300 Vultures in a Pear Tree

Okay, it’s not really a pear tree, but it doesn’t matter because this newly modified last line to “12 Days of Christmas” is now stuck in my head, so the tower might as well BE a real pear tree. Maybe I’ll just modify the whole song and go with it forevermore.


I’ve got so much to share and had a hard time deciding what to show first — our two new snakes, gigantic pine cone gifts, wintering birds, clay birds, or 300 vultures  — plus, I’ve got 4 days left to post our third-year update if I want to show it in 2011. Well, you can see what won out, mainly because I can’t get the lyric out of my head. Maybe it will get stuck in yours, too. Then we all win. Merry Christmas.


The Far-Away Shot

We were driving out to Nacogdoches for Christmas Eve when we came upon the tower/pear tree, decorated for the holidays with lots of living bird ornaments (and probably lots of smelly poop). The kids didn’t even bat an eye when I made an almost-immediate u-turn and drove back to document this awesome Christmas sight. They are so used to this from me — how many times have I driven back for a must-have picture, sometimes turning around after miles of driving along wondering whether I should turn around? They only raise a fit when we are traveling and I see a little local garden nursery that I want to stop at. Oooh, a nursery — can we stop? NO, they say. I have yet to stop at a nursery while traveling with my boys, but SOMEDAY I WILL. Mark my words.


Getting closer. I’m so sneaky, as if 300 vultures wouldn’t notice a 4-passenger car with headlights on as it approaches on a misty evening at dusk.

No, they are not great pictures, as they were taken through a car window lest the 300 vultures get startled by my presence and get all panicky and either start pooping on me or throwing up on me, as vultures are known to do. Well, they’re not known to that to ME, as clearly I take precautions (like staying in the car), but it actually is their defensive response to those things that might threaten them, not that I was doing anything more than taking pictures and wishing them happy holidays. Just never, ever walk up and say “Boo” to a vulture. That’s all I’m saying.

When one leans out a window over her teenage son, this is the kind of shot she gets.

Anyway, the tower/pear tree was filled with more vultures than I could count, though I did my best estimate. Know what the collective term for vultures is? Committee, or wake (also, colony). Well, this was the biggest dang committee of vultures I’d ever seen, and the biggest dang wake of vultures, too. Anyone else thinking about our political system right now?

vulturese12-24-11.jpgHere’s Great Stems’ 12 Days of Christmas song, inspired by our Winter 2011 wildlife:

On the 12th day of Christmas, nature gave to me,
12 hungry white wings,
11 juncos landing,
10 titmice squawking,
9 chickadees answering, 
8 sleeping lizards,
7 planted dill plants,
6 wintering species that won’t fit in the song,
4 pine cone thieves (squirrels),
3 dogs after them,
two sneaky snakes,
and 300 vultures in a pear treeeeeeeee!


Cheers to all — I hope you are having the best of holidays!

Squirrels Bearing Gifts

The saga of the pine cones continues. A few days ago, my last peanut-butter pine cone was nabbed by naughty squirrels, forcing me to resort to other means to put out high-protein winter bird treats. Then last night, a guerrilla squirrel left a package at our gate. The paper bag bore a note.

squirrel note 12-20-11.jpg

What tasty treats were hidden inside the bag? Why, Bur Oak acorns! Hurray!

buroakacornsb12-20-11.jpgIf you aren’t familiar with Bur Oaks, I have to tell you they are one of my favorite tree species. They are gorgeous and oh so majestic, wth big lobed leaves that put other oak leaves to shame. They can get to be more than 100 feet tall AND wide. I’ve dreamed of having one. Of course, if I’m growing one from a baby seed, I can’t imagine it getting to its full size in my lifetime, but at least I know that it will be well on its way — assuming I can get one or more of these to germinate, that is! A new experience awaits me, and I love that.

acorncomparison12-20-11.jpgJust to give you a size comparison on the acorns, I went scrounging in the backyard to find one of our “puny” live oak acorns (it was tough — the squirrels have pretty much devoured the acorn masses from last year). The Bur Oak is like the Hagrid of all acorns.

As pleasantly surprised as I am to learn that squirrels can write, I am rather suspicious of their motives. Let’s see… squirrels nest in Bur Oaks. Squirrels eat Bur Oak acorns. Hmmm. Yep, somehow me thinks the squirrels have a secret motive. It’s like when I make yummy cookies with nuts and coconut in them knowing full well that many people don’t like nuts and coconut — this means that there are more cookies for those of us that do! Even so…


Dear Squirrels,

If you promise not to dig up and eat these Bur Oak acorns, I promise to plant them. Maybe one day we will all have new trees to enjoy!

Hugs, Meredith

P.S. This does not mean it’s okay for you to steal any more peanut-butter pine cones. You are fat enough as it is.


To the wonderful drive-by Santa, I want to thank you properly for the acorns, but I’ve spoken to a couple of folks recently about Bur Oaks and I want to make sure I thank the correct person. Confess, confess! In the meantime, thank you SO MUCH for the acorns and the fun surprise! — Meredith

Pine Cone Thief

I must have done something right if wildlife loves my pine cone treats so much that they steal them away in broad daylight. I’d covered the pine cones in a mixture of natural peanut butter, corn meal, cranberries, and quality seed (black oil sunflower, safflower, thistle, peanuts) — yummy energizing goodness that’s rich in fat, protein, and carbs for birds trying to stay warm in the cold.

pineconetreats12-9-11.jpgNormally, I’d have these pine cones hanging from a branch or hook, but the wire broke on both of them, and I got lazy and put them in a saucer outside my entryway window, it being a great spot to see our avian visitors. Maybe that’s not being lazy — maybe it’s just clever! Well, except that they’re getting stolen by creatures that CLIMB, so I’ll go so far as to say it’s a good idea that needs a little tweaking.

Well, within a day, one peanut-butter delight was whisked away to some cozy little cubby hole. Some naughty squirrel has been having quite a feast, I dare say.


Bewick’s Wren

I’ve been hovering around, keeping my eye on the remaining pine cone. Even so, on day two there was an attempt to steal said pine cone, but I found it below the gate. On day three, I thought the pine cone was lost for good, but I happened to spot it in the middle of the yard. At least now I have a clue as to which greedy squirrels it might be — they appear to be trying to take it toward the trees in the next yard, where they have a nest.


 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

But I keep rescuing the pine cone and putting it back. In the meantime, I’m trying to find a source of more plain pine cones, but looking for them in the Christmas season is not the easiest of endeavors, I must say. I’m going to have to gather quite a collection of them next time I find myself in a pine forest.


Carolina Wren

By the way, we have a new homemade feeder at the house, and I love it!


My husband made me this wonderful log peanut-butter feeder, using a 1 1/4″ spade bit and an electric drill. We filled the holes with Wild Birds Unlimited BugBerry Bark Butter that has tasty mealworms in it. I know there are birds visiting it, but so far I’ve only seen evidence of some food missing from the holes, and one glimpse of a bird taking flight as I approached the window. One day I’ll have a picture of a bird enjoying the feeder! I suspect it will be most popular with woodpeckers and creepers.

I guess I best get out there and smear peanut butter on the birds’ favorite perch from last year. I might not have pine cones left much longer!

Well, That Answers That Question

I’ve been wondering what my Gulf Fritillary caterpillars would do once they finished off every leaf on the Passionvine. Would they eat the stem in desperation? Would they pack their bags and move out in search of more Passionvine? Would they curl up and die (oh no!)? Would they knock on the door and beg me to go find more leaves?


With not a leaf left to be found on the Passionvine, the caterpillars had to make a choice. Take a look — the caterpillar above has started to strip the vine itself. Fortunately, there is still a lot of green vine the remaining caterpillars can eat, though I imagine they are greatly longing for a gourmet entree, a fresh tender Passionvine leaf. So I get to feel a little guilty that we’ve run out of the tasty food (but they were little piggies, you know). Add to it the fact that we’ve got a major cold front about to pass through — poor little caterpillars! Find a warm spot and tuck yourselves in for a few days!

Growing Wild

Alas, the best of intentions to write a blog post fall short when one gets sick. Without going into detail, let’s just say that I’m thrilled that the O’Reilly Thanksgiving Cold & Cough of 2011 is over (I can’t jinx myself if Thanksgiving 2011 has already passed, right?). But today I’m enjoying the sounds of rain pitter-pattering outside. While we’ll be in a drought for some time to come, I can at least be thankful for the recent rains that are giving a boost to plants’ survival chances.

While wandering the yard this week, I gleefully discovered new natives springing up in various spots. 
This is a big advantage to my give-nature-room-to-grow style of gardening!


This Indian Mallow comes with the soft leaves of its type. The leaves are much smaller than those of my Velvet-Leaf Mallow, which get bigger than my hand, but the plant is still young yet. I’ll refrain from IDing it further until it gets a little bigger, because while I want it to be a true Indian Mallow for variety’s sake, it could just be a tiny Velvetleaf working on getting big. That would be fine, too. In any case, I adore these touch-friendly plants. So do skippers and hairstreaks, because guess what — these mallows are caterpillar host plants for them!

aster11-29-11.jpgBack in the back, this beautiful aster is showing its colors. It looks like a Texas Aster or a Calico Aster, but its leaves are throwing me off — they just aren’t as elongated as I’d expect. Needless to say, I can’t say for sure what kind of aster it is, just that it IS an aster, of course. Asters are known to interbreed, so perhaps I’ll never really know. In any case, the blooms earn their calico description with white rays and yellow disk flowers that turn purple with age. The hoverflies and native bees love the blooms. Let it spread, let it spread, let it spread.

Last weekend I spread lots of native Texas seeds around. I had wanted to set up a big germination station this fall, but time didn’t allow it, so I figured they’d at least have a better chance to grow if they were out there in the environment and actually touching DIRT instead of being stuck in my seed container. Some of the many seeds I distributed include: Gayfeather, Antelope Horn, Green Milkweed, Balsam Gourd, Mexican Buckeye, Purple Coneflower, Indian Blanket, Greenthread, Tahoka Daisy,  Alamo Vine, Purple PassionflowerVine, Standing Cypress, Red Columbine, Yellow Columbine, Mealy Blue Sage, American Beautyberry, Pigeonberry, Eryngo, Giant Spiderwort, Scarlet Sage, Compass Plant, Lindheimer’s Crownbeard, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Scarlet Leatherflower, Other Assorted Native Texas Perennials for Fall,and Native Seeds That Shall Remain Nameless Because I Neglected to Write Their Info Down (a.k.a. Mystery Seeds). Oh, and poppy (only non-native).

bluebonnetseedling11-24-11.jpgA few weeks ago, I had an earlier round of seed-spreading love. This week I noticed a little baby bluebonnet growing. There are other seedlings growing, as well, but they are in the Too-Small-To-Be-Identified Stage.

The goal for the day is to make another peanut butter mixture for my bird friends. A cold front will be here this weekend, and I want them to have plenty of fat and protein to help them get through it. I’ve been using Bark Butter, which I also love, but I want something I can spread easily and quickly in the cold, and making it yourself is just more cost effective.

Steady gentle rain still coming down — enjoy the refreshing drink, Mother Earth!