Our New Schoolyard Habitat

It astounds me that a simple idea can turn into a phenomenal event just a few short months later. We decided that our school should be certified as a schoolyard habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, and with that was born the idea of creating a rather big butterfly-hummingbird garden filled with drought-hardy native TX plants. And after much planning, donation-gathering, more planning, and incredible hard work by volunteer crews of individuals, families, school neighbors, and Habitat Stewards, we have our new habitat.


This arbor was created by one of our parents, and it’s such a beautiful welcome into the habitat. Eventually we’ll have a sign showing the habitat name.

Many plants and supplies were donated, and the rest were purchased through fundraising.

Labels identify the plants — these will eventually reflect which plants are caterpillar host plants, hummingbird plants, sensory plants, etc.

schoolhabitatd03-27-10.jpgWe can’t wait for the plants to fill in and grow big. On our big planting day, we saw our first two butterflies! The next phase is to install a big water collection system. Nothing’s over yet!

Screech, Screech! Seeing Double

owlk3-22-10.jpgCorrection to my last post — it’s official — both our owlhouses are occupied. Camera in hand, I ventured back into the yard at dusk to see whether I could get any shots of a more active owl. Well, this time Mrs. Owl made her appearance at the front owlhouse. For confirmation that it was a different owl, I checked the other house in the back of the yard. Sure enough, the owl I photographed earlier was still there. We have two!

I’m guessing this is an owl couple, given the size difference between the two birds. Mrs. Owl really filled up the doorway.


owll3-22-10.jpgIf this really is an owl couple we’ve got occupying our two owl houses, then it supports the idea that having two houses is more likely to attract owls sooner. It sure worked in our case.


Mrs. Owl didn’t seem to mind me too much, until I apparently took one step too close. She’s a beauty, though. My favorite is the side view of her. She’s big for a little thing!

Screech! We have owl!

owlh3-22-10.jpgAs I headed out to the driveway this dark early morning, I saw a dark flying shape land on the side of a tree nearby. I could tell by its outline that this was no dove or songbird, and after a few moments it flew off in the direction of one of our screech owl houses. Oh, I could scarcely stop myself from running after it! Alas, I had to go.

But I called my husband from the road, and he took a peek in the backyard. Sure enough, there was an owl watching him from the owlhouse near the front fence.

This afternoon I got home and rushed to grab the camera. But alas, I couldn’t find the owl in the owlhouse. That was because it had apparently selected our other owlhouse as its main choice of resting/nesting spot! I can’t believe we already have a resident in one of our owlhouses. We just put them up three weeks ago! And I’m excited that both houses have been found and tested out by one or more owls. ***Edit: See next post for updated occupancy info.

owli3-22-10.jpgI wonder whether the house has appealed quickly because it a) is cedar, b) was skillfully made my husband and the owl has very sophisticated tastes  :), c) had ideal dimensions (according to the Audubon site), d) happened to be put up just at the right time, or e) is paired with another owlhouse a few yards away. Somewhere I read that two houses are more likely to be attractive to owls, because males and females use separate cavities. At the very least, two houses doubled our chances!

I also wonder whether the owl my husband saw this morning is the same owl I took pictures of this afternoon. If so, it seems to like having two houses to choose from and use at will. ***Edit: See next post.

owlf3-22-10.jpgI rather prefer it in this location, in the back of our yard. It keeps it farther back from our birdfeeder. However, the titmouses and chickadees who nest in the back woods probably do not care to have the owl back there either.

In fact, while I was out there, a titmouse bravely landed on a branch right by the owlhouse and proceeded to squawk and threaten and otherwise fuss about the presence of said owl. It clearly was trying to do its best to warn that owl that it was not welcome in its social group or home at any time. Can you see it in the lower right corner of the picture below?

owlg3-22-10.jpgI look forward to monitoring owl activity over the next several weeks or months. Whooo’s happy? We are!


Spring Forward, Winter Back

Despite the Daylight Saving Time change last weekend and the first day of spring arriving yesterday, a bitter wet cold arrived in Austin this weekend, giving us another freeze to delay the planting of many veggies and the possible demise of newly budding trees, shrubs, and flowers.

It was so cold and wet yesterday that the Hill Country Water Gardens annual Garden Sale, usually having long lines of customers waiting to check out, was virtually empty, and doorbuster sales were being extended.


hcwgb03-20-10.jpgBut today the sun is back, and though the wind is exceptionally gusty and cool, the plants look happier. I know my husband will be happy to stop having to move plants into the garage with more cold weather.

Our new birdfeeder is a hit with the birds. The dome is adjustable, so in theory I can set it to make it difficult for doves and squirrels to reach it.So far it’s been fairly successful.

— Carolina Chickadee 


— House Finch couple

feederb03-21-10.jpg— Northern Cardinal couple


feederd03-21-10.jpgI’ve only seen one dove make it in, and it didn’t seem very comfortable. Mostly the doves have been content to search for extra seeds in the leaves below.

doves03-21-10.jpgThe pictures are dark and grainy because I’ve been using a zoom through my study window. My cats have been joining me at the window, hovering and staring and going through all the motions of tail twitching and stalking, probably wishing 600% that there wasn’t a big pane of glass between them and said birdies.

I’m not sure why the birds seem to love this feeder so much more than the other feeder, which still gets frequent visitors, just fewer. Maybe it’s the style of the tray feeder, protected by a dome. Maybe it’s because of its location near a birdbath, which also gets much more attention now. Maybe they like the tree it hangs from. Maybe they like that the doves can’t use it as easily. 


A squirrel has been a little more ingenious, so I’ll tweak the height a little more after I enjoy the comedic activities of these larger seed-feasting gluttons.


Hey, Bud

Spring is definitely here in Austin, even if the date hasn’t officially declared it so. Around town, peach, plum, pear, and dogwood trees are already gorgeously flowering. And buds of other trees and flowers are peeking out to see what’s around them, and soon there will be many more blooms and greenery to delight passersby. At home, I’m delighted to see that many of the trees and shrubs we planted in fall and winter made it through the freezes and are beginning to bud.

Goldenball Leadtree:

buda03-14-10.jpgChinquapin Oak:

budb03-14-10.jpgMexican Redbud:

budc03-14-10.jpgWe even have Salvia blooming. They, along with Gopher Plant and a variety of unknown plants (some might call them weeds), are the first official bloomers of the Great Stems garden.

salvia03-14-10.jpgYou can’t really count the hanging basket I planted a few days ago. It came with blooms. It’s my first real attempt at a container garden — I need to go check on the names of two of the plants, but the chartreuse one is sweet potato vine. I’ll enjoy watching what happens.

Hey, cat — get off the birdbath!

catbirdbatha03-14-10.jpgLacey Oak:

budd03-14-10.jpgA plant I put in the ground on a whim during the fall thrived all through the winter despite freezes and snow. It’s growing at a very rapid pace, too, and I need to help it climb up instead of out: coral honeysuckle. I think its new growth is very beautiful.

coralhoneysucklec03-14-10.jpgCat! Get out of that birdbath, too! Gah!

catbirdbathb03-14-10.jpgIt’s a good thing I bought a hanging birdbath on a whim, I guess — the cat won’t be able to use that one! It’s a grocery-store purchase, all of $14.95, so cute that I couldn’t resist. I added a twig as a perch (not visible in this picture).

birdbath03-14-10.jpgLooking out the study window (with the cat safely back inside), I see two birds at the mosaic birdbath and am happy to report that birds have also discovered the new feeder I put out there. Chickadees, finches, cardinals, and titmice so far… I’m taking pictures — I’ll share them in the next day or two.

In the back I’ve got an overgrown but wildly successful vegetable garden in one bed and weeds taking over the unused beds. Must get out there and get the new garden planted… In another area, I see a strawberry bloom… and wow, there’s a broccoli head forming! My first broccoli!

broccoli03-14-10.jpgRogue pumpkins are showing up where I left an old pumpkin out for too long. Now I’m going to have guilt when I pull them up and not let them take over the garden bed again… Maybe I’ll just move them to an open spot in the yard and let them shade out the bermuda…

pumpkinseedlings03-14-10.jpgOff in the wooded area, the wild yaupons are producing fantastic new growth.

yauponbud03-14-10.jpgIt looks like we lost two in-ground citrus trees, but the container lime and lemon trees are suddenly growing like crazy. I better give them some yummy organic fertilizer soon. Maybe I’ll see our first fruit this year. The two pomegranates we planted bare root are also starting to bud. Yay! Lime tree:

limetree03-14-10.jpgI planted several Rusty Blackhaw Viburnums this fall. Two came from a local reader who was so wonderful to contact me when she needed to thin out some of the babies below her mother tree. These “babies” were much bigger than most of the ones I purchased!  I’m happy to report that they survived their transplant and are budding right now.

Another Rusty Blackhaw that I purchased took some damage over the winter, and we thought it might not make it. I saw that its main trunk was split, presumably from dog damage. But I was shocked to discover after having left it in its container as is for a couple of months that it was budding. I quickly got it in the ground, and now look at it:



Incomplete list of trees and shrubs we planted this fall and winter, all budding or leafing:

  • Anacua
  • Chinquapin Oak
  • Anacacho Orchid
  • Evergreen Sumac
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum (several)
  • Mexican Plum
  • Carolina Buckthorn
  • Flowering Senna
  • Mexican Silk Tassel
  • Canyon Mock Orange
  • American Beautyberry
  • Wax myrtle
  • Pomegranate (two varieties)

Lost to freeze and/or dogs:

  • Lime tree
  • Possibly Satsuma Mandarin Orange
  • Kidneywood (one of two)
  • Barbados Cherry (one of two)

Jury’s still out on:

  • Mexican Anacacho Orchid, transplanted
  • Toothache Tree (very small)

All in all, that’s not a bad record, given the amount of damage my dogs did last year! I see that some of our perennials are coming up (among the weeds that went crazy). I’ll start assessing those soon.

Hey, bud. It makes my heart happy to see you!


(Mexican Redbud)