray for martins. But I do tell God, "I have faith in YOU, and You know my heart's true desire. Your will, not mine." Then I let the matter go.

Last Saturday morning, James picked me up at the airport from a four-day business trip. Not far from home, we rounded the corner onto Cedar Street so I could admire the prairie verbena that’s still blanketing the Meadow with purple.

"Look!" I exclaimed. "A purple martin! Stop!" James braked the car, and I jumped out. In my blue skirt and cream sweater, I stood at the edge of the Meadow, breathless, elated, just to SEE the bird of my dreams swoop overhead.

This time, though, the martin didn’t leave. Instead, he lingered on a nearby utility line. James later joined me, and we watched him together. Maybe?......

We weren’t around during most of the next morning. I just couldn’t resist a native plant sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. That evening, the martin showed up again. But I just couldn’t let myself hope. Not yet.

Then Monday, I watched and saw him! He DID return! When he flew off, James and I decided to do a fast sparrow-nest clean out.

"I think we should take off the predator guard," he said. "That's the only thing that's different. Maybe that's what's keeping them away." I agreed. The upside-down black bucket thing on the pole didn’t seem to be helping in the least.

That afternoon, I saw THREE martins flying around the house! I got photos of two. Before supper, I peeked out our bedroom window and saw movement around the house. It was my lone martin guy, circling the house. Would he stay the night? We sat in our lawn chairs behind the cedar fence in the Meadow and watched. No, he didn’t stay. Instead, he left to sleep somewhere else. 

(This long saga WILL end. Stay with me.)

Yesterday. Tuesday now, 6 a.m. James and I got up so we could martin watch before daybreak. With coffee, lawn chairs and my pink church blanket around my shoulders, we set up headquarters again behind the cedar fence in the Meadow. Seven o'clock came and went. No martins. Oh, well. We tried! But later, from our bedroom window, I do see martins! TWO martins, in fact! He's found a girl! I ran outside to see.

While I stood watching, the pair kissed on the top floor, then scrambled inside the compartment. Oh, it HAD to be serious now! They'd agreed on living arrangements! After five long years, we'd finally gotten our first pair of purple martins! Later, I saw them go in and out of the middle floor compartment. Guess she’d changed her mind.

All day, I went in and out of our house to watch the martins. I was in love.

Before supper, I noticed that a pair of martins was fixated on the bottom floor compartment. Now what was up? Had a second pair shown up? James said he’d seen two more martins show up. But supper was ready. I had to eat first.

“Are you CHEWING?” he asked at the table, eyeing my plate of quickly-vanishing salad and spaghetti.

“Of course!” I replied, smiling sweetly. But I did want to get back outside and see what the martins were up to.

Back in my lawn chair, binoculars aimed at the house, I watched the pair hunched on the bottom porch. The male appeared to be “hissing” (no sound, just a wide open mouth) at the interior of the compartment. He acted somewhat aggressive. But was he sick, I worried? Or was he trying to tell the female to check out the inside? Were they afraid because it was a dual compartment? Was another male martin inside? 

Then they switched sides on the porch, and the female hissed next. There was a scuffle a time or two also, like the pair was either fighting each other or something inside the house. I kept watching. I wasn't going to leave until there was an ENDING! Soon James joined me.

Finally, I could see something moving inside the house. A snake? WHAT WAS IT?! Then all the sudden A MALE SPARROW FLEW OUT! They were intimidating the you-know-what out of that guy so he'd never come back! James and I laughed and applauded at the same time! We high-fived, too! "Way to go!" I called out to the pair. I don’t think that sparrow will ever set foot back on that side of the house!

So as of Tuesday evening, our newly married martin couple had staked out the south side of the house, and the sparrows have the north side. So far, that is. 


April 15, 2013...My lone subadult male who returned.
April 15, 2013...Two of three martins that visited.

April 15, 2013...My lone subadult male that stuck around.
April 16, 2013...The next day, he found a girl!

April 16, 2013...She's considering the middle floor.
April 16, 2013...Uh, oh, we've got neighbors.
April 16, 2013...You sure want this apartment?
April 16, 2013...Time for bed. Long day that included a well-rigged orchestration against a sparrow intruder. As you can see, she decided on the top floor. Our brave male adult kept vigil outside the apartment until 8:15. He even stuck his head back out the door when he heard us putting away our lawn chairs and leaving for our house.

UPDATE April 18, 2013--I am sad to report that only ONE martin returned to the house last night. He/she (evening light was too dim to be sure) sat on the porch alone for 15 minutes, then jumped inside for the night. Alone.

So maybe I'm not an official purple martin landlord after all. I guess we'll see what the next few days bring.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Coreopsis leaf beetle

Photo by Terri Whaley, Texas Master Naturalist
Phaedon desotonis has returned with a vengeance and will soon decimate the greenthread in our Meadow. I just sent an email reporting the species in our Wildscape to the Institute for the Study of Invasive Studies. The coreopsis leaf beetle is native to southeastern North America, but it's getting way out of control.
Why? People are planting more host plants.
Earlier this week, Terri Whaley posted a photo (above) to our Texas Master Naturalist chapter (Highland Lakes), asking if anyone knew what beetle species he'd found swarming his coreopsis. He lives near Bertram. So start looking out for them! 

What can you do? I don't know. Last year, we let them run their course. The adults and larvae left the greenthread barely standing, just brown and brittle. The plants manage to survive. They put on new growth and bloomed. But it was sad.

 Here are my posts on the species last year: