Hornsby Bend Birds Fit the Bill

GSshovelersa03-17-11.jpgJust when I thought I was starting to get caught up, time slipped away again. Take this post, for instance — I visited Hornsby Bend more than two weeks ago and am only just now getting to show the photos. And it’s been driving me crazy to be so far behind — there are some really cool photos on my flash card right now, and I can’t wait to post them!

One quick note — today was the Trowel & Error Garden Symposium benefitting Mayfield Park. I had a great time talking about native plants and wildlife, and I enjoyed seeing friends, meeting new ones, spreading native plant love, and getting to spend the day with gardening folks. What a wonderful day!

GSshovelersb03-17-11.jpgNot that these Northern Shovelers would have cared — they’re too busy scooping food from the ponds at Hornsby Bend. Fellow Beautiful Wildlife Garden blogger Carole Brown and I visited Hornsby Bend during her recent trip to Austin, and we delighted in seeing numerous migratory birds, as well as getting our first glimpses of many different early spring wildlife. Of course, that was 2.5 weeks ago, so I’m sure the numbers have increased tremendously. For my previous visits to Hornsby Bend, check out this and this — oh, and this little weirdness.

GSshovelersd03-17-11.jpgNorthern Shovelers are dabbling ducks. which means that they primarily feed at the water’s surface or by tipping upside-down to get food underwater. Their spoon-shaped bill allows them to strain and filter the water for food.

GSshovelerse03-17-11.jpgA curious behavior of the Shovelers is the way they will circle in a group to churn the water and bring food to the surface.

But they spent much time showing off their unique ability to walk on water… or at least stand on a hidden barrier in the water and look like they can walk on water.  


Clearly I enjoyed taking pictures of the Shovelers. How about for a change of pace, we look at pictures of… other ducks!

GSbluewingedtealf03-17-11.jpgTake a look out on this island — see that blue on a duck’s wing? That patch of blue earns this species the name “Blue-Winged Teal.” Note the Least Sandpipers hanging out on the island, too.

GSbluewingedtealbf03-17-11.jpgRuddy Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, American Coots, Snipers — these are just a few of the other water birds we glimpsed during our visit. But that’s not all — the Yellow-Rumped Warblers were too numerous to count, the swallows hid along the bank, Cardinals sang from the river pathway trees, and White-Eyed Vireos looked down upon us.

Not the least bit concerned by our presence, the Least Sandpipers stayed really busy gathering food along the wet shores. Well, at least I’m not resorting to bad jokes again… to say the least…

GSleastsandpiper03-17-11.jpgAnd Hornsby Bend is a haven for multiple sparrow species. We saw Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and many others. I’ll just pretend that we didn’t also see House Sparrows. They didn’t earn a photo spot, at least. Oops, there’s that word again. At least that time was an accident! (that last might be a different story, though).


Here’s a Savannah Sparrow, kind enough to pause for a close-up:


The most unusual bird of the day goes to a leucistic sparrow seen foraging between two of the Hornsby ponds. Quite unusual in nature, and an even bigger rarity for the average birdwatcher.


 We followed this leucistic sparrow around for some time — I was determined to get a picture — as it was, I had to use a zoom from far away and really crop in to get a decent look at it. Oh, how I long for birding binoculars. But I feel lucky to have seen a leucistic sparrow at all, with or without gadgets. Then again, even luckier to have managed to catch semi-acceptable photos of said leucistic sparrow.

Other wildlife happily enjoyed the start of spring, Monarchs included. Here’s a Black Swallowtail on Henbit:

GSblkswallowtail03-17-11.jpgAnd a Pipevine Swallowtail, too:


A White or Common Checkered Skipper took a rest on Velcro Plant. Hope it didn’t get stuck to it…. Apparently you can only tell White and Common Checkered Skippers apart by dissection. Well, it was this skipper’s lucky day. I wasn’t going to go that far to ID it.

GScheckeredskipper03-17-11.jpgCheck out this hard-working ant carrying a berry in the picture below. There’s a lesson to be learned there.

GSleafcutterant03-17-11.jpgAllright, enough with the longer photodocumentaries — on to new things! Lizards, bird babies, and more, coming soooooooon!

TX Mountain Laurel Brings Out the Pollinators

GSmtnlaurela03-17-11.jpgBeautiful mountain laurels in full bloom caught my eye during a recent visit to the Canyon Lake area, and I had to venture over to get a whiff of the grape-scented fragrance emitted by the flowers. Intoxicated by the scent, I paused to look around and realized that I wasn’t the only one enjoying the blooms.

GSbeeonmtnlaurela03-17-11.jpgAt first the honeybees caught my eye, especially as my ears sensed them, as well. They really had to push their way in to get at the nectar. If I were a bee, I would have worked hard to get in there, too — it smelled divine.

GSbeeonmtnlaurelb03-17-11.jpgA hoverfly rested briefly on a seedpod.

GShoverfly03-17-11.jpgIt was difficult to catch a picture of a hoverfly in the air — they didn’t hover much that day. Too busy trying to get energy refuels, I guess. But I’m fond of this motion shot, blurry that it is:


But the showstoppers of the day were the native bees, in this case metallic blue leaf-cutting bees. Dr. Jack Neff, a native bee specialist, tells me that they are likely female Osmia ribifloris, the bluest of our early season Osmia.

In the photo above, the bee has darker hairs on its upper thorax, while the bee below sports white pollen on her upper thorax and head hairs, with bonus yellow pollen “socks” (or at least “legwarmers”).”


But as you can see in the next photo, the real pollen-gathering spot for this bee and other members of the Megachilidae family is on the ventral side of her abdomen, where little hairs hold the pollen she collects. This specialized area for pollen transport is called the scopa.

GSbluebeec03-17-11.jpgAccording to Dr. Neff, these lovely blue leafcutters apparently like to utilize old organ pipe mud dauber nests for their own nests, and they’ll chew leaves to make a green paste that they’ll then use to plug the nest holes. Clever little natives. 

Beauties, these little bees. I feel lucky that I got to observe them for a time.

GSbluebeee03-17-11.jpgGetting back to the Mountain Laurel, inside those seed pods are the Mescal beans, as the seeds are often called, and they’re bright red and highly toxic. Some people like to take the seeds, rub them on a sidewalk to build up heat from friction, then burn the person next to them. Ouch.

GSmtnlaurelseed03-17-11.jpgThe Texas Mountain Laurel is a slow-growing, small, evergreen Texas native tree. It thrives in our Texas weather and soil and on “not being messed with” — as in plant it and then leave it alone. Since this method of gardening works for me, I have three now and counting.

The Beautiful Yet Notorious Guadalupe River

During spring break, my parents came down for a visit, and we took a trip south to the Guadalupe River. It still being March, at temperatures in the 50s (degrees F) the water was far too cold for tubing, so this was more of a driving tour down River Road. The plant life was still in transition from winter, but spring buds on the trees marked the greenery soon to come.

guadalupea03-17-11.jpgWe started at the dam at Canyon Lake near Sattler and worked our way down River Road toward Gruene (pronounced “green”), a historic district located within New Braunfels (How’s that for multiple places mentioned in a single sentence?). I used to live in the Sattler area in my teenage years, as well as in New Braunfels — it was nice to return for a visit.


Around the dam outlet, spring was yawning and stretching, with new flowers, buds, and early wildlife. I didn’t realize these lovely white blooms were dewberry flowers until I got home and saw the same flowers in my side yard.


An oddity in nature, a tree burl prompted this week’s post at Beautiful Wildlife Garden, where you can also see some tree romance observed at the same river spot.


Here’s a taste of things to come — I caught so many pictures of pollinators visiting this beautiful Mountain Laurel in bloom that I’m devoting my next post to it:

bluebee03-17-11.jpgThe Canyon Dam outlet marks the beginning of the Lower Guadalupe, and people from all over come to enjoy the scenery and water recreation. In a couple of months, this river will be full of folks moving along the current in various floating crafts. 

huacosprings03-17-11.jpgAt low levels, the Guadalupe is popular for tubing, while higher levels bring out the canoers, kayakers, and rafting groups. But heavy rainfall can quickly turn the river to treacherous 
 whitewater conditions with potential for serious flooding. The picture above shows an area of rapids at Hueco Springs (sometimes spelled Huaco, pronounced “Waco” by the locals). The rapids look deceptively mild in the picture, and yet many deaths and near-drownings have occurred at this very spot, at both lower and higher water levels.

Back in my day (heh), there was a pool underneath the rapids that created a dangerous undertow that would trap people below the water if their tube flipped. I’ve personally been flipped and caught in that undertow and its washing-machine effect, and it’s easy to panic while you try to find a way to push out, even if you are a strong swimmer. I felt very lucky that I didn’t add to drowning statistics that day. Supposedly, they’ve made some changes to the spot to reduce drowning potential or at least guide tubes away from the pool. And in the rushing water of higher levels, inexperienced canoers have died when their canoe became wrapped around that large boulder seen in the picture. Sudden flash floods also have swept campers away. It’s a beautiful spot but one to approach with utmost respect for the power of water. 

Another word of caution if you are planning on visiting the Guadalupe. Water moccasins, or cottonmouths, are common along the river, particularly in warmer temperatures. I’ve seen them in the trees above the river, quite an alarming site when you are floating below them in a tube, and one time I almost stepped on one along a river trail. Given that these venomous snakes are most excellent swimmers and rather aggressive in nature (literally), it’s best to keep an eye out and avoiding aggravating one if you run across it. But don’t let fear of snakes keep you from visiting the river — in general, these snakes are as equally uninterested in being your friend as you are theirs, and most people never see one. I guess I’m just that lucky! Just be aware, that’s all I’m saying.

We finished up our driving tour with dinner at the Grist Mill in Gruene, a historic favorite for both tourists and locals. A fine day, with a promise of future and longer visits and fun.  


Peachy Keen

If I’d realized how unbelievably stunning peach blossoms were, I’d have planted one a long time ago. I might have to do that come winter. Just imagine — gorgeous blooms AND delicious fruit… I’ll ponder on that as I’m working in the garden this spring. I took these images while at Natural Gardener just over a week ago.



GSpeachc03-17-11.jpgA Snowberry Clearwing Moth was enthralled with the blossoms, too, but for tasty nectar.


Peachy keen!

Early Blooms at the Wildflower Center

“My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.” — Lady Bird Johnson

Please enjoy these images of early spring blooms and wildlife at the Wildflower Center, along with some special quotes by Lady Bird herself. A week ago Friday, fellow blogger Carole Brown of Beautiful Wildlife Garden and Ecosystem Gardening joined me for a special tour given by our friend Kelley, who has volunteered at the WFC for many years. Thank you, Kelley. It was wonderful. And we followed up our visit with a delicious Tex-Mex lunch — mmmmm.


Carolina Jessamine…


Black Swallowtail…

GSblackswallowtail03-17-11.jpgSpiderwort, with Agave…


“Though the word beautification makes the concept sound merely cosmetic, it involves much more: clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal, and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas. To me… beautification means our total concern for the physical and human quality we pass on to our children and the future.” — Lady Bird Johnson

Red-Eared Slider…


Goldeneye Phlox…

GSphlox03-17-11.jpgGolden Groundsel…

GSgoldengroundsel03-17-11.jpgSkulls in a West Texas desert bed…


GSskulla03-17-11.jpgMexican Plum…


 Texas Bluebonnets, of course…



“We have impressive and valid reasons for using our native plants — reasons of the soul and pocketbook.” — Lady Bird Johnson

Coral Honeysuckle, on a trellis I aim to copy…


The first winecup…

Possumhaw, still showing off its winter berries…


Plant sale preparation…



“My special cause, the one that alerts my interest and quickens the pace of my life, is to preserve the wildflowers and native plants that define the regions of our land — to encourage and promote their use in appropriate areas and thus help pass on to generation in waiting the quiet joys and satisfactions I have known since my childhood.” — Lady Bird Johnson


Lady Bird’s message and purpose continues to touch my heart and soul. What a gift she has given us, with a call for us to do more.

Close Encounter of the Lunar Kind

Last night a gorgeous, gigantic, and very bright full moon came over the horizon, a moon dubbed a “Supermoon” with good reason.

GSmoona03-19-11.jpgThe moon appeared exceptionally large and bright because of its proximity to Earth. Its elliptical orbit brought it a mere 221,566 miles (356,577 km) away from Earth, closer than it has been since 1993.

GSmoonb03-19-11.jpgMy family and I ventured out to an open field to try to catch sight of the moon at its finest. And sure enough, the moon was dressed to impress. Fiery in appearance near the horizon, the moon’s true brightness shone through the higher the celestial body rose in the sky.

GSmoonc03-19-11.jpgAs the moon cleared the trees, its glow reflected on the nearby creek.

GSmoone03-19-11.jpgThere were bats flying all around, catching plentiful insects by the water. At times, they’d fly right across the glowing orb. Ohhhhh, how I wanted to get a picture, but they were way too fast. No lucky shot either. Drat.


NASA calls the Supermoon a rare beauty. Wouldn’t you agree?

Hooting for Joy

One of our screech owl houses has a new occupant. For the first few days, it was quite difficult to capture a picture of her — she was reluctant to stay visible when we were in the backyard. But each day she’s watched us for longer period of times and seems to realize we’re not going to fly up there after her.

GSscreecha03-18-11.jpgThis afternoon she let me approach quite near her, not even bothering to watch me like a hawk an owl. In fact, she closed her eyes and snoozed for some of the time I was taking pictures. 
GSscreechb03-18-11.jpgYou can tell in the pictures that she’s backlit by the sun in the afternoons — I keep trying to get a picture of her in the morning, but she always seems to prefer getting right to sleep after a night’s hunt. What’s up with that?!!


She’s also the most vocal owl we’ve had to date. Either that, or she’s got a male trying to get her attention — ooh, I hope so!


Upcoming Garden Symposium and New Blooms at Mayfield Park

Mayfield Park is holding its annual fundraiser, the Trowel and Error Garden Symposium on April 2, 2011, and I am honored to be one of the guest speakers. I will be discussing “The Wildlife Garden: Beauty and Function with Native Plants,” and I will be joined by Austin American-Statesman’s Renee Studebaker, who will be sharing her Bucket Garden List for easy container gardening, and by Cher Groody, who will be speaking about antique heirloom roses. In addition to the symposium lectures, there will be a tour of the restored cottage, a plant sale, and a garden goodie raffle. I do hope that you will come out and join us to help support Mayfield Park!

mexicanplumblooms03-11-11.jpgMayfield Park is one of Austin’s historic and most serene preserves. The 19th-century cottage and 23 acres of woodlands were purchased by the Mayfield family in 1909, and over the years daughter Mary Mayfield and her husband Milton Gutsch added onto the cottage and built the ponds and stone walls that characterize the park’s homestead and garden areas.

GSpeahen03-11-11.jpgMy family and I stopped by the park last week to visit the grounds’ peacocks and cottage garden. Much of the plant life was still waking up after its winter sleep , with just the tiniest of buds present during our visit, but early bloomers were kind enough to welcome us with color, including the fragrant Mexican plum above, and the vibrant redbud below. For more information on the delightful pink blooms around Austin, please visit my Redbuds post over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.

The grounds include one of the largest stands of towering Sabal Mexicana palms north of the Rio Grande Valley, and in keeping with the way Mary Mayfield gardened, the caretakers and volunteers grow many bulbous flowers, including irises, tulips, lilies, daffodils, and snowbells. Blended with the Mayfield plants are native trees, understory plants, and perennials, which also line the woodland trails that take visitors down to the nearby lagoon.


Along with the beautiful gardens and woodland trails, Mayfield Park is probably best known for its plentiful peafowl. The Mayfields were given their first peafowl in 1935, and their birds’ descendants still grace the park.



This peacock was obsessed with his reflection in a truck’s bumper, attempting to thwart any potential threat, metallic or otherwise, to his chance with the ladies.

GSpeacockc03-11-11.jpgIn addition to the India Blues, Mayfield Park has several white peafowl, including these two white peahens taking a brief respite from insect hunting in order to groom one another.


What I think I love about this park so much is the tranquility it offers in the middle of an ever-growing, bustling city. One feels impelled to whisper rather than disturb the peaceful sounds of nature. Do visit when you have a chance, and if you can make it out on April 2, all the better!

Nobody Panic

Breathe a sigh of relief — my Anacuas survived the killer freezes we had this winter. I want to hug them.


 I know you were as worried as I was! But tiny rough-lined leaves are emerging as I type this.

anacuabuda03-11-11.jpgHurray for my little tactile-pleasing sandpaper delights!

When Engineers Water Plants

When engineers water plants, they make a Rube Goldberg project out of it. This engineering project was on display at the Explore UT event in Austin on Saturday, and kids and prospective students from all over were invited to get to know the campus’s colleges and organizations.

engineer03-07-11.jpgThe engineering students’ project involved 21 steps and various household items to get H20 to their plant, and sure enough, water reached its destination. The starting point was the mechanical hamster up at the top of the contraption.

engineerb03-07-11.jpgMy method of watering involves at most two steps (move hose, turn on water), or better yet, zero steps (wait for rain). Now, which of us is the genius here, I ask you?  🙂   

Actually, we love Rube-Goldberg projects — my older son is destined to be an engineer, so projects like these are always going on in his head. I wonder whether I could get him to be more willing to sweep the floor if I asked him to make a Rube-Goldberg project out of it… hmmm….

Over at the chemistry department, the boys enjoyed watching fiery explosions of hydrogen balloons, fingers set on fire, jets of flame, and a banana turned into a hammer via liquid nitrogen.

hydrogen03-07-11.jpgThe chemistry professor even created an indoor thunderstorm, drenching the front row and momentarily removing oxygen from the vicinity.

thunderstorm03-07-11.jpgThe zoologist in me dragged the family through giant scorpions, Death’s Head cockroaches, furry tarantulas, expanding lungs, sheep brains, skeletal comparisons, and other interesting displays of the biological world. Here I roll my eyes, because I literally had to force my kids to experience that which fascinates me. Nothing blew up, so why should they be interested? I made a meager attempt to get them to look at algae through a microscope. Yeah, forget that, Mom.

But eating ice cream made from liquid nitrogen? Exciting and tasty! Mass ping-pong explosion via mouse traps? Fun! Sigh. Okay, to be fair, all that stuff was pretty cool.

pingpong03-07-11.jpgHere’s a view of the UT tower as seen from through a chain-link fence at the top of RLM, one of the engineering buildings at UT.


The boys got a great glimpse at the college experience, and the chemistry professor taunted them (and the rest of the audience) that he gets to use the S word (stupid) at college, and they don’t. It was a good day.