Dead Tree Goes Boom

I had surgery last week to remove an uncooperative plate from an old broken wrist (technically, old broken arm at the wrist). Let me just say that wrist surgery does not a garden make! Meanwhile, little green seedlings are sprouting their heads out of the ground and looking around, wondering why all this dead brown stuff is still in their garden and not off to become wonderful composted nutrients to feed them later. Alas. Well, the bandage comes off on Wednesday, and hopefully I’ll be able to build my wrist strength back in due order to make some progress on the yard.

Meanwhile, my husband was looking through old files and ran across the video of the dead hackberry we cut down in 2008. It had been leaning precariously toward our house, and we decided that we better remove it ourselves before a gust of wind did it for us. The felling of the tree was pure science in nature, literally — ample calculations and measurements and planning were required, as there was only one ideal direction for the tree to fall, and other options would be nothing short of disastrous for our house, our other trees, my husband’s body parts, and potentially our car and so forth.  



Even though the video footage mentions the power lines above, I should point out that the tree was in no actual danger of hitting the wires — there’s much more yard there than it looks from across the street.

Eventually, we removed the stump and roots and added them to our bird brush pile, and in the Hackberry’s place grows a Yaupon for the birds. The front of the house now sports a young wildlife-friendly garden as well as a new paint job, so it looks very different now. But it’s so much fun to go back and see the tree that sprouted a garden.

FYI, in the video, I’m the driver in the car that was tied to the rope that was tied to the tree that was our DIY insurance that the tree fell on neither the house nor my husband. My husband was the one with the chainsaw. Our friends by the car were there to lift the giant tree off my husband in case he, uh, made a mistake in his calculations. And another friend, very pregnant that she was, was in the neighbor’s yard videotaping and watching with our kids. We were all about safety first! 

Feathers and Warts

A weekend trip out to the Pineywoods to see Nana and Papa Don’s new rural property proved to be a birdwatching opportunity extraordinaire, just in time for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Getting up early on Sunday, I sat quietly outside with camera, notepad, and binoculars in hand for thorough observation and counting.

Being out in country, we witnessed numerous sparrows and other birds I just don’t get to see much, if at all, in urban Austin. The White-Throated Sparrows were plentiful — they are easy to distinguish by their — ahem — white throat feathers, as well as the little golden patches between their eyes and bill.


The Cardinals were the brightest of the lot — at least the males were — and they were feisty, chasing each other all around. In their favorite barely-budding tree, they looked like big red fruit.

cardinalb02-20-11.jpgThe winners of the tally were without a doubt the American Goldfinches. We counted 36 in the backyard alone, and they feasted from feeders and foraged in the grass. They are still in their winter feathers, but some of them had very noticeable yellow showing through — summer coloration on its way.


The Goldfinches had no problem sharing the best food spots with other birds, like Chipping Sparrows and Cardinals.


For sheer beauty, the Eastern Bluebirds had my vote. I’m biased because I so rarely see blue-feathered birds, except for Blue Jays. The female Bluebird below is much paler than her mate, who sported vibrant blue and tan feathers but decided to not be accessible for a decent picture.

bluebird02-21-11.jpgThere were two Red-bellied Woodpeckers visiting at the feeders, and two Northern Flickers foraged in the field at the back of the property. I didn’t realize Flickers foraged on the ground, but apparently they like ants. In contrast, the Red-bellied Woodpeckers would grab seeds from the feeder and fly up to nearby trees to break the shells open. When they weren’t eating, the Woodpeckers called loudly from the trees or rat-ta-tat-tatted on the telephone pole nearby. It can be hard sometimes to tell that they have red belly feathers — the picture below hints at the belly blush. 


The Tufted Titmice seemed more skittish than Austin’s Black-Crested Titmice, but perhaps that’s simply because the ones at my house are very settled in their habitat. “My” birds yell at each other, at Screech Owl neighbors, at suspicious cats, at other songbirds, and seemingly at trees and leaves and anything else that they are perturbed by. Their country cousins, on the other hand, snuck in by way of brush for cover, stole a quick seed, then zipped back out just as fast without even a chirp.


Our toughest challenge to ID was the large sparrow-looking bird that turned out to be not a sparrow at all. She’s a Red-winged Blackbird, looking nothing like the appropriately colored males for which the species is named. I couldn’t ID her until I got home to the computer.

rwblackbirdfemale02-20-11.jpgIn all, we identified 18 species, but there were definitely more out there — we just couldn’t get close enough to either count or ID them. Here’s the complete list of what we found out there in the Pineywoods:

      • American Goldfinch
      • Northern Cardinal
      • Eastern Bluebird
      • Red-winged Blackbird
      • White-Throated Sparrow
      • Chipping Sparrow
      • Black Vulture
      • American Crow
      • Eastern Purple Martin
      • Northern Mockingbird
      • Red-bellied Woodpecker
      • Northern Flicker
      • Tufted Titmouse
      • Carolina Chickadee
      • Blue Jay
      • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
      • Dark-eyed Junco
      • Old World: European Starling

The evening before, I rescued a toad from the new veggie garden — I really didn’t want it to get caught in a tiller by gardening madman Papa Don. I’m not sure whether it is a Woodhouse’s Toad or the subspecies East Texas Toad — there wasn’t clear distinguishing info available. But it certainly was a handsome and cooperative toad, all short and squat and warty. We put it out in the field with all the mole tunnels that drive Papa Don crazy. 


Back at home, I’ve been doing my own Austin bird counts. I’ve decided I need to rearrange everything in my yard to make bird-watching more convenient. Yes, that includes plants!

Dogs Show Off New Patio

Awhile back we laid flagstone to cover our boring old concrete front porch and were quite delighted with the results. This isn’t a great view of the front, but see that porch? <Puffs out chest> We did that!

reflections2010s.jpgAt the same time, we began the same process to cover up the old, ugly, cracked concrete slab that served as our back patio, but we soon became hindered by time, time, time, and other obstacles. Basically, life got in the way — nevermind the fact that laying flagstone when you’re no spring chicken makes you much older very quickly.

So finally, we decided to bite the bullet and hired someone to finish the job. It was money well spent, and the crew completed it in a day. After a day or so, we were allowed to let the dogs into the backyard, so here are Grover and Sheba modeling on the new flagstone patio. 

flagstonea02-18-11.jpgI’m not going to give you the full view because we have so much cleaning up to do around it. The patio looks great, but the yard is u-g-l-y ugly. The dogs are cute!


Poor Sheba is going to have her doghouse moved to some hidden corner of the yard until it can be given away. She only uses it if she’s caught outside in the rain and Mom’s a slowpoke letting her back in. It looked fine with the ugly concrete slab — because who cared at that point — but it does not flatter our gorgeous new patio!


Ah well, guess it means she’ll get spoiled even more.

Gnome Love — Is It 2B or Not 2B

A romantic family-friendly gardening movie on Valentine’s Day, and one about gnomes to boot? Heck yeah! I couldn’t resist — the hubby and I took the kids to see “Gnomeo and Juliet” on a school night (gasp), but hey, it’s Valentine’s Day! I was pleasantly entertained by the secret lives of these adorable gnomes, all the more so because I garden. But I tell you, even our teenager laughed — how’s that for a review (***edit below)? Here’s another — check out TufaGirl’s report over at Life Highway’s Yard Art Game. The yards in this movie would surely win top scores in the yard art game, that’s for sure.

valentinegnome02-14-11.jpgHomemade pizza is waiting for me, to be followed by decadent chocolate desserts — time to go!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!


***Edit: Now that I’ve eaten something (yum), I’ll give a more detailed review. The movie is lighthearted and fun, with a few Shakespearean references tucked in. It won’t win awards for plot or animation or exceptionally subtle comedic dialogue (I guess there’s not a current award available for that one, is there?), but if you go there in the right frame of mind, you’ll enjoy yourself, especially if you get a tickle out of gnomes.

The Dearly Departed and the Cold-Hearted

The freezing temps took their toll on the garden, and no place is it more obvious than in the veggie garden. Can you identify these wilted souls?



veggiec02-13-11.jpgThey are lettuce, snow peas, and broccoli, respectively. RIP, dearly departed veggies. I will miss you.

But some veggies were troopers and held in there through snow and ice, thick and thin. Among them are the garlic…

garlic02-13-11.jpgand the spinach.

spinach02-13-11.jpgI’m not sure this should be included with the veggies of the veggie garden, but the wild onion is spreading again in the backyard, so much so that it looks like grass. I love to run my fingers through it. And who would have thought that the smell of onion could be so delightful?


I’m seeing other signs of life around the yard, too — green sprouts really stand out among the dead and brown. I guess it’s time to dig in and get dirty and start prepping the yard for spring!

Nature Is My Yoga

I’m back on the exercise wheel again — following that delicate line of trying to exercise to strengthen my back while not aggravating my back. Today’s workout was yoga, and without going further into the woes of my weakened physical self, I’ll just say that breathing, the key to yoga, was very much the key to me not falling over.

dandelion07.jpgEach time I concentrated on breathing, my mind was whisked away to two scenes. The more difficult poses (in other words, most of them) prompted an image of trees and a woodland path, with my breath the wind that rustled the leaves. When calmness was what I sought, an image of a sunlit beach came to mind, and a gentle coastal breeze blew toward me instead. The subconscious is a powerful thing. 

I know that the very spirit of yoga is based on nature, but never has it been more apparent that nature is in the very spirit of me.

Shouldn’t this mean that yoga ought to be easy for me? So unfair.

The Eggsperiment

A few weeks ago I hinted at my son’s science fair project and showed pictures of farms we visited. Now that his project is finished, I thought I better follow up and actually tell what the experiment was all about!

boggycrkt01-05-11.jpgNolan wanted to do an experiment involving eggs, so he decided to see whether there was a notable difference between eggs laid by caged hens and eggs laid by free-range hens. Because we didn’t have the means to test nutritional values, he decided to look at eggshell strength. He tested the strength by seeing how much weight each upright egg could support before collapsing.

I won’t go into all the details about the experiment here, but the results were clear. The average eggshell strength of the free-ranged eggs was far greater than that of the caged eggs. Because caged eggs are typically laid by Leghorns (white eggs), Nolan made sure to test eggs from free-ranged Leghorns as well, and he also got brown and blue eggs from other chicken breeds. The living conditions and diet of the hens did seem to have a profound effect on the eggs. As my son said in his project, “I hope that people will see the difference in quality of the two egg types and make wise choices when buying eggs.”

boggycrku01-05-11.jpgThe Eggsperiment was a great project, and I’m so proud of my son! He researched the difficult topic of the stressful living conditions of factory chickens, interviewed farmers, and studied egg structure — but what really thrilled me was the life lesson he learned from the whole project. We’re still trying to eat all the leftover eggs, though — lots and lots of eggs.

Snowbirds and Snowdogs

 In our annual attempt to show the world that yes, we do get snow in Austin, Texas, a brief snowfall yesterday blanketed our city in a lovely, albeit, thin, layer of white.

snowc02-04-11.jpgOf course, that’s reason enough to celebrate — most schools were cancelled for the day, to the delight of kids everywhere, and many businesses stayed closed. Actually, safety was the main concern — under the snow were patches of hazardous ice, and we saw many cars spinning their wheels and sliding out of control.

But not only do we get snow in Austin, we also get to show the world how to do the white stuff right — it melts away the very same day. Okay, that’s not really a plus — it would be nice to see the snow last a little longer…

Even though the snow might be short-lived, we’ve had freezing temperatures all week. A few days ago, all water had turned to ice.


This gave the snow many nice surfaces to stick to.


The backyard pond was also covered in ice and snow, but the waterfall managed to keep flowing, even past the new icicles.

snowd02-04-11.jpgThe garden path and grass areas created a wave in the back.


The birds were busy at the feeders, keeping warm by eating high-energy foods. The male cardinals were a hoot, so to speak — they decided that their best bet was to just fluff up and hang out in the feeder trays rather than waste energy flying back and forth. Of course, the other birds weren’t too thrilled with that plan. But after awhile, the males would make way for their mates, and then the masses of other birds would fly in, too.

For the ground foragers, we put a tray of birdseed out on the snow. It didn’t take long for the birds to scatter seeds about.


I’d really hoped to get a photo of a bird hopping in the snow, but the kids were running around outside doing the snowball thing, so the birds didn’t linger on the ground long enough for a picture. I did manage to get this pretty female cardinal — she was waiting for a turn at the feeder.


I’m not sure whether it was a trick of the light, but when she turned her head, it looked like she had a bit of snow on the feathers around her left eye — making for very pretty lashes.


This beautiful cardinal inspired me to make a snowbird (I’d asked the kids to make me a snowman, but apparently this was the year for snow fortresses). I still have memories of last years’ mudmen, so I guess those will have to suffice. But I love my little snowbird. 

It reminds me of how my mom and I used to listen to Anne Murray songs together — many, many years ago. Anyone else remember the song “Snowbird”? Yes, this gives a semi-clue to my age, or thereabout.

snowk02-04-11.jpgI think of all us, the ones who love the snow the most are the dogs. They run and chase and play. The husky and mountain dog are really in their element.



snowo02-04-11.jpgEven though most of the snow came and went yesterday, the shady areas outside are still white this morning. But that will change — the high today should be about 56 degrees Fahrenheit. To my family of men, that means shorts-and-T-shirts weather! I’ll still have my coat on…

My Plants Are Frozen and They Can’t Get Up

Brrrrr! It’s cold out there. Freezing, in fact. This is when local Austinites discover whether it was a good idea to push the zones on what they should or shouldn’t plant. Right now I’m worried about my precious young Anacua trees, southern delicates that they are.

GSwinterbirdsa02-03-11.jpgWinter has found us here in Central Texas at last — the northern chill has arrived! Add to that the moisture soon to be drawn up from the Gulf, and we might even get a little snow. I’ve been looking at pictures of the mighty blizzard covering northern states in white — I think I’ll stick with our chance of snow than a full on-slaught blizzard, thank you very much.

GSwinterbirdsb02-03-11.jpgThe birds have been up early and out late, feeding constantly in order to maintain their body temperature. If you visit Beautiful Wildlife Garden today, you’ll see my post about how birds deal with cold. Please take a look!    


My cats are glued to the windows, watching the constant traffic of birds at the feeders and ground-foragers on the ground. The squirrels are busy, too — they’ve mostly been working the acorn-route, but they’ll still sneak some birdseed from to time.GSwinterbirdsl02-03-11.jpg

The birds themselves have been frisky and a little pushy at the feeders. They’ve also been chirping up a storm. 

 The freezing temperatures have made beautiful icicles out of the flowing water in our ponds, and icy patterns glaze the surface of much of the water. I wonder about the plants under the ice, but I’m confident that at least most of them will be fine.

GSwinterpondm02-03-11.jpgSince the birdbaths have all frozen into mini skating rinks, the birds have been visiting our pond waterfalls for drinks. But I’ve been bringing out containers of water that I can refill periodically — the birds have drinking like crazy.

 This old dog bowl might be ugly, but it’s easy to refill throughout the day. It needs a rock in it for wildlife safety, but there aren’t any birds taking a bath today, that’s for sure. I’ll grab one from out in the yard next time I go out.

The veggies are in trouble. I could kick myself for not getting my beautiful broccoli out of the garden before the freeze. It sure is pretty, though.


This little birdie did some foraging in the spinach beds — I felt lucky to capture a picture. So cute.

GSwinterbirdsj02-03-11.jpgThe Turk’s Cap and many other plants are showing the effects of the prolonged cold. There are several that might not survive, especially because I just didn’t have it in me to pull out the protective covers this year (mainly because I’m swamped). I guess I’m doing a survival-of-the-fittest experiment this year — I’m determined that this garden be low-maintenance.  


Some sad news — the northern winds from a couple of days ago made our pet vulture take flight. Unfortunately, being made of metal, he then plummeted. He’ll need some welding repair, poor guy. 


There’s a chance for snow tonight — time to get out and run those last errands before it gets here! Stay warm, everyone!